Monday, June 23, 2014

AUNT MARIA by Diana Wynne Jones

While I don't consider myself an 'official' reviewer, I do enjoy sharing my limited opinions regarding the books I read. A lot of them are MG, but I occasionally run across a picture book or YA novel that stands out, so I include them when the mood hits me.

On a recent trip to the library, I picked up Diana Wynne Jones' The Pinhoe Egg. It's a substantial tome and a twisting tale that made my head spin, but once I straightened out the considerable cast of characters, I found it quite enjoyable. She's a clear-headed writer who manages to keep everyone in line and on their best behavior, and that appeals to me since I know how difficult a task that is to pull off. And in all fairness, this book might not have been such an effort on my part if I had read any of the earlier volumes of the series first. But they were not available at my local library, so I took what I could get.

But the writing impressed me so much that I wanted to see what else she had to offer. I went back to town and requested the first book in the series and am waiting for it to arrive. In the meantime, I managed to pick up Aunt Maria on my way out, and I'm so glad I did.

Aunt Maria - that's pronounced with a long I, like in the song, They Call The Wind Maria. What a gruesome and intriguing plot Ms. Jones has created in this much quicker read. It was a bit reminiscent of The Stepford Wives in some ways, but on a younger level. From the very first paragraph, the writing is extremely clever, and I instantly fell in love with Mig and her brother, Chris. And, unlike some stories, we know immediately that Aunt Maria is very, very bad. We also know, sadly, that the kids are going to make some huge, costly mistakes in their dealings with this tyrant and her cloister of old biddies who hide behind facades of sweet helplessness. 

I will warn that there are a couple of instances of profanity thrown into the mix, but aside from that I can recommend it as an entertaining read.


Cordelia Dinsmore

Monday, June 2, 2014


Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, by Lynne Jonell, is a very fun read.

I've never had a dislike for the talking animal thing, so it didn't bother me in the least that Emmy could understand Rat after he bit her the first time. It seemed completely natural, especially since all of the rodents involved in the dastardly plot were endowed with special abilities.

I'm not one of those reviewers who relate the story line of the books I read, and I'm not going to change my tactics at this time. I will say that when I read the title, I thought the Rat shrank. I was wrong. He shrinks whomever he bites, but it's a bit more complicated than that.

This is a creative and fun tale, with a clever twist to the absentee parent situation. Although it is refreshing that Ms. Jonell managed to allow one set of parents to be involved and concerned about their missing son. It isn't too often that the kids can go off on an amazing adventure without offing the parental units in some way, so I enjoyed that she left a few of them intact and worrying.

I also loved the personalities of the rodent population. They were actually more fun than the humans, although Emmy and Joe are portrayed as entirely believable preteens. She's invisible and he's a jock. Of course they're going to end up together in some manner.

I really love the characters in this book, from the incredibly evil Miss Barmy - Emmy's nanny - to the absolutely adorable Endear Mouse, each has such a unique personality that every one of them should be considered a star. And although Rat has some traits that are slightly less than stellar, I couldn't resist falling in love with him when he sang The Star Spangled Banner. What a hoot!

My favorite aspect of this tale is the humor. At times it is sweet, and at other times it is so gross that it nearly made me gag. And it all worked together so well that I think this book would appeal equally to boys and girls. 

This is one that I will remember for a long time, and I hope there are more of the same caliber in the future, for I really, really enjoyed it. Definitely recommend for any middle grade reader.


Cordelia Dinsmore