Thursday, August 30, 2012

The List

The List by Siobhan Vivian has an interesting concept at its heart which is why I read it. Every year at Mount Washington High School a list is posted. It is posted the week of Homecoming.  Nobody knows who does it. It is stamped with a seal stolen from the school office decades ago to certify it is the only legitimate list of its kind. On the list are eight names, two girls from each class: the ugliest and the prettiest. As decided by a jury of an anonymous person(s).  This is the story of the eight girls chosen in one year.

The Girls and My Thoughts:
Danielle (Ugliest Freshman): I liked Danielle. A lot.  She was unfairly chosen for the List and though it throws her and causes her to make some silly decisions (she is just 14 after all), she comes out stronger in the end.

Abby (Prettiest Freshman):  I had a hard time with Abby. She has problems too, like everyone. She is not allowed to attend Homecoming due to her science grade and feels forever inferior intellectually to her nerdy older sister. She was a whiny brat though and never got past that. But again, she's young.

Candace (Ugliest Sophomore) and Lauren (Prettiest Sophomore): These two are inseparable in terms of story. Candace is actually good looking, but she's mean spirited. Lauren is the new girl (previously homeschooled and her mother is having a hard time letting go) and isn't even trying to be popular or "in". Candace's friends suddenly want to incorporate Lauren into their group after the List. By the end Candace and Lauren are practically BFFs and Candace is learning to be a nicer  person (maybe). I totally could have lived without these two. They sort of bored me.

Sarah (Ugliest Junior): Okay honestly, I want to read a book all about Sarah. She was the one who fascinated me the most and I felt like there was never enough of her. She is an outsider. The "bad girl" (except not really) who could never fit in and so then went to the opposite extreme. Her reaction to the list is, in many ways, funny. Yet there is so much deep hurt under it. She is incredibly sympathetic and heroic in her own confused way. Her story also comes with the one truly awesome male character in the book.

Bridget (Prettiest Junior):  The Listmaker has no idea but they pretty much ruined this girl's life. She was having an issue with body image before, this made it worse. She is far gone by the end of the story and only some serious intervention and counseling are going to bring her back. Bridget's parts are heartbreaking to read in their realism.

Jennifer (Ugliest Senior) and Margo (Prettiest Senior): Again, these girls' stories can not be separated. They were, at one time, best friends. Jennifer is a fourpeter for The List. The only one in history. I liked what the author did with the dynamic between these two. It is not predictable. It is not cliche'. Margo is not a "mean girl". Jennifer is not likable or very sympathetic.

When I began reading I was expecting the format to be different. I just assumed that we would get a story from each girl's PoV, but that's not how the author chose to tell it. Instead, the story is broken up by days of the week beginning when The List is posted and ending with the crowning of the Homecoming Queen. It was a good thing the list was in the front of the book because I needed it to keep track of who everyone was for awhile. Soon though each girl's story became clear and took on a life of its own, some more interesting to read than others. I thoroughly enjoyed the portrayal of the principal, young and new to the school, who went into Super-Educator mode to try and "fix" the girls while not really doing anything but say she was on their side. The girls were not impressed. The rest of the faculty pretty much seems to have the whole situation on ignore, which after years of experience with it is probably a realistic survival tactic.

Overall this is an interesting book which has a lot of good qualities and makes many fine points. I think teenagers who read it will be entertained and have some interesting things to mull over.

Note on Content: Being a book about typical teens in a typical high school, there is swearing, some  underage drinking, and mentions of sex. In the context of the book it works and is not there for shock value nor is the drinking and sex treated frivolously. It is what high school is.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen has sat on my list of books to read for some time but shot quickly to the top when it showed up on the SLJ Best Children's Novels poll. It is now a favorite. I love everything about it.

It is love at first sight at the age of 7. For Juli anyway. She sees Bryce's amazing blue eyes and smile and knows that he is it for her. Bryce is of an entirely different mind. He, in fact, thinks she is a psycho stalker. This goes on through all of their elementary school years. Bryce sees Juli as an overbearing know it all who can't take a hint. Juli sees Bryce's beautiful eyes and brilliant smile. She misreads a great  many of his actions. Then eighth grade happens and everything flips. It begins with Juli trying to save her favorite tree, a small event in the history of the town but a turning point in the minds of both Juli and Bryce. Bryce begins to see a different girl, one  of passion and conviction and heart, who he would like to know better. Juli is soon convinced Bryce's beautiful eyes have no soul behind them and wants nothing more to do with him. He becomes desperate to show her (and himself) that she's wrong.

I love when a book is told in alternate voices and it's done RIGHT. This is done right. Two chapters, one a piece, and you have Bryce and Juli talking in your head. They sound significantly different and reading the scenes from both their perspectives proves how complex every little situation is, and how no two people ever see it the same way. I loved Bryce's sarcasm. I loved Juli's spirit. As the story continued I felt all of the emotions as they changed and grew. Juli's heartbreak as she realized her ideal boy was a fiction. Bryce's heartbreak as he begins to truly see the things around him and who he doesn't want to be. Juli's love and appreciation for her family. Bryce's embarrassment at his friends. All of this is told with heart and manages to be funny at the same time. Even heartbroken, Bryce is still snarky and Juli is still full of spirit.

Other things I loved: Bryce and his grandfather. Juli and Bryce's grandfather. Bryce's grandfather in general.  Juli's whole awesome family. Bryce's mother. Basket Boys. The spot on middle school shenanigans involving the Basket Boys.(You're curious right? I will say no more. READ!)

This book has heart, soul, brains, everything you could want. And the end is absolutely perfect.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Favorite Fantasy Series

It has been a while since I've done a Favorite Things post that hasn't been connected to some poll going on somewhere on the Internet. In thinking what I wanted to do next I realized that I have never done a post on my favorite Fantasy Series. Since these are the books I reread the most often that seemed remiss.

So here they are in the order I read and fell in love them:

The Chronicles of Prydain: I read The Black Cauldron and The Castle of Llyr when I was 8. Somehow I missed the existence of the other three books until later. Still, this counts as my first true fantasy obsession as I read the two I knew about several times and spent a great deal of time running around my neighborhood pretending to be Princess Eilonwy. It has been a joy these past couple of months to watch Bit read and fall in love with these books too.

A Wrinkle in Time and companions: I discovered A Wrinkle in Time when I was in the 5th grade and pretty much went on a Madeleine L'Engle binge, reading everything in my school library with her name on it. A Wrinkle in Time is the book I have reread the most, but I adored the whole series and everything about the Murry family.

The Chronicles of Narnia: I didn't read these until I was in middle school. I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in sixth grade and the others sporadically through the years after that. My favorite is The Horse and His Boy, which I know is controversial. Don't care. I love Shasta and Aravis and everything about their journey. This is followed closely by The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as my second favorite.

Harry Potter: Yes, I adore Harry Potter. Despite seeing the flaws in the later books I love love love them. Strangely enough it isn't because of Harry himself, I actually always had very little interest in him. These books were all about Ron and Hermione for me. Individually, not just as a couple. (Confession: I think Harry would be kind of a boring person to hang out with actually.)

The Queen's Thief:  Do you notice how I always manage to include these books in some way on almost every Favorite Things list I do? (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and  here.) Am I obsessed? Yep. A little bit. That's because they are the best books I have ever read. Ever. The love I have for them knows no bounds and will never diminish. I have them all downloaded as e-books (as well as owning actual copies of course) so that they are always with me on my iPod wherever I go. I have my favorite parts book marked and read them whenever I have to wait anywhere. I read the entire series at least once a year, sometimes twice.

The Oxford Time Travelers: There is so much to love about these. Oxford. Time Travel. Great Literary References. Awesome Characters. Swoon Worthy Romance. Yes they are filled with it all. What is amazing is how they balance humor and tragedy and show the human condition at its best and worst. They are just all kinds of awesome.

Chrestomanci Chronicles: Of all the series Diana Wynne Jones wrote this is my favorite. And that's saying something as I adore all of her books. There is something about Christopher Chant that has embedded him in my heart like no other character of hers though. I think it might be his flirtation with the dark side and his obvious love, though absent minded, of his wife and family. All of the characters in this series favorites of mine though and the books are full of great adventure and magic.

You can find more fantasy series (and trilogies) I adore here. There are several other first in a series or trilogy books I've read recently that may be added soon. I'm waiting to see if their sequels live up to the beginnings. (If N.D. Wilson's Ashtown Burials continue to go the way of the first two books. It will definitely become an all time favorite.)

Feel free to share your favorites too.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Broken Lands

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford has been on my TBR for a while now. I have been eager to read her writing, having heard so many good things about it. When her newest book, The Broken Lands, which is a prequel to Boneshaker, became available on NetGalley I requested it immediately. It's no secret I love historical fantasy and this is historical fantasy set in Industrial New York, just as the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge is coming to an end.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
A crossroads can be a place of great power. So begins this deliciously spine-tingling prequel to Kate Milford’s The Boneshaker, set in the colorful world of nineteenth-century Coney Island and New York City. Few crossroads compare to the one being formed by the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River, and as the bridge’s construction progresses, forces of unimaginable evil seek to bend that power to their advantage. Only two orphans with unusual skills stand in their way. Can the teenagers Sam, a card sharp, and Jin, a fireworks expert, stop them before it’s too late? Here is a richly textured, slow-burning thriller about friendship, courage, and the age-old fight between good and evil.

 There are a lot of characters introduced in the first few chapters, but Sam and Jin are by far the most important, and the ones I became the most attached to over the course of the story. Sam is a card sharp and trickster who makes his living fleecing others. He is not terribly proud of this, and has a definite desire to do more with his life. Jin is a Chinese girl and a master pyrotechnic. She can create marvels with fireworks. Her past is a nightmare that she is still trying to overcome. She was brought to San Fransisco as a toddler, her feet were bound, and she was raised  for one purpose only. Milford did an excellent job of conveying the exact nature of Jin's terrible past without describing it at all. Those who know of what she is talking about will understand what happened to her. For those who are maybe younger and without as much knowledge, it will go right over their heads. I appreciate this ability to convey what needs to be conveyed without the lurid details. My heart ached for both Sam and Jin as their relationship unfolded amidst the awful situation they were facing. There were some truly beautiful scenes with these two depicting their evolving relationship that stood in stark contrast to the horror of their circumstances. Through both Sam and Jin and their newfound compatriots we are given a glimpse of what people can do when they band together to stand for something greater than themselves.

Milford brings 19th century Coney Island to life perfectly. The story has a definite sense of place. Her prose is vivid and descriptive and she glosses over nothing. Through the characters and plot of the story she shows both the humanity at its finest and inhumanity at its foulest. The plot is fast paced and gets off to a quick start. The bodies start piling up soon and characters find themselves in peril within the first few pages. It is exciting reading for sure, and near impossible to put down. In fact, I didn't put it down until I had finished it. The fantastical elements of the story have a Gothic creepiness to them that works perfectly with the setting. Eastern mysticism is mixed with Faustian legend and the old Jack Tales (one in particular) to make for a unique story. I love that Milford took such rich source material and truly made it her own.

This is a book that straddles the MG/YA genres. I can see older more savvy Middle Grade readers liking and understanding it. It is complex, creepy, and Jin's back story is one that requires some understanding of the world to access fully. I would recommend this to anyone in their early teens or older who enjoys thrilling creepy stories with a lot of adventure. After reading this I'm definitely interested in reading more by Kate Milford.

Note on Content (For my fellow Christian parents.): There is quite a bit of eastern mysticism used in the story. This is definitely a story of good vs evil where the good triumphs, yet while there are definite supernatural forces of evil the supernatural forces for good are not as easily distinguishable. It should make an excellent opportunity for a discussion comparing belief systems and worldviews if  your kids want to read it.

I read a galley of this made available via NetGalley. The Broken Lands is on sale September 4.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Splendors and Glooms

Splendors and Glooms was one of those books I read because I felt like I had to. It was written by Newberry Award winning author Laura Amy Schlitz and I like her stuff. I do not like Victorian Fantasy though, and those words were being thrown about enough in conjunction with this book to make me groan. I think it would be more accurate to call this a fantasy that has a Victorian setting. When I think Victorian Fantasy I think Alic in Wonderland or Peter Pan, and this has more of a Diana Wynne Jones feel to the story. In fact, if you have read Jones's The Magicians of Caprona you might recall (how could you not?) that there were some super creepy scenes involving puppets. This book works on the same sort of concept. And is for sure certain creepy. Wonderfully creepy.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants.
Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall.
As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late.

The story here is a complex one with a large and varied cast of characters. The action centers around the disappearance of Clara Wintermute following her birthday party and moves from London town house to London slum to large country estate. Suspicion over Clara's disappearance is focused on the puppet master Grisini but then he disappears too. As do his two young wards. Clara's parents are distraught as she is their only surviving child. 

All of this action centers on the three children. Impossibly good  Lizze Rose only wants to ensure that there is shelter and food for her and Parsefall while also always doing what is right. Parsefall is far more interested in survival by means fair or foul. He is not evil, just not above breaking the law to ensure he eats. Then there is Clara, suffering from a massive guilt complex and repressed emotions. Clara and Parsefall are also brave and strong minded. I would have preferred the story focused more on the two of them and less on everyone else. (Particularly Lizzie Rose who I frequently wanted to shake and tell to shut up.)  Cassandra, the witch who desires to use the children for her own means, was also fascinating. I really liked what Schlitz did with her character. Grisini is a perfect villain for the gothic horror of the plot. Smarmy to the core, violent in a fantastical way, he is scary enough to give a young reader the shivers without subjecting them to hideous nightmares. And he meets such a satisfying end.

There were places where the story dragged a bit. Mostly when focusing on Clara's parents and Mrs. Pinchbeck. These scenes were short and few though.

This is an excellent selection for readers who enjoy the ghoulish, but shy away from the outright horrific. 

I read a copy available via NetGalley. Splendors and Glooms will be released August 28.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Show Me a Story!

This isn't so a review so much as a: Hey, this book is out there and it's really cool! Take note. Especially if you appreciate picture books and what goes into the creation of them.

The full cover title reads: Show Me A Story Why Picture Books Matter Conversations with 21 of the World's Most Celebrated Illustrators. The book is a compilation of interviews Leonard S. Marcus has done with these illustrators over the years and they are fascinating, funny, and inspiring. There is a section in the middle with art from each illustrator ranging from sketches to finished designs.

Interviews Included:
Mitsumasa Anno
Quentin Blake
Ashley Bryan
John Burmingham
Eric Carle
Lois Ehlert
Kevin Henkes
Yumi Heo
Tana Hoban
James Marshall
Robert McCloskey
Helen Oxenbury
Jerry Pinkney
Chris Raschka
Maurice Sendak
Peter Sis
William Stig
Rosemary Wells
Mo Willems
Vera B. Williams
Lisbeth Zwerger

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cybils Judges

Over at the Cybils they are asking for judges for this year's awards. I love it when the call for judges goes out because that means the time for nominating the books is just around the corner. Stay tuned.

 In the meantime, if you are a kidlit blogger and interested in sacrificing your time to helping out, go and apply. I have never been a judge and so can not speak of the experience but Jen Robinson posted this about it and what to expect from the experience. And Charlotte posted about it too. It sounds like a great amount of work, but also a great amount of fun.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Palace of Stone

Shannon Hale's Newbery Honor winning book Princess Academy was what made me start reading her books. I loved Miri, the girls at the academy, and the people of  Mount Eskel. It is the sort of book that gets into your head and heart. I have a great deal of affection for Hale's Books of Bayern as well. I was so very excited to discover we were getting a sequel to Princess Academy. I had never really longed for a sequel, content to let my imagination complete Miri's story, but was delighted to learn there would be one. As soon as I had the opportunity to read Palace of Stone I grabbed at it.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Coming down from the mountain to a new life in the city seems a thrill beyond imagining. When Miri and her friends from Mount Eskel set off to help the future princess Britta prepare for her royal wedding, she is happy about her chance to attend school in the capital city. There, Miri befriends students who seem so sophisticated and exciting . . . until she learns that they have some frightening plans. They think that Miri will help them, that she "should "help them. Soon Miri finds herself torn between loyalty to the princess and her new friends' ideas, between an old love and a new crush, and between her small mountain home and the bustling city.

Palace of Stone finds Miri, Esa, Liana, Frid, Gerti and Bena traveling to Asland to witness Britta's marriage to the prince. Peder goes as well to spend a year training as an apprentice to a master carver. Katar is, of course, already there as the Delegate to the Court. The girls are thrown into the thick of the intrigue and discontent roiling in the Court and city on their very first day there. Things are bad and the word revolution is being tossed around with alarming frequency. Alarming for someone like Miri who is trying to adjust to life away from her simple mountain for the very first time and whose best friend is about to become the princess. 

At first I had a hard time falling into the rhythm of the story. I was frustrated with Miri. OF COURSE the revolutionaries were using her and not to be trusted. That seemed obvious and I remembered her being smarter than that. However, I came to adjust my thinking as I remembered how wide eyed and innocent she was to the city and the ways of people she hadn't grown up knowing all her life. Hale makes Miri's confusion  and naivete believable. I really enjoyed watching her grow and learn. This is a different sort of growth than she experienced before. This is one that comes from disillusionment and a realization of how complex the world is. The conclusions Miri reaches and the choices she makes are ones I could understand. She is a little too much the ultimate heroine again though, and that I had a harder time swallowing.

Which brings me to what makes me feel so ambivalent towards this book. This is a country with some serious problems that have been ignored for far too long by a King who is far too distant from his people. The revolutionary movement is pretty far gone. Mobs take to the streets at one point. The storming of the prison is nigh, the guillotines are being readied, the knitting needles are coming out. (Yes it's that bad.) The resolution too all that tension was a little too neat for me, and far too dependent on the special girls from Mount Eskel (and quarry speech again). It was too dramatic, and at the same time far too simple, for the issues at stake. What worked in the smaller context of the first book didn't get the job done for me in the wider context of the second.

This is a good read and those who love Miri will be unable to resist reading her story further. Reactions may be mixed. Mine was, though I'm sure many people will love being with these characters again no matter what.

Palace of Stone will be available in stores on August 21. I read a copy provided to me via NetGalley.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour

Oh this was the perfect read for a rainy day of recovery from wisdom teeth removal. Light without being fluffy, having substance without dragging down, Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson is a fun romantic read.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Amy Curry thinks her life sucks. Her mom decides to move from California to Connecticut to start anew--just in time for Amy's senior year. Her dad recently died in a car accident. So Amy embarks on a road trip to escape from it all, driving cross-country from the home she's always known toward her new life. Joining Amy on the road trip is Roger, the son of Amy's mother's old friend. Amy hasn't seen him in years, and she is less than thrilled to be driving across the country with a guy she barely knows. So she's surprised to find that she is developing a crush on him. At the same time, she's coming to terms with her father's death and how to put her own life back together after the accident. Told in traditional narrative as well as scraps from the road--diner napkins, motel receipts, postcards--this is the story of one girl's journey to find herself.

I will admit that this books started slow for me. It took my a while to get into it and I actually considered stopping about 50 pages in, but something about Amy's voice kept me holding on a little longer, and in the end I was glad I did. I really enjoyed how Matson set the book up with receipts, pages from Amy's scrapbook, and playlists they listened to scattered throughout the book. This is the story of Amy and the much needed therapy her epic detour gave her. It is a story about Roger and how his epic detour gave him the closure he needed. It is also the story about the diversity of our country and you can experience that in no other way than randomly driving through it. I may have enjoyed this book so much because I have taken so many road trips across it  myself, to many of the same places. If you've never done such a thing before reading this book, you will want to after reading it. I enjoyed both Amy and Roger and their interactions very much. I also really liked the way Matson ended the book, not trying to make everything okay, but giving just enough hint of good things to come to make you sigh with happiness while putting the book down. 

Note on Content: There is some rather casual treatment of sex in the book so people who are bothered by that should take note. There are no detailed descriptions though.

Friday, August 10, 2012

My Kids and Reading

You all see what I'm reading with Bit on a regular basis because she likes to share her thoughts with you. What I'm reading with the Little Man doesn't come up often. He is only four, and doesn't care to share his opinions as much as his vociferous sister.

He also has a very different relationship to and experience with books.

I have done pretty much the same thing with both of my kids and they responded to it completely differently. They are both being raised in a home where books and reading are highly valued and modeled. They were both read to since they were in utero. When Bit was four she couldn't get enough of books. She wanted to read all the time. She pulled novels off shelves and begged me to read them to her. We went through a shelf full of picture books a day at least as I read one after another.

The Little Man couldn't be more different. He loves books too, but he wants to experience them on his own terms. He will sit and occupy himself for hours looking at books, but rarely wants me to read them to him. I ask. I plead. I beg. "No thanks," is the response I most often get. At least he's polite. There are exceptions to this though and right now those exceptions are:
The Duckling Gets a Cookie by Mo Willems
Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems
Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham
In that order. Every time. And it is a loooong process.

Because I can't just read them all the way through. We have to discuss every single page at length. Why do the cookies have nuts? Why is Pigeon mad? Why does Piggie like chocolate ice cream? Why? Why? Why? He has to compare the page with Gerald's long drawn out "Nooooooo!" to Pigeon's long drawn out "Nooooo !" When we get to Moose's rampage through O, P, and Q he compares it to the image of Pigeon freaking out. He talks about how he gets in trouble if he does that. Every. Single. Time. Which is to say every day. Sometimes more than once a day. It completely breaks up the rhythm of my read aloud and used to drive me demented. Until I stopped to really think about it and now I go with it and appreciate his way of taking in books. (Needless to say, I don't even attempt to take him to library story time.) 

And do you notice how those books all have themes of disappointment softened by friendship? He does that too. His book obsessions have themes. This is, by far, the most complex one yet.

Bit devours books. She scarfs them down and demands more. The Little Man savors his slowly, trying to figure out every spice and flavor that created them and his response to them. Is one way better or more beneficial than the other? I can tell you that the way each one reads fits their personalities to a T.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Horton Halfpott

I really enjoy Tom Angleberger's Origami Yoda books (reviews here and here). That being the case, he is now an author whose books I'm on the lookout for. I was fairly excited when my library attained copies of Horton Halfpott or The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor or The Loosenin og M'Lady Luttertuck's Corset. It is written by Tom Angleberger and involves life at an English manor house.

Synopsis (from book's first page):
There are so many exciting things in this book-a Stolen Diamond, snooping stable boys, a famous detective, the disappearance of a Valuable Wig, love, pickle eclairs, unbridled Evil, and the Black Deeds of the Shipless Pirates-that it really does seem a shame to begin with ladies underwear. 
But the underwear, you see, is the reason that all those Unprecedented Marvels happened-with the possible exception of the pickle eclairs.

And yes, the book is about all those things, but most importantly it is about a boy named Horton Halfpott.  Horton is a downtrodden servant. His family was once more affluent, but they have been brought low by his father's illness. So he is a kitchen boy. A good, upright, honorable and true kitchen boy who develops an affection for a girl beyond his means he knows he can never have. He is positively Dickensian. In fact, this book reads as a Dickens novel might if it were written by...well, Tom Angleberger. (Whose head, I'm convinced, would be a most fascinating one to peek into.)

The story has one of those plots that pops around a lot showing what several people are up to all at once, not leaving room for much character development. There is quite a bit of the zany and ridiculous.  It mostly works because of Angleberger's talent for wording delightful sentences and because it's so understatedly satirical. That is going go go way over the heads of the target audience, who will most likely enjoy it for it's aforementioned zaniness. There is plenty of hijinks and action to keep readers, even ones who would never deign to pick up a book set at an English manor house under normal circumstances, interested.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy is Gary Schmidt's much lauded novel that won not only a Newbery Honor, but a Printz Honor as well. It was published in 2004 coming before both The Wednesday Wars (my review) and Okay for Now (my review). It is unrelated to the other two in plot and setting, but very much similar in style and voice. Schmidt just excels at this type of story.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
It only takes a few hours for Turner Buckminster to start hating Phippsburg, Maine. No one in town will let him forget that he's a minister's son, even if he doesn't act like one. But then he meets Lizzie Bright Griffin, a smart and sassy girl from a poor nearby island community founded by former slaves. Despite his father's-and the town's-disapproval of their friendship, Turner spends time with Lizzie, and it opens up a whole new world to him, filled with the mystery and wonder of Maine's rocky coast. The two soon discover that the town elders, along with Turner's father, want to force the people to leave Lizzie's island so that Phippsburg can start a lucrative tourist trade there. Turner gets caught up in a spiral of disasters that alter his life-but also lead him to new levels of acceptance and maturity. This sensitively written historical novel, based on the true story of a community's destruction, highlights a unique friendship during a time of change. 

The story centers around an event that actually happened in  Maine history. What Schmidt did was come in and give the young girl found in the historical accounts a name, a personality, and a history. And he gave her a friend. Both Lizzie and Turner come to life as the story unfolds. You want them to be real. You want them to win. Even though you know the whole thing is heading toward the exact opposite. There's no other way it can go. I read this with a feeling of trepidation. I'm a girl who knows her history and there was no way this was ending in the manner of Schmidt's other books. But dang if Schmidt didn't still manage to bring in a thread of hope and redemption in the midst of what is a truly tragic story. This is why I love his books. This and the way Schmidt has with words. He creates real people with them, whole towns of them, your convinced have to actually have been there.

In this, as in all of his other books the writing speaks for itself. So here you go. If this doesn't make you want to know these people, nothing will:
"Lizzie Bright Griffin, do you ever wish the world would just go ahead and swallow you whole?"
"Sometimes I do," She said, and then smiled. "But sometimes I figure I should just go ahead and swallow it." And she held her arms out wide, as if she would gather it all in. And for a moment, Turner had no doubt that she could.

"This the boy never talked to a Negro before?"
Lizzie nodded. Tuner nodded, too. He thought Lizzie's grandfather must be older than Methuselah. He looked like a white-haired, fiery-eyed, God-haunted Old Testament prophet without the robes.
"How's he doing now?"
"Fair to middling."
"Fair to middling," her grandfather repeated. "Let's see, then. Boy, why don't you go ahead and say something?" 
Turner had no notion of what to say to an Old Testament prophet. He thought they were all dead.
"Maybe not quite middling." said Lizzie's granddaddy.
Turner opened his mouth and shut it agin.
"Maybe not quite fair..."

"I wonder," said Tuner slowly, "if it's only the folks on Malaga Island who can make you think what they want you to thin."
"So now you're impertinent too."
Turner stood and it suddenly seemed to him that his father was much smaller than he had been before. There simply wasn't as much of him as he remembered. 

"Turner," he said, "books can be fire, you know.."
"Fire. Books can ignite fires in your mind, because they carry ideas for kindling, and art for matches."


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Featuring Bit, age 8

I tried to get Bit to read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin on her own this year and it was unsuccessful. She read the first couple of chapters claimed it was boring and put it back. Then I started thinking she might enjoy it more as a read aloud. She wasn't happy as she wanted to read something else.* I told her that if she didn't like it still after 75 pages we would stop. We didn't stop.

The Story
Minli lives her life in the shadow of Fruitless Mountain. Nothing grows on the mountain and the people of the village are poor. Minli watches her mother and father eke out a meager existence from the farmland. They have a house and enough to eat but nothing more. Minli's mother is discontent and grumbles about how Minli and her father find comfort in the stories he tells. Minli decides to seek the Man of the Moon to change her family's fortune and sets on a journey to where the mountain meets the moon, meeting all sorts of people and having adventures along the way. Through these experiences Minli hears many stories that weave into her own and show her the interconnectedness of life.

Bit's Thoughts
I like Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, but I thought it was boring at first. Once Minli met the dragon it got really interesting. Minli is my favorite character because she is brave and adventurous. I liked lots of the stories within the story. My favorite was the one about the dragon who made the pearl and then it was stolen. The pictures were very good. I will read Grace Lin's new book when it comes out. 

My Thoughts
This book makes a truly superb read aloud. I enjoyed reading it more aloud than I did reading it to myself and I enjoyed that quite a lot. The book has such a storyteller's voice that shines more brightly when that is how it is used. The illustrations are beautiful and that's about all my art deficient self can say about them. I know what I like when I see it, and it's this. The format of the story, weaving other people's stories in to Minli's, is finely executed. They all have the same basic structure and themes: beware your pride, be content with what you have. Two lessons a person can not learn enough, and they have made an indelible impression on Minli by the time she reaches her journey's end. It is truly beautiful.

I am waiting on pins and needles for Grace Lin's follow up to this, Starry River of the Sky, which will be released on October 2nd of this year.

*What Bit and I are reading next: Renegade Magic by Stephanie Burgis (my review)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Liar & Spy

Rebecca Stead won the 2010 Newbery for When You Reach Me (my review) which has already become a beloved favorite of many. Needless to say excitement and expectation are running high about the release of her latest novel Liar & Spy . People will not be disappointed. In fact, I think Liar and Spy is even better.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
When seventh grader Georges (the S is silent) moves into a Brooklyn apartment building, he meets Safer, a twelve-year-old coffee-drinking loner and self-appointed spy. Georges becomes Safer's first spy recruit. His assignment? Tracking the mysterious Mr. X, who lives in the apartment upstairs. But as Safer becomes more demanding, Georges starts to wonder: how far is too far to go for your only friend?

Georges is a character. One with voice and personality, that jumps off the page and invades your brain. He is one of those quiet characters who you can recognize in people you know. He is not slaying dragons. He is not surviving the apocalypse. He is not fighting for his life. He is a kid trying to survive 7th grade and all its atrocities. His voice is exactly the right tone for a 7th grader too. He is wise and mature at times, sounding older than his years. He is scared and unsure at others, sounding younger than his years. His sarcasm is there through it all. He is genuine. There s no other word to describe it. 

Georges is not alone though, he comes with a cast of secondary characters as eager to bounce off the pages as he is. Safer spends his days spying, playing Scrabble, and watching parrots. Candy is obsessed with all kinds of sweets, except the orange flavored ones, and is an expert on seasonal varieties. Bob English who Draws carries a bag of super fine Sharpies around with him and is attempting to change the spelling rules of the English language (he's a fan of Ben Franklin). Typing it I feel like I am making them sound quirky, and I suppose they are, but it is a genuine quirkiness, a quirkiness that in no way overwhelms who they are. It is just one small part of them.

Georges also has parents who love him and are interested in his life. He is age appropriately conflicted about this, bouncing between savoring it and scoffing at it. His father has been laid off and has started his own business. To compensate his mother, an ICU nurse, is working a lot of double shifts. It is understandable that they have not noticed exactly how harassed Georges is at school, despite their love and care for him. Georges has real kid problems that readers can identify with.

I appreciated the way the bullying situation was addressed by Stead as well. The sufferings of Georges are not anything that most middle school students haven't been forced to endure at some point. That doesn't make them any more bearable or less wrong. This point was made without being hammered at the reader. I also appreciated how the situation resolved. It felt realistic and possible and didn't need to be dramatic.

Then there is the spying and the mystery of Mr. X, which I will say little about, but fans of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will enjoy this I think. It is spying exactly as  kids would do it. 

Rebecca Stead has won my heart forever and all eternity for writing a MG novel with depth, wisdom, heart, soul, and snark all contained in less than 200 pages.  Yes, it can be done. The writing in this is top  notch. I bookmarked a ton of pages. I could share some amazing passages but feel that context is required to fully grasp their brilliance. I will just share one, my favorite quote from the whole book , spoken by Safer: Boredom is what happens to people who have no control over their minds.