Book Review: The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf
Book Reviews / May 27, 2005

In 1909, Selma Lagerlöf became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Three years earlier, she wrote this delicious book that weaves true lessons of the history, geography, and wildlife of Sweden into folk tale or fairy tale episodes. It is sometimes exciting, suspenseful, and scary. Other times it is witty or silly. And now and then, it is so wistful and even tragic that it will fill your eyes with tears. This book has breathtaking beauty, and a main character whose growh from a selfish twit to a sympathetic hero is heartwarming to behold. The book also has a very helpful guide to pronouncing Swedish names. What the book doesn’’t have is a satisfying ending, but be not dismayed. Ms. Lagerlöf also wrote The Further Adventures of Nils, which I am told is more a continuation of this story, than a sequel to it.

Book Review: Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
Book Reviews / May 27, 2005

You may have seen the very excellent film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, a curiously titled film, so named because it is loosely based on two different books by the same author. Patrick O’Brian’s long series of naval novels about a British captain in the Napoleonic Wars begins with this book; the one called The Far Side of the World was the tenth of twenty books, all of them centering on the exploits of Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend, surgeon, and conscience, Dr. Stephen Maturin. And if they aren’t the greatest series of historical novels about 19th-century naval warfare, they run a close second to C.S. Forester’s Hornblower series.

Book Review: The Callender Papers by Cynthia Voigt
Book Reviews / May 20, 2005

This “gothic novel for young readers” won the Edgar Allan Poe award and comes from the Newbery-medal-winning author of Dicey’s Song. Set in the late 1800’s, it is the tale of a thirteen-year-old girl, raised by a schoolmistress “Aunt” (who actually isn’t a blood relative) who is hired to spend the summer sorting out the family papers of a cold and forbidding widower named Mr. Thiel at his secluded mansion in the New England countryside.

Book Review: Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce
Book Reviews / May 20, 2005

All right, I’ve finally done it. After 4,322,845 e-mails begging, bribing, threatening, and demanding that I read something by Tamora Pierce and review it for the Book Trolley, I finally took the hint. Now PLEASE don’t say I never listened to you! And pleeeease believe me when I say that I WILL read more books by Tamora Pierce and review them in due time. So please be patient!

Book Review: The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
Book Reviews / May 20, 2005

George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a Scottish Congregationalist minister whose tolerant views caused him so much trouble that he switched to a career in writing. Even so, it wasn’’t until late in his career that he began writing stories for children, which are mainly what he is remembered for today. To MacDonald’s eleven fairy-tale-loving children, we owe not only the pleasure of reading their father’s books, but perhaps even Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories, which were read to the MacDonald children before they were published, with encouraging results.

Book Review: Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
Book Reviews / May 4, 2005

The 1981 winner of the Newbery Medal takes its title from a Bible verse that says: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated.” Like the twins of Biblical lore, there is a bitter rivalry between Caroline and Sara Louise——at least, there is in Louise’’s mind. As the nation goes through the anguish of World War II, she is having a rough time of her own.

Book Review: The Witches by Roald Dahl
Book Reviews / April 5, 2005

A little orphan boy, being raised by his cigar-chomping Norwegian grandmother, comes to an English resort hotel for a seaside cure. While he is training his pet mice (William and Mary) to do tricks, he makes the horrifying discovery that all his Grandma’s stories about witches are true. They really do have square, toeless feet, pointy teeth, claws on their fingers, and eyes that glow purple, and they think children smell like dog droppings. This poor, petrified boy (who interestingly remains unnamed throughout the book) only learns that these stories are more than stories when he stumbles on the fact that his hotel is filled with a Witches’ Convention.

Book Review: Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
Book Reviews / April 5, 2005

E is short for Edith, a British-authoress of magical stories for children who also happened to be an outspoken feminist and socialist in her time (late 19th century, early 20th). This one is regarded as her masterpiece. It really is quite a lot of fun. It mostly has to do with four children, really, though from time to time their helpless baby brother also gets involved.

Book Review: The Red Fairy Book Editor Andrew Lang
Book Reviews / March 9, 2005

This was the second book of Lang’s historic collection of fairy tales from around the world. It is evident from the brief preface that Lang considered it an afterthought—not up to the standards of the Blue Fairy Book, but filled with good stories that readers would enjoy, even if they were not as well-known. Well, clearly, being well-known isn’t the only test of a great story. And just as clearly, some stories that were well-known in 1890 and others that weren’’t, have changed places by now. It seems that Lang’s vision for his collections changed, for by the end of twelve “fairy books of many colors,” he had brought together an astounding wealth of folklore, along with hundreds of splendid illustrations by H. J. Ford.

Book Review: Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer
Book Reviews / January 30, 2005

From the author of Hope Was Here comes this acclaimed 1998 book about 16-year-old Jenna Boller, who knows a lot about selling shoes and a little about driving. On these qualifications she gets the unasked-for job of driving Mrs. Gladstone, the President of the shoe-store chain she works for, from Chicago to Dallas for the big shareholders’ meeting. And though her mother isn’t keen on letting Jenna go, the fact that her alcoholic father has come back to town ensures that she needs some time away.