Posts tagged ‘250-299 pages’

Nuts to You

Nuts to YouTitle: Nuts to You
Author/Illustrator: Lynne Rae Perkins
ISBN: 9780060092757
Pages: 259 pages
Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2014.

I was watching the carefree squirrels when, all at once, one of them jumped onto the end of the bench where I was sitting and looked with interest at me, and then, meaningfully, at my sandwich. Quite calmly, he stepped closer. That’s bold, I thought. A little too bold. I tore off a bit of my sandwich and was about to chuck it as far as I could, figuring he would take off after it, when he spoke.
“Please, don’t throw it,” he said. “would you mind just setting it on the bench? I’m not as spry as I once was.” (2-3)

Age isn’t the only thing that has changed the squirrel, as the human is about to find out. The squirrel’s story starts with Jed being picked up by a hawk and escaping it’s clutches. His whole family assumes his untimely end except TsTs, who sees him fall and is adamant that he is alive and needs her help to get home. With Chai following her across the buzzpaths, from huge frozen spiderweb to frozen spiderweb, they quickly realize they aren’t the only ones interested in the buzzpaths and spiderwebs. Humans are cutting trees down, and they are heading towards their home! Now it’s a race against time as Chai and TsTs not only fear for Jed’s survival but also the well-being of the families they left behind. Will they be able to alert them in time, and will they even listen to the unbelievable warnings?

The first thing I noticed about the narration is that Lynne Rae Perkins presents the squirrel’s world in squirrel language, and allows the pictures and contextual clues to let the reader know what is being described. For instance, the buzzpaths and frozen spiderwebs are utility lines and towers. The “great beak that sometimes sings but never opens” is a sailboat, and cars are really big beetles that humans crawl inside and come out of undigested but that move like boulders. She also recognizes regional and species differences, with some of the squirrels not recognizing pine cones and describing the trees as having different shaped leaves and smells. I admired her skill at doing all these things realistically, although she does implant a little magical realism since she’s having a squirrel share this story with a human. Her illustrations also aid in imagining the world from a squirrel’s perspective.

Jed, TsTs, and Chai seem to be more adventurous and smarter than the average squirrel in their group. They can figure things out and are willing to change their beliefs based on current events. Although their characters and personalities are almost indistinguishable from one another, their interactions move the story along at a steady pace. Quick comebacks, author asides, and silly puns leave readers smiling. A fun read overall, possibly a read-alike for Flora and Ulysses fans who are squirrely for more.

This Song Will Save Your Life

This Song Will Save Your LifeTitle: This Song Will Save Your Life
Author: Leila Sales
ISBN: 9780374351380
Pages: 276 pages
Publisher/Date: Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, c2013.

You think it’s so easy to change yourself.
You think it’s so easy, but it’s not.
What do you think it takes to reinvent yourself as an all-new person, a person who makes sense, who belongs? Do you change your clothes, your hair, your face? Go on, then. Do it. Pierce your ears, trim your bangs, buy a new purse. They will still see past that, see you, the girl who is still too scared, still too smart for her own good, still a beat behind, still, always, wrong. Change all you want; you can’t change that.
I know because I tried. […]
I had worked so hard, wished so hard, for things to get better. But it hadn’t happened, and it wasn’t going to happen. I could buy new jeans, I could put on or take off a headband, but this was who I was. You think it’s so easy to change yourself, but it’s impossible.
So I decided on the next logical step: to kill myself. (3, 21)

Elise spent an entire summer hoping to change herself and become popular, and it failed miserably. Overwhelmed by the futility of it all, she attempted to kill herself, but then chickened out and called for help. Now back at school, she spends her nights roaming the streets, listening to her iPod and relishing the silence and the solitude. Until one night, she stumbles across an underground dance club and finds people who don’t know her past and notice her, especially the DJ Char. But sneaking out of the house does not go unnoticed, especially when classmates and parents suspect Elise is going to try to kill herself again. When pressures mount at school, at home, and at the club, will Elise be pushed to the breaking point and do what everyone expects of the lonely outsider? Or will she finally dance to music she’s been using to drown out everyone else?

First off, the supporting cast of characters is great. From Elise’s lunch table mates who are united with each other due to their outcast status, to Elise’s stepfather worrying about her influence on “his children”, they all are struggling just as much as Elise to figure out what to do. I can’t imagine the aftermath, and Sales saves herself from portraying that difficult time by beginning the story several months after Elise’s suicide attempt. I found myself unintentionally finishing the book in one day because I just couldn’t stop reading.

Elise is very different from me, since we don’t have the same taste in music, I have never been to an underground night club, and I have no idea how to DJ. Yet I found myself admiring her and relating to her, especially through her love of music and her use of music to escape. We all have a time in our life when we wonder what we could do differently or what we could have changed. After her suicide attempt, Elise recognizes that sometimes there is nothing you can change about the way other people feel about you.

I had always thought that if I just did something extraordinary enough, then people would like me. But that wasn’t true. You will drive away everyone by being extraordinary. [spoiler omitted] But you, you never learn your lesson. The world embraces ordinary. The world will never embrace you. […]
No one can mold me. I know because I’ve tried. (211)

You’ll notice that quote mimics and echoes the first paragraphs of the book, and that theme of acceptance of yourself runs through the entire book. But while in the beginning there is depression about this lack of conformity, by the end I think Elise has once more found the pride in being extraordinary. In the end I wanted to be Elise, who struggles with conformity and lack of friends and doesn’t want to change herself, but still recognizes her desires and a need to be who she is and do what she enjoys. This book leaves me wanting to find an underground night club, learn how to DJ, make a copy of the list of songs included in the back of the book and listen to every one of them. But I think more importantly, it also leaves me wanting to find my own soundtrack and make my own impressions on people. And that says a lot about a book when it is able to accomplish that and not feel didactic or overly sentimental.

Crow

CrowTitle: Crow
Author: Barbara Wright
Narrator: J. D. Jackson
ISBN: 9780804123952 (hardcover: 9780375969287)
Discs/CDs: 7 hours, 25 minutes, 6 CDs
Pages: 297 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House, c2012. (audio: Listening Library, an imprint of Random House Audio Publishing Group, c2013.)

I crept along the stone wall and slipped down into one of the basement window wells. From there, no one could see me, but I had a clear view of the man standing at the top of the steps between two massive columns. He was thin and had shaggy eyebrows and a full silver beard that glinted in the sun. I recognized him but couldn’t remember his name. [...] Today he wore a suit and tie and looked like a refined gentleman, but when he spoke, he looked crazier than Crazy Drake. Spit spewed from his mouth and his face turned red as he shouted, “You are Anglo-Saxons! You are armed and prepared, and you will do your duty. Be ready at a moment’s notice. If you find the Negro out voting, tell him to leave the polls, and if he refuses, kill him, shoot him down in his tracks. We shall win this election, even if we have to do it with guns.” (183-184)

It’s 1898 and has been years since the slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Moses’s father is a respected alderman and reporter in their Wilmington, North Carolina community, and after saving for a year they were able to buy Moses’s mother an organ. But grandmother Boo Nanny is fearful of the changes in the air and the crows circling house, sure that it’s a sign of bad times to come. White folks in the neighboring towns are getting restless and resentful of African Americans succeeding. Red Shirts can be seen throughout the neighborhoods, claiming to be protecting and policing but really working towards taking over the government and intimidating others. Moses’s father won’t tolerate such abuses, but will Moses and his family end up paying for his father’s beliefs? What will happen in a town where simply standing up for what is right is seen as wrong?

The book was a slow start, and J.D. Jackson’s slow drawl, while possibly accurate to the setting and time period, did not improve upon the pace of the book. Short vignettes made up the first part, and you didn’t have anything to pull you along except the superstitions of Boo Nanny until almost half way through the book. Then conflict erupts in a big way, and Moses’s city changes drastically. It’s almost unbelievable the speed of which events and emotions escalate, and maybe that’s intentional as a sleepy story becomes a pressure cooker of confrontations and readers are faced with the improbability of events that are based on actual history. As Barbara Wright reveals in her historical note, “In the twentieth century, the story of what happened in 1898 was largely forgotten by the white community and barely mentioned in history books. That changed when the North Carolina General Assembly created the Wilmington Race Riot Commission to look into the incident. The commission’s 2006 report, which includes photographs, maps, and charts, can be found at http://www.history.ncdcr.gov/1898-wrrc.”; (296) This presentation gives a whole new perspective of racial tensions, and it reminded me of my reaction to the American Girl series featuring Marie-Grace and Cecile, when I learned of pre-Civil War affluent African Americans.

While it probably deserves a place in African American and Black History Month bibliographies, I keep coming back to the almost laborious pacing. Give this book to patient readers, and reassure them that action happens if only they stick with it.

The Last Dragonslayer

I waited so long to post this review because I was on the Cybils committee the year this was a finalist, and I didn’t want to post it immediately after the results were announced.

Last DragonslayerTitle: The Last Dragonslayer
Author: Jasper Fforde
ISBN: 9780547738475
Pages: 287 pages
Publisher/Date: Harcourt an imprint of Houghton Mifflin, c2012.
Cybils Finalist for Middle Grade Fantasy

Once, I was famous. My face was seen on T-shirts, badges, commemorative mugs, and posters. I made front-page news, appeared on TV, and was even a special guest on The Yogi Baird Daytime TV Show. The Daily Clam called me “the year’s most influential teenager,” and I was the Mollusc on Sunday’s Woman of the Year. Two people tried to kill me, I was threatened with jail, had fifty-eight offers of marriage, and was outlawed by King Snodd IV. All that and more besides, and in less than a week. (intro)

Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Strange is the manager, receptionist, booking clerk, and taxi service for Kazam Mystical Arts Management, an employment agency for magicians, soothsayers, shifters and other “mystical artisans.” Originally slated to serve as an apprentice but taking over after the owner mysteriously disappeared, she has little authority with her employees. Business is literally dying as magic is drying up. Most suspect magic is tied in some way to the dragons that have been held in reserves meant to keep the peace between humans and dragons. Rumor and premonitions predict the immanent death of the last surviving creature, and possibly the death of magic as well. Jennifer sets out to save the company and her position, the only things she values, before Big Magic brings unwanted changes and possible war.

This was a book that I enjoyed more with a second reading than I did after the first. It’s not something I would give rave reviews for, but still something I would recommend. Readers are thrust into the story with little introduction, and the fast pacing and detailed descriptions make it difficult to catch up with what’s going on originally. There are a lot of complex satirical themes that recommend itself to teen or tween readers, such as capital and corporate gains, political maneuverings, and legal wrangling that are used to manipulate events one way or another. Jasper Fforde handles all these angles with skill, but I’m just not sure how well I could summarize them when recommending it to readers without revealing too much. There’s a somewhat anticlimactic twist at the end that I didn’t see coming and still don’t fully understand the magic involved in its resolution. I think my favorite part of the whole story was the characters. Jessica is a no-nonsense, independent thinker who comes to her own resolutions and holds to her beliefs in a community that is corrupted by greed. The book doesn’t have the fight sequences that you would expect in a book titled The Last Dragonslayer but for people who want a unique fantasy with some social commentary mixed in, this is a good place to start.

The Originals

OriginalsTitle: The Originals
Author: Cat Patrick
ISBN: 9780316219433
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2013.

“But if today is any indication, our current setup isn’t working,” she continues. “We’re not even three weeks in and already it’s clear that to remain on this path could draw attention to us, and therefore threaten everything. Because of this,” Mom says, shifting like she’s bracing for a triple teen outburst, “I am switching junior year assignments.”
I feel myself stiffen; Ella sucks in her breath.
“Are you serious?” Betsey asks. Mom nods.
“Ella will take the first half,” she says authoritatively, but not meeting Ella’s eyes, probably because she knows how disappointed Ella’s going to be to miss out on cheer practice. “Lizzie will take second half. Betsey, you’ll stay with evenings.” (14)

Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey Best are identical, but they are not triplets. Instead, they are clones, in hiding with their scientist mother from companies and the government who would want to prove their existence and study them. Taking turns going to school and sharing one life as Elizabeth Best, they have never really complained about their situation due to the knowledge that they could be found out and taken away at any moment. But as senior year progresses, the three girls start to question who they really are and what sort of life they are really living. Lizzie starts to fall for Sean Kelly, who opens her eyes to possibilities that she knows she can never fully partake in with their current agreement. Looking for answers and their independence, Lizzie and her “sisters” realize that their mother might not have been as truthful as they originally thought, and the lies might spell trouble for their seemingly happy family.

It says in the back jacket author’s biography that author Cat Patrick is the mother of twin daughters, very likely serving as inspiration for this book. Rather than narrating the story solely from Lizzie’s perspective, I wish the girls had taken turns narrating so that all three would have received the same amount of focus and distinction from one another. Lizzie’s voice was well-developed, but her sisters were unfortunately interchangeable throughout the story. Poor Betsey seemed to have very few opinions of her own, and I feel sorry that she got the short end of the stick being locked in the house all day long and then working in the evenings for spending money that all three girls used.

The story requires some suspension of belief that the three “sisters” willingly went along with this plan for so many years without complaint, interest in friendship or relationships, or any confusion. I liked the thought that was put into having one girl do a third of the day, as opposed to each girl doing every third day, but there are still missing links in the chain. It sounds like they’ve been living there for a while, and no one has seemingly caught on or made attempts at friendship until now. The changing of identities back and forth is originally portrayed as a “you’ve got to be joking” unbelievable suggestion, but then it’s later revealed that they’ve done this before in the instances of illness or injury. I would think physical activities like the cheerleading team would be out of the question, number one due to unavoidable differences in physical abilities and number two due to the possibility of an injury taking place in front of someone else and then the other two having to fake it.

The romance aspect develops slowly, but like Lizzie’s sisters Sean is never really fully developed and seems more a contrived impetus for Lizzie’s sudden rebellion as opposed to his own person. Readers are never fully enlightened as to why Sean is able to recognize that there is a difference between Lizzie and Ella and what sparks his interest in her. And the betrayal at the end involving someone Lizzie knows seems equally contrived and unexplainable.

I’m realizing as I wrap up this review that I’ve been talking about all the implausible plot points that stretch credulity and credibility. Don’t get me wrong, I devoured the book in only a few hours and readers might find themselves entertained as much as I was regardless of the various plot holes. As summer winds down, it might make a nice thing to stash in your beach bag for one last jaunt to soak up some sun, although the weather here has taken a decided and marked turn towards fall temperatures, so maybe you’ll instead be curling up in front of a fire. Lizzie at least is likeable, and you won’t regret spending the time to get to know her and her unique situation or her struggles to be seen as her own person.

The Icarus Project

Icarus Project
Title: The Icarus Project
Author: Laura Quimby
ISBN: 9781419704024
Pages: 293 pages
 Publisher/Date: Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, c2012.

“I know it’s your big chance. That’s why I’m going with you. It’s our big chance.”
Dad shook his head. “You have school. And should stay home.”
I had to think fast. “The expedition will be educational. What kid gets to go to the Arctic to watch real fieldwork in action?” I crossed my arms over my chest and raised an eyebrow. “Plus, spring break is coming up.”
“No, Maya. It’s too dangerous,” he said.
The danger card was the last play of a parent on the edge of caving in. I knew I was close. “I can handle it,” I said. “I’m not afraid. And you’ll be there.” (33)

Thirteen-year-old Maya is thrilled when she talks her way onto her dad’s Arctic expedition to explore what could possibly be a wooly mammoth encased in ice. With an anthropologist mother and a paleontologist father, she’s spent her entire life hearing about all these adventures and exotic places. But the Arctic is cold and spooky with its endless white landscapes. Maya and the rest of the dig team soon realize that they might have been summoned to this vast and deadly wasteland under false pretenses. What is really caught beneath the ice? Who is really running the expedition, and what is their true goal. Maya is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, even if it involves destroying what everyone is trying to protect.

I’ve had this book checked out for much longer than I originally intended. I feel like it was a great idea that came across kind of flat. The dialogue is somewhat stilted in places and the expository portions of the book are a little jarring, but author Laura Quimby presents a character that reminds me of a modern-day Nancy Drew. With a lot of coincidences, some supernatural elements, and a bit of sleuthing, Maya is able to solve the mystery that has stumped the scientist adults. It make an interesting read, and it corresponds surprisingly well to the Summer Reading Theme of both “Dig In” and “Beneath the Surface”. The plot does touch on a lot of discussion worthy topics, such as humanity vs. scientific experimentation/research, cloning and DNA, corporate greed, and also gets slightly religious/supernatural towards the end. The different points of view are represented, although I wish some of these topics had been examined more thoroughly or deeply, but I guess the range of topics hopefully means there is something for everyone. I wonder if the unanswered questions are left that way for discussion purposes, or if there are plans for a sequel.

I feel like Rebecca Stead’s First Light and Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass succeeded with presenting this concept of mysterious beings in a frozen landscape in a more cohesive manner. But if readers of either are looking for something similar, you could recommend these titles as read-a-likes for each other.

When We Wake

When We Wake
Title: When We Wake
Author: Karen Healey
ISBN: 9780316200769
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, c2013
Publication Date: March 5, 2013

“You can think of it as being in a coma,” she said. More and more of her face was swimming into focus now. “A sort of frozen coma that lasted a long time.”
Dr. Carmen paused, waiting for the obvious question, but my mind was whirring, and I missed my cue.
“It’s 2128, Tegan,” she said. “I’m sorry, I know that must be difficult to hear. You’ve been in stasis for just over a century.” (17)

Tegan Oglietti is sixteen years old in 2027 when she becomes the victim of a botched public shooting. When she wakes up 101 years later, her homeland Australia has changed almost beyond recognition. Slang, computers, culture, and homes have been refashioned in this world that, amazingly enough to Tegan, still suffers the same wars, environmental issues, and political problems that Tegan left behind in her past. The first successful revival, Tegan is placed under massive amounts of scrutiny as she navigates the publicity caused by her “undead” status. But warring political and religious factions are vying for her influence as an instant celebrity, and some will stop at nothing to claim her as their own. Is she really a person, or is she the property of the government that awakened her and trying to control her? Who can she trust when everyone and everything she knew and understood is gone?

Just look at that gorgeous cover! Almost three years ago, I read Karen Healey’s debut novel Guardian of the Dead and loved it. While I missed reading her sophomore novel The Shattering, this third book shows she hasn’t lost her touch. Full disclosure, this was my work out book at the gym, and I almost wanted to continue my time on the treadmill, just to finish a chapter or scene. If only every book I read while working out was as successful a distraction, I would be running miles by now! Yes, it’s that good.

Fans of The Hunger Games I feel would enjoy this book. Tegan is definitely not Katniss, as she really has no idea what she’s getting herself into when she signs the papers prior to her death volunteering her body to post-mortem science exploration. She also is much more involved in deciding her future than I feel Katniss ever was, from hunger strikes to running away to covert actions and threatening …. I’m getting ahead of myself. But like Katniss, she soon discovers that her intended use as a political pawn is NOT what she wants in life. While her school friends and their skills seem REALLY convenient for her purposes, I was willing to overlook it as Tegan struggles to figure out what’s really going on and claim of future of her own.

But the book isn’t all political intrigue, and we have some very funny and realistic moments between Tegan and her friends. One for sure stands out:

“Look, I’m not sure how to put this. So I’ll just ask. Are you sure you’re straight?”
My chin jerked up. She was sitting on the edge of the bed and swinging her feet. Her head was tilted at the ceiling, as if my answer was the least important thing in the world.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve never–yeah.”
She looked at me for a long, searching moment and nodded. “Oh, well,” she said. “It’d never work, anyway. I’m too bossy, and you’re too stubborn.”
“Plus, we don’t screw the crew,” I reminded her.
“Except for you and [spoiler] and your eighty gazillion babies.”
“Not happening.” (156)

A second thing I really appreciated is that Tegan doesn’t immediately jump into bed with the first person she lays eyes on, and while there is obviously romance mentioned in the book, it’s not the instantaneous teenage swooning that is so often attributed to young adult books. Tegan is athletic, religious, emotional, complicated, and multi-faceted — in other words a fully realized character who comes alive on the paper. She has a self-assurance about herself that’s refreshing. While I don’t think a sequel was necessarily required, the open ending definitely leaves readers guessing how she’s going to get her friends and herself out of this mess. Hopefully book two, coming out next year and titled While We Run, will find Tegan in a much better spot than this one left her.

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