Tuesday, March 3, 2015

TTT: Books From the Last Three Years

This week's topic: Top Ten Books from Last Three Years (I'm using 2012-2014)

That was HARD. But I do like challenging myself to be ruthless and keep these at 10.

What are some of your favorites from the last three years?

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Imaginary

The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold is a delightful yet creepy tale for any reader with a big imagination and bigger heart.

Rudger is an imaginary friend, dreamed into existence and kept going by the imagination of Amanda, a little girl who can dream up anything and loves adventure. Amanda and Rudger are going about their happy lives playing together, exploring the world, and saving it from all sorts of nasty creatures when their struggle becomes all too real. Mr. Bunting shows up at the house. Mr. Bunting is an adult with an imaginary. But there's something creepy and not at all comfortable about this pair and they are stalking Amanda and Rudger. When a tragic accident brought on by Mr. Bunting attacking Rudger greatly injures Amanda, Rudger begins to fade. How can an imaginary live without someone to imagine him? Fortunately Rudger discovers a place where Imaginaries can live on, finding new children. He isn't interested in a new child though. He only wants Amanda so he embarks on a quest to reunite with her and defeat Bunting and his sadistic imaginary once and for all.

Rudger is the main character of this story, and the world of imaginaries he inhabits his brought to beautiful life both through the words of the author and the gorgeous illustrations by Emily Gavett. (This is a visually stunning book even in black and white. I look forward to seeing the full color illustrations when it is released.) Rudger is unsure of the world and has trouble thinking for himself without Amanda, but as the story progresses he finds his own two feet and his own voice more and more. Amanda, while physically absent for most of the book, is still a very real presence whose imagination and creativity hover over Rudger and the entire story. This is the ultimate child/imaginary pairing. The story is told in such a way that it will enthrall children who have had imaginary friends and those who have not. The other imaginaries in the story range from an old dog to a pink T-Rex.

Everything about this world  is not fun and games though. There are some seriously creepy elements. Bunting is a very nasty sort of villain, and some of the things that happen could truly frighten some children. This is one of those books I recommend knowing your audience for before recommending. The cover may imply that it is for the younger end of the MG spectrum, but sensitive young children may not handle some of the elements well. For kids who like creepy and don't mind uncertainty and possible death in stories, this is a great pick.

I read an ARC from the publisher, Bloomsbury Kids, via the mail. The Imaginary is on sale March 3rd.

Friday, February 27, 2015

March Book Battles are Coming!

March Madness is here! Of the bookish sort that is. There are two bracket style battles I'm invested in taking place in the coming weeks.

The first is the School Library Journal Battle of the Books. I've been following this one for years, and still love it. This is the first year in a few years where I haven't read all of the books, but there are still a lot of contenders I'm really excited about. You can see the brackets here.

The book I'm hoping wins it all:

This will be a challenge as the Newbery winner is famously unable to win this competition. It is probably not a shock then that this is what I voted for in the Undead Poll, which is now open. Go vote if there's a contender you love!

SLJ BoB 2015 commences on March 9. 

The other Battle I'm excited about is the YA/MG Book Battle which focuses on under-appreciated books from the backlist (including last year). You can see the contenders here. You can see the complete bracket for this battle here

I'm afraid I can not comment on what I would like to see win this particular battle as I'm a third round judge. And that's going to be HARD. So many of my favorites are in this battle. 

The YA/MG Battle starts Monday. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Blackbird Fly

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly appealed to me for so many different reasons. I am always looking for good, MG school stories, and this is one about an immigration experience as well. It's a good one too with strong characters, excellent themes, and a realism about middle school that made me slightly sick to my stomach.

Analyn, known by her nickname, Apple, moved to the US from the Philippines when she was only four years old. In the years since she has learned a disdain for herself and her mother. She is embarrassed by the food her mother cooks and how she saves every penny. She longs to be more like her American classmates. It is not easy being the only Filipino in her small town Louisiana school. Things get worse when Apple's social climbing friends want to have boyfriends, and it is revealed that Apple has made the school's "Dog Log". Apple hates herself more and more as school becomes even less bearable. Things at home are not much better. All Apple wants to do is learn to play guitar, and her mother won't allow her. Through some new friends, a lot of awful mistakes, and some hard lessons Apple begins to look beyond the small mindset of middle school social dynamics and works hard to make her future dreams a reality.

This book is seriously well done. So well done it actually hurts to read it. Middle school is the worst. I actually had knots in my stomach as I read about Apple's life. The often racist teasing. The yearning to fit in and be the same. The realization that her friends were not behind her. It's a wretched time for anyone and Apple's story conveys that so well. All MG readers will understand Apple on some level. In addition to the typical middle school story we also have Apple's feelings on being an immigrant child. Her embarrassment and resentment of her mother is conveyed so well. This is something else that readers will be able to identify with. What middle schooler isn't embarrassed and resentful of their family? But through Apple's eyes and story, readers will also learn that everyone has a story. The majority of the supporting characters are just as well drawn as Apple and each has a perfect place and moment in her story.

Blackbird Fly is a book about learning who you are and embracing it. I like that it doesn't make everything perfect though. There is one scene that is a bit over the top as far as breakthrough moments go, but it fits so well into where it is in the story and everything else around it is so real, I'm okay with that. And there is no indication that life is sunshine and roses after that. I did feel the end wrapped up a little quickly, but I also like that the books is as short as it is.

I enjoyed reading Blackbird Fly and recommend it to anyone who loves good MG school stories. I will certainly be putting a copy of it in the hands of my daughter.

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Greenwillow Books, via Edelweiss. Blackbird Fly goes on sale on March 24th.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

TTT: Favorite Heroines

This week's topic: Favorite Heroines 

I did a post on this way back when I first started writing down my thoughts about books. You can read that post here. It's a more in depth explanation of my top five, but I've moved some of what I said there to here.

In order I discovered them:

Meg Murry from Wrinkle in Time by Maeleine L'Engle 
"Maybe I don't like being different, but I don't want to be like everybody else either."
I can not begin to tell you everything that Meg did for me as a young reader. It is hard being different and knowing you are different. Is hard being a person who doesn't seem to excel at the things others find important: sports, dance, etc. It was a refreshing and eye-opening experience to read a book where a girl like Meg, a girl like me, is the hero. And she is heroic through the use of her brain and her heart.

Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery
"There's  such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I'm such a troublesome person. If it was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn't be half so interesting." 
Anne is another kindred spirit in literary form I was delighted to discover. While I was never quite as dramatic as she is, I do know what it is like to have an imagination bigger than the world I'm currently inhabiting. This is another aspect of myself I felt was odd and no one else shared until I discovered Anne. I really appreciate how her story is so grounded in real world happenings too. She holds on to her dreams despite this, and I've always tried to follow her example and learn from her. She eventually finds such a good balance between the two. 

Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 
"There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense."
Elizabeth is another character I met at exactly the right point in my life. I love her stubborn independence and courage to go her own way and not compromise her principles. She also shows how easily it is to be taken in and manipulated by your own prejudices and misconceptions. And she owns her mistakes. I was turning a bit cynical when I discovered Pride and Prejudice. I was also beginning to think the high standards I had for relationships were maybe too high given I was one of the few people I knew not in one. She gave me the courage to stand by my convictions and not give in to society's pressures. 

Aravis Tarkheena from The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
“And what business is it of yours if I am only a girl?  You’re probably only a boy:  a rude, common little boy –a slave probably, who’s stolen his master’s horse.”
Aravis is hands down the best of the Narnian heroines. She's always been my favorite. She was raised in a society where women were counted as lesser citizens and had no say in determining their future.  When hers is determined for her she desires to end her life.  After an intervention from her talking horse she realizes she has another alternative:  she can run away.  So she puts on her brother’s armor and sword and does just that.  Aravis is also highly intelligent and manages to keep her head, even in very stressful situations. Most of all what I love about her is that even though she feels remorse for her misdeeds and understands how to make better decisions after her encounter with Aslan, she is still Aravis.  Her personality is not altered in the least.  She is still the outspoken, argumentative, feisty girl she has always been. 
Hermione Granger from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Are you sure that's a real spell? Well, it's not very good is it? I've tried a few simple spells myself and they've all worked for me. Nobody in my family's magic at all, it was ever such a surprise when I got my letter, but I was ever so pleased, of course, it's the best school of witchcraft there is I've heard - I've learned all the course books by heart of course. I just hope it will be enough - I'm Hermione Granger, by the way, who are you?"
Hermione Granger is my literary twin so she has to be on this list.  Seriously, how much this girl is like me is actually a bit disturbing.  I too prefer the company of books to people on most days.  Growing up my closest friends were usually boys because I thought the girls my age were generally silly.  I still don’t understand why someone would choose to watch a sporting event over studying or intellectual discussion.  I like to be in control.  I am a planner and tend to think my plan usually is the best one.  I am not a risk taker.  I always want to be the one with the answer.  I have been called a know it all more than once in my life.  I can hold a grudge for an indecently long time. There are times where she is at her most shrill and bossy and I cringe, because I know I have sounded exactly like that more often than I would care to know.  I have learned to control some of this, I hope, as I’ve gained wisdom and maturity.  Hermione takes me back to my younger, more outspoken, self.  

Irene Attolia from The Queen of Atollia by Megan Whalen Turner
"I inherited this country when I was almost a child.  I have held it.  I have fought down rebellious barons.  I've fought Sounis to keep the land on this side of the mountain.  I have killed men and watched them hang.  I've seen them tortured to keep this country safe and mine.
I LOVE her. I wrote an entire post all about her once. She is not just my favorite heroine, but my favorite character of all time. Ever. She is just so complex. She is a woman who has done some truly terrible things for some very good reasons.  And she has done some terrible things for less acceptable reasons.  Nothing about her character is comfortable.  Irene made some hard choices at a young age.  These choices were the best she could make for her people and the security of her throne but they were not good for her personally.  They isolated her and pushed her further and further behind a mask of power, ruthlessness and inaccessibility until that persona gradually started to become all she was.  Irene is brilliant.  She is a master strategist, a fantastic manager and has amazing patience and a fierce control on her temper (mostly-one person tends to set it off).  She has a wry sense of humor.  She doesn’t enjoy her loneliness.  However, her inability to trust and rely on anyone slowly begins to erode her humanity away.  And she knows this and sees it happening.  This is the one area she is powerless to control though.  She can’t let down her guard while directing a war, managing her fractious barons, manipulating her enemies and maintaining her country’s independence. Everything about her character is so thorough and brilliantly established. 

Katherine Sutton from The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope
God?  You don’t look like any god to me, Christopher Heron!  You look like a piece of gilded gingerbread, that’s what you look like, one of those cakes they sell at a fair!”
Kate is probably not as familiar a character to some.  If you haven’t read The Perilous Gard, you should.  She is just made of awesome. Kate has grown up playing second fiddle to her more beautiful and vivacious younger sister.  When her sister does something completely witless and offends Queen Mary, it is Kate who finds herself being banished to an obscure castle in the north of England, known as The Perilous Gard.  Here the servants try to shape her opinions of the residents and nature of her new home.   But Kate is intelligent and stubborn enough to make her own opinions and those opinions start to wreak havoc on the way of life at Elvenwood Manor.  As does her tendency to express these opinions in sarcastic statements.  She is a spitfire for sure.  When her new friend Christopher sacrifices himself in order to save his niece’s life, Kate follows him into the underground world of the Fairy Folk.  Here she uses her wits, courage and strong will to save them both. 

Harriet Vane from Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (Also Strong Poison, Have his Carcase, and Busman's Honeymoon)
I seem to be behaving very stupidly.  But the reason why I want to-to get clear of people and feelings and go back to the intellectual side is  that that is the only side of life I haven’t betrayed and made a mess of.”
I really like the way Harriet stands up to the adversity she faces.  She manages to get through her imprisonment with her sense of humor intact.  She doesn’t even carry a grudge against the police for putting her there.  What I like best is Harriet comes through her ordeal knowing herself and is unwilling to make similar mistakes again.  She spends a great deal of time trying to figure out what she wants and I admire her for this.  An easier route was open to her but she refused, for various reasons, to accept it.  It takes a great deal of courage to follow the path she sets off down, and also to admit her faults as easily as she does. And while I love her for everything she is herself, I also love how perfect she is for Peter. Best romance. 

Millie Chant from The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones (and all the other Chrestomanci Books)
"She's got her Very Stupid expression on. Don't be fooled by that. She doesn't want people to know how clever she really is. It's a very useful expression. I use it in lessons when Mother Proudfoot or Mother Dowson go boring on."
I realize that Sophie is the more oft chosen favorite DWJ heroine, and as much as I love Sophie, I love Millie even more. She grew up a goddess. A goddess. Wrap your mind around that. And when she was finally able to choose her own life, she chose what most people would think is a completely ordinary and drab existence. She is a wife and mother. Yes, she's also an enchantress in her own right, but a good deal of her energy goes to running Chrestomanci castle and making sure that the children in her care are not burning anything down (no small task). She is so incredibly good at it though. She isn't particularly beautiful or seemingly powerful, but she is shaping the life of the next Chrestomanci, just as much as she shaped Christopher's.  There is great power and an awful lot to honor in that. And there is the not inconsequential fact that her wedding band contains Christopher's ninth life. He trusted her enough to put his life literally in her hands and her power backs him up. 

Maddie Brodatt in Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
"A part of me will always be unflyable, stuck in the climb."
Maddie has such a quiet strength to her. You see it all through Code Name Verity. Even when she is scared and broken and hurt, she has that quiet strength. It is even  more apparent in Rose Under Fire when you see how far she's come. How she is moving on with her life, continuing to build, continuing to help, continuing to fly despite the part of her that will always be a little broken. You can see it in how she gives Rose strength and supports her. Maddie's heart is huge and she is able to do great things with that quiet strength of hers. Of all the characters on this list she is the one I'm least like, but the one I wish I could be more like. 

I really like this topic because it made me think about the whys behind the female characters I admire. I am going to expand this and do some more posts throughout the year that focus on my favorites in each genre and age category I read. All won't be as wordy as this one is, but I want to highlight more of the amazing female characters I admire.

Who are some of you favorite heroines?