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The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict

Title: The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Genre: Children/YA (Ages 9 on up)
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 480

The Gist: Before there was a Mysterious Benedict Society, there was simply a boy named Nicholas Benedict. Meet the boy who started it all….

Nine-year-old Nicholas Benedict has more problems than most children his age. Not only is he an orphan with an unfortunate nose, but he also has narcolepsy, a condition that gives him terrible nightmares and makes him fall asleep at the worst possible moments. Now he’s being sent to a new orphanage, where he will encounter vicious bullies, selfish adults, strange circumstances — and a mystery that could change his life forever. Luckily, he has one important thing in his favor: He’s a genius.

The Review:  I’ve never read any of Trenton Lee Stewart’s books, so I haven’t read any of the books in his Nicholas Benedict series.  I don’t remember how I discovered The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, but I’m glad I did.  The cover attracted my attention: I love the color scheme and the drawing style.  If I could get this cover poster-size, I would frame it and hang it I think it’s that cool.

I had fun reading The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict.  The book deals with bullying so some of the plot is predictable, but Stewart creates distinct characters who creatively deal with their problems in the orphanage.

What I love best about The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is that Nicholas loves to read.  His mind constantly runs and he does not let his narcolepsy stop him from accomplishing his goals.  Instead, he incorporates it into his adventures setting up fail safes in case he falls asleep.  But it’s not just narcolepsy that Nicholas deals with.  The loneliness and trust issues help drive his natural love of reading.  The library becomes his refuge and books become his best friends before he really makes any friends at the orphanage.  And he puts his knowledge to good use in many ways.

While I am not nearly as smart as Nicholas, nor do I have narcolepsy, and I was never an orphan as a child, I can relate to the loneliness and bullying issues.  Like Nicholas, I escaped to books to find solace, to escape, and to acquire knowledge.  As an adult, I enjoyed reading a story whose main character (as a child) falls completely in love with books.  Any adult bookworm who reads The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, will relate in some way to this dynamic: childhood trials feed the inborn desire to read thus creating a life-long love affair with books, words, and learning.

Anyway, that’s how The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict hit me.  Readers of any age will enjoy the danger, the mystery, the secrecy, and the adventures that Trenton Lee Stewart includes in The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict.

 

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The Penelopiad

Title: The Penelopiad
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Canongate Books
Pages: 198

The Gist: The myth of Penelope and Odysseus from Penelope’s point of view.

The Review: It’s been a long time since I’ve read Homer’s The Odyssey. So when I read Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, I had to dig deep into the memory bank to call up some  of the details in The Odyssey that Atwood focuses on in The Penelopiad. However, readers don’t necessarily had to have read the The Odyssey to enjoy Atwood’s The Penelopiad (although it helps).  Atwood’s The Penelopiad focuses strictly from Penelope’s point of view, and Atwood uses the chorus element to allow the 12 maids to speak their minds and render their verdict of Odysseus.

In Atwood’s rendition of the myth of Penelope and Odysseus, Penelope’s dry, insightful, and biting humor comes through. Her observations include her husband Odysseus, her son Telemachus, the Suitors, her cousin Helen, and herself. Atwood presents Penelope as a strong and clever woman capable of running a large palace household. Penelope admits her mistakes, states her regrets, and revels at times in her victories. Penelope has a voice and she speaks loud and clear.

I enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad. I liked Penelope and I enjoyed hearing her side of the story when she spoke of Helen of Troy and Odysseus.

So have you ever wondered what it was like for Penelope to wait 20 years for her husband Odysseus to come back from the Trojan War? What did she think of Odysseus tales of adventure? What was rumor and what was fact? Why did Penelope stay faithful all those years? And what about those twelve maids? What’s that all about?

Find out when you read Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2011 in Book Reviews, Margaret Atwood

 

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Tales Of The City

Title: Tales Of The City
Author: Armisted Maupin
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Pages: 371

The Gist: Tales of a group of bosom buddies in 1970’s San Francisco.

The Review: A friend of mine and I were sitting in a restaurant and bar a few nights ago (sorry, not in San Francisco) discussing books. I was looking for intelligent conversation (which, admittedly can be hard to find in a restaurant bar) and my friend and I swapped stories about the books that we fell in love with when we were in our teens and twenties. Soon, our conversation turned to books we were currently reading and my friend suggested several titles that I should check out, one of them being Armisted Maupin’s Tales Of The City.  My friend told me that if I was looking for something that was a light, fun read then Tales Of The City is a good choice.

Maupin’s Tales Of The City is a good choice if you want to read a book that really has no plot and characters that have absolutely no direction in their lives.  It reads quickly — each chapter on average is about three pages.  All of the characters somehow become connected to one another as the book goes along.  I’d say plot, but again, there really isn’t one.  Instead, Maupin spends his time in Tales Of The City poking fun at what had become the dogma of the sixties and seventies.   Whatever.

I had a good laugh at some points because Maupin is good at disparaging humor.  His humor cuts across class, race, sexual orientation and everything else.  However, I got tired of the “I’m finding myself, oh woe is me, oh the sixties are dead, and the seventies has lost its magic” theme that runs through Tales Of The City.  Perhaps I’m too cynical.  Or maybe I took the book too seriously at points, but I lost my patience at times with the characters.  When you have several characters in the exact same bummed-out mood, it gets a little old.

But maybe that’s the point of Tales Of The City.  All of the idealism of the sixties and seventies eventually falls flat for everyone because reality comes crashing in eventually.  Maybe not in this book, but perhaps in the next one, or the next one after that.  Tales Of The City is the first book in a series with this set of characters.  So who knows what happens.  But honestly, I don’t really care, because I’m not planning on reading the rest of the series.

Armisted Maupin’s Tales Of The City is a light, fun read if you don’t care about character development, plot development, or any other development that takes place in a well-written story.  There’s a lot of humor, but there’s also a lot of whining in all of whining’s glorious or not so glorious guises.  If you want to read Tales Of The City, check it out from the library first before you buy it.

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2010 in Armisted Maupin, Book Reviews

 

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The Housekeeper And The Professor

Title: The Housekeeper And The Professor
Author: Yoko Ogawa
Translated By: Stephen Snyder
Genre: Fiction, Japanese Fiction
Publisher: Picador
Pages: 180

The Gist: He is a brilliant math professor with a peculiar problem — ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eight minutes of short-term memory.

She is an astute young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him.

And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. . .

The Review: I discovered Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper And The Professor at a fellow book reviewer’s site In Spring It Is The Dawn. I wanted to read something different and I have an interest in Japanese literature although I’m just beginning to explore this interest.

Ogawa’s The Housekeeper And The Professor is a short work — only 180 pages, but it’s a powerful story.  And it’s the kind of story that made me see the world in a different way and made me think of my relationships with people differently as well.

Ogawa uses two main tools to tell this unique story: math and baseball.  Both of these elements bring the housekeeper and the professor closer together even though the professor has limited short-term memory.  And math and baseball brought the housekeeper and her son closer together, too.  Admittedly, there are sections of long mathematical equations and my eyes glazed over a bit at these sections, but I found the housekeeper’s continued interest in numbers intriguing.  Math is not her subject, but the Professor has such a unique approach to teaching and such enthusiasm for his subject, one cannot help but become fascinated about the role of numbers in everyday life.  Who knew prime numbers could be so exciting?  Numbers and their formulas become living beings themselves.

Ogawa moves the story along, but does not waste time with too many descriptions.  She paints vignettes to highlight the important moments in the story and the particular message she wishes the reader to receive.  And these moments and messages are often bitter-sweet.  In this way, the story itself seems to follow the Professor’s eighty minute memory cycle.  Everything in the story is moment to moment to moment.  And yet, everything in the story builds upon each previous image — relationships build and the plot develops.

I enjoyed reading Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper And The Professor.  I wish I had had more teachers like the Professor in my life.  Or maybe I did but never realized it.  If you want to read a story about eccentric characters who manage to build relationships with each other give this story a try.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2010 in Book Reviews, Yoko Ogawa

 

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