In the spirit of full disclosure I must admit that I deeply disliked the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, I realize it is one of the great works of classic literature, however that does not mean I have to like it. I needed to read it to teach it to my AP English 12 students in September. From the beginning, I thought Victor Frankenstein was an annoying whiner. When he created the monster, then surprise surprise it all went awry all he could manage to do is whine about it. "Oh, woe is me, I created a horrible, destructive monster, whom I have treated terribly and now all I can think to do about it is....NOTHING!" All this being said, I really liked Kenneth Oppel's This Dark Endeavor, a prequel to Frankenstein. It takes us back to Victor and his family when he was only 16 an just beginning to be interested in medicine and dark magic which were somewhat intertwined at the time. Victor is a much more interesting and likable person as a teen than he will be as a whiny adult. I look forward to the next installment in the series.
I also read Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor this weekend which turned out to be fantastic. I wish that whoever writes book cover blurbs would do a better job....I cannot pinpoint exactly how they could be better, just better. Actually what I would like is for the blurbs to stop making good books sound like they will be stupid. I realize they do not want to give away major elements or key twist, but surely the blurb can more accurately capture a book's awsomeness without giving anything away. The blurb on this book made it sound ridiculous, so why did I read it...because other bloggers I respect and often agree with about books loved it. I did not love it, it reminded me too much of Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series, and those I loved. As much as I liked this one, the struggle here between angels and devils was just a bit less compelling, however, I would still recommend it without reservation.
A very different experience was reading Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck. I love his artwork and have bought quite a few books with his illustrations since The Invention of Hugo Cabret came along. Hugo was so very unique that of course Wonderstruck cannot hope to replicate its groundbreaking-ness, but it is still a wonderful book. The story is completely unique and the way he weaves the two stories together is masterful.
As you can tell, I had a wonderful reading weekend. Next up is Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James. It has been at least a few weeks since there was any Jane Austen in my life (since I read The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen by Lindsay Ashford, a fictionalized account of the non-fiction possibility that Jane Austen was murdered.)
This weekend I read both What Boys Really Want by Pete Hautman and Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman. Two initial comments: What Boys Really Want was not as good as The Big Crunch, which I loved! and Why We Broke Up was blissfully devoid of all Lemony Snicket type snarkiness.
What Boys Really Want is not so much a love story, though it does have romance. And it is not really a romance, though it is about what boys really want, and girls too for that matter. It is not however a guide to boys, though that is what one of the main characters, Adam, spends his time writing, revising (an element that makes happy the heart of this former English teacher) marketing, selling, book partying, and rewriting. Interwoven through the narrative are snippets of his book, some of which will make even grown women say, "Oooohhhh, so that's why they do that." Lita is Adam's best friend who is interested in writing herself and is none too pleased that Adam has stolen her thunder. Along with all this, both Adam and Lita are finding romance with Blair and Brett respectively and figuring out how that will fit into their frienship. It was a good story, interesting premise, not particularly predictable but lacked the zing of The Big Crunch.
Why We Broke Up is about breaking up. And throughout the whole thing I was grateful that my brain does not allow me to remember what it was like to be a teenager in love, or not much anyway. We'd all be miserable all the time if we had to suffer through those memories. It is not easy to go through it with Min. The book is a walk through Min's relationship with Ed, that we know is doomed. Those of us with years of wisdom can also see what will doom it coming a mile away. The sad part is that Min does not see it. The book is her letter to Ed as she returns a box of all the detritus of their relationship, the ticket stubs, matchbooks, and other goofy stuff only a teen in love would keep and then spend weeks weeping over after it is all over. The thing about this book, it is sad, I like Min and do not like seeing her hurt, but it is clear throughout the novel she is going to be fine. She learns boys can be jerks, but understands not all are. So it is sad, but also not sad.
Ok, so I have been a bit lax on my posting. I have been so busy reading books for the Cybils, I have not been writing about books, but I am going to remedy that now. If you know a middle grade reader who is into science fiction and fantasy, all of these books are good reads.
The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True by Gerald Morris This one is a nice retelling of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." It has some good messages about honor and honesty but is not off-puttingly moralistic.
The Flint Heartby Katherine and John Paterson In ancient times an evil man has a magical flint heart made that will harden his heart and bring him power. 100s of years after his death the heart is found and wreaks havoc in the human and faery worlds.
**Both of these books are for younger readers. 3rd - 5th grade I would imagine.**
Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier More birds in this one as major characters, but a really interesting metaphor with Peter's eyes. Peter is blind and therefore has excellent hearing and touch senses, but he finds sets of eyes that give him special powers. This serves to remind us all about needing to see the world from different perspectives sometimes. Aside from the messages it is a rollicking good adventure story. It would appeal to fans of Cornelia Funke's The Thief Lord.
The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty This was an odd book and it took me awhile to decide if I liked it or not. It takes place in NYC of the early 1900s, but not a NYC we know. Instead it takes place in a world where people with magical ability are commonplace, but must keep their magic in check as not all forms of magic are legal. This is where Sacha, the main character, comes in. He has the ability to tell if someone, who may not be known to the authorities, has magical abilities. He is therefore recruited by the police to become an apprentice inquisitor. The story has great detail about New York of this time as well as various ethnicities and social classes which each have their own type of magic. But once Thomas Edison and Harry Houdini come in I was less charmed. This is a book with high interest for fantasy lovers, maybe boys especially, but I did not love it.
Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby Solveig is the king's daughter who finds she has great storytelling ability. This however is not the focus of the story, though her abilities become increasing relevant as the tale progresses. Solveig and her beautiful older sister Asa and her younger brother Harald have been sent away while their father the king is immersed in a war. They anticipate returning home until their father's berserker warriors are sent to them for added protection. When the enemy king arrives to carry Asa away as his wife, Solveig must leave her middle child insecurities behind and become a leader and storyteller. It is really a wonderful story with much more depth and detail than this would indicate. This ended up being one we put on our short list.
The Apothecary by Maile Meloy This book is chock full of historical details to temper the magic. It takes place in London where Janie and her TV writer parents have just moved to avoid the House Un-American Activities Committee. Janie becomes friends with Ben whose father is not a modern apothecary, but rather someone who protects and practices the old ways. Together they endeavor to stop Russian nuclear activity and other nefarious goings-ons. Interesting story with superb historical detail.
Dragon Castle by Joseph Bruchac Bruchac writes a great deal using his Native American background. This time he turns instead to his Czech roots and comes up with a wonderful piece of traditional folklore that he has adapted for this story.
The Blackhope Enigma by Teresa Flavin This is an interesting adventure in which the main characters find their way into a painting where there are layers of life going on beyond what is seen by visitors to the museum where it hangs. An interesting concept that is reasonably well done. I wish there had been a little less going on that was better developed, but ultimately it was a good adventure.
The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud I listened to this book and fell in love with Simon Jones' voice. I also found myself seriously charmed by djinni Bartimaeus. This is the 4th book in the series, but unlike the other three, it takes place in Bartimaeus' past with King Solomon in Jerusalem. I think therefore this novel can be read alone, but may be enhanced by having read the other three, which I have plans to do. Bartimaeus is arrogant and sarcastic and clever, three of my favorite qualities. In this story he tries to gain his own freedom from the evil magician Khaba while simultaneously trying to help Asmina steal the ring for her Queen. A fun and quick read that I really enjoyed.
The Coming of the Dragon by Rebecca Barnhouse As an adult familiar with the Beowulf story I really enjoyed how this story took off from the adventures of Beowulf. Rune is a young man when the dragon who is responsible for King Beowulf's death terrorizes the land. Young readers will experience this story now and someday in a high school English class will remember and feel more comfortable with the Old English poem from already knowing some of the plot points.
Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout When the boy wakes up he finds himself alone with a droid whose mission is to protect him. Awakened from a deep sleep in an ark the boy must find other arks in order to restart the human population. This is an interesting take on a world destroyed by humans leaving a legacy for other creatures and a new group of humans to fix. There a some overtones of Wall-E here.
The Only Ones by Aaron Starmer In a world in which all but a few people have disappeared, a group of young teens struggles to discover what has happened and how to get everyone back. This one has overtones of Lord of the Flies.
The Silver Bowl by Diane Stanley When she is only six, Molly is sent away from home to serve in the household of the king of Westria. Molly's magical abilities show themselves when she polishes a silver bowl that gives her the ability to see visions of the past and future. Molly finds herself helping the royal family break the curse that has plagued them for generations.
Aliens on Vacation by Clete Smith "Scrub" visits his grandmother in her home where she runs a hotel for aliens on vacation on Earth. Much hilarity and high jinks ensue as "Scrub" adjusts to this strange place while trying to maintain relationships with kids who have no idea what is going on with all of the strange visitors to their town.
Over my too short Christmas break I read both Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock and Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. In both cases I am eager to read more. Dairy Queen has two sequels, The Off Season and Front and Center. I already own The Off Season and will read it as soon as I finish a few others I have going right now. I got so enthusiastic during my break that I dug myself into a mid-sized reading hole. I will be out soon and on my way with lots of goodies. Perkins has written a second book, Lola and the Boy Next Door, which is not related to Anna as far as I know, but people who love Anna seems to also like Lola.
When I say these are sweet books, I do not mean they are overly saccharine and unrealistic. In fact both girls, D.J. and Anna, face some pretty serious situations. D.J.'s father is recovering from a serious injury that makes him unable to work the farm, leaving the bulk of the work to 15-year-old D.J. and her 9-year-old brother. Anna has been sent by her rich, popular novel writing father to the American School in Paris, where she does not want to be. Both she and her friends experience some typical teen angst as well as some deeper issues with cancer and parental control.
What makes both books especially admirable are the intelligent, strong, admirable female protagonists for whom all these good qualities are perfectly natural and not seen as unusual. (I find it irritating when a big deal is made when a female character is especially intelligent, talented, athletic, etc.) The writing is smooth, the dialogue realistic (though somewhat eloquent for teens) and the characters well-developed and believable. These are two books to read under a warm blanket with some hot cocoa.