Thursday, January 28, 2010

When You Reach Me By Rebecca Stead

Over the years I’ve found myself disappointed numerous times over the winners picked by the Newbery committee. That’s not to say that I don’t have some favorite books that happen to be a Newbery (Holes, Number The Stars, The Messenger, and The Graveyard Book, to name just a few). Lately, however, I feel as though the committee tends to forget that a book written for children has to appeal to children or they are never going to read it. If a book doesn’t meet that criteria, then it shouldn’t even be considered for the award. Those of you, who know me, have heard all of this before. So I’ll try not to get on my soapbox. Last year I was pleasantly surprised by The Graveyard Book. Strange tale, but one that does appeal to students (at least my students). I wasn’t sure this year’s committee would stick to the trend. But I was wrong. When You Reach Me is not only well written, but it will have an appeal to children. There’s a mystery. There’s a sci-fi angle to it. And there are the everyday conflicts that kids face. What’s not to like? Don’t forget there’s the connection to another Newbery winner – Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. (Perhaps my favorite Newbery of all time.)

I often say that a sign of a good book is if when you read it you feel as though the author has reached out a hand, grabbed you by your collar and pulled you into the story. This happens from the beginning of When You Reach Me. Miranda is a six grader in 1978 New York City. She lives with her single mom who spends her spare time practicing for The $20,000 Pyramid. Miranda’s favorite book is Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. She carries it with her everywhere. When she begins to receive a series of notes from an unknown person claiming to want to save the life of her friend, Miranda must decide if she will tell her story as the notes ask. Readers who have L’Engle’s book recognize the ties between the two plots and adult readers may also recognize a hint of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

This is a well written story with a strong plot. Students will find themselves easily engaged by story. This is one Newbery that librarians will not hesitate to recommend to their students.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

This is a beautiful love story with a supernatural twist. While not as intense as The Twilight series, Shiver is an intensely gripping story about a young girl who is fascinated by the wolves that live in the woods near her home. The story is told in alternating chapters by Sam and Grace. Sam is a wolf, but not your ordinary garden variety wolf. He is a were-wolf that changes, not with the rising of the moon, but the dropping of the temperature. Grace, also has her own strange connection to the Sam and the other wolves. As a child she was bitten by the wolves, but for some mysterious reason has never changed from human to wolf and back. While the couple searches for a way to keep Sam human, the reader can see that the intense bond between the two is more than just the wolf connection and more than just young love. It is easy to get lost in their story. When the book ends, the reader is left wanting more. Fortunately, there is a sequel on the way.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit by Mercedes Lackey (Audio Version)

I have always enjoyed Mercedes Lackey's writing. And I love a good story about King Arthur, particularly when Guinevere is portrayed as a sympathetic character instead of one of the bad guys. Therefore this book was a particularly good read (or rather listen) for me.

This story is based on Triad of “The Three Guineveres, ” which Lackey came across while doing research for a potential story based on the Arthurian legend. Triad 56 of the Trioedd Ynys Prydein—translated as "The Triads of the Island of Britain"—lists the "Three Great Queens" of Arthur's court. And yes they are all named Gwenhwyfar.

I've always loved the story of King Arthur, but over the years as I've gotten older, I've come to the conclusion that perhaps Arthur was not all that wise and certainly not when it came to women. Frequently I find myself irritated with Author and feeling sorry for Guinevere. What I enjoyed about this story is that the main Gwhenhwyfar of the story (the one from whose point of the view the story is told - there are three in the book) is a strong female character. In some ways a role model, though she does make that tragic mistake with Lancelot. It also didn't hurt that this book reminded me of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Avalon series.

With all the Welsh names, I'm sure this book was much easier to listen to than read. The reader for this audio book, Ann Flosnik, has a wonderful accent that makes the listener feel as though they have indeed traveled back in time to Arthur's time.

If you enjoy tales of King Arthur and Guinevere, this is a book for you. However if you find that you are bogged down by hard to pronounce names, skip the print version and listen to the audio.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Tamora Pierce’s Terrier has been described as a police procedural for young adults. Since I enjoy criminal shows and mysteries this could be why I liked this book so much. The story centers on Beka Cooper, a trainee in the Provost Guard in the land of Tortall. The story is related through Beka’s journal. As a young child, Beka, intent on rescuing her mother and family from a “rusher” – a criminal, manages to assist the Lord Provost in capturing a notorious gang of criminals. As a reward, the Lord Provost moves Beka’s family into his home and provides training of one sort or another for Beka and her siblings. Beka decides to become part of the Provost Guard – also known as The Dogs. As a trainee, she is a Puppy.

Pierce paints a wonderfully colorful picture of a young girl just wanting to do a good job and to provide justice for her people – the members of the Lower City. She earns the nickname Terrier for digging in and never letting go. Through the course of the book we learn a lot about Beka and her friends. And we are right with her as she, with their help, solves two major mysteries. Mystery and a little bit of teenage angst, what more could you want in a young adult novel – oh wait, there’s magic as well. Tortall is not only full of rogues, but mages as well. In fact, Beka has some of her own special magic. She hears the voices of the dead – a long ago Ghost Whisper if you will. Adding to the story mix is Beka’s strange purple eyed cat, Pounce. With those eyes, he’s more than just a cat.
This was a wonderfully gripping read. I do not know why I had not picked up this book before now. Of course, now I’m hooked on yet another series. At this rate, my to read pile is going to be taller than I am.

Currently Reading: The Hair Raising Joys of Raising Boys by Dave Meurer
Audio Book: Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit by Mercedes Lackey

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What New Releases Are You Look Forward to in 2010

Here are just a few on my list:

1. Hunger Games Book 3 by Suzanne Collins - August (They haven’t even release the title yet.
2. The Kane Chronicles, Book One: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan – May 4th
3. The Magic Thief: Found by Sarah Prineas – May 25th
4. The Teaberry Strangler by Laura Child – March 2nd
5. Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer – July 13, 2010

What titles are you anxiously awaiting?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Most of the time, I’m of the opinion that life is too short to read a book that you neither want nor have to read. If you can’t get into a book, then put it down and pick up another one. However, occasionally, I ignore my own advice. Occasionally, for whatever reason I feel compelled to finish a book even if it doesn’t appeal to me. This usually means that I have to give myself a time limit for finishing the book – assigning myself a certain number of pages to be read each day until I finish the book.

That was the case with James Dashner’s The Maze Runner. Even though it reminded me early on of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games (perhaps my favorite read in 2009), I just had a hard time getting into the story. It just seemed to have more sharp prickly edges than Hunger Games. It was not as smooth of a read as Hunger Games. I like science fantasy more than I do science fiction and somehow, I was under the impression this was going to be too sci-fi for me. Yet, I felt compelled to read the book and with the library due date looming at me, I gave myself a reading assignment.

Boy! Am I glad I did! The first in a trilogy, The Maze Runner tells the story of Thomas who wakes up in something akin to an elevator remembering only his name. When the doors open Thomas is greeted by a group of young boys of various ages known as the Gladers. They live in the Glade, which is surrounded by an ever-changing maze inhabited by gruesome creatures known as Grievers. The goal is to get past the Grievers and out of the Maze. To accomplish this, they have to solve the puzzle of the maze. Things are complicated by everyone’s lack of memories of their lives before entering the Glade, distrust of Thomas and the appearance of a strange girl – the only girl to appear in the Glade.

Though I found the first few chapters slow going, it was not long before I found myself pulled into the story. It’s as though Dashner reached out and grabbed me by the collar and pulled me into the Glade along with everyone else. I was immersed in Thomas’ eagerness to find a way out and his frustration at his fleeting memories. The book ended way before I was ready for it to end. I found myself both cheering and moaning that there would be more books. I’m eager to learn the rest of the story, but I sure hate waiting for the next book to be released.

I would classify The Maze Runner as a dystopian young adult number, but one with a light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s just hope it’s not more Grievers. I can’t wait for books two and three.

If you would like to learn more about this book and the author, check out James Dashner’s blog:

Friday, January 1, 2010

What Were Your Favorite Reads of 2009

Not that 2009 is over, let's review. I'd like to know what were your favorite reads and which ones could you just not finish?

For me my favorites, in no particular order, were:

Glass Castle by Jeannette Wells
Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Faith, Hope and Ivy June by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
The Memory Quilt by T.D. Jakes
The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
Extra Credit by Andrew Clements
The Magic Thief and Lost by Sarah Prineas
Silvertongue by Charlie Fletcher
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Books I started but could not finish:
IraqiGirl: Diary of a Teenage Girl in Iraq by IraqiGirl
Sisters in War: A Story of Love, Family, and Survival in the New Iraq by Christina Asquith

Books that I finished but found disappointing:
The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
100 Cupboards: Book 1 (The 100 Cupboards) by N. D. Wilson
Skellig by David Almond

What were your favorites or not so favorites? Post and let me know. I'm always looking to add new titles to the ever growing "to be read" pile.

Currently Reading:
Terrier by Tamora Pierce
The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Currently Listening to:
Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit (A Novel of King Arthur) by Mercedes Lackey