Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Weak Sauce

Oh boy...that 150 book goal is remaining elusive.  What did I do this week instead of read?  I don't even know.  I saw some friends (good) and played a lot of games on my iPad (um, less good.)  I did not get any more packing done, and I did not leave my apartment a whole heck of a lot.  Yikes.  I guess Mr. S was taking his big scary exam (and now it's over!  Yay!) and the Olympics started--but there are excuses every week.  I've got to get back into reading shape!

What I Read This Week: 

 The Sweetest SpellThe Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a really fun, original story. Emmeline, a Flatlander, has always been something of an outcast among her own people. But when she is washed away by a flood and winds up in a new town, she discovers a power she didn't know she had. Suddenly, she is sought after by the most powerful men and women in the kingdom and has to balance her own needs (freedom and love) with the needs of her people (food, shelter, and safety).

Oh yeah--and her power? Churning cream into chocolate. In a kingdom where no one has had chocolate in generations.

This book is told in alternating POVs, between Emmeline and Owen Oak, the boy who saved her from the flood. He's funny and tough to the point of hard-headedness sometimes. Occasionally one or the other of the voices sounded a little off, or too similar to each other. But the story itself more than made up for it, along with supporting characters like the totally lovable Prince Beau and the self-adulating Griffin Boar. If you enjoy fantasy, fairytales, or folklore, I'd bet you a chocolate bar you'll like this one.

**I received a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.**

Liar & SpyLiar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am certainly not going to be the first person (or the last) to compare Rebecca Stead with E.L. Konigsburg. (Hopefully, Rebecca Stead is as big a fan of Ms. Konigsburg as I am.) My reasons for the comparison are simple: both authors have a gift for reaching back to roughly middle school age, and throwing the whole experience down on the page. It's hard to capture: there's still a bit of childhood's magical thinking, with a growing awareness of the cruddy parts of the world. The really tricky part, though, is that most adults think "Middle school--ugh. You couldn't pay me to go back there," and then move on. Even when we stop to tell our stories from middle school, it's usually a narrative framed by one particular bully, or one class that seemed to dominate the day with a particular insurmountable challenge (algebra, say, or rope climbing). In Liar & Spy, Rebecca Stead zooms in on that experience and shows us the texture of each day: in this case, each day is made up of dots.

Georges, the protagonist (named for Pointillist painter Georges Seurrat) lives in Brooklyn, where he's lived for his whole life. His family recently had to sell their old house and move to a nearby apartment, but he has two parents who love him, and he stays in his same school, and keeps going to the same neighborhood spots, so life is ok. Not great, but ok. There are kids at school who bug him a lot, and his old friend Jason hangs out with those kids, but he mostly just tries to ignore it. The school lunch is sometimes pretty good but sometimes gross--regular gross, not epically so. In short, the scale of Georges' life feels real. Each dot Rebecca Stead creates is perfectly placed to make me nod or laugh in recognition (ordering from the bad pizza place with the gross cheese because the good place doesn't deliver: have you been watching me???)

When Georges moves to his new building, he meets Safer (a boy his age) and Candy (Safer's pip of a little sister). Safer inducts him into the spy club, and together they take on the mysterious Mr. X. I won't say much about this plot except that it is ultimately really satisfying and causes Georges to re-think his ideas about how things work. The resolutions of the various plot threads all feel deeply satisfying and deeply plausible. No one changes magically, but everyone changes a little.

If you enjoyed the excellent When You Reach Me, be prepared for a simpler, quieter story. That's what this is. It's also richly detailed and perfectly executed; I think I actually like this one a little more, despite (or maybe because of) its smaller scope. If you ever went to middle school, you will probably enjoy this. If you ever felt uncertain of the rules, you will almost certainly enjoy this. If you're a fan of writing that exudes truth and humanity, you will definitely enjoy this, so pick up a copy when it comes out on August 7th.

**Disclosure: I received a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.**

View all my reviews


  1. Great to hear the first review of liar and spy! I loved when you reach me, and am really looking forward to this one. And that choco-power? Sign me up! Hope mr. S's exam was stellar!

    1. Thanks! We won't know if he passed till November (groan) but at least it's over. I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else thinks of Liar and Spy--I'm sure people will be talking about it, since When You Reach Me was so well-liked.

  2. Wonderful review. I hadn't heard too much about it, so thank you!


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