Posts tagged ‘Favorites’

Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons WhyTitle: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Narrator: Joel Johnstone and Debra Wiseman
ISBN: 9780739356500 (book on CD)
Pages: 288 pages
Discs/CDs: 5 CDs, 6 hours, 25 minutes
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, c2007.
Awards: Named to the Best Books for Young Adults, Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, and Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults lists by YALSA 2008

Hello, boys and girls. Hannah Baker here. Live and in stereo.
I don’t believe it.
No return engagements. No encore. And this time, absolutely no requests.
No. I can’t believe it. Hannah Baker killed herself.
I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically; why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.
What? No!
I’m not saying which tape brings you into the story. But fear not, if you received this lovely box, your name will pop up . . . I promise. (7)

Clay Jensen returns from school to find a box addressed to him. Inside are seven tapes and a map of town. When he plays the tape labelled “1″ with bright nail polish, he hears the voice of his secret crush Hannah Baker, who had killed herself just two weeks prior. She starts the tapes with a word of caution that each of the people listening to the tapes are one of the reasons she killed herself. Clay, studious and sweet, can’t imagine what he did that might have contributed to Hannah’s death. But he spends the rest of the night following the voice of Hannah as she directs him through town and through her last moments of life.

Wow. Just … WOW. If you haven’t listened to this audiobook, you need to. There’s a reason it’s included in YALSA’s 2008 list of Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults. The connections and experience of listening to a book that is primarily narrated by a set of audiotapes is so different from either reading the words or listening to an audiobook that is narrated the more traditional way. The production team was fantastic in timing a lot of the ends of a tape in the story to coincide with the end of the CD that you’re listening to, so you’re going through the motions of changing out the tape at the same time the narrator is doing the same action you are. It’s a level of involvement that you don’t traditionally experience, and it gave me goosebumps on occasion. Fabulously done.

Bravo also to narrators Joel Johnstone and Debra Wiseman, and again kudos to the production team for recognizing and respecting the fact that they needed two narrators, one female and one male, to do the book justice. I can’t pick a favorite because their skills were equally admirable. At times gut wrenching and dejected, snarky and sarcastic, hopeful and hopeless, the emotions run the gamut and readers/listeners are dragged along whether they want to be or not. But I found myself appreciating the manhandling because it makes you think and consider life in a whole new way, especially when considering the reasons that she has for killing herself, since some of them might seem minimal until taken into context as a whole.

Jay Asher’s story is haunting. It’s like a train wreck, where we know what’s going to happen and we recognize the upcoming disaster, but we’re captivated by the realistic dialogue, the pain and heartbreak, and the inability to change the outcome. While you might not remember every detail of every story as well as Hannah does, you’ll remember the emotions that the story evokes. It’s a cautionary and eye-opening tale of what little jabs and snide remarks can accumulate and escalate into becoming so much more to a person. I’m reminded of a story that I read, I think in a Reader’s Digest magazine or Chicken Soup for the Soul book. A student sees a loner walking home from school weighed down with books, and invites that person to a party. At graduation, that book-burdened student, no longer a loner, reveals to the whole class that he/she was planning on committing suicide that weekend. The backpack was so overloaded so that the parents wouldn’t have to clean out the student’s locker after the funeral, but that invitation changed everything. We see that missed opportunity in the story, where just one action, on the part of so many people, would have changed Hannah’s mind. She was unable to ask for help outright, but as we see in the tapes the warning signs were there, if only anyone had seen them. I readily look forward to reading whatever Jay Asher writes next. Along with Hate List by Jennifer Brown, I feel like this should be required reading for high school or college freshmen.

A must read, or better yet a must listen to, story for everyone.

The Lions of Little Rock

Lions of Little RockTitle: The Lions of Little Rock
Author: Kristin Levine
Narrator: Julia Whelan
ISBN: 9780399256448 (hardcover), 9780307968807 (audiobook)
Pages: 298 pages
Discs/CDs: 7 CDs, 8 hours and 23 minutes
Publisher/Date: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, an Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., c2012. (audiobook by Listening Library, an imprint of Random House Audio Publishing Group)
Publication Date: January 5, 2012

“So what did Miss Taylor say to you?” JT asked.
I shook my head.
“She said Liz isn’t coming back to West Side,” reported Nora, peering over the top of her glasses. “I was standing by the door and heard her. She said Liz is real sick. But I don’t think that’s true, because Liz was in school last Friday and she was fine.”
JT thought for a moment. “My cousin got the stomach flu last week. That can come on real sudden.”
“Yes, but that only lasts a few days,” said Nora.
“Liz isn’t coming back because she’s a Negro,” said Sally.
We all turned to look at her. (62)

Before meeting Liz, twelve-year-old Marlee didn’t have a lot of friends because she didn’t talk to anyone except for her family or her old friend Sally. But her family starts talking less and less as tensions are running high in Marlee’s household, with her parents on different sides of the debate regarding integrating the Little Rock schools. Liz reminded her so much of her older sister that she just felt comfortable talking to her, and Liz started encouraging her to speak up more at school. Then Liz vanishes from school, and the rumor mill is swirling that Liz was actually a light-skinned African-American, sneaking into school and passing for a white girl in order to get a better education. With tempers flaring in this city and acts of violence threatening, Marlee realizes she must pick a side and speak up if she’s going to prevent disaster from striking her or Liz.

This book reads like a younger version of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. It brings the issue of integration and segregation to a level that kids understand, and sheds light on a period of time that even Levine recognizes in her author’s note is not talked about. “When I was in elementary school, my own education about the civil rights era was sketchy at best, but even I learned about the Little Rock Nine. [...] On the other hand, I had never heard of schools being closed to prevent integration, even though I later learned it had happened in my very own state of Virginia as well.” (292-293) I’ve mentioned several times that I enjoy “based-on-a-true story” type books, which I think is why I enjoy historical fiction so much when it’s set around little known events. It’s a fun way for me to learn about history and serves as a launching point to discover more, and I think other readers would agree.

Lions of Little Rock paperbackLevine stays true to the era with language, which I appreciate when an author doesn’t cheapen the story by not using culturally significant words, like “Negro” and the not so nice term for African-Americans. I realize my not using it might look contradictory to some readers, but I don’t need to use the word to lend historical accuracy to a story, which is how Levine uses it. I absolutely love the front of the hardcover, featuring the black and white birds, both of which play a role in the story. While I know there’s lots of talk out there about white-washing covers and not portraying actual photographs of minorities on covers, I think the cover implies the tone of the story that can be found on its pages. The paperback version does have a photograph looking cover (I haven’t seen it in person, and it’s hard to tell by this graphic), but I think it makes the book look intended for younger audiences, which I don’t think would be right. Marlee is a seventh grader in the story, and things do get somewhat violent towards the end, so I would whole heartedly recommend it for middle schoolers but would probably hesitate to go younger. However, I do know some people who would argue that there was no audience filter on the events as they were happening, so why should we filter what they read since they would have experienced it first hand if they had been there. Obviously it’s your call as to who you recommend this book.

All the characters in the book are multi-faceted and very accurately portrayed. The time they are growing up in and the issues they are facing are not simple, and it’s refreshing to see so many characters realistically grappling with their lives. Marlee’s evolution is slow but steady, and we see enough glimpses of her during the school year to witness her thought-process and how major events influence her decision-making. Liz is bold and intelligent, and it’s no wonder that Marlee is pulled towards this new girl packing so much personality and self-assurance. Although told time and again that it would be dangerous to remain friends, just like typical teens they don’t recognize that danger and refuse to heed warnings until it’s almost too late. I want to also recognize the parents of both girls in this novel who work jobs and are out of the house but are far from absent or removed from the situation. Their thoughts and feelings grow, evolve, and change as the situation changes and the school closings continue to stretch on indefinitely with no answer in sight. They discipline their daughters but also support them, worry over their safety, and try their best to be involved and encourage what’s best in their children’s lives.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Julie Whelan’s narration, which is spot-on. It probably helps that the book is told from Marlee’s perspective, which limits the rare male voices to a meager half-dozen at most. Readers get swept away by the story and don’t notice the time passing until you have to change discs. I waited a long time to read this, but you shouldn’t. Put this on every recommended book list you can, whether it is a list of historical fiction, African-American fiction, amazing audiobooks or simply friendship or school stories. It’s a heartfelt, memorable, and eye-opening account of friendship in tough circumstances during a period of time that strongly affected the people who lived through it. The story will stay with you for some time after you’re done reading it, making it a strong contender for reading group discussion.

Bears

The Picture Book Month calendar included Bears as a theme on Nov. 7th. I do at least one bear themed storytime around this time every year. Sometimes, I do more than one, first pairing them with hibernation/sleeping themes, while other times it’s just bears. There are so many great books about bears out there, but the ones I’m featuring today are the ones I used just recently for an outreach visit to several classrooms of preschool and kindergarten kids.

Title: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
Author: Michael Rosen
Illustrator: Helen Oxenbury

If you work with young children and you don’t know this book and/or song, SHAME ON YOU! Go out and pick up a copy and learn it right now. And then, check out Michael Rosen’s rendition of the song on Youtube. And then, if you still can, pick up a copy of the pop-up book. Yes, there is a pop-up book floating around out there. It’s absolutely beautiful, simply done but with very sturdy construction for multiple story times. The kids are fascinated by it and I always get questions and comments like “The dog’s going the wrong way” and “The baby’s on the dad’s shoulders” and “Where’s the mom?” and “What does that tab do?” Yes there is no skipping any of the pull-tabs on this one, because your eagle-eyed audience will notice and make you go back and demonstrate what each one does again and again. You need this book, but if you can still track it down, splurge and get the pop-up version, with the swirling snow and the tripping children. You’ll thank me later.

Title: A Visitor for Bear
Author: Bonny Becker
Illustrator: Kady MacDonald Denton

No wonder it got an E.B. White Read Aloud Award. This book begs to be enthusiastically read aloud, although I will warn you that it’s my longest book on this list and it takes a full fifteen minutes sometimes to get through. But the kids will be intrigued by how the mouse keeps getting into the house of this reclusive bear who just wants to eat his breakfast. There are a few repetitive lines that the older kids will pick up immediately and will help you fill in the blanks if you let them. This is another book where kids pipe up with their opinions chastising the bear for turning the mouse away in the beginning and remarking on the “hanging thing” from the bears mouth when he shouts to the mouse to “BEGONE!” And a great vocabulary lesson awaits for readers wondering what “impossible! Intolerable! Insufferable” mean.

Title: The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear
Author: Don and Audrey Wood
Illustrator: Don Wood

I quite often joke that the title is longer than the actual book, but the Woods pair up for what has become a classic, since my copy boasts a 1984 copyright date. It’s held up remarkably well over the years, and I’m sure scores of librarians and teachers have used this in their storytimes. It tells the story of a little mouse trying to keep his strawberry (that he JUST picked) away from the big hungry bear. We never see the big hungry bear, although in a stroke of design genius we do see the bear’s shadow on the back cover. Proving that you can still look at things in a different perspective, I had one little boy remark that it was the bear who was telling the story. I’m not sure if I agree with him, but he brought up an interesting idea to talk about point of view using this book, and see how many other readers shared his opinion. Great graphics lend themselves to laughter as the mouse tries again and again to hide, disguise, and guard his strawberry, and if you look closely you’ll see relics of each attempt scattered throughout the following pages.

Title: A Splendid Friend Indeed
Author/Illustrator: Suzanne Bloom

Suzanne Blooms series about a goose and a polar bear is different from the rest in several ways. First, it features a polar bear, while most bear stories feature the traditional brown or dark-colored bear. Second, he’s paired with a goose, and the two incompatible creatures end up becoming wonderful companions. Thirdly, the story is told entirely in dialogue, which I’m always impressed by when I stumble across it. Usually the books talk to the readers with third person or first person narration, but in this one Goose and Bear talk directly to each other, without a single “he said” or “she said”. It takes a mature group of children to decipher Bear’s frustrations and Goose’s attention seeking behavior solely by the pictures, but when they do catch on it’s like magic. Due to the simple sentence structure, I usually save it for younger audiences, because although as I said some of it might go over their head, the simplistic drawings are eye-catching to all.

Title: Bear Snores On
Author: Karma Wilson
Illustrator: Jane Chapman

Wilson’s rhymes are longer than most picture books, but it rarely falters as Bear snores on through the slowly building gathering taking place in his cave. It’s when a stray pepper flake gets up his nose and results in a humongous sneeze that the animals freeze and are scared of what Bear’s reaction will be. No worries, since it all ends happily, but Wilson knows how to build suspense with the Bear gnashing and growling at being woken up early. Surrounded by forest creatures, Bears friendship will continue, as this debut book for Karma Wilson turned into a gold mine as she continues the series with “Bear Says Thanks,” Bear Wants More” and several others.

So what about you? What bear books can you never “bare” to be far from?

2 The Point Tuesdays Flying the Dragon

For my new job, all the librarians write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be adding my contribution to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Title: Flying the Dragon
Author: Natalie Dias Lorenzi
ISBN: 9781580894340
Pages: 233 pages
Publisher/Date: Charlesbridge Publishing, c2012.
Publication Date: July 1, 2012

Ever since she had translated something for Hiroshi that morning, Kevin wouldn’t leave her alone. “Ching chang wong wang!” He snickered, obviously pleased with himself.
“That doesn’t even mean anything.” Skye rolled her eyes, hoping no one else had heard him. As luck would have it, she had to peer around his big head to copy the reading homework from the board. But whenever she tried to look, he blocked her way.
She sighed. “Cut it out. I can’t see the board.”
“Why don’t you ask your Chinese boyfriend what it says when he gets back from ESL class?”
“He’s not my boyfriend; he’s my cousin. And he’s not Chinese, duh. He’s Japanese.”
“Whatever.”
Ignore him. Ignore him. Ignore him. (48)

Sorano (called Skye) was excited about finally securing a spot on this coming summer’s All-Star soccer team. Instead, she’ll attend Japanese classes due to her cousin Hiroshi and his family moving to the United States. Hiroshi’s just as surprised as Skye about the move, angrily missing his own summer goal of continuing the family tradition and competing in the annual kite battles. The conflict grows as Hiroshi closely guards the little time he has with his ailing grandfather and Skye is embarrassed by Hiroshi’s very Japanese manners. When Skye accidently damages the kite that Hiroshi and his grandfather built together and carefully transported from Japan, it looks like their friendship is over before it got off the ground. Peppered with Japanese phrases, words, and cultural tidbits, this debut novel realistically portrays a collision of cultures and emotions and how two very different people can help each other succeed and soar.

I’d say more about how much I loved this book and the cover, but since it’s To the Point Tuesday, you’ll have to satisfy yourself with following the links. Looking for more information? Literary Rambles has an interview with author Natalie Dias Lorenzi and the author has a whole host of links to reviews and interviews on her website.

Dark of the Moon

Title: Dark of the Moon
Author: Tracy Barrett
ISBN: 9780574581323
Pages: 310 pages
Publisher/Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, c2011.

It isn’t true what they say about my brother–that he ate those children. He never did; he didn’t even mean to hurt them. He wept as he held out their broken bodies, his soft brown eyes pleading with me to fix them, the way I always fixed his dolls and toys. [...]
I couldn’t fix the children, of course. They were dead, their heads flopping on their necks, their arms and legs pale and limp. My mother ordered the slaves to take them away and give them a proper burial, and I held my brother as he sobbed over the loss of his playmates. [...]
When the replacement children died as well, my mother said: No more playmates. My brother wailed and roared in his loneliness, deep beneath the palace, until the Minos took pity and said: Just once more. But not children from Krete. The people would stand for it no more, he said.
And so they came in their long ships. (prologue)

Ariadne is She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess, having been born to her mother while had assumed the role of the Goddess and will assume the role when her mother dies. Her brother Asterion is He-Who-Will-Be-Minos, a kind of token king who assists with the rituals where the Goddess promises wealth and prosperity. The problem is that her brother will never be able to perform the necessary duties of the position, having been born with physical and mental deformities. Neighboring communities call him the Minotaur, believing him to be half man and half beast, but Ariadne knows differently. However, she soon finds her loyalties torn between her brother, her village, and her obligations as a new batch of slaves arrive and she struggles to explain her culture to strangers, especially Theseus, the son of the king of Athens.

The most engaging aspect of this book is the unique presentation of the Minotaur myth. Asterion seems to be a cross between the Beast (from Beauty and the Beast) and a highly autistic child. Ariadne’s religion/culture is difficult for Theseus to understand (and I keep using the word unique to describe the whole concept). One woman doesn’t just assume the symbolic role of the Goddess, but every year actually becomes the Goddess in order to promote growth, health, and a good harvest. The rest of the time, the Goddess is separate from the chosen woman, her presence and watchfulness represented by the cycles of the moon. It’s presented as almost like a temporary possession of the person in question. The same can be said for her consort Velchanos, who every year chooses a male body to inhabit for the harvest celebration, during which time the two “deities” consummate their relationship. Then the male is sacrificed by the Minos (similar to a high priest/protector of the Goddess) and the blood will be used to fertilize the fields for the coming year. The first boy and girl who are born to the She-Who-Is-Goddess as a result of the consummation become She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess and He-Who-Will-Be-Minos.

The problem of course arises because Asterion, the Minos-to-be, is completely incapable of fulfilling his duties due to his inability to communicate and his physical limitations. While Ariadne’s initial lack of this realization seems implausible to me, especially considering how involved she is in this culture’s religion and events, it adds political upheaval and tension to the climax of the story. Also adding climax to the story is Theseus’ naivety to the whole blood spilling process, thinking that a pin prick will be enough for this sacrificial society.

Another unique aspect of this book is the way Ariadne’s relationship with Theseus ends. EPILOGUE SPOILER ALERT (highlight the text below if you REALLY want to know):
“Now that I know what love is, I know I felt nothing like that for Theseus. Friendship, yes; gratitude for his kindness to Asterion and for seeing me as a woman and not a goddess in training, yes; but not love. That is something different, and something I hope my friend Theseus will find.” (309-310) It’s interesting to see a character change her idea of her feelings and not get swept away by the gorgeous new stranger (how often have we seen that plot?). Ariadne is a woman who knows what she wants out of society and eventually questions her blind acceptance of a role thrust upon her. She’s a strong female character who doesn’t lose sight of her more feminine qualities.

For readers who are familiar with the fantasy genre, this is some extreme out of the box thinking, and I’m seriously impressed. This wholly original take on a very old story will intrigue fantasy fans and inspire a new way of viewing a well-known and popular myth. What Gregory MaGuire did to Elphaba in Wicked, Tracy Barrett does for the Minotaur and Ariadne in Dark of the Moon. (And with a very cool book cover to boot!)

The Scorpio Races

Title: The Scorpio Races
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Narrator: Steve West and Fiona Hardingham
ISBN: 9780545224901
Pages: 409 pages
Dics/CDs: 10 CDs, 12 hours 7 minutes
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Inc., c2011.

“It’s the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”

When Sean Kendrick was ten, his father was killed by a cappal uisce during the annual Scorpio Races on the beach of their tiny island. Ever since, Sean has been taming the cappal uisce for the Malvern family, one of the biggest names in horse breeding. A quiet, brooding young man, Sean trusts his secrets to no one, not even the cappal uisce named Corr who has helped him win the Races several times and who Sean has set his heart on owning one day. Sean’s life is changed when he encounters Puck Connolly, an ambitious young girl who’s terrified of the cappal uisce after they killed both her parents and left her and her two brothers orphans. The only way to keep her older brother from abandoning their family for the mainland is to enter the race, but is she strong enough to overcome her fear?

The story is mainly told from Puck’s point of view, and Fiona Hardingham’s bubbly representation of Puck seems almost effortless. Puck does have her moments of depression, but she is usually able to lift herself out of those depths, if only for the sole reason that she doesn’t want her younger brother to see her so despondent. I think I would get along with her well. Sean, as I said in my summary, is the strong and silent type whose narration counter balances Puck’s effervescent personality. Steve West conveys his reserved nature very cleanly, and voices not just Sean but all the men with clarity and precision. He slips very neatly from Sean’s accent to the horse purchaser George Holly’s American one, with no hesitation or hiccups that I could hear.

This is somewhat different from Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver, which focused on the more well-known werewolf mythology. Here she’s in her own element, bringing to life the little known legend of the water horses, which she says in her author’s note are named various things depending on the country of origin. I’ve never heard of this myth, as I thought Kelpies were simply water horses as opposed to flesh-eating beasts, more “My Little Pony” meets “The Little Mermaid” than vampiric Black Beauty.

But Stiefvater brings more to the table than that just admittedly simplistic description. Through her writings, readers witness the majesty and fascination that Sean feels for these wild animals, as well as the revulsion that Puck feels for these killer beasts. In presenting both sides, readers can draw their own conclusions, and can debate what they would do and how they would feel if placed in the same situation.

The action and adventure sequences leave readers not only picturing the scene, but reeling from it as the horses strike and death courts the characters at every corner. Her writing is cinematic in nature, especially at the very end when you can visualize the panoramic views and the tight close-ups of faces, reactions, and feelings. Those feelings, and especially the relationship that develops between Puck and Sean, are natural and not rushed. They recognize that they are competitors, with each of them needing to beat the other one in order to win the prize money that they both so desperately need. They’re hesitant to act on what starts as admiration and quickly grows in each of them as something more, and their trepidation just adds to the climatic ending.

A Printz Award Honor 2012 for teen literature and Odyssey Honor Award 2012 for Best Audio Production, along with being named to countless Best Books of 2011 lists, this book is a must read for any fantasy fan, and a must listen for all audiobook listeners.

A World Without Heroes

Title: A World Without Heroes
Series: Beyonders #1
Author: Brandon Mull
ISBN: 9781416997924
Pages: 454 pages
Publisher/Date: Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2011.

He attempted to double back to the reading area, but could not find that, either. Instead, he came to a different open area, where the only furnishing was a black pedestal surmounted by a huge book.[...]
The book appeared to be bound in human skin. Upon close-examination Jason observed that the fleshy covering had tiny pores, fine hairs like the ones on his arm, and light blue veins visible beneath the surface.
Aghast, he tentatively touched the surface, withdrawing his finger instantly. It was warm to the touch, with a yielding texture that suggested more thickness than he had expected. It felt alive. [...]
Thumbing through the remainder of the yellowed pages, Jason found them all blank. He closed the tome.
The covering of the book had broken out into gooseflesh. So had Jason.
Could the admonitions he had read be real? Surely the book was of no great importance if it lay up here in this dusty attic. Behind the most intricately locked door he had ever seen. In a library hidden in the middle of the forest. Oh, crud.
Suddenly a flap of skin lifted on the center of the cover, revealing a glaring eye. A human eye. (61-64)

Jason Walker’s day starts out like any ordinary day. He does some batting practice with his friends, chats with the girls who pass by, and then volunteer at the family owned local zoo. It’s then that Jason’s day becomes anything but ordinary as he gets sucked inside the hippo and transported into Lyrian, a world of political intrigue and fantastical magic, both of which make it difficult to know who to trust. Paired with a home-schooled girl from Jason’s own world named Rachel who also appeared in Lyrian at about the same time Jason did they both unknowingly get thrust into a battle of wits and endurance against the dictatorial ruler, the wizard Maldor. Will Jason and Rachel be able to help their new “friends”, or are they doomed to spend their time running for their lives? Or, when given the chance, will they abandon their search to save themselves and return home?

Brandon Mull is at his best here. Filled with twists and turns, readers are just as clueless as Jason and Rachel on who to trust and what to do next. The world building is extraordinary, with new creatures at every turn, with my favorites being the displacers, creatures who look human but have the ability to remove and then reattach parts of their body. The trials are equal parts brain and brawn, and I loved how unique this concept was. There’s enough fast paced action to leave any reader breathless, as the body count quickly mounts. There’s just a hint of romance, which begs for elaboration in future books.

Actually, there’s a lot that begs for elaboration in the upcoming sequels. That ending… Oh what can I say about the ending without giving anything away… I can’t. It’s a cliffhanger if I ever saw one, which leaves readers protesting “But…. WHAT!? But what about Rachel? What about Jason? How are they going to…” Nope, can’t spoil it. You’re just going to have to take my word for it and read it. It’s downright unfair, and I can’t imagine how they’re going to get out of the problems they are facing. The sequel <em>Seeds of Rebellion</em> doesn’t come out until spring, so you have a while to wait just like me.

Inkheart

Title: Inkheart
Author: Cornelia Funke
Narrator: Lynn Redgrave
ISBN: 0807220108
Pages: 534 pages
Discs/CDs: 14 CDs, 15 hours 36 minutes
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, an imprint of the Random House Audio Publishing Group, c2003.

Meggie has led a quiet life with her bookbinder father Mo, surrounded by books and reveling in the enjoyment they provide her. One late night however, a mysterious man called Dustfinger visits their farmhouse, calling Mo “Silvertongue” and insisting that Mo is in danger. Meggie and Mo flee to her mother’s aunt Elinor’s house, but danger follows them in the form of Capricorn, a deadly man who arrived quite by accident from the pages of the book Inkheart years ago. Capricorn is convinced that Mo can help him release the rest of his crew from the story to wreak havoc against the real world he now finds himself. Meggie must enlist the help of her book obsessed aunt, a young boy, and Dustfinger, who has questionable motives of his own for recovering the book, in order to rescue her father and set to rights the mistake that was made years ago.

I loved everything about this book! I loved the original cover, which is the one pictured above. I loved the narration and the descriptions and the dialogue. I loved the tone and the pacing and the plot. I loved the characterizations and the characters and the plot. Inkheart was written with book lovers in mind, and I’m certainly one of them. While children will understand and rejoice in the action packed plot, librarians and older readers understand the eloquent descriptions which fill the pages. I was throughly engaged by Lynn Redgrave’s narration of the book, which contrasts the characters nicely between the raspy textures of the evil henchmen, the sweetly innocent voice of Meggie and the indignant tones of Elinor. In fact, I think Elinor is one of my favorite characters, as she berates everyone’s actions equally and has a tendency to hyperventilation. There was only one thing that I wished the audio had done differently, and that’s I wish they had included all the great quotes that Funke had included in the printed book before each chapter. Flipping through the print version, the quotes really tied in well with the chapters and covered a wide range of sources, including several from Princess Bride (a movie I enjoyed but another book that people are amazed to find out I haven’t read — YET.)

The adventure is palatable but some events might prove a little scary for some younger audiences. Basta, Capricorn’s right hand man, wields a knife with deadly accuracy and quite often is found putting it up against someone’s neck or face. As they say in the books at one point, it makes for delicious reading but a very deadly real life situation. But the cruelty is in context and reinforces Basta’s and Capricorn’s characters and also Meggie’s fears towards the villans. And believe me, the villans are NASTY.

All of the characters’ actions seem believable and the character development is “spot on”. Each has their own fears and strengths and weaknesses and motivations, and you really get to dive in and grasp each one in turn. I’d been told I should have read this book when it first came out, being a librarian and loving books as much as Mo, Elinor, and Meggie love books. In fact, I’ll leave you with a scene that has me picturing librarians everywhere swooning over Elinor’s house:

“How many books do you have?” asked Meggie. She had grown up among piles of books, but even she couldn’t imagine there were books behind all the windows of this huge house.
Elinor inspected her again, this time with unconcealed contempt. “How many?” She repeated. “Do you think I count them like buttons or peas? A very, very great many. There are probably more books in every single room of this house than you will ever read — and some of them are so valuable that I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot you if you dared touch them.” [...]
There were no haphazard piles lying around as they did at home. Every book obviously had its place. But where other people have wallpaper, pictures, or just an empty wall, Elinor had bookshelves. The shelves were white and went right up to the ceiling in the entrance hall through which she had first led them, but in the next room and the corridor beyond it the shelves were as black as the tiles on the floor. (36-37)

Sigh.

Where She Went

Title: Where She Went
Author: Gayle Forman
Series: Sequel to If I Stay
ISBN: 9780525422945
Pages: 264 pages
Publisher/Date: Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., c2011.
Publication Date: April 5, 2011

She left the rehab center after four weeks, two weeks ahead of schedule. She could walk with a cane, open a jar of peanut butter, and play the hell out of Beethoven. [...]
She left for Julliard the day after Labor Day. I drove her to the airport. She kissed me good-bye. She told me that she loved me more than life itself. Then she stepped through security.
She never came back. (46-47)

In the book If I Stay, we’re introduced to Mia, a cellist who loses her family in a car crash. After Mia recovers, Adam expects things to obviously be different. He doesn’t realize how different until Mia leaves him for school and then abandons him. She stops answering his calls and e-mails and never returns to see him. Three years later, Adam is a successful musician in his own right, fame mostly gained from songs he wrote after Mia left him. While waiting for a plane, he realizes that Mia is playing a concert in the same city. His spur of a moment decision spirals into a night where both Mia and Adam are forced to rehash old memories and struggle to come to terms with what happened. Can or should they forgive and forget, or is the distance between them meant to be?

I devoured this book. Readers might remember that I LOVED If I Stay, and I was a little leery about the prospect of a sequel. Especially because knowing that there is a sequel kind of negates the suspense that Gayle Forman so carefully crafted in her first book. But I was thankfully proven wrong, and the emotional tension is just as heart breaking when told from Adam’s perspective. Adam doesn’t know why Mia left, and while he understands he can never completely comprehend what she’s going through, her departure just added to the sorrow he felt when her parents and brother died because they were like a second family to him. He’s channeled his feelings through his music, but it’s only providing an outlet and it’s not helping him resolve all those emotions. He needs closure, which he doesn’t have and he’s not sure he really wants because that would mean it’s over for good. It’s brought up, and readers of the original might remember that he told Mia while she was in her coma:

If you stay, I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll quit the band, go with you to New York. But if you need me to go away, I’ll do that, too. Maybe coming back to your old life would just be too painful, maybe it’d be easier for you to erase us. And that would suck, but I’d do it. I can lose you like that if I don’t lose you today. I’ll let you go. If you stay.(200)

Mia is also as conflicted as Adam, although you don’t see it as much since this book is told from Adam’s perspective. But Mia is trying really hard to separate herself from the accident that has now come to define her. She wants her identity back, and while yes the accident has affected her in ways that I don’t think she realizes, even three years later, I think she was smart to distance herself from people who were focusing on it as the primary piece of her personality. It really isn’t discussed for readers to see, but I can only imagine how painfully difficult it was for Mia to do that, to cut her support system loose until they were able to support her and not her recovery.

An inspiring read about the power of love and music, fans of Forman will not be disappointed.

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.

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