I wasn't going to read this, because I found this book's predecessor to be pretty underwhelming. However, I felt like putting off reading something el...moreI wasn't going to read this, because I found this book's predecessor to be pretty underwhelming. However, I felt like putting off reading something else, and this was convenient. It took me a few hours over the course of two days, and I would say it was actually enjoyable reading. This book, like the last one, could have used a little more development, but I wouldn't say it was so underdeveloped as to be deficient. James, who was a worthless set piece in Lament, had an actual personality in this story. He went through believable changes and I think teens could probably relate to him.
James and his friend Dee have enrolled in a boarding school for music students. He spends the beginning of the book pining for his woeful best friend, who is extremely depressed following her separation from her supernatural boyfriend from the first book. Due to this, she's pretty self-involved and vacant and generally uninterested in anyone else's feelings but her own. This isn't meant to sound unsympathetic. Stiefvater actually does a pretty good job of portraying the symptoms of a suicidal person, even if the symptom of the character's depression is a little questionable. Readers of Lament will find it hard to believe why Dee was in love with her boyfriend to begin with, let alone why she might endlessly pine for him.
While James struggles to get over Dee, he is visited by a literally soul-sucking fairy, who wants him to agree to give his life to her in exchange for the means to create brilliant music. James is wise to her plan though and refuses. However, what neither James or the fairy Nuala planned on was falling for the other. I found their relationship fairly believable. Unlike Dee's foray into instant, headlong love, James and Nuala grow to like each other over time and see the value in one another through their experiences together. What a novel idea for a YA book.
Nuala was my favorite. She was sassy and angry and sad but not a whiner. I can see shades of James and Nuala in later works by Stiefvater. It's almost as if she tries out personalities and then hones them in future stories, because her characters seem to have similar arcs: issues with purpose and self-worth, suicidal thoughts, confusion about their relationships to people they think they know. I've read there's a third book coming out in this series. I'm not sure what else is left to say, and I have to say I'm skeptical. This was a good book, but it wasn't amazing.(less)
I wasn't particularly pleased with this, though it was very easy reading. This was due in part I think to the fact that even at her most middling, Mag...moreI wasn't particularly pleased with this, though it was very easy reading. This was due in part I think to the fact that even at her most middling, Maggie Stiefvater is still effective at moving a story forward. I would put this at the bottom of the pile in her stack of books in terms of quality, but, to be fair, it is her first novel. In that regard, I had low expectations. I was more curious about this than anything and had actually stayed away from this before, because I know how I am with this author (I tend to really like her or really dislike her). While I didn't hate this book, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone but die-hard fans of Celtic mythology or Maggie Stiefvater.
The main problem with this book was that was it was underdeveloped. The characters seemed to spring from the author's head fully formed, without subtlety, nuance, development, flaws, wrinkles: you name it in regard to character development and it wasn't there. The plot just kicks into gear immediately. Dee is an incredibly talented girl who is (of course sadly) a wallflower, unsure of her own worth. She meets a creepy but naturally irresistible supernatural guy at a music competition one day, and his first act in winning her over is to come up behind her in the girl's bathroom and hold her hair back while she vomits. I don't care what the other party's intentions are: I don't want a guy (or a girl either) to come up behind me in a restroom and grab me. I find it particularly silly and an unintended contributor to victim-blaming when I read in a lot of these YA books that the girl in question notes how she *should* be creeped out by her undeniably creepy love interest, but somehow she's so totally *not* [insert narrowed eyes here].
The ridiculous premise aside, I was disappointed by the fact that the author had yet to grow into my two favorite things about her writing with this book: subtlety in plot and character construction and setting description. Stiefvater is known for her descriptions, and in her more recent writing she finds a way to build subtle connections and reveal details in a smart way that rewards a careful reader. I'm not surprised by the fact that her early writing doesn't reflect that, but the presence of those things would have rescued this book a bit. Ah well... I'm not trying to nail this author here. I just like to lay things out.(less)
This wasn't very good. I'm not sure if it's because the source material stunk (in the cases in which I wasn't familiar with it) or because the writers...moreThis wasn't very good. I'm not sure if it's because the source material stunk (in the cases in which I wasn't familiar with it) or because the writers (many of whom I only have a passing familiarity with) stunk. I either didn't finish or outright skipped stories I found totally uninteresting and slogged my way through several others. I sort of enjoyed a couple. The only one that had any semblance of really good quality was the story written by Neil Gaiman, who is probably more talented than most of the writers who contributed to this set.
When I saw that this collection featured retellings of classics, I figured they would be really unusual and project totally new spins on old tales. Many of them seemed to focus more on recreating the story from the point of view of another character (boring), while others just seemed pointless all together. The original stories that I was familiar with probably didn't need to be retold. Though like I said, Neil Gaiman's take on Sleeping Beauty — including Snow White in the plot — was pretty clever.
I would recommend this to people who like folk tales and fairy tales and revisiting classics, but only in a passing sense. I wouldn't put it at the top of my list of readers' advisory recommendations to such an audience. There are far better retellings of old tales in novel form around. This isn't something fans of the genre will miss. I'm not even sure of the intended audience. Many of the authors are YA authors, but the general tone and style reflect an adult population. More of a curiosity than anything.(less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Saints is the second volume in an amazing two-part graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, and though a...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Saints is the second volume in an amazing two-part graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, and though about half the length of the first installment, Boxers, I would say Saints is the more compelling of the two. Boxers and Saints tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion, a violent uprising against white imperialists that took place in China in the late 19th Century and part of the early 20th Century. Part of what some Chinese considered to be part of this imperialism was the introduction of Christianity into the country. In the first volume, main character Little Bao believes the missionaries are an invasive and oppressive imperialist presence harming China. However, in Saints, main character Vibiana sees Christianity as a refuge from her crushing family life.
Vibiana is the fourth and only surviving daughter of a widow whose father-in-law resents girls and merely calls Vibiana by the number of her birth order "Four-Girl," the word four in Chinese also being a homonym for "death." She is ill-treated and disrespected by her family and so believes she is evil and worthless. Vibiana has heard the Christian missionaries are devils and misguidedly believes that because she is a devil herself she should fall in with this group. In the beginning she is uninterested in the religion and merely desires to fulfill the nature of the identity she has been given by her family. Her self-loathing is the most poignant aspect of the story.
Vibiana later begins to be visited by the image of Joan of Arc and hopes to emulate this warrior maiden who fought for God and the liberation of her country from invaders. Four Girl takes the name Vibiana, because of its Christian origin and eventually begins to believe that she is also a warrior maiden like Joan of Arc. Vibiana feels the Boxer rebels are butchers and opposes their cause.
While Boxers tells the story of this rebellion from the point of view of the rebels, Saints shows how a beaten-down person might find refuge in the values of the opposing side because the world she in which she has been brought up has betrayed her. One doesn't need to read both volumes to enjoy and understand the story, but the reading experience is richer if both books are read together. I was really impressed by these stories, and I look forward to reading more by this author.(less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This highly compelling graphic novel (along with its companion Saints) brilliantly examines the...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This highly compelling graphic novel (along with its companion Saints) brilliantly examines the nature of war and all of its associated costs. I flew through this book in no time flat, and I would rank this among the top stories of the year.
Boxers begins blithely enough, with the main character little Bao reflecting on his love of Chinese opera and fun at the fair. However, things quickly begin to cloud his previously tranquil childhood, when imperialists and missionaries upset life in his village. Friends and family members suffer in their encounters with the white foreigners who attempt to subjugate China in various ways.
As Bao grows up, he becomes the leader of a rebellion intent upon throwing out these "devils," whom he and his comrades — in many cases rightly — blame for the misfortunes that have befallen the people of China. However, Bao slowly learns that war is not black and white, and he makes a number of decisions that readers will question, namely related to his treatment of "the enemy." In the end, is Bao any better than the invaders who have ravaged his home?(less)
This was excellent and strangely flew by despite totaling 550 pages. My favorite aspect of the book, narrated by Death, was that the characters someho...moreThis was excellent and strangely flew by despite totaling 550 pages. My favorite aspect of the book, narrated by Death, was that the characters somehow remained hopeful and resilient even though they were repeatedly subjected to the horrors of not only the Holocaust, but the destruction of war itself. Perhaps one of the hardest times in human history to come to grips with, the author still managed to give readers a sense that there was a possibility for human beings to do as much good as bad in the world.
The only problem I had was with the narrative device of allowing Death to tell the story. On the one hand, this impersonal, timeless bystander could comment on human behavior without bias or involvement, but Death was in fact involved. Death seemed more like a depressed, but distant and non-interfering God than merely the means by which mortals exit this plane of existence. Death's commentary was distracting sometimes, with a voice that seemed more authorial than not.
Still, this was a great book with a mostly memorable cast. Liesel of course was inspiring and sad, and her family and friends were vital to her survival after losing her as much as she did through the years. This is a good book for any age.(less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This graphic novel probably has everything you really need in a comic book - humor, adventure, f...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This graphic novel probably has everything you really need in a comic book - humor, adventure, friendship, inspiring acts of courage and a sense that the main character has found their sense of self and purpose. What I liked best about this book was the dry humor. Fans of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy need look no further for a quick shorthand in this graphic novel. The monster in question also eerily resembles Marvin the depressed robot from the Douglas Adams book.
I would suggest this to fans of the Bone series, though I liked this better. It's funnier, and it has a little more heart. Rayburn the dragon hides out in his lair and hasn't attacked the city where he lives in a number of years. He's just not inspired anymore. He doesn't think he's a very good monster, and he does very little aside from sulk. This lack of pillaging on the part of Ray is ruining the town's local economy and lowering the morale of the villagers (other cities have way better monsters).
The town decides to send a poor excuse for a doctor and scientist out to help this dragon. If he succeeds, his license to experiment and practice will be reinstated. The town crier comes along, and the the plot to get this monster back on his feet is hatched. These three unlikely friends head out in search of some of Ray's old school friends to try to get his enthusiasm back, but of course many hiccups occur along the way.
Also, a really threatening monster may be on its way to Ray's town to do some actual damage. If Ray doesn't find his sense of self and purpose, it's going to be bad news for more than just his village.(less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Here's a really great book about the difficulty of just trying to be a teenager when the adult w...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Here's a really great book about the difficulty of just trying to be a teenager when the adult world gets in your way. An '80s riff on star-crossed love, this book adeptly showcases the self-doubt, emotion and drama associated with growing up. Eleanor and Park tell the story of their ill-fated relationship in alternating sections. While they sometimes bleed together, their narrative voices never feel inauthentic.
Despite the fact that the title of this book bears two names, I would say this is more Eleanor's story than Park's. Eleanor has more hangups; a bigger chip on her shoulder and a lot more baggage at home that inevitably drives a wedge between herself and Park. Both characters inhabited the domain of the outcast teenager effectively and admirably. I could easily identify with the stuff they went through at school without feeling like their personalities were merely caricatures from the Breakfast Club.
At times the story was a bit gushy for my taste, and there was an undercurrent of TV-show plotting involved throughout. However, the humor cut through these things at just the right times. Eleanor and Park, despite their problems, were pretty funny. What was far from funny was Eleanor's stepdad Richie, who was a real threat to Eleanor for the entire length of this book. The insidious way the depth of that threat is revealed was really brilliant on the part of the author in spite of some of the other minor flaws this book had.
While I think teenagers would thoroughly enjoy this story, the nature of the world the author created seems designed to resonate with adults. This isn't a flaw, and I would liken this book to Melina Marchetta's Saving Francesca in that regard: a story that seems to appeal to adults and teens alike, due to the element of nostalgia involved that only adults who grew up during that time could identify with. The fact that Park is a college rock fan before that music was really considered cool or widespread seems to reflect an insider status that has only now been granted to those people who at the time wallowed in social obscurity. Anyway, these are merely reflections on my part regarding aspects of the story I did enjoy; they're just something to think about.
This was good, resonant writing, and the book ends with an eye toward a more positive future, which is really all one could ask for when looking for realistic fiction.(less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This might be the first five-star children's read I've logged on here this year. I'm not going t...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This might be the first five-star children's read I've logged on here this year. I'm not going to lie — it's been a bit of a lackluster year for children's literature. I've been fine with plenty of stuff, and I've even really liked some of it along the way. But I can't say I've been really passionate about any of it. Of course, Kevin Henkes is a great writer, so I shouldn't be surprised that he's turned out another gem. I've heard this described as similar to Beverly Cleary's Ramona books, and I'd say that's a pretty accurate comparison. If Ramona was a boy, I think she would be Billy Miller. Though I must say Ramona is a little sassier than Billy. However, that doesn't deter from the enjoyment of this book.
Billy Miller is an eager second-grader, hopeful of pleasing his teacher Ms. Silver and his parents. He doesn't quite get his little sister, but he really loves volcanoes and the idea of staying up. all. night. Using the Chinese zodiac as a springboard for finding one's place in the universe, Billy hopes this will be his year when he learns at the start of second grade that this is the Year of the Rabbit (and the Year of the Dragon).
By the end of this book, Billy learns something about the nature of creativity, intuition, navigating relationships and everything else under the sun that's a concern for a kid Billy's age. You don't see many books like this out there in children's literature these days. The Year of Billy Miller rides the line between early reader (designed primarily as a tool to help a child learn to read) and chapter book. Few chapter book readers are young enough to appreciate this story, but those who are past the early reader stage but just shy of stuff for 4th- and 5th-graders will love this book.
Some of my favorite sections included Billy's plan to give "gifts" to his teacher to make up for a perceived offense on his part; his goal to stay up all night while his parents are away because it will change everything; and finally seeing the genesis of his poem about his mom — it begins as an acrostic of the word 'mom' that comes out as 'My Only Mother.' Priceless.
This book is almost identical in scope to the Ramona books, but it's nice that there's a book like this out there for boys. It doesn't read new ground, but Henkes understands young children much in the same way Cleary does. This book isn't patronizing, and it's entirely relatable. Henkes also sees the profound in the life of a child, when problems with poetry and trying as hard as you can to stay up all night mean a great deal. Rather than put them in a teachable perspective, he gives value to these concerns and deals with them in an appropriate and skilled manner.(less)
Another excellent story by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop. They work in tandem to create narrative non-fiction about all kinds of unusual species. Montg...moreAnother excellent story by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop. They work in tandem to create narrative non-fiction about all kinds of unusual species. Montgomery does the text, and Bishop takes great photographs. In this book, they travel to Brazil in search of the endangered Tapir. I love the writing, which is engaging and informative, and the photographs are probably the star of the show. (less)
A nice look at Gandhi's march to the sea, which he completed over the course of many days. I would pick this book for the Caldecott Medal in 2014. The...moreA nice look at Gandhi's march to the sea, which he completed over the course of many days. I would pick this book for the Caldecott Medal in 2014. The illustrations are what make this story.(less)
This is largely wordless, though when text is used, it's used to great affect. A young boy stumbles upon a secret in an abandoned barn during the Dust...moreThis is largely wordless, though when text is used, it's used to great affect. A young boy stumbles upon a secret in an abandoned barn during the Dust Bowl in 1930s Kansas. He's sure something weird is in there, and he's going to find out.(less)
A decent book about how animals camouflage themselves to avoid detection from predators, or to creep up on prey. It's a little repetitive, but it woul...moreA decent book about how animals camouflage themselves to avoid detection from predators, or to creep up on prey. It's a little repetitive, but it would work well for a school project.(less)
A reader by Neil Gaiman that's very reminiscent of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Very dry humor and lots of jokes that probably only adults would...moreA reader by Neil Gaiman that's very reminiscent of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Very dry humor and lots of jokes that probably only adults would get. It's a little long and meandering, but it was clever. I don't know that the intended audience (grades 2-4) would really get all of it, but it was cute and funny. (less)
This was a frightening book about a possible and perhaps not-too-distant future. As the title suggests, it is the year of the flood, and a plague has...moreThis was a frightening book about a possible and perhaps not-too-distant future. As the title suggests, it is the year of the flood, and a plague has killed off most humans, leaving behind, among them, Ren and Toby — two women who once knew each other as members of the God's Gardeners religious sect.
At once dream-like and shell-shocked, the narrative primarily details the lives of Ren and Toby before the flood. Both women came to the gardeners perhaps not by deliberate design, though they retained many elements of the philosophy of the group's leader Adam One. Ren survived the plague because she happened to be locked inside a sex parlor at the time as an employee. Toby survived by barricading herself inside of a spa, where she was hiding from a violent stalker who has plagued her throughout much of her adult life. As they lie in wait for signs of life, they contemplate the paths that led them to their current situations. Ren was brought to the gardeners by her mother, who abandoned her former life for a chance at adventure. Toby came to the gardeners because she was running from her stalker.
I found their narratives quite surreal. They seemed to act primarily as observers rather than agents of their own destinies for much of the story, though when the time came, they frequently took their lives in their hands. It was especially fascinating to see how adaptive people could be under various circumstances. While Toby and Ren felt disconnected from their situations for much of the narrative, I felt they were among the more genuine people featured in the story. All the same, sometimes it was hard to pin them down. They were complicated, and I feel like I still don't fully have a grasp on them.
One of the best things about this book was the biting satire. In the vein of Kurt Vonnegut, Atwood illustrates the terror of the future through exaggeration and dark humor. She was critical of the ruling-class corporations that had an iron grip on the populace, therefore justifying the fringe views of the gardeners. However, she poked as much fun at those people as she did the corrupt government for their naivete and eccentricities. I'm curious about how all of this will end. There's a lot more I left out because it's hard to explain this story. The future easily resembles the present, though viewed through a much harsher lens. I'm somewhat afraid to read the next volume!(less)
A super cool start to a series with a dark but still hopeful edge. A brother and sister learn they are in the inheritors to a magical legacy that allo...moreA super cool start to a series with a dark but still hopeful edge. A brother and sister learn they are in the inheritors to a magical legacy that allows them to travel to another world. They must rescue their mother, who has been kidnapped by a pretty scary monster. With the help of a few new friends, they make their way through a scary little world. Lots of interesting panels and illustrations. Hope to find time to read the next.(less)
I should create a tag called "vacation brain freeze," because this book could easily go under such a subject heading. Don't get me wrong - it was a go...moreI should create a tag called "vacation brain freeze," because this book could easily go under such a subject heading. Don't get me wrong - it was a good, quick read. I pretty much read it in half a day due to the myriad paragraph breaks that occurred about every other sentence, thus rendering a 300-page book to about the length of a 150-page book. I've heard a lot about this story over the last few years, and finally decided to give it a shot during a week off.
Alex and Brittany attend a school divided by class and secondarily by race. The poor kids get into trouble, sneer due to the bitterness about their lots in life and act tough to survive the very real threats they face outside of school. Meanwhile, the rich kids study hard to get into college, act entitled and sheltered and ride around in the new cars their parents buy them to get them out of their way.
Alex and Brittany exemplify the above polarities but yearn to break free of them. Alex has a loving family that unfortunately still failed to keep him out of a gang. Brittany cares for her sister, a sufferer of cerebral palsy, but her parents can't deal with it and pressure Brittany to make up for what they perceive as their other daughter's failings. This story is a pretty transparent take-off of West Side Story. However, it doesn't fall flat in spite of its predictable arc. Partnered against their will in a chemistry class, they of course learn they're not so different after all and come to understand each other.
I know very little about gang life, but I felt the author portrayed this aspect of society in a realistic manner. No one was completely unsympathetic or for that matter romanticized. Brittany's family on the other hand was a little too brittle for my taste, only to be conveniently rescued at the last minute from total condemnation as terrible parents.
For the most part though I thought Alex and Brittany were fairly well done as characters. Alex in particular came off as an authentic voice. Brittany occasionally wandered into poor little rich girl territory, but never became hard to take. I like both of these characters. The author definitely allowed the dangers of gang life to hit home several times, though there never seemed to be enough of a downside on Brittany's part to taking up with Alex. Being shunned at school and getting grounded didn't seem to equate to the risk of bringing a white girl to a wedding populated by gang members.
I found this story particularly interesting as someone who went to a socially divided high school. As far as I know, nobody was in a gang, but there were clear class and racial divisions. This is a good book for kids who might be able to relate in some capacity to this kind of high school. I was a little glib above about this being a brain freeze book; it's definitely got more to give than that, but it's nothing to scratch your head over either. Nobody's going to come away from this story upset or frustrated, and that's fine. It's good for what it is.(less)
This was really funny. The lunch lady has a secret identity as a crime fighter in the vein of Batman. She races around town in a motor scooter exactin...moreThis was really funny. The lunch lady has a secret identity as a crime fighter in the vein of Batman. She races around town in a motor scooter exacting justice against criminals. She wields super-engineered cafeteria implements and delivers snappy one-liners while doing so. This was cute.(less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This was a really nice story about a family living in Fascist Italy during World War II. For a b...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This was a really nice story about a family living in Fascist Italy during World War II. For a book geared toward grades four to six, the author made the surprising decision to tell this story in alternating third-person limited point of view. The transitions between character perspectives were seamless and provided greater insight into what 13-year-old Paolo and his mother and sister went through as they dealt with harassment from Nazis and partisans alike.
Paolo's father has not been seen for some time, as he left home to help the partisans in their fight against Hitler. Often confined to their homes because of the Nazi occupation and forced to live off rations and under other limited circumstances, Paolo longs to fight with the Partisans. However, he soon realizes the reality of war and how complicated it can be. There are no black and white good guys and bad guys.
This story was fast-paced, and the characters were all interesting. Part of me thinks this would have worked better as a YA book, because at times the characters felt like they could have been developed more. They didn't come off as shallow, but each of their circumstances was fascinating. I particularly liked the portrayal and perspective of Paolo's mother Rosemary, who I would consider in many respects to be the biggest hero of the book. Lots of room for discussion and an interesting look at a different side of World War II.(less)
This is an excellent example of narrative non-fiction that would work really well with STEM and the Common Core. Eruption! follows various volcanologi...moreThis is an excellent example of narrative non-fiction that would work really well with STEM and the Common Core. Eruption! follows various volcanologists around the globe as they study volcanoes and try to predict eruptions. The style has a story-like format that creates a great sense of tension as the time of an eruption draws near.
I'll probably incorporate this book into my topic-based non-fiction program that I run at my library for older children.(less)
This was a light read, as far as horror stories go. Mackie Doyle is a replacement. He was placed in the crib of a human baby that was taken long ago a...moreThis was a light read, as far as horror stories go. Mackie Doyle is a replacement. He was placed in the crib of a human baby that was taken long ago as a blood sacrifice for an evil underworld goddess. His family has kept his secret all these years, and he is particularly close with his older sister, Emma, who loves him unconditionally. Preferring to lead a quiet if not completely happy life, Mackie is the reluctant hero of this story, which begins when another child is stolen from her crib and the girl's older sister knows something isn't right about this. Mackie learns what it means to be human as he descends into a world filled with demons, cruelty and in some cases kindness.
This story had a good beginning, but the rest of the narrative didn't really live up to this promising start. At times appropriately chilling, the story frequently was so circus-like in its descriptions of the underworld that I couldn't help but find it a little campy at times, though that's not an uncommon characteristic of the horror genre. I felt the characters were a little flat, and sometimes the author merely told rather than showed when developing the story. All the same, it was a really quick read, and it wasn't particularly scary. I was hoping for a little more depth, because this book had a great premise. In that regard, I would give this book to upper-middle-graders because it lacks nuance. I also found the narrative had holes at times. A nice little treat if you're into horror, though.(less)