Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Solitary Blue, by Cynthia Voigt

So you think you know what it means to be lonely?  Let me introduce you to Jeff Greene, a boy who was raised by his father after his mother ran off.  Jeff’s dad is a college professor who has very little time to spend with his son, so he leaves the household chores to a series of graduate students.  With his mother gone, Jeff spends his days dreaming of her…until one summer, she invites him to visit her in Charleston, South Carolina.  Over the course of the next few years, Jeff gradually explores his relationship with his parents, and discovers his own kind of solitary happiness.

One of my favorite parts of this book was the way that it lets you keep pace with Jeff as he explores his family tree.  You can almost feel Jeff’s sense of emotional numbness when his mother leaves and he’s left in the hands of uncaring babysitters.  Also, Jeff’s dad seems genuinely cold in comparison to his mother, but over time we discover that he’s actually a loving parent who’s rearranged his life in order to support Jeff’s needs.

To be completely honest, I was a little put off by the way that the plot developed slowly at the beginning.  I wasn’t sure who Jeff Greene really was, or why I should care about him.  If you find yourself feeling that way during the first few chapters, my only advice is to keep reading through it.  It seems like the author wrote the book that way on purpose, to help us understand Jeff’s sense of withdrawal.  This is a very deep book, and about halfway through you’ll feel like you’ve dived all the way inside the story.

One last note is that “A Solitary Blue” is the third book in a series called “The Tillerman Cycle”.  If it’s important to you to read a series in order, then by all means go back and start at the beginning.  I had heard that this book could be read on its own, so I decided to jump right into the middle of the series.  While I agree that this was a fine book on its own, now my reading list has gotten a lot longer since I’ve got to go back and see if the rest of The Tillerman Cycle is just as awesome as “A Solitary Blue”!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Castle, by David Macaulay

What can I say about “Castle”?  It’s kind of like a picture book about architecture, with an awesome story set in medieval Europe.  This is one of those books where I won’t be able to describe it no matter how hard I try, so you’ll just have to go out and read it for yourself.  “Castle” tells the story of a typical medieval fortress, from its planning stages through the actual construction.  The story even includes a fierce battle that tests the building’s defenses!  It’s an awesome look inside a huge construction project that spanned several decades.

One awesome thing about this book is that the author actually takes you inside each piece of the castle’s architecture with his blueprint-style illustrations.  The narrative is excellent as well, because the story explains why each step of the building process was so important.  When you read this book, you not only learn about all the steps in building a castle was built, but also why this type of building was so important to life in the dark ages.     

Macaulay’s book is a great choice for visual learners, those people who understand an idea better once they’ve had a chance to “see” it up close and in detail.  I’d guess that the book is probably geared towards 10- or 12-year old boys since it includes a lot of really technical details, but it’s so easy to read that younger boys might appreciate it as well.  Whatever your age, don’t miss out on reading this classic!