1. Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli (208 pages)
2. Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners by Josephine Ross (133 pages)
3. Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss (209 pages)
4. Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones (383 pages)
5. Emma by Jane Austen (301 pages)
Bold: read it now! It’s great
Italics: run away! It’s awful
Plain Text = various degrees of OK
1. Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli (208 pages) He is a nobody, an orphan on the streets of Warsaw, full of manic energy that allows him to steal what he needs to survive. This little boy describes with blunt and unemotional narration his world devolving under Nazi occupation, from the movement to the ghettoes to the coming of the trains. Spinelli, with his trademark refreshing originality describes the horrors with a disturbing, yet beautiful, childlike acceptance of the world as it is and the ability to find splendor in it. While the story is fairly unoriginal, the perspective and voice is something never seen in young adult historical fiction. Our narrator is real and alive, just as are the horrors he witnesses. Grade: A
2. Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners by Josephine Ross (133 pages) Written based on the works of Jane Austen, Ross creates a period (though thoroughly accessible to modern readers) guide to manners and behavior of Regency England. Clever use of examples from Jane’s works and the underlying theme of kindness and empathy that motivates the rules of a seemingly rigid society helps this book to make Jane’s foreign world understandable. Cute illustrations make this a charming read. Grade: A-
3. Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss (209 pages) A love letter to punctuation. This book dissects and instructs punctuation in our lovely English language, explaining not only the proper uses but also a justification for punctuation. Truss illustrates the logical uses and needs for punctuation that rings so true for us sticklers/lovers of grammar. Her prose is often times annoyingly hyperbolic, pedantic, and trivial, but many of her explanations, clarifications, and justifications are useful and right-on. Her focus, rightly, is always on logic and the powers of our dynamic written language. Though British, it is applicable to American English. You know whom I would love to see a book about grammar from? Bill Bryson. Heck, yeah. Grade: B
"There's why I don't live on Earth. Everyone always has to have the rational, scientific explanation for something, even if it's so obviously wrong you could scream."
4. Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones (383 pages) Rupert Venables, a young and arrogant and overworked Magid, is looking for his next apprentice Magid, but finds his fate caught up with the annoying and frumpy Maree Mallory. At a science fiction/fantasy convention, Rupert seeks to interview other candidates, but finds himself engaged in an inter-world, imperial war over the heir to the Emperor. He's also finding himself falling in love with Maree. Once again, Jones writes a fascinating, exciting magical story with an imaginative and refreshing twist on reality, twined perfectly with mystery and comedy, which also happens to comment on the genre and human psychology. The characters, particularly Rupert (very similar to Howl), are wonderful and real, selfish and dramatic, beautiful and wonderful. This book, which is more adult than some of her others, is my new favorite of Jones', second only to the perfect Howl series. Utter magic. Jones is a master of the genre. Grade: A+
"There is safety in reserve, but no attraction. One cannot love a reserved person." (oh, I guess I'm screwed!)
"If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more."
5. Emma by Jane Austen (301 pages) My third time reading my fifth favorite of Jane's brilliant novels; this was in preparation for the new miniseries. Though far from my favorite Austen work, Emma is still laugh-out-loud hilarious in its ironic and witty prose and dead-on-accurate portrayal of human behavior, character, psychology, and society. Emma is certainly Jane's most social novel, dealing so greatly with class and courtship, the definitions of proper behavior and manners. It also has her most deeply flawed heroine in Emma Woodhouse, a brilliant, imaginative, yet snobbish, shallow, and socially-retarded (as in, she is oblivious to social cues) young woman who knows next to nothing about the human heart, least of all her own, yet so delights in creative matchmaking. Luckily, Emma is contrasted with Miss Bates, who knows and understands all, and her love-interest, Mr. Knightly, who tries desperately to guide her behavior. Though Emma has been criticized due to its class-consciousness and its seeming sexism (i.e. in Emma's treatment at Mr. Knightly's hands), these are unjust when Emma's character development is traced. Emma also has the distinction of boasting Jane's most charming "villain" in Frank Churchill, the gentleman who delights a little too much in deceit. Emma is absolute Jane, but certainly not my favorite (Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey come far ahead), but it's Jane. It's charming, it's thought-provoking, it's hilarious, it's introspective, it's filled with all-too familiar characters. So, what more can you ask for? Grade: A