Posts tagged ‘Committee Reads’

Revolver

I listened to this audiobook way back in February of 2011. How this review got buried so far down that it hasn’t seen the light of day before now the world may never know. I have been recommending this to patrons ever since to rave reviews, and I hope you take the time to enjoy it too.

Title: Revolver
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Narrator: Peter Berkrot
ISBN: 9781596435926
Pages: 204 pages
Discs: 3 CDs, 3 hours 35 minutes
Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press (Brilliance Audio), c2009.

Even the dead tell stories.
Sig looked across the cabin to where his father lay, waiting for him to speak, but his father said nothing, because he was dead. Einar Anderson lay on the table, his arms half raised above his head, his legs slightly bent at the knee, frozen in the position in which they’d found him; out on the lake, lying on the ice, with the dogs waiting patiently in harness. (1)

Fourteen-year-old Sig Anderson is waiting for his sister and step-mother to return from traveling across the frozen ice to the neighboring town. The same ice had, just a few hours earlier, killed his father when he fell through and froze to death in the Alaskan cold. While waiting for help to arrive, Sig gets a visitor of a different sort; a giant, gun-wielding man named Wolff, claiming that he has some unfinished business with Sig’s father. Sig hopes that help will arrive before the man makes good on his promise to harm Sig and his family. But when help does arrive, it’s Sig’s sister Anna, and she’s alone. How will these two survive?

First off, excellent narration on the audiobook by Peter Berkrot. He gives the book a Clint Eastwood, old-western “You feeling lucky, punk?” quality and his nitty-gritty tone and inflection sets the whole mood. I’ll admit that it a little slowly paced in the beginning, but that’s okay. Nothing is moving fast in this story, and it’s the palatable tension that readers will revel in.

Berkrot had great material to work with, as Marcus Sedgwick’s terse prose is as gripping as the performance. Wolff, the man who invades Sig’s little cabin in the snow, is a man of few words, and when he does say something, his tone makes them count. “The words hung in the air, drifted around the room. They seemed to paint themselves on the walls in letters two feet high. They seemed to be painted in blood.” (70) Shiver. Shortly after, this description got stuck in my brain the whole time I was finishing the book:
“Wolff dropped the words onto the floor like little spiders, which scuttled over to Sig and crawled up his legs, his back, his neck. He stopped grinding the coffee briefly but then determined that he would not let the man rile him.” (80) Now that is masterfully crafted writing, if I ever heard/saw it. You know exactly how Sig is feeling with Wolff being in the house. And there are other scenes that convey the same familiarity with the characters and their emotions.

The details are also there, and in an author’s note at the end Sedgwick explains how he did his research, traveling to the “sub-zero temperatures in Northern Sweden that I got a sense of the cold and the landscape and walked on frozen lakes.” (203) He also discussed revolvers with “Peter Smithurst of the Royal Armouries, the UK’s leading expert on Colts. He carefully explained his history and workings of the Colt, took a 44-40 to pieces for me to show how it works, and did it all with great enthusiasm. (203-204). I’m sure that interaction with an expert is where we get the description of how the gun works in chapter 18, which although I don’t have any experience with guns, I still found fascinating. A riveting read about choices.

Anna and the French Kiss

Title: Anna and the French Kiss
Author: Stephanie Perkins
ISBN: 9780525423270
Pages: 372 pages
Publisher/Date: Dutton Books, c2010.

He’s drunk. He’s just drunk.
Calm down, Anna. He’s drunk, and he’s going through a crisis. There is NO WAY he knows what he’s talking about right now. So what do I do? Oh my God, what am I supposed to do?
“Do you like me?” St. Clair asks. And he looks at me with those big brown eyes–which, okay, are a bit red from the drinking and maybe from some crying–and my heart breaks.
Yes, St. Clair. I like you.
But I can’t say it aloud, because he’s my friend. And friends don’t let other friends make drunken declarations and expect them to act upon them the next day.
Then again . . . it’s St. Clair. Beautiful, perfect, wonderful–
And great. That’s just great.
He threw up on me. (142-143)

Anna is dropped off by her famous author father at a boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school. Never mind that the only word of French she knows is oui, and that she only recently learned how to spell it correctly. Never mind that she has a great life in Atlanta, with a crush and a job and a best friend. But then she meets Etienne St. Clair, a fellow senior who has it all, and falls for him hard. But Anna can’t forget that not only does St. Clair have a girlfriend, but her new friend at school also harbors a crush for this perfect boy. As she tries to navigate the year by ignoring her crush, Anna realizes just why Paris is called the city of love.

This was a snappy, entertaining, and fast read that would serve lots of teen girls in their quest for romance. The dialogue was witty, with readers really seeing Anna’s insecurities of surviving in a new city and trying to make it on her own. Her activities in Paris mirror what her friends are going through back in Atlanta, and it’s really interesting to see the different sides to the same coin (so to speak). Quite a few chapters end in the manner like the portion quoted above, so you find yourself saying “Just one more chapter” and then realize an hour later that you’re almost done with the book. Great pacing. Although, can anyone tell me how to pronounce St. Clair’s first name? I’d hate to get it wrong when doing a book talk with high schoolers who may or may not know French!

And it’s a clean, chaste romance which still packs a punch and keeps readers interested and begging for more! YES! No sex is shown although it is mentioned and there’s one naked scene but no one sees anything they aren’t supposed to. I could probably recommend it to younger teens, because even though there is some underaged drinking, you see the consequences of such actions and besides, it is legal over in Paris to drink at that age. The story covers the entire school year, which makes the ending more probable as characters grow and change and evolve.

But this is hardly a morality tale, it’s a romance, so none of what I mentioned is really all that important. The cover is adorable, and so is the story. This tale of star-crossed lovers who can’t seem to escape the misunderstandings and jumping to conclusions will have readers rooting for them till the very end.

I LOVED IT. Any librarians doing the Summer Reading theme “You Are Here” should add this to any bibliography of books that take place in foreign countries. (I’m working on such a list for a future post, so stay tuned.) A great girl read that I find myself unexpectedly gushing over.

Party

Title: Party
Author: Tom Leveen
ISBN: 9780375864360
Pages: 228 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House, c2010.

This is dumb.
It’s like I’m already dead. If a tree falls in the forest, does it make any sound? If a girl doesn’t speak, if no one knows her name, does she really exist?
But I have to know. Does anyone know who I am anymore?
This becomes my new motivation: Go to the party. Walk around. See if anyone, just one person, says my name. Says “Hi!” Says “I had Spanish with you sophomore year.”
If no one does . . . then case closed. My high school career, my existence, will be proven invisible.
I force myself up the stairs built into the cliff face, and down Beachfront to the party. I regret my decision the moment I open the door. (12)

News has spread about the biggest party ever being hosted after the last day of the school year. Beckett is going to see if even one person knows she exists. Azize is intent on going to the party to make one new friend. Skateboarders Max and Brent are going because Max wants one last shot at finally talking to the girl he’s been pining over for the last three years and has never worked up the courage to approach. Morrigan snuck out of her house after getting in a fight with her parents and got a ride from her friend Ashley, who is looking out for Morrigan because she broke up with boyfriend Josh. Josh was in LOVE with Morrigan, but just wants to get over her FAST when she dumps him for not sleeping with her. His friends Tommy, Matt, Ryan, and Daniel drag him to the party after fantasizing about ways to kill Morrigan, “because that’s what friends do.” Finally, Anthony, former star football player, wants to put the losing season behind him, but family troubles overburden his alcohol addled brain. All these stories and people combine into one night of regrets and wishes and most people see things differently by the end.

Tom Leveen did a great job of moving the night along through the stories of these eleven teens. The pacing was great, and you really got all the points of views of the characters. This book is somewhat unique in that it could be seen as a collection of short stories, since each point of view is only about 20 pages long, but they all come together cohesively. The ending was shocking, but it still wrapped up all the loose ends. I can’ only imagine the difficulty of deciding who was going to tell what when in order for the ending to be as clean as it was.

While there was a lot going on, it was also only happening to several different people. So while a single story with the various events like the war oversees, racism, family illness and dynamics, sex/virginity, and underaged drinking might get bogged down, for this story it worked. We see that everyone has their own issues that they have to deal with, some more serious than others, and that maybe they aren’t visible to everyone. What’s also refreshing is that Leveen doesn’t get bogged down with clichés. Yes, there’s the teen boy who only wants to sleep around, but there’s also Josh who has decided to wait to have sex not for any strict adherence to religion, but for his own reasons. The characters get balanced out in the end, so the irresponsible get weighed next to the responsible and all in all I think there’s a little something for everyone. At slightly over 200 pages, it’s a slim book that makes an impact.

Lost for Words

Title: Lost for Words
Author: Alice Kuipers
ISBN: 9780061429224
Pages: 210 pages
Publisher/Date: HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2010.

Mum pushed open the door and asked if we could talk. I was surprised, but so awkward with her, I didn’t know what to say. “What?”
She said, “Are you all right, Sophie?”
“Why?” I said. If I even feel normal for a minute, she wants to ruin it. Anxiety bubbled up in my stomach like acid, so I had to take a slow breath.
She said, “You can talk to me.”
“I don’t want to talk. Not to you. Not to anyone. I’m fine. I’ve got loads of homework, so . . . “
She sighed heavily, ad after a long UNCOMFORTABLE pause she left. I lay on the bed for ages trying not to think about anything. I fell asleep in my school uniform. I peeled my clothes off in the middle of the night because I was in a cold sweat. Maybe I’ve got a virus. (78-79)

Sophie wants to forget everything that’s happened since that day where her whole life changed. She doesn’t want to talk about it, especially with her therapist. She avoids her mother at all costs, since her mother really can’t do anything and doesn’t know how to respond to Sophie’s withdrawl. She doesn’t fault her friend Abigail from distancing herself from Sophie, since Sophie doesn’t know what to do either. When new girl Rosa-Leigh enters into Sophie’s life, it might just return to normal, but her past continues to haunt her until she can find a way to express and come to terms with her grief.

I know this is going to sound cliche, but I’m lost for words about Lost for Words. I was never completely drawn into Sophie’s character and didn’t really care what happened to her at the end of the book. The intriguing part of the book was finding out what happened in the past, before the novel started, and maybe if that information had been presented in a different fashion, I would have been more engaged. The cause of Sophie’s withdrawl and grief is what I will remember from this book, because there were a lot of avenues that could have been more fully flushed out and never were. Because Sophie’s past is a mystery for half the book, I felt removed from her emotions, which were a big part of the story.

Personally, if you’re looking for a character who expresses her grief through writing, I would probably recommend The Sky is Everywhere instead. This book is a lackluster story that drags after the big reveal.

Finnikin of the Rock

Title: Finnikin of the Rock
Author: Melina Marchetta
ISBN: 9780763643614
Pages: 399 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2008. (originally published in Viking/Penguin Books (Australia), 2008)
U.S. Publication Date: Feb. 9, 2010.

As summer moved into autumn and the days grew shorter, Finnikin began to worry. He would tremble in fear when he remembered his dream. [...] Until one day, finally, he convinced his companions to make a pledge.
And so they climbed the rock of three wonders at the crest of Finnikin’s village, and they cut flesh from their bodies and tugged a strand of hair from the weeping Isaboe’s head to make a sacrifice to their goddess. Balthazar pledged to die defending his royal house of Lumatere. Finnikin swore to be their protector and guide for as long as he lived. Lucian vowed he would be the light whom they traveled toward in times of need. [...]
They were indeed blessed as no other kingdom in the land.
Until the five days of the unspeakable. (prologue)

Lumatere is an idyllic nation where the people of the five distinct areas — the Flatlands, the Forest, the Rock, the Mountains, and the River — live in relative prosperity. But that all changes when the royal family is brutally murdered in the middle of the night and a despised cousin assumes control and begins killing the inhabitants, causing mass exodus to neighboring communities. When the ruler of a Forest is burned at the stake, she summons a curse that seals the borders, and allows no one in or out for ten years. Locked out of the only home he’s known, Finnikin and his mentor wander the surrounding communities, trying to reunite the refuges. A mysterious novice in one of the temples swears that she has proof that the true ruler survives, and she joins up with Finnikin in a quest for both the former king and Finnikin’s father. Everyone though has secrets and ulterior motives, and Finnikin’s team might have to fight more than their common enemies as they learn who they can really trust in this world of double-crossing politics and favors.

Looking back at this summary, it’s probably one of my longer ones. But that’s because a LOT happens in this book. There’s wars and personal tragedy, famine, refuges, rape, slavery, and one big long exodus in search of a home. This book has everything, from fights to romance to mystery and magic. Everything in this book is beautifully done, from the creation of the world, to the politics of the neighboring communities and the multi-faceted characters.

Well… scratch that, because not everything is beautiful in this world. Evanjalin, the novice, is an orphaned refuge who has seen her share of atrocities in the last ten years. But honestly, I’m grateful that Marchetta provides just enough detail that readers are able to figure out what happens, but doesn’t get graphic in her descriptions. We learn that refuges were slaughtered in a bordering land. Readers witness the attempted rape of Evanjalin as she is assisted by Finnikin’s mentor, Sir Topher.

Sir Topher woke with a start. A muffled sound came from the corner of the loft. He listened for a moment, and when he was satisfied it was only Evanjalin tossing restlessly in her sleep, he closed his eyes with the same heaviness of heart he had felt these past four nights. Until he heard a scream, hoarse, as if the girl was fighting for air. He twisted out of his bedroll, and in the half dark he saw [someone] astride the novice as she struggled under his weight. Stumbling toward them, he heard the sickening sound of a blow, but before a second could land, he had the [man] by the neck and hurled him across the loft.
“Sweet goddess,” he muttered when he saw the girl’s face.
Clutching what was left of her shift, she gasped for breath as he placed a blanket around her shoulders. When he made an attempt to hold her, she crawled away, shuddering against the timber beams of their shelter. (89)
Portions of the text were removed to prevent spoilers.

But I think seventh or eighth graders could handle these things, even with the mature themes.

Everyone is clearly developed, and there are so many twists that you’d think Marchetta would leave something dangling, but she doesn’t. The crisscrossing plots are not only untangled but also expanded on by the end of the story. The characters have different motivations for what they are doing, and Evanjalin is probably the most complex of them all. Teens looking for strong characters should pick up this book. Not one of them is perfect, and all face some big decisions in their travels.

My one quibble is that the ending was somewhat predictable, but it didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the story one bit. I was swept into the world and traveled from country to country along with Finnikin and Evanjalin. I read this book cover to cover in one day. I refused to put it down. And I think many readers will find themselves doing the same. This is my first introduction to Marchetta, who won the Printz Award for Jellicoe Road, and I am intent on reading her other works. This is a new favorite for sure.

Revolution

Title: Revolution
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
ISBN: 9780385737630
Pages: 482 pages
Publisher/Date: Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, c2010.

I laugh out loud. “No, I’m not.”
“No arguments, Andi. You’re coming to Paris and you’re taking your laptop with you. We’ll be there for three weeks. Plenty of time for you to work up an outline for your thesis.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something? What about Mom? What do we do about her? Just leave her here by herself?”
“I’m checking your mother into a hospital,” he says.
I stare at him, too shocked to speak. (48)

Andi Alpers has been going crazy trying to deal with the death of her brother, her absentee father, and her emotionally distant mother, not to mention her quickly declining dismal performance at her private prep school. When Andi’s father receives word that she might end up getting expelled, he swoops in, ships her mother off to a mental institute, and basically forces Andi on a plane to go with him to Paris. Andi is able to negotiate with her father a compromise; finish an outline and introduction to her thesis, and she can go home early. Andi’s resolve to leave gets tested when she not only meets a guitarist who shares her passion, but also discovers a centuries old diary of Alexandrine Paradis, a girl her age who worked in the palace during the French Revolution. These two girls might have more in common then Andi realizes when their lives intersect in a startling manner.

Full disclosure: There is a small element of time travel, which I don’t feel too bad revealing and I hope no one else counts it against me, but this is how it was explained to me. The time travel element is by no means the core of the novel, but I thought the minor details that were scattered throughout the novel came together cleanly by the end. Those minor details are scattered about the gorgeous cover, including the key on the spin, which plays an important role in the book. That’s a great touch that I’m sure has caught the attention of more than one reader. I wouldn’t classify the story as science fiction even with the time travel element, but then again I wouldn’t classify it as historical fiction either, even though some might consider it due to the diary. This is a solid modern-day tale that has a timeless quality because of its connections to the past.

The characterization is extremely well-developed. Readers are drawn into both Andi and Alex’s personality, understanding their motivations and convictions. Andi’s passion for music is evident from the beginning, and the fact that her thesis involves proving how a late seventeenth century composer influenced modern-day music is not something that I would have picked. But the musical history, influences, and pieces are explained in a manner that makes sense.

The parallels that could be drawn between Alex and Andi are multi-faceted, and the romances that develop for both characters are refreshingly subtle. I think it’s fairly obvious to readers that Alex has more than a passing fascination with the prince, just as Andi has more than a passing fascination towards Virgil, a boy she meets in Paris. Virgil is perfect for Andi at this time, because he’s willing to take things at her pace, but he also recognizes her pain and is not so willing to let her self-destructive tendencies take over. He is the one good thing in her life that serves as her anchor. Their love of music draws them together, just as the revolution draws Alex to the prince, and both relationships taken together shows love in its many forms.

I have to comment that I’m thrilled that Alex’s diary entries read like a diary, without an excessive amount of direct quotes. The present tense and jumping around the timeline makes it a little difficult to follow at times, but we don’t relate stories linearly in real life, so I’m willing to assume it was an attempt in authenticity. Readers view not only Alex’s “present”, but she also flashbacks to previous events, all while being presented as old diary entries. Plus, the presentation allows us to get Andi’s reactions to what she’s reading instantaneously, instead of waiting for the next chapter.

The details pull readers in and really set the scene for the action. It’s quite obvious that Donnelly has done her research here, describing everything from the sights and sounds of Paris to the smells of the catacombs. The fact that the centerpiece of Andi’s father’s research actually exists is fascinating. I’m not a history person, and I found myself understanding the complications and causes of the French Revolution. I felt like I was actually there, following in both Alex’s and Andi’s footsteps. Although the size of the book presents a daunting facade (weighing in at over 400 pages) readers who stick with it will be well rewarded.

The Wager

Title: The Wager
Author: Donna Jo Napoli
ISBN: 9780805087819
Pages: 262 pages
Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company, c2010.

“Name the amount; it will give as much as you ask.” [...]
“There’s a catch, though.” [...]
“Surrender your beauty. Temporarily, that is. Three years, three months, three days. Not so long for worldly wealth, wouldn’t you say? In that period you must not wash. You cannot wash yourself, change your clothes, shave your beard, comb your hair. Easy, like I said. Simple. A little wager. A game. And at the end, you even get to keep the purse, with all its magic.” He kicked the purse toward Don Giovanni. “But if you break the rules, not only will the charm be broken, but the whole deal is off.”
“My soul . . . ?”
“Your soul.” (67-69)

A tidal wave in 1169 hits Sicily, making nineteen-year-old Don Giovanni homeless and forcing him to wander, beg, and take odd jobs to secure food for himself. Upon meeting a stranger who he instantly recognizes as the devil, Don Giovanni agrees to a wager; if he doesn’t bathe or clean himself for just over three years, he’s allowed to keep a small purse that produces all the money he ever needs whenever he desires. Initially, Don Giovanni thinks this is going to be easy and plans to remain in a hotel room for three years. However, people begin to suspect that something suspicious is happening, which puts him in danger. Through all the trials and tribulations, and with the devil tempting him when things start to become easier, will Don Giovanni be able to last the entire time frame?

I was actually initially surprised that this was in the young adult section. It’s not that there’s anything that I would object to in the book, although Don Giovanni’s penchant to objectify women might raise some parental eyebrows. The book starts slow, with the devil not making his entrance until you’re a quarter of the way through the book. Since the book takes place over the course of almost four years, readers are privy to vignettes instead of the entire time he’s fighting the urge to clean. In all honesty, while Don Giovanni leads a lonely life, his life before the purse seems more traumatic than what he encounters after receiving the purse. His hardships after the purse seem more a result of the devil’s unfair interference than any person’s or group’s reaction to him. While I understand it might have been more difficult in that time period, I sincerely think that someone with an endless supply of money would be able to manage this challenge if it occurred today, especially considering how technology connects people who are separated.

I wasn’t wowed by this book, partially because I feel like I’ve heard/read this story previously. Prince undergoes challenges in order to marry a princess. There are a few disguises, a magician (in this case, the devil) and some last-minute speed-bumps, but overall, somehow, justice prevails. It’s predictable, which I realize it’s supposed to be because it’s a fairy tale. But with all the rave reviews I’ve heard about Donna Jo Napoli’s work, I guess I was expecting something less routine. While it’s interesting to discover that the historical setting is real, it just doesn’t add enough intrigue to keep me occupied.

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