Posts tagged ‘350-399 pages’

Counting By 7s

Counting by 7sTitle: Counting By 7s
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Narrator: Robin Miles
ISBN: 978162406902 (audiobook)
Pages: 380 pages
Publisher/Date: Penguin Audio, c2013. (audiobook)
Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., c2013. (print book)

I’ve got some toddler memories, but my first sequence recall is kindergarten; no matter how hard I’ve tried to forget the experience. [...]
I can still hear Mrs. King, spin straight and shrill voice booming:
“How does this book make you feel?”
She then made a few exaggerated yawns.
I recall looking around at my fellow inmates, thinking: Would someone, anyone, just shout out the word tired? [...]
So when the teacher specifically said:
“Willow, how does this book make you feel?”
I had to tell the truth:
“It makes me feel really bad. The moon can’t hear someone say good night; it is two hundred thirty-five thousand miles away. And bunnies don’t life in houses. Also, I don’t think that the artwork is very interesting.” [...]
That afternoon, I learned the word weirdo because that’s what I was called by the other kids.
When my mom came to pick me up, she found me crying behind the Dumpster. (16-18)

Willow Chance, adopted into a loving family, has an obsession with the number seven, medical conditions (particularly skin disorders), and plants. She is analytic, reserved, and highly gifted and lacks social skills, which makes it difficult to make friends but easy to memorize complex languages and scientific concepts. She finds an ally in older student Mai, who visits with her brother Quang Ha the same slacker school counselor that Willow is forced to see after being falsely accused of cheating on a test. These three unlikely companions, along with Mai’s mother and brother, are thrust together upon the sudden death of Willow’s parents. Forming a bond from secrets, everyone’s lives begin to change as they struggle to help Willow. What will come of quiet girl who has now lost her family for a second time?

Full disclosure: I have not yet read Wonder R.J. Palacio, which everyone I’ve talked to keeps comparing this book too. I will soon, I promise. I found myself comparing it to Rules by Cynthia Lord or Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. In any case, Willow is an instantly intriguing character. Narrated by Robin Miles, Willow’s voice is given the subtle nuances that it deserves. She is self-assured when dealing with numbers, details and scientific facts, but quiet and reserved when faced with making decisions affecting her own life and social interactions. Miles distinguishes between the characters well, even realistically portraying the counselor Dell Duke’s stutter, but it’s Willow who readers are understandably drawn to, as she tries to make sense of things.

Mai’s brother Quang Ha is understandably upset by the new living situation, as the family has few resources to begin with and they are essentially taking care of a stranger. There’s little explanation behind Mai and her mother’s immediate acceptance of Willow’s circumstances and instant claim to her, and I find Dell Duke’s passiveness and eventual involvement in the lies hard to reconcile, but the whole situation changes everyone for the better. This is a story of a whole community coming together to aid in a girl’s recovery, and becoming a very nontraditional family in the process. I don’t think this would be the outcome in real life, but if readers are willing to suspend belief they will be richly rewarded with this engrossing tale.

Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things

Mister Max Book of Lost ThingsTitle: Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things
Author: Cynthia Voigt
Illustrator: Iacopo Bruno
ISBN: 9780375971235
Pages: 367 pages
Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., c2013.

“No Flower of Kashmir is presently berthed in my harbor. What’s her country of registration?”
“India,” Max guessed confidently.
“Nor are there any Indian registered vessels. We have, presently, one American, one Moroccan, one Dutch, one Canadian, and that’s all of them.”
Max considered this. “Which vessels sail at noon?” he asked.
“None, as it happens. Though three left their berths by ten-thirty this morning, so as to catch a favorable tide out of Porthaven.”
Something was very wrong here. (32)

Max’s parents are owners and actors in a renowned theatrical company that has just been invited by the Maharajah of Kashmir in India to establish a theater company for him. But when Max arrives at the designated dock to take the trip with his parents, there is no boat and no parents. Returning to his home, he alerts his Grandmother of the problem and the worrying begins. What is Max going to do for income to take care of himself? Max starts using his acting and observation skills and markets himself around the neighborhood as a problem solver, being hired to find a missing dog, a lost spoon, among other things. But the question he really wants to answer is where are his parents? Are they safe?

Max’s grandmother is the voice of reason among the excitement of the invitation to India, but of course no one listens until it’s too late because their egos are so inflated that dissenting opinions can’t reach their ears. The mysteries are lightly intertwined, and the clues are all there for listeners to discover the answers before being revealed by Max in flourishes that mimic his father’s theatrical style. Max’s independent thinking and unique problem solving skills make me think of an earlier Encyclopedia Brown or a younger Sherlock Holmes. His ideas are complemented by a young girl named Pia’s insistence at being his assistant, a much more loquacious version of Holmes’ friend Watson. Max ascertains “whatever she might claim for herself, her real talent was for asking questions. The girl was always asking questions, and some of them were just what Max needed to hear in order to discover his own ideas.” (259) We’ll have to keep asking more questions as this story continues.

Paul Boehmer’s booming voice serves Cynthia Voigt’s descriptive text well, setting the vivid scenes for listeners. His fully voiced narration distinguishes between Max, each of his parents, his grandmother, and the colorful cast of characters that Max interacts with as he searches for his parents and the things he is hired to find. But like so many of the audiobooks I’ve recommended recently, if you pick the audiobook you’ll miss out on the illustrations by Iacopo Bruno. I’ll be recommending this series whole heartedly, and the second book in the trilogy, Mister Max: The Book of Secrets, will be released in September 2014.

The Rithmatist

RithmatistTitle: The Rithmatist
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Illustrator: Ben McSweeney
Narrator: Michael Kramer
ISBN: 9781427237439 (audiobook), 9780765320322 (hardcover)
Pages: 378 pages
CDs/Discs: 9 CDs, 10 hours
Publisher/Date: TOR Books, a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC. c2013.

The door stopped rattling. All was still for just a moment, then the door burst open.
Lilly tried to scream, but found her voice caught in her throat. A figure stood framed in moonlight, a bowler hat on his head, a short cape covering his shoulders. He stood with his hand on a cane to his side.
She could not see his face, backlit as he was, but there was something horribly sinister about that slightly tipped head and those shadowed features. A hint of a nose and chin, reflecting moonlight. Eyes that watched her from within the inky blackness.
The things flooded into the room around him. Angry, squirming over floor, walls, ceiling. Their bone-white forms almost seemed to glow in the moonlight.
Each was as flat as a piece of paper.
Each was made of chalk.
They were each unique, tiny picture like monsters with fangs, claws. They made no noise at all as they flooded into the hallway, hundreds of them, shaking and vibrating silently as they came for her.
Lilly finally found her voice and screamed. (12-13)

Joel missed his chance to become a Rithmatist when he was younger, but he still gets to observe Rithmatists practice at school. His father was a master chalk maker, but died in an accident and now his mother works non-stop at school in order to pay his debts. Changes and challenges are in the air, as a new professor joins the staff and shakes up the school. When students start disappearing, Joel and a remedial Rithmatist student aid an aging professor in investigating where they went. With no way of protecting himself, Joel isn’t the only one who fears he is in over his head.

I was surprised by how well described the chalk drawings were on the audiobook, and thought the details had been added for listeners benefit. Turns out not only are there drawings, but also descriptions of what they look like and how they function included at the beginning of each chapter. The descriptions test your memory for geometry terms from way back when, but they still make sense. I was also grateful for the map at the beginning of the book that detailed where these places were on an altered map of the United States. What happened to the country, I’m not sure we’ll ever know the full details of, but the names and placements of the communities make sense in an almost post-apocalyptic manner.

I also appreciated the turn of events that occur throughout the novel. The tension is drawn out (pardon the pun) slowly, with first one then multiple students going missing, and the trouble escalating. It’s similar to the trouble facing Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series, as parents either pull their students from the university or are encouraged by the authorities to leave them there under the protection of the guards. But Joel is not the fated wizard who will save the world. In fact, he is powerless against the chalklings — creatures made of chalk that can attack both chalk defenses and living beings — instead using his analytic brain to overcome what he sees as a handicap. Melody is the loquacious, wise-cracking side-kick in this story, whose curiosity and optimism get the better of her and repeatedly put her in danger. But Joel needs her Rithmatist skills, however remedial, and their dynamics and budding friendship evolve and appear very naturally as they interact with increasing frequency through their studies with Professor Fitch. I also liked Professor Fitch, who seems best suited to mentor both Melody and Joel. As the principal of the school at one point tells Joel, “Professor Fitch likes to be bothered [...] particularly by students. He’s one of the few true teachers we have at this school.” (83) Professor Fitch emphasizes strategy over showmanship, and really encourages reason from the pair.

The problems that Joel and Melody encounter are neatly tied up by the end of the book, only to have author Brandon Sanderson throw a twist into the mix, so the last few chapters open a whole new can of worms. Readers will have to wait for the sequel to truly discover where Joel, Melody, and the person responsible for the disappearances are headed. And unfortunately, the sequel is not expected to see the light of day until 2015. Plenty of time for readers to practice their own rithmatist skills.

Reboot

RebootTitle: Reboot
Series: Reboot #1
Author: Amy Tintera
ISBN: 9780062217073
Pages: 365 pages
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Publishers, c2013.

A low growl woke me in the middle of the night. I rolled over on my mattress, blinking in the darkness. Ever stood over my bed.
I bolted up to a sitting position, my heart pounding furiously. Her growling stopped and her bright eyes bored into mine.
“Ever?” I whispered.
She lunged at me and I scrambled out of bed and across the room. She bared her teeth as she turned to look for me.
I pressed my back to the wall as she approached, my heart beating faster than the time twenty townspeople had chased after me with lit torches and various kitchen knives. I’d been stabbed multiple times before I managed to outrun them, but somehow a weaponless, growling Ever was scarier.
“Ever!” I said, louder this time, and I ducked below her arm as she lunged at me again. (55)

After being shot in the chest three times and coming back to life after almost three hours, Wren is now known as Wren 178, the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. The longer it takes a Reboot to come to life again, the less human characteristics each Reboot maintains. Stronger, faster, able to heal, and much less emotional, Wren 178 is given first choice at training new recruits to become government controlled super soldiers and track down law breakers. With her success rate in question, she chooses Callum 22, an almost human Reboot who asks questions, has emotional responses, and is one of the worst soldiers imaginable. Wren finds herself caring not just about his training results, but about his future when the humans in charge threaten to pull him from the program permanently unless he improves. Wren is forced to ask questions of her own when Callum and some of the lower numbered Reboots start acting strange. Are the humans tampering with her training, or is something more sinister afoot?

I was somewhat surprised at how my book selections ended up, as I read this one so close to reading When We Wake which features similar themes of dead (or nearly-dead) teens being reawakened by governmental agencies for their own purposes. The zombie trend is alive and well it seems, although these teens don’t typically act like zombies. I really appreciated the blurb by Lissa Price on the back cover, who describes this book as “A bone-breaking heroine fights for her life, her love, and what remains of her humanity in this fresh take on a world gone wrong.” It’s almost like Graceling meets that movie Warm Bodies.

I thought the book was very well paced, as you see training happening between Callum and Wren, action scenes where they take down accused criminals, and servings of romance in between the more suspenseful mystery of what’s going on with the Reboots. As you can see by the above quote, the layers are introduced pretty quickly, and gives readers a variety of reasons to keep reading. Wren’s changes and progressions in behavior and attitude are a little predictable, but it’s easily forgiven as she grapples with alternative scenarios and information that contradicts everything she’s been previously led to believe. I also like Callum and Ever, who provide a nice counterpoint to Wren’s unemotional nature and an understandable catalyst for her change in beliefs. Squeamish readers need to be aware that these characters are essentially zombies mixed with Robocop, so by the end of the book there is a body count to consider as the fighting progresses. But while the book could end there, I have a feeling that there will be a sequel on the horizon sometime soon, and Goodreads confirms that sometime in May 2014 there will be a second book in the series. After all, what dystopian novel do you know of where saving themselves is enough and they really don’t need to bother saving the world…. yeah, that’s what I figured too.

Why We Broke Up

Why We Broke UpTitle: Why We Broke Up
Author: Daniel Handler
Illustrator: Maira Kalman
Narrator: Khristine Hvam
ISBN: 9781611132960 (hardcover: 9780316127257)
Pages: 354 pages
Discs/CDs: 6 CDs (5 narration, 1 of illustrations), 6.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Hachette Audio, Little, Brown and Company, c2011.
Awards: Printz Honor Book (2012)

The thunk is the box, Ed. This is what I am leaving you. [...] Every last souvenir of the love we had, the prizes and the debris of this relationship, like the glitter in the gutter when the parade has passed, all the everything and whatnot kicked to the curb. I’m dumping the whole box back into your life, Ed, every item of you and me. I’m dumping this box on your porch, Ed, but it is you, Ed, who is getting dumped. (3-4)

They came from different cliques; Ed was the co-captain of the basketball team with ex-girlfriends at every turn while Min was the film aficionado, whom everyone called arty but she denied vehemently. Everyone questioned what they saw in each other, but they thought it would last, they thought it was different. And it was, until just over a month into their quick flare up of a relationship, when it no longer was enough, and they separated. Now, after some reflection, Min is returning Ed’s stuff. Not just the stuff he gave her, or he left behind, but all the little mementos that meant so much when they were tied to someone she loved. Told in flashbacks, this is the story of why they broke up.

I listened to this story after a break up (of sorts) of my own, and found it extremely cathartic. Khristine Hvam’s narration, provides an emotionally driven reading of this emotionally driven story. Her inflections are spot on, as Min vacillates from outrage and hurt to tender reminisces of the time they spent together, regardless of how brief it was. You might lose one or two details with the items that warrant a shorter description and go unnamed, but a disc is included for your benefit with PDFs of the illustrations. I grabbed a physical copy of the book instead, and the drawings are bright, bold, and beautiful, although the book is heavier than I anticipated it to be. Is it symbolic? Are they commenting on the weight of someone’s feelings, or did they just want it to clunk when you set it down like so many of the objects do when dropped in the box? One will never know.

Told entirely from Min’s perspective as she spills her soul in a letter to Ed that will accompany the box of stuff, Ed realistically comes across as a mystery to readers although he does have his moments. (The “I’m sorry” scene pulled at my heart-strings just a little, even though I questioned his sincerity through the whole thing.) I wanted to hug Min throughout the entire book, as she experienced heartache for the first time.

I loved the realism of the relationships, not just Min and Ed, but Min with her friends, who at first claim “no opinion” of Ed but then she learns they do in fact have their own opinions of this outsider joining their group. I’m reminded for some reason of Katy Perry’s song Hot n’ Cold, and if I made a soundtrack for this book I’d probably include it as we witness Min and Ed at all stages of their boyfriend/girlfriend status. With no mention of social media (at least not that I can remember), that little fact distorts how realistic this might seem, but without it this book might just stand the test of time. The other distorted fact is how LONG it would have really taken someone to hand write all 300+ pages of the story of their relationship, but it’s something that you really don’t dwell on. Give it to anyone suffering a broken heart and is either past or trying to get past the weepy stage. Also good for anyone who is fed up with the Nicholas Spark and Nora Roberts love stories. Bravo!

Time Between Us

Time Between UsTitle: Time Between Us
Author: Tamara Ireland Stone
Narrator: Amy Rubinate
ISBN: 9780307967862 (hardcover 9781423159568)
Discs/CDs: 8 CDs, 9 hours
Pages: 368 pages
Publisher/Date: Hyperiod, an imprint of Disney Book Group, c2012.

And while the thief is distracted by the contents of the safe, three things happen, so fast and overlapping that they seem to take place simultaneously. Bennet disappears completely, and suddenly he’s kneeling next to me on the floor. He grabs my hands and closes his eyes, and I must follow suit, because when I open them, the store is gone. The robber and his knife are gone. And Bennett and I are in the exact same positions–him kneeling, me sitting, still holding each other’s hands–only now we’re next to a tree in the park around the corner, the wind throwing snow violently around us. (99)

Anna sees a teenage boy she’s never met watching her as she does her morning run. Upon meeting her observer at school and identifying him as new student Bennett, she confronts him and he denies the incident. Against the advice of her friends and her gut instincts she is attracted to Bennett, but Anna can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t right about Bennett. During a robbery attempt, Bennett finally reveals that he is hiding a huge secret and is actually a time traveler from 17 years in the future. Pulled inexplicably to each other, Anna relishes the opportunity to fulfill her life long dreams of travel. But as their relationship prompts them to continually break rules that Bennett has established, Bennett’s prolonged presence might be causing consequences that he cannot fix.

More mild-romance than mind-bender or mystery, if you combine Twilight with The Time Traveler’s Wife, you get this book, but in both cases I would go to those other books first. While this book also has a time traveling couple, The Time Traveler’s Wife had depth and substance and emotional draw that this book seems to lack. However, you still having the brooding teenage girl in a relationship that everyone cautions her against yet she feels that unexplainable and instantaneous attraction/attention towards him. I guess that’s actually the problem, because while we see the relationship in Time Traveler’s Wife grow and evolve, I didn’t get that sense here. It feels like their relationship grows out of intrigue rather than love, with all of the long, lingering looks and none of the emotional sparks that are supposed to materialize.

Anna’s friendships, including her relationship with Bennett, are less than appealing. It seems like she’s using Bennett because of the promise of travel opportunities, which she absolutely is intent on taking advantage of. Bennett himself strikes me and Anna’s friends as slightly creepy, what with his popping in and out of Anna’s life. Anna’s friend Justin, whom she has known since she was five, plays a very minor part in the book, and also seems to be used by Anna for music, whether in the form of personalized mixes she can run to or tickets to the hottest concerts. His possible attraction to her is mentioned ever so slightly and then ignored for most of the rest of the story, only to be thrust in our face suddenly towards the end. Even her friend Emma doesn’t seem fully fleshed out, playing the role of comedic side-kick more than a true friend. When the characters fight, which they do sporadically, they all seem to solve their problems by ignoring each other until one or the other gives in for no reason.

This is especially true when applied to Bennett’s rules regarding time travel, which he broke once with disastrous consequences yet that doesn’t stop him from considering breaking the rules for Anna, a girl he’s just met. The time travel portion of the plot is also marginally explained. While Bennett subconsciously/inexplicably realizes that he can’t travel to a time before he was born or into his future, the ending climatic separation between Bennett and Anna has no explanation. I don’t want to reveal too much here, but I wonder if answers will be more readily available in October with the upcoming sequel, which will be told from Bennett’s perspective. Also, as a reviewer pointed out on Goodreads, at one point in the story there are three Bennett’s in the same time line, which was loosely explained as possible because they weren’t “within range of our other selves” and therefore won’t “disappear”, which seems like a flimsy reason.

And don’t get me started on the ending, which I’m sure to spoil for readers who get that far. Let’s say the problem is solved but with no satisfactory explanation to decipher what caused the problem or how it was solved. I honestly wish it had ended differently. Amy Rubinate did a passible job at narrating the material she was given, but the plot left a lot to be desired in my opinion. Goodreads reviews are full of star-struck readers swooning over what I see is a lackluster love story. Maybe it just wasn’t meant for me.

The Peculiar

Title: The Peculiar
Author: Stefan Bachmann
ISBN: 978006219518
Pages: 376 pages
Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2012.

Then a great many things happened at once. Bartholomew, staring so intently, nodded forward a bit so that the tip of his nose brushed against the windowpane. And the moment it did, there was a quick, sharp movement in the yard below, and the lady reached behind her and jerked apart the coils of hair at the back of her head. Bartholomew’s blood turned to smoke in his veins. There, staring directly up at him, was another face, a tiny, brown, ugly face like a twisted root, all wrinkles and sharp teeth.
With a muffled yelp, he scrabbled away from the window, splinters driving into his palms. It didn’t see me, it didn’t see me. It couldn’t ever have known I was here.
But it had. Those wet black eyes had looked into his. For an instant they had been filled with a terrible anger. And then the creature’s lips had curled back and it had smiled. (23-24)

Bartholomew had been told by his mother time and again to not draw attention to himself. He and his sister are Peculiars, half faery and half human, feared and distrusted and occasionally loathed by both races as oddities. So when he gets spotted while observing a beautiful lady, a lady who whisks away a neighboring Peculiar into a whirlwind of black feathers, Bartholomew is understandably concerned. Peculiars seem to be disappearing at an alarming rate, and the skins of their bodies are being found in the river. His concern for his friend turns to fear for his own family as he and his sister might be marked as the next to be taken.

While this book was billed as “part murder mystery, part gothic fantasy, part steampunk adventure”, I really didn’t get a steampunk feel from it. Certainly not in the way the Sherlock Holmes movies or Westerfeld’s Leviathan series is steampunk. Just because there is a clockwork bird and an automaton doesn’t make it steampunk. I’ll agree however about the murder mystery and gothic fantasy. Bachmann knows how to set the scene for the action that follows:

Fog slunk among the headstones of St. Mary, Queen of Martyrs, that night. It smelled of charcoal and rot, and spread in slow shapes down the sloping graveyard. Above, clouds drifted, snuffing out the moon. Somewhere in the maze of streets beyond the wall a dog barked. (205)

Readers might get a little lost in the culture and interactions of faeries and humans, as Bachmann thrusts you into the world from the beginning and worries about explaining things later. While it makes the story flow more naturally, assuming the reader know what they need to know, it helps that Bartholomew and the other main character we see things through, Arthur Jelliby, are somewhat clueless and trying to figure things out as well. Arthur Jelliby is someone who would rather not be investigating the disappearance of Peculiars, as that isn’t really his job, but finds himself being drawn in by coincidences, natural curiosity, and dare I say a sense of duty. I found myself being very sympathetic to both his and Bartholomew’s plight, as the stories intertwine and they are both just trying to get back to normal lives after they unwillingly became involved in this predicament.

I was not informed that this debut book (which it says in the back jacket Bachmann wrote when he was sixteen) is the first in a series, which proved very frustrating to me. Bachmann has nailed building tension by shifting viewpoints after a suspenseful turn of events or a Hannibal Lecter-esque piece of dialogue, where you know something bad is right around the corner. And that, unfortunately, was how the book ended. I definitely foresee a change of setting for book two as the reason for Bartholomew getting involved as yet to be resolved. (That’s really all I can say without spoiling plot points). The good news is that it appears Arthur Jelliby will be along for the ride as well, and we can only hope that Bartholomew and Jelliby interact a little more in book two.

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