Thursday, July 22, 2010

Strickly (Two!) Book Reviews

Amid the dearth of great reading material in my various piles of books and ebooks of late, I stumbled upon not one, but two fabulous books this past week! What luck!

The Spellman Files: A Novel
by Lisa Lutz
Five spangles out of five!!!
Pocket Books, 2007
humorous mystery

I've been ordering lots of Middle School and YA books lately, and opened this thinking it fell into that category. With a few uses of the f-word and casual reference to drug use, I quickly came to the conclusion that this was not for kiddies.

Instead, it's for adults who want a wacky mystery (mysteries!) centered around a family like none you've ever seen. Our heroine is Izzy Spellman, who lives in a San Francisco apartment on the top floor of her parents' house. She has the unfortunate luck to have a perfect older brother (whom she's trying to balance out), and a much younger kid sister who wants to (horrors!) pattern herself after Izzy.

Izzy is no model citizen, but her intentions are good. She's a PI, and is employed by her parents' PI agency, which often takes on jobs from Mr. Perfect Lawyer Brother. Izzy makes lists of important things in her life, like ex-boyfriends, and has come to the conclusion that she needs to study this problem as much as her cases, to figure out where she goes wrong.

The action for a good third of the book bounces back and forth between the present and giving us backstory in various areas. The language is crisp. Pacing is quick. Chapters are short. Humor abounds.

I was told that if I was tired of Stephanie Plum, I should switch to Izzy. Izzy is NOTHING like Stephanie. Izzy is smart. She learns from her mistakes. She solves her crimes on her own. But she, too, is surrounded by crazy characters, though they don't resort to slapstick to make you LOL.

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to getting more books in this series! There seem to be three more of 'em at Amazon; oh, my poor wallet! And look! Wiki says the book's been optioned for a movie. Of course if it takes as long to get filmed as the first Stephanie Plum novel did...

Maniac Magee
by Jerry Spinelli
Five spangles out of five!!!
Little & Brown, 1990
Elementary/Middle School

Full of snappy rhythms, colorful characters, humor, heart, and wildly poetic imagery, this book is one that kids are going to read again and again. I went on IMDB today and discovered that there'd been a TV movie made a few years ago that people who hadn't read the book said was enjoyable, and people who had read the book said left out too much.

Jeffrey Lionel Magee is an orphan who runs away from his awful relatives' home. And when I say "runs," I mean that literally. He's a runner as well as an all-round athlete, but eventually he winds up in a small Pennsylvania town across the river from where his parents had died. The town is split racially, but Jeffrey, or "Maniac" as his legend soon dubs him, is too young or unassuming to understand racism.

He runs through the town in the hours before people are up, and sees that everyone's houses are basically the same, so why shouldn't the people be as well? He winds up in three very different homes in his search for a true home, and has racism thrown so hard in his face that finally he has to run away from it.

Amid the OTT imagery, a world seen through a child's eyes, we get fairly gentle lessons in race relations, illiteracy, homelessness, and even would-be suicide. But let me stress that the humor and heart are what carry this through, along with Maniac's shabby tennis shoes. It's won a small mountain of major literary awards, and is a satisfying, heartwarming read that you'll love as much as will the children in your life.

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