Thursday, December 9, 2010

Reading Roundup

I was supposed to do NaNoWriMo in November; instead I ended up reading.  A lot.

DUST by Joan Francis Turner
This book was our October pick for the FP-NC Book Club.  We thought the zombie characters were seasonally appropriate. The hook is great: narrated by a zombie, her brother sets into motion a disease that is wiping out both humans and zombies.  The execution, however, falls flat.  The zombies were boring and gross, not exciting and creepy.  The disgusting descriptions were the first thing that turned me off to this book, but the plot also lacked tension to keep me reading.  I’m told that this novel isn’t representative of all zombie books (this was the first I’ve ever read), so next up is Brains by Robin Becker, supposedly a much better choice.

I read these two books for work prior to reading the third book’s manuscript.  Appealing to the same audience as Artemis Fowl and Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief, these books about an adventurous foursome of monster-fighting Templar Knight students has the awesome addition of being set in a steampunk world.  For those unfamiliar with steampunk, it’s this fantastic and increasingly popular concept that basically takes a Victorian view of the future (think Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) and applies it today.  Women wear corsets, men have pocket watches, the machines have lots of intricate mechanical parts.   The unique world in which the Grey Griffins conquer evil (they even have to fight off “Clockworks”) makes this series really special.

Divergent (ARC 5/1) by Veronica Roth
This book is going to be big.  Very BIG.  A dystopian thriller that is going to ride the The Hunger Games wave (I, for one, never would have picked up a dystopian novel prior to reading Suzanne Collins’ series this summer) Roth’s debut novel is so much more than a copycat.  It is fantastic.  The main character, Tris, is so relatable and the world she lives in is fantastic.  There are only two questions: which faction are you…and how long are we going to have to wait for the sequel? (My answers: Amity and far too long).  Read it when it comes out in May.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
I’ve wanted to read this for forever and there’s no question why it won the Newbery Medal this year.  It is fantastic.  Miranda, a twelve year old in late 1970’s Manhattan, is such an insightful narrator.  When her best friend Sal decides they shouldn’t be friends anymore, she befriends other students while helping her mom prepare for a TV game show.  Then she begins to receive mysterious notes whose author knows waaaaaaay more about her future than could be possible.  When one of her new friends begins to talk about time travel, Miranda realizes that her relationship with her friend Sal and the others in her neighborhood isn’t quite what it seems.  The concluding twist is mind reeling.  I didn’t see it coming at all, and yet, it makes complete sense.   A highly recommended read.

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen I’m really beginning to love middle grade.  And not just any middle grade, but boy middle grade.  This really came as a surprise to me, yet, when reading high quality novels like this Newbery Honor book, I shouldn’t have been.  Hoot is a sweet coming of age story in which a Roy encounters a mysterious boy who is pulling creative pranks trying to prevent a pancake house being build on top of burrowing owl tunnels.  Roy joins in the efforts while at the same time dealing with school bullies.  In the end, Roy learns that good decision-making means listening to his head and his heart.  Although the story is sweet, the action, mystery and various amphibians and reptiles definitely make this book appealing to boys.

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
I really love fairytale retellings, and this one didn’t disappoint.  Building on Hansel and Gretel as well as several other fairytales that I was unfamiliar with (there was a discussion on SLJ questioning if being familiar with the original Grimm tales was necessary-it’s not), the stories are fantastic, mostly due to the delightfully intrusive narrator.   The narrator repeatedly butts into the story, promising blood and gore; overall, the stories aren’t that scary, but the narrator’s comments build anticipation and will keep readers interested and the creative rewrites don’t disappoint.

This illustrated middle grade book reminded me of Charlotte’s Web in some ways; perhaps because there just aren’t enough illustrated novels out there anymore (except those of the Wimpy Kid variety).  The story of Celeste the mouse is really sweet and the added touch of John James Audubon and his young apprentice learning to draw plants and animals gives the story some added depth (thanks in part to the historical note at the end).  The gentle black and white illustrations are the strongest point for this novel.

Waiting For Normal by Leslie Conner
All Addie wants in this middle grade novel is a normal, united family, which she gets with her ex-stepfather and half sisters.  Yet those visits are painfully brief and all she has is a mother who leaves her on her own for days on end, a grandfather who can’t deal with her mother anymore, and an assortment of quirky friends at the nearby gas station who try to do the best they can by her.  A pro at taking care of herself, Addie eventually gets into a situation where she just can’t…but luckily, those in her community step.  This story has been told before, but the characters are so intriguing, it’s definitely worth reading.

At the CT Children’s Book Fair on November 14th, I had the opportunity to meet Leslie.  She was so kind, and a unique presenter.  I’m looking forward to reading her next MG novel, Crunch.

 Maygk (Septimus Heap, Vol. 1) by Angie Sage
This is a wonderfully whimsical fantasy story for middle graders who enjoy reading lengthy stories.   Following the adventures of the Heap family, who have unknowingly raised the princess of the realm, Maygk will appeal to both boys and girls.  Fantastic characters, daring adventures, playful and dark magic, plus a talking rat make up this first book in the popular series.  I loved the narrative style; the vocabulary and turns of phrase had me laughing out loud. 

Gone by Michael Grant
This is the first in a series; I was hooked by the second page.  What would you do if all the adults disappeared, you developed special powers, and the animals were mutating?  This is just what Sam and his friends have to deal with…while also battling the students from the private school in town determined to rule.  By the end of the book, Sam has discovered what made the world change…but can he figure out how to make everything turn back to normal?  That is a question for the several sequels that follow.  Gone was one of the first dystopian novels, and is more appealing to male readers than most; fans of Stephan King should pick this up.

Madapple by Christina Meldrum
The most prevalent thought I had while reading this book was just how much research the author must have had to do.  Centered on sixteen-year-old Aslaug around the time of the death of her mother, Meldrum paints a vivid picture of the clash between magic, religion and mainstream society, with a whole lot of botany and history thrown in.   The alternating chapters between Aslaug’s life and the court case several years later, which hints at just enough events to keep the reader curious, keeps the pacing up and the story intriguing.   This book is a great example of YA/adult crossover potential; I already recommended it to my mom.

 Add 9 manuscripts into the mix, and I feel like all I did this month was read...not that I'm complaining! 

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