Friday, December 30, 2011

Favorites of 2011

Another year of reading is gone. This was a good year as several of my favorite authors released new books and I discovered a couple new favorite authors as well. I decided this year that I would keep my favorite list at 10. I cheated a little last year by sneaking in two extras. It was a difficult task, but I managed to whittle it down to 10.

Here they are  in no particular order:
Links are to my reviews:
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta
The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty
The Coming of the Dragon by Rebecca Barnhouse
The Dragon's Tooth by N.D. Wilson
The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Deedy and Randall Wright
Chime by Franny Billingsley
Arrow by R.J. Anderson
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall

A few weeks ago I wrote about my Favorite Characters of 2011 and there are some more really great books on that list that I loved this year too.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Inquisitor's Apprentice

The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty took be by complete surprise. I was expecting to enjoy it and was patiently waiting for my library to order copies. Then on a visit to our local bookstore, I saw it and bought it on impulse. This is a good thing because I didn't enjoy this book, I LOVED it. I recognize it is not a book everyone will like, but it worked for me on every level. As a reader I was engrossed and it kept me thinking. As a mom it is definitely a book I want to have on the shelf for my kids. As a teacher I could see so much potential in it for a great unit study. But it was the reader me who enjoyed it the most. And now I have a new literary crush as well.

Sacha Kessler is a Russian Jewish immigrant living on Hester Street in a magical New York in the late 19th century. Magic practiced by the masses is illegal and the Wall Street Wizards (Morgaunt, Vanderbilk, Astral) use it to stay rich at the expense of the people. Sacha's life is changed forever on the day he witnesses an act of magic and it is discovered he can see magic being performed. Suddenly he finds himself the apprentice of Inquisitor Maximillian Wolf, the most famous of the group of NYPD officers assigned to investigate magical crime. Along with his fellow apprentice, Lily Astral, Sacha is immediately thrown into an investigation centered around an assassination attempt on the famous Thomas Edison, and all the clues are leading very close to Hester Street and Sacha's own home.

I love the magical New York Moriarty created here. The concept of the magic of the city and the people were brilliant. Her world building is excellent. As an alternate history it relies a lot on the actual history of industrial New York but she has painted the world with enough detail that (I think) you can read it without needing to know that actual history. In many ways the world building reminded me a lot of Diana Wynne Jones and Megan Whalen Turner in that Moriarty in no way condescends to her readers. She throws them into the world as it is and expects them to have the intelligence to catch up. I can actually see the real history being more of a stumbling block for an adult reader than a child reader. Children who enjoy fantasy are used to being dropped into worlds where they are unfamiliar with many aspects and there are different words and languages being used.  The NY Moriarty has created would be viewed by them as a just another of these worlds.

The plot is fast paced and intricate. It is a mystery above all else, but also the story of a boy trying to reconcile his place in the world. Through it themes of gender, race, culture, religion, and economics are explored. There is so much fodder for discussion here. I could see this book working well paired with  Flesh and Blood so Cheap and a study of this actual time period. I really feel like Moriarty balanced the themes well here. There is a definite sense that the the Wall Street Wizards, Mordaunt in particular, are the bad guys. She also plays with stereotypes quite a bit as well, but the underlying message is the reality of the situation is far more complex. There are several threads in the story left dangling and the end is definitely a set up as this is the first in a five book series.

Sacha is an interesting hero and one that is easy to identify with. He is a very genuine 13, not really a child but not yet an adult. He feels a great responsibility to his family and loves them greatly but is ashamed of the conditions they live in. He is a Russian Jew and an American. I enjoyed the interactions he and Lily had in this book and how a tentative friendship begins to develop between them. I am looking forward to seeing how his character grows and unfolds in the future volumes. I am also very much looking forward to seeing more of all the supporting characters, particularly Inquisitor Wolf (my brand new literary crush). When Charlotte reviewed this she had this to say about him, "He reminded me a bit of Lord Peter Whimsey, crossed with Howl, with a dash of Eugenides, mainly because he is very, very good at not revealing all that is going on inside his brilliant mind." That description is so perfectly apt that I can do no better. 

So The Inquisitor's Apprentice has made a last minute entry into consideration for my top reads of 2011. I am eagerly anticipating any news of the next volume in this story. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Boxing Day!

And Merry Christmas a day late!

I have been busy enjoying our family traditions and the wonder of my kids for the past few days. Also, feeding the 8 people staying in my house right now.  I hope everyone is enjoying themselves as much as I am! Regularly scheduled book type posts will be returning on Wednesday with a review of The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty, a book which made a last minute entry in my Favorites of 2011. I will be bringing you that list on Friday.

Enjoy any time off you may have and Happy Reading.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Prom and Prejudice

There are many many novels out there that are retellings of or borrow elements from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I have a love/hate relationship with these novels. For some reason I can't help reading them despite the fact that they usually annoy me. A lot. Elizabeth Eulberg's Prom and Prejudice managed to not do that. I found it to be, like its bubble gum pink cover, light and fun.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

After winter break, the girls at the very prestigious Longbourn Academy become obsessed with the prom. Lizzie Bennet, who attends Longbourn on a scholarship, isn’t interested in designer dresses and expensive shoes, but her best friend, Jane, might be — especially now that Charles Bingley is back from a semester in London. Lizzie is happy about her friend’s burgeoning romance but less than impressed by Charles’s friend, Will Darcy, who’s snobby and pretentious. Darcy doesn’t seem to like Lizzie either, but she assumes it’s because her family doesn’t have money. Clearly, Will Darcy is a pompous jerk — so why does Lizzie find herself drawn to him anyway? Will Lizzie’s pride and Will’s prejudice keep them apart? Or are they a prom couple in the making?

Reading the synopsis you can see this is very clearly Pride and Prejudice reset at a 21st century American boarding school. Instead of every girl aiming for a marriage proposal she is aiming for a prom invite. Every element of the original story is here. (Eulberg did toss out Mary and Kitty, but that can be forgiven as they were fairly superfluous characters anyway.) The way Eulberg tweaked the circumstances to give it a modern flair worked. What is more important, she clearly gets what Austen's point was too. (A thing many people who claim to be Austen fans miss altogether.) As Austen was mocking the courtship rituals of her time, Eulberg is mocking the ritual that is prom. This aspect could possibly have been explored a little more, but I was quite satisfied with how she resolved the prom aspect at the end of the novel.

I did question as I was reading if it would work for a teen reader not familiar with Austen's novel. I think I relied a great deal on  my knowledge of the story and characters to fill in places, which someone who hasn't read Pride and Prejudice would not be able to do. Then there is the way the students talk. The language the kids use is....odd. That's the best word I can think to describe it. It isn't really old fashioned, more like they are trying to sound posh and cultured. No one talks like that even super educated trust fund kids. It was a little awkward in the modern setting and threw me off several times.

Overall this is an enjoyable read. However, if someone told me to choose one YA contemporary retelling of Pride and Prejudice to recommend I have to say Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman is a better choice. (Love that book. I can't believe I never reviewed it here. Hmmm...) It is nice to have more than one option though and Prom and Prejudice will, I think, appeal to a great many girls.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

That title. The cover. If you are in any way a fan of children's fantasy I think it rather impossible to face those two things combined and not want to read this book. Then you read the synopsis and find out the main character is a thief and, if you are me, all thoughts of even attempting to resist this book's allure go out the window. But why would you want to resist? Jonathan Auxier has penned a delightful adventure full of magic, thievery, intrigue and militant ravens. Yes, there is oh so much to like in Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes.
"Now, for those of you who know anything about blind children, you are aware that they make the very best thieves. As you can well imagine, blind children have incredible senses of smell, and they can tell what lies behind a locked door- be it fine cloth, gold, or peanut brittle- at fifty paces. Moreover, their fingers are so small and nimble that they can slip right through keyholes, and their ears so keen that they can hear the faint clicks and clacks of every moving part inside even the most complicated lock. Of course, the age of great thievery has long since passed;today there are few child-thieves left, blind or otherwise. At one time, however, the world was simply thick with them. This is the story of the greatest thief who ever lived. His name, as you've probably guessed, is Peter Nimble."

I shall start with the prose. Because this was one of those books. One of those books that had me questioning why I don't always have something handy with me for marking pages with quotes I like. This book is highly quotable. It speaks for itself right there in that first paragraph quoted above. I marked a lot of pages and that is not a usual occurrence in my reading. What I liked about the way this book was written is that it reads like a classic. Let me be clear and say this does not mean the writing is old fashioned or in any way stale. The feel of the story is just such that you think of it as one that has to have been around for decades, and yet it contains within it a very real sense of our modern time. How Auxier managed this I do not know, but manage it he did. 

The story requires the reader to suspend belief a great deal. I always feel rather ridiculous stating that because it seems obvious. Of course it does. It is fiction. Yet this is fiction of a Tall Tale type. The stuff that is told of myths and legends long after they are gone. Think King Arthur. Or Davey Crockett killing a bear at the age of three. This has some of those type of elements in it and they enhance the story in many ways. The story itself is an incredible journey. There is a quest, high seas adventuring, a desert prison, scheming with a den of thieves, a kingdom under a curse, and an evil despot who must be stopped. It reads like something Dickens would have written if he decided Oliver Twist needed some magic in his life. Which could have been disastrous, but it's not. It is brilliant. And at the heart of it all is an orphaned blind thief named Peter Nimble.

Peter is awesome. He is an honorable thief. The best sort. He has lived a rough life and I felt for this poor little boy from the beginning. As his story continued I fell under his spell more and  more. He is not always likable. He can be arrogant, high handed, demanding. At times he is scared and helpless. At all times you can't help but want him to win the day. Peter is backed up by an odd yet wonderful assortment of supporting characters from his quest companion Sir Tode to a Guard Raven to the prickly pugnacious Princess Peg. They add to Peter's story in delightful ways and give much insight into who this hero is. 

I recommend this for anyone who loves mystery and adventure and enjoys a good yarn.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Books for Christmas Presents

Or What My Kids are Getting for Christmas, 2011 Edition.

 So I did this last year and decided to do it again this year since my kids, not surprisingly, get quite a few books for Christmas each year.

For the Little One (age 3):

You can find my thoughts on Apple Pie ABC and Press Here and also Follow Me and A Pocketful of Posies (from below) at this post.
We are in a Book and Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! are fairly self explanatory. If you are the parent of a young child and don't know Mo Willems (I recently discovered there are such parents) you need to get to know his books and know them well.
Super Dragon is a cute story about a young dragon who wants to compete in a flying contest but needs to learn to fly first.
For Bit (age 7):

Cake Mix Cooking for Kids is a book full of easy recipes that use cake mixes as a base. Great for budding bakers who want to strike out on their own.
You can read my thoughts on Tuesdays at the Castle here and The Cheshire Cheese Cat here.
Bit and I both read Amelia Lost when we checked it out from the library earlier this year. Bit really loved it and so is getting her own copy.

And this year I have a soon to be niece to by a book for too. She is not due to make her arrival into the world until March 1 but it is never to soon to start buying a kid books. Right? And every kid needs a good nursery rhyme collection so she will be getting this:
What are you all getting for the young people in your lives this year?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Horse and His Boy

Featuring Bit, Age 7

Our last read aloud of 2011 is complete. We just finished The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis. I had read all of the Chronicles of Narnia to Bit when she was four and she enjoyed them then. This time however she not only enjoyed this but was pulled into the story. She was vocal and opinionated about everything and really engaged with the text. It was heartwarming for me as this is my absolute favorite of the seven books.
The Story
In Narnia it is the Golden Age as the High King Peter reigns with his siblings, but to the south of Narnia in the land of Calormen, a boy named Shasta has lived a simple and harsh life with his father in a fishing hut. Everything changes on the night a powerful Tarkhan wants to buy him as a slave and it is revealed that Shasta is not from Calormen at all. With the help of the Tarkhan's war horse, a talking horse captured from Narnia named Bree, Shasta escapes and head for the north and freedom. Along the way he and Bree form an alliance with a proud young Tarkheena named Aravis and her horse Hwin, also a talking horse from Narnia. They too are escaping life in Calormen. The four end up playing an intricate role in the fate of the northern countries of Archenland and Narnia, both of which find themselves under threat from Calormen.

Bit's Thoughts
 I really like this book. It was my second time reading it. I enjoyed it much more this time and thought it was very funny. Especially the end. My favorite character is Aravis. I think she is very brave. She wants to go out all by herself. There is a character in this book named Lasaraleen who really annoyed me. She was silly and mostly cared about frilly dresses and all that. Aravis was so much better. I'm very happy that Aravis had a happy ending.

My Thoughts
Yes, this one, overlooked by many and hated by many who do actually read it, is my favorite of the series. I love how it is classic fantasy. There is a group of companions, a quest, a kingdom to save, an enemy to conquer, secrets to be uncovered, and an unknown heritage to be discovered. All the tropes of classic fantasy written before they were really tropes. This is the tightest of the plots Lewis wrote in any of the Narnia books. The story is wholly contained within this one volume. You can go into it knowing nothing of the other books and have all you need. The character arcs in this are also well done. Particularly that of Aravis, who is my favorite Narnia heroine. (I wrote about that more here.) From a Christian perspective I also appreciate the theology in this book and the way Lewis wove it into the story more than in any of the others. It is far more subtle, although still obvious, and is so layered. No matter how many times I read it I pick up on elements I missed before every time.

Bit and I won't be starting a new novel read aloud until January. There will be too many interruptions in the next couple weeks. When we do start back up we will be reading Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Let it Snow

Yes, this is another YA Christmas book post. What can I say? I'm in a holly jolly mood this year. Let it Snow is a collection of three short stories by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle. They are interconnected and involve snow, Christmas, and romance. Light, fluffy, fun. It is perfect for reading snuggled under a blanket near your Christmas tree.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Sparkling white snowdrifts, beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow. A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks. 

The three stories are interconnected, all taking place in Gracetown which is getting a Christmas snow that is stopping trains and trapping people where they are. The perfect set up for romances to bloom. And all this snow is falling on Christmas Eve trapping a couple of the teens in places their parents are not. Even more perfect for romantic developments. Gracetown is a fictional Western North Carolina mountain town and since I've lived in small town in Western North Carolina I especially appreciated this element. Particularly as the Waffle House was practically a character in the story. That is so spot on. All three stories are fun, if predictable. But let's face it, if you are in the mood to read a book like this, predictable is what you are after. My favorite was the John Green story, not only because I like his writing style, but also because I have a thing for best friends falling for each other stories. Maureen Johnson's story made me laugh the most of the three and I really fell for her characters too. I thought the final story (written by Lauren Myracle) was probably the weakest, mainly because the main character annoyed me greatly and it was heavy on the Starbucks and light on the male lead. 

This is a great choice if you are in the mood for a romantic Christmas read.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu

It is rare for me to pick up a book anymore that I have no preconceived notions about. It is hard not to develop some about almost any book when I read so many blogs. I was very excited when I saw The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang on the new arrivals shelf at my library.  I had seen it mentioned in a couple of comments at Heavy Medal but knew nothing else about it. Just the title. It was a lovely experience going into the story not knowing what to expect. I can say that it is one that is well worth reading and adding to any library collection (home, classroom, school).

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Lucy Wu, aspiring basketball star and interior designer, is on the verge of having the best year of her life. She's ready to rule the school as a sixth grader and take over the bedroom she has always shared with her sister. In an instant, though, her plans are shattered when she finds out that Yi Po, her beloved grandmother's sister, is coming to visit for several months -- and is staying in Lucy's room. Lucy's vision of a perfect year begins to crumble, and in its place come an unwelcome roommate, foiled birthday plans, and Chinese school with the awful Talent Chang.
Her plans are ruined -- or are they? Like the Chinese saying goes: Events that appear to be good or bad luck often turn out to be quite the opposite, and Lucy finds that while she may not get the "perfect" year she had in mind, she can create something even better.

Kids are going to sympathize with Lucy in all sorts of ways. I sympathized with her and really wanted to have a heart to heart with her parents on how unreasonable they are at times. Even when I knew they were right. That is how well Shang conveyed Lucy's emotions. Lucy has all the genuine feelings, frustrations, joys, and concerns of any typical sixth grade girl. There is a boy she likes but is content to sneak looks at. She is afraid of falling on the wrong side of her school's golden girl, who is a mean bully. She feels like her parents don't understand her or care about her feelings at all. There is an element in her story of warring culture. She is a Chinese-American and the American part wins over the Chinese part in many of her choices. Unlike her "perfect" older sister who speaks fluent Chinese and has learned all she can about the culture. This is conveyed with a light touch and, while probably the most element of Wendy's story, never becomes tired or trite.

Then there is Yi Po's story which the teacher/mom in me likes best about the book. There is a scene toward the end where Yi Po is recounting a moment from her childhood. A moment that took place during China's Cultural Revolution. It is a heart wrenching story and is told in such a way that it draws the reader in and manages to educate them on a very important time in Chinese (and therefore World) History at the same time.  As most people probably manage to graduate high school without ever hearing about the Cultural Revolution this is a very good thing indeed. It is not the main reason to read the book though, only an added benefit.

The ending was a little too neat and tidy, all loose ends tied up in a pretty bow with curly ribbons, for my taste. But I am a cynical grown up. I can see a kid eating it up because that is the way they want similar situation in their own lives to end. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a good contemporary MG novel.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Princess of Glass

Tackling a retelling/reworking of Cinderella in a post Ella Enchanted (my review) world is a brave thing to do. And if you are going to do it you should really give your story some kind of unique spin. Jessica Day George did just that with Princess of Glass and the end result is an enjoyable and fun read.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Hoping to escape the troubles in her kingdom, Princess Poppy reluctantly agrees to take part in a royal exchange program, whereby young princes and princesses travel to each other's countries in the name of better political alliances--and potential marriages. It's got the makings of a fairy tale--until a hapless servant named Eleanor is tricked by a vengeful fairy godmother into competing with Poppy for the eligible prince. Ballgowns, cinders, and enchanted glass slippers fly in this romantic and action-packed happily-ever-after quest from an author with a flair for embroidering tales in her own delightful way.

There is a lot to like about how George manipulated the tale of Cinderella. The main character is Poppy, one of the may sisters from George's earlier retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses", Princess of the Midnight Ball (my review), and she is not the Cinderella type character. That role is given to a maid by the name of Eleanora who is not all that likable. Turning the Fairy Godmother into the evil villain was a stroke of genius. These elements made the story different enough that it was page turner and took unexpected turns.

I also enjoyed how Poppy is very much the heroine of her story. She is the rescuer of the Prince and that is always an awesome addition to any tale. (He gets to do a bit of rescuing of his own too, but Poppy is even an active participant in that.) 

This is a fun and light reworking of the old tale. I think that it might work better if it had not made so many references to the villains from the previous book and if the romance between Poppy and Christian had been developed a little better. Still, it is a good afternoon's entertainment.

This is YA, but is one of those that would work well for MG readers ready for something a little more mature and romantic. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything

Sometimes a book comes along that is a balance of quirky, enjoyable, and well written. When it happens to be a contemporary fiction novel about a culture many young readers are not familiar with, so much the better. If you are looking for such a book then Uma Krishnaswami's The Grand Plan to Fix Everything is one to check out.

Summary (from Goodreads):
Eleven-year old Dini loves movies—watching them, reading about them, trying to write her own—especially Bollywood movies. But when her mother tells her some big news, it does not at all jive with the script of her life she has in mind. Her family is moving to India…and, not even to Bombay, which is the center of the Bollywood universe and home to Dini’s all-time most favorite star, Dolly. No, Dini is moving to a teeny, tiny village she can’t even find on a map. Swapnagiri. It means Dream Mountain and it only looks like a word that’s hard to pronounce. But to that open-minded person who sounds the name out, one letter at a time, it falls quite handily into place: S-w-a-p-n-a-g-i-r-i. An honest sort of name, with no surprise letters waiting to leap out and ambush the unwary. That doesn’t mean there aren’t surprises in Swapnagiri like mischievous monkeys and a girl who chirps like a bird—and the biggest surprise of all: Dolly. So now, Dini is hard at work on a new script, the script in which she gets to meet the amazing Dolly. But, life is often more unpredictable than the movies and when Dini starts plotting her story things get a little out of control.

This is a book many kids will be able to identify with even if they don't know anything about Bollywood or Indian culture. They will be able to sympathize with Dini feeling alone, like her parents don't always understand her, and the sadness she has at leaving her home and best friend Maddie behind. They will most likely be able to identify with her obsession with a pop icon and her feelings that if any fan is important to said icon, she is. The story comes complete with a host of quirky secondary characters to back Dini up.

The story itself is not unlike a Bollywood movie. It plays out in a similar way to a film. There are abrupt scene cuts, fade out, multiple angles viewed. There are places where the plot is a little zany and the characters overblown. That is part of the charm of the book and another thing I think will appeal to young readers. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Characters Who Captured My Heart in 2011

“I was attempting to write the story of my life. It wasn't so much about plot. It was much more about character.” 
-from Dash and Lily's Book of Dares

I love this quote because, as I have stated many times, I read for character. If you make me love your characters I will forgive you all kinds of faults in your world building and plot development. As I was thinking about the books that will go on my Best of 2011 list (which I'll post at the end of December) I started thinking about all the amazing characters I fell in love with this year. Not all the books they come from will make that final list (though some will) and I decided to a separate post to cover all the characters who captured my heart this year and  made me fall in love with their stories.

Instead of linking the titles to their Goodreads page like I usually do, I have linked them to my reviews.

Melina Marchetta's Boys:
Yes, all of them. I read Saving Francesca, my first experience with Marchetta's work, last December. I was an instant fan and picked up her other books once 2011 began. I even pre-ordered her 2011 US release. And while yes, I also very much love the female characters in her novels, wow can she write guys well. I love them all from Jonah and Chaz (and even Ben and Jude) in Jellico Road to Finnikin in Finnikin of the Rock. But the one that wormed his way into my heart the most this year was Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son. I dare anyone to read Tom's story and not come away seriously caring what happens to him and all the people in his messed up world.

 R.J. Anderson's Faeries (and their Humans):
I love stories with Faeries and Faerie lore so it was no surprise that I liked R.J. Andersons Faerie books, Knife, Rebel, and Arrow, when I read them this year. More than liked. I did order Arrow from the UK since it hasn't been published yet in the US (and I intend to do the very same thing with Swift when it comes out next year). The characters in these novels captured my imagination and my heart. The Faerie girls, Knife, Linden, and Rhosmari are all strong capable heroines who are unique and different from each other. Paul and Timothy, the human boys, are well balanced between being heroic and needing assistance of their own. Oh, Paul's actions at the end of both Knife and Arrow ♥♥♥. And then there is also Rob, male Faerie, with a very intriguing backstory I want to know more about.

The Casson Children
 "Oh, you Cassons are so artistic and dysfunctional and cool, it's not fair."-Sarah (Permanent Rose)
 Reading Hilary McKay's Casson Family books will make most adults, particularly those who are parents, cringe (most kids will probably think they can relate). Notice that I put the children and not the whole family. Their parents....shudder. They are not evil people, just the self absorbed type that probably maybe should have thought harder about the responsibility of children before having so many. Yet when you read the books you can't help but love these kids with all their quirks and annoying habits. Their bond is strong and their love for each other fierce and it is heartwarming to read. My review for Saffy's Angel; My review for the rest of the books

 Katherine Ann Stephenson
The intrepid heroine of Stephanie Burgis' Kat Incorrigible definitely deserves a mention. (Bit emphatically agrees with this choice as well.) This was another book it was going to be hard for me not to like. Regency England with magic. Fortunately Burgis is a talented writer with a firm knowledge of her historical period to pull this off well. And at the center of it she placed the best sort of young heroine. Kat Stehpenson is not a proper young lady. She climbs trees. She speaks her mind. She fights. She doesn't see why a girl can't set out to seek her fortune like a boy, and so cuts off her hair and goes out to do just that. The only thing standing in her way are her sisters. But she figures out a way to deal with them, find them proper suitors, and deal with the strange and mysterious magic she has inherited from her mother. She s like Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse and Hermione Granger all in one. Truly spectacular.

Conn and Company
From my review of Sarah Prinneas' Magic Thief books: "A  thief is a lot like a wizard. A wizard is a lot like a thief. Yes, thievery and magic combined.  Who wouldn't love these books?  Hmmm....well, I can think of a few people who don't like either of those things separately, never mind combining them.  Who cares about those people though?  These books were definitely my kind of fun." And the characters in them are my  kind of people.I loved Conn's sneaky snarky heroism and Rowan's intelligent fierce loyalty especially. I certainly will be first in line if another book were to come out, which Sarah says is a possibility (just not anytime soon).

Cyrus and Antigone Smith
And all the other Polygoners who have joined them by the end of the book. I think my fondness for the characters in N.D. Wilson's The Dragon's Tooth might just outweigh my fondness for the characters in his other books, and that is saying something. I think what I love most about Cyrus and Antigone is how genuine their sibling relationship reads, younger brother and older sister very close in age. They bicker, tease, and poke at each other, but they also love and protect each other (often times simultaneously). I'm very much looking forward to following both of them and all the people they have befriended as the Ashtown series continues.

 Don't let my face fool you; it tells the worst lies. A girl can have the face of an angel but have a horrid sort of heart.
Ah Briony, so confused and so good at the self loathing. And yet so very very sympathetic. Franny Billingsley's Chime is a wonderful story. It's many potential award mentions and National Book Award nomination tell us that it is also well written and worth a look. No one would care about this book at all if it weren't so easy to love and feel for Briony. She is the story. And Eldric is a pretty awesome character too.

Doug Sweiteck
When I first wrote my review of Gary D. Schmidt's Okay for Now I had this to say: "I grow weary of reading book after book written in first person. Many of them sound the same. Not this one. Doug becomes a real person through his voice and, I have to say, I haven't enjoyed having a character's voice in my head this much since I read The Thief. (Not that Doug and Gen are in anyway comparable, because they aren't. That is just how real Doug came to be in my mind.)" I can give no book higher praise than that. This is another character whose story is a little heartbreaking but, at the same time, so full of potential. When I read this book I just want to give Doug hugs.

So there they are, the ones who got to me the most this year. I'm very excited that I will get to experience further adventures of some of them. And I will get experience all of them over and over through the joy of rereading.