The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis

While the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is my favorite of the Narnia chronology this is my least favorite.  Not to say the book is without its merits.  It’s a wonderful introduction into the history of how Narnia comes to be.  It’s filled with imagination and wonderful sense of humor.  The story itself, however, is fluffed up with clichés and redundant actions.  I understand riding oneself of an evil witch from another world would prove difficult, but surely this task could be completed in a more timely and concise manner.  Or perhaps without the constant meddling of the boy’s uncle who proves to be more of a clichéd nuisance than any help at all.

Rating: 3/5 (higher for a younger (or young at heart) reader who may be more inclined to find the magician’s lovesick follies amusing.)

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

As the she grows the world around Laura shifts, reshaping itself to meet this new perspective.  While this subtle shift in narration is present in the prior books, this is the first that addresses this directly.  Following her family’s illness and her sister Mary’s subsequent blindness Laura’s view of the world  matures while still maintaining that quirky temperament and humorous outlook she’s always had.

Like the books that follow, By the Shores of Silver Lake sheds light on the development of the world outside the Wilder family.  The building of the American railroad system is featured heavily, mention of woman’s fashion and of proper education surface more often than in the prior books painting a wonderful picture of American pioneer life.

While it was the first two books (Little House In the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie) that I most adored growing up, By the Shores of Silver Lake in no way lacks the things I love most about this series.

Rating: 5/5 (for both lovers of historical fiction and for those just looking for a good read.)

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

I absolutely loved the narrative voice in this book, halfway through the first page and I was hooked.  Nomi the narrator paints a beautifully tragic picture of the world from her vantage point within a conservative Mennonite town.  Her love of sarcasm and her rebellious nature persistently show themselves as she draws out the tale of her life.

The book starts with Nomi revealing the recent departure of both her mom and older sister, setting the stage for the struggle Nomi endures; as the story unfolds her life unravels.  Given the unconventional plot structure laughter becomes sorrow with a turn of the page.  Each flashback creates a piece of the puzzle that when put together leaves you at the end of the book much like Nomi.  Sitting waiting to see where her life leads and as with the rest of book hoping she finds what she really wants: her family.

The book does have an occasional slow spot, but does pick up rapidly afterwards.  There are also several places where Nomi’s intent is unclear as she strings together seemingly unconnected events.  This can lead to some confusion, particularly in the middle section of the book.  Personally I found this charming; these sequences were the puzzle pieces with the unidentifiable patterns, the oddballs that in their own way draw everything together.

Rating: 4.5/5