Dodger by Terry Pratchett

If you have never read anything by Terry Pratchett, you are living an impoverished life.

I first came to reading Terry Pratchett through his novel, Nation. It was an honor book for the Michael Printz award and I find anything that gets close to winning is worth reading. Nation was a spectacular book. It dragged me under and spat me out. I wanted it to never end. There are few books like that. However, the problem with having written a book that powerful, is that everything a reader reads afterwards will be compared to it.

Dodger is another Michael Printz honor book. While an entertaining read, (in my mind it is impossible for Terry Pratchett to write anything that isn't entertaining ) it is not of the mind blowing caliber that Nation is. That said, it is still a delightful romp. If Nation is a full course meal, Dodger is a delicious satisfying snack.

I liked as always Pratchett's wry wit and satirical comments on life. There are many quotable quotes.

I liked the placing of his character in Victorian England wherein he meets up with many significant actors of the era including, Charles Dickens, Henry Mayhew, Angela Burdett-Coutts, Benjamin Disraeli and Robert Peel. Even the fictional Sweeney Todd makes an appearance. I suspect that only Terry Pratchett could do this and pull it off with such dour playfulness.

The dark underbelly of Victorian England, that is, the life of the poor, is revealed in all its gore and glory. “There were two ways of looking at the world, but only one when you are starving.” Pratchett manages to educate the reader as he fills in the details of their existence to provide the backdrop for the novel. At the same time he leaves us wanting to know more. This is no mean feat.

The novel is full of adventure and suspense. Readers must abandon their belief in what is possible. This novel is what Pratchett calls historical fantasy. While many of the characters have lived and breathed, Dodger himself is a charming rascal - a modest superhero in Victorian times with a penchant for thievery. The 17 year old makes a living as a tosher, someone who scavenges in the sewers of London in search of money and jewels. He lives with Solomon Cohen, a Jewish clockmaker and jeweler, who attempts to guide him towards living the right sort of life.

The novel begins on a dark and stormy night in London.  Dodger emerges from the sewers to see a girl being attacked by two thugs. After he rescues her, two men, Charlie and Henry show up. The girl, later named Simplicity, is taken in and looked after by Henry and his family. It emerges that she is fleeing from an abusive marriage that has political significance. Be assured that she is no damsel in distress in any traditional sense. In the process of becoming her "knight in soaking armor" Dodger finds himself mixing with the high and mighty of the times. It catapults him on route to a thrilling encounter deep in the sewers with a gifted assassin.

This is the kind of book that will engage readers in history and most probably make them want to learn more. While in the middle of it, I wanted to go back and reread Dickens. I want to read more about the lives of the many real characters Pratchett introduced us to here. I want to read the work of Henry Mayhew.

Thank you Mr. Pratchett for making my reading life such a pleasurable place to live in.

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby

Delaney suggested this book to me. Pretty much any book she recommends is worth reading. She didn't let me down. I totally enjoyed this novel. It is, after all, steampunk. It has a hint of magic. Set in the 1900's in an American City, it has a Dickensian feel. The main characters are three children coming from, and dealing with difficult circumstances. Matthew Kirby, the author, weaves together their seemingly unconnected narratives into a gripping and suspenseful adventure. 

Giuseppe and Frederick are orphans who have ended up in very different situations. 
Giuseppe, a street violinist, lives a life similar to that of Oliver Twist. He was sold by his uncle to a brutal padrone named Stephano, a Fagin like character.  He finds a magical green violin that sparks hope that he might one day escape and return to Italy and find his siblings. 

Frederick was rescued from a harsh orphanage by Master Branch, to become an apprentice clockmaker. He longs to become a journeyman, and is working in the cellar of their shop to create a mechanical man.

Hannah works in a hotel because her father, once a famous stonemason, has had a stroke. She is fortunate to be taken under the wing of Madame Pomeroy, but whom she ultimately betrays in an attempt to save her father.

The three children eventually come together in an adventure that involves stealing a mechanical head, running from the law, and searching for treasure. 

This is a book about friendship, trust, and hope. 

The only reason I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars instead of 5, is that while Hannah is indeed a strong character, her strengths are a little to stereotypically female. 

With a 4.5 reading level, it is a relatively easy read. This makes it perfect for reluctant readers and younger, competent readers who are not ready for more complex steampunk. Beware though, while not gratuitous, there are some frightening violent scenes. (On the other hand, while I thought it was frightening, readers at our school often shake their heads when I complain a book is too scary.)

Matched by Ally Condie

I liked this book. There have been many reviews that compare it to The Giver, and it does indeed bring Lois Lowry's classic novel to mind. (Although it has been some time since I read it) It certainly doesn’t get in the way of this book being an amazing read. 
Cassia lives in a dystopian futuristic society with her mother, father and younger brother. It begins on her 17th birthday, the day she will find out who her match is. In this society, nearly everything - from the food you eat, the clothes you wear, your career path, your life partner and even when you die, are planned for you. There are very few choices an individual gets to make.
At first it looks like Cassia is paired up with her best friend Xander. Then when she opens up a microchip that should have pictures and information about him, a different face appears. It is Ky, another boy she knows. 

I love how this book is written. Cassie's voice is true as she moves from her absolute faith in the way the society plans everything, to her slowly emerging questions and doubts, and eventual opposition to it. 

I love that the characters feel so real. All of them, Cassie’s parents, her brother, and both Xander and Ky come across as complex individuals in their own right. 

I liked how the romance between Cassie and Ky developed slowly and realistically. 

Just as in real life we don’t always know how things are going to turn out, this is the way it is with this novel.  Sure it sets it up for a sequel, but the book is satisfying just as it is.