Posts tagged ‘300-349 pages’

Boundless

BoundlessTitle: Boundless
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Illustrator: Jim Tierney
Narrator: Nick Podehl
ISBN: 9781480584143 (audiobook), 9781442472884 (hardcover)
Pages: 332 pages
Discs/CDs: 7 CDs, 8 hours 12 minutes
Publisher/Date: Brillance Audio, c2014. (audiobook), Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2014. (hardback)

Amidst the greenery the silver keychain is easy to spot. Will bends to pick it up. It holds only a single key, unusually thick, with plenty of notches. At once he recognizes it as the key to the funeral car — same as his father’s. The guard must have dropped it. Will pockets it.
He is hurrying back toward the shantytown to catch up with the guard, when he hears a grumble off to his right. Likely the fellow has fallen down again. Will wonders if he should tell his father. The guard’s clearly unfit for his post. Will walks through the trees in the direction of the noise. Through the thick foliage he catches a glimpse of the guard’s jacket. […]
The guard is pushed back against a tree, his eyes wide with surprise. A second man has an elbow against the guard’s throat and is pulling the knife from between his ribs. Will can’t tear his eyes from the knife, darkly wet. He feels like he’s been touched with something searingly cold. The man with the knife turns. (87-88)

In the last three years, Will’s life has a had a dramatic change ever since he and his father were involved in the laying of the last spike connecting the Canadian Railway from one side of the country to the other. Will is riding with his father on the longest and biggest train ever built, the Boundless, and in addition to all the passengers and a circus, there is also a funeral car for the manager of the railroad, who is intent on spending the rest of his days, even after death, riding the rails. Rumors fly about the treasures contained in the funeral car, and when the guard is murdered, Will protects the key but ends up isolated in the back of the train. His efforts to make it back to his father and authorities are thwarted again and again, and just when he thinks he can trust the circus folk, he learns their ringmaster might have his own motives for keeping Will and the key close.

This is the first book of Kenneth Oppel’s I’ve read, having missed his previous bestsellers. His other books will be going on the to be read pile if they are anything like this. His world building is fantastic, including descriptions of the train and details of the furnishings. Elaborate information about how technology of that day work are included, and I noticed little details like how the clothing buttons instead of zippers closed. There’s also pieces of magical realism that connect effortlessly with the story, with Sasquatches being very real, in addition to the Muskeg hag that bewitches people and magic tricks where you wonder if real magic is happening.

Will is a multifaceted character, gullible in the beginning but also suspicious once he gets the key. Originally intent on mimicking his father’s exploits and having an adventure of his own to tell people, he sets off to prove his abilities, both to others and to himself. We see him grow as a character, and assume some control over his life. I totally expected Mr. Dorian’s plot to go in a different direction, but that wasn’t the case, and I’ll admit I was slightly disappointed. If you are familiar with the classics, you may draw the same conclusions when you hear what Mr. Dorian is after. When Will finds himself in trouble again and again, his rescues and solutions do not strain credulity, and you’re left with a tale that makes you wonder “Could that have really happened?” Maren is also a capable and self-assured young lady who knows what she wants and is not afraid to go to great lengths to get it. Both Will and Maren think fast on their feet and play off the other’s strengths in order to help each person get what they want most, and their interactions with each other were highly entertaining.

Nick Podehl is probably at his best here, as he incorporates the global nature of the travelers, including accents and even a few words of Hindi. Although I can’t vouch for their accuracy, they sound authentic enough. For fans of trains, fantastical creatures, or just readers who are looking for the next great adventure, they are in for one wild ride.

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl DreamingTitle: Brown Girl Dreaming
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
ISBN: 9780399252518
Pages: 337 pages
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books, published by the Penguin Group, c2014.
Awards: National Book Award (winner), Coretta Scott King Award (winner), Newbery Medal (honor), and Sibert Award (honor)

Each day a new world
opens itself up to you. And all the worlds you are–
Ohio and Greenville
Woodson and Irby
Gunnar’s child and Jack’s daughter
Jahovah’s Witness and nonbeliever
listener and writer
Jackie and Jacqueline–

gather into one world

called You

where You decide

what each world
and each story
and each ending

will finally be. (319-320)

Jacqueline Woodson’s poetic memoir focuses on her childhood. Born in Ohio, her parents were divorced and she, her mother, and her two older siblings had moved down south to live with her grandparents before she even began to walk. She loved living with her grandparents, even when her mother left for Brooklyn, but they soon joined her and their new younger brother in the north again. Living in both hemispheres of the country, Jacqueline talks about the civil rights movements that she witnessed on television and in real life. As life revolves and revolutionizes around her like a merry-go-around, and even as she struggles with reading fast enough for her teachers, she begins to write down her story, so she and others can remember.

Woodson’s poems match her portrayal of herself. They are slow, reflective, and precise. She talks about how she doesn’t know the time of her birth, which is something unheard of for today as everything gets recorded, from height, weight, date and time to what you ate for breakfast. I imagine that might be one reason she became a writer, so she wouldn’t have to rely on “other people’s bad memory.” (18) There are a number of poems that appear multiple times, with numbers after their title. I wish the names of the poems had been included in the Table of contents at the front of the book. Read together, they paint their own story, especially the ones titled “How to Listen”. When she talks about growing up in the south, she and her siblings are identified by their relations “Sister Irby’s Grands / MaryAnn’s Babies”, which I could relate to being described that way countless times at family reunions and introductions. (45)

It’s readers ability to relate to Woodson’s life experiences that draws readers into the story. We may not have grown up in the same state or at the same time, but we sense what she is feelings. As an adult, I really understood when she described her mother’s dissatisfaction with moving her family back in with her parents. “Everyone else / has gone away. / And now coming back home / isn’t really coming back home / at all.” (46-47) Woodson also has that longing to identify with the people that surround her, whether it’s making up stories about her absent father, wanting to be smart like her brother, the joy she feels when she finds a book featuring an African-American character, or imitating the Black Panthers on television by proclaiming “I’m Black and I’m Proud”.

Middle school students are always coming into my library looking for biographies and/or autobiographies. While it’s light on specific facts and I’m frequently finding it in the poetry section because of the format, this would fit most assignment criteria. Woodson might agree, write this one down and don’t let it be forgotten.

How to Save a Life

How to Save a LifeTitle: How to Save a Life
Author: Sara Zarr
Narrators: Ariadne Meyere and Cassandra Morris
ISBN: 9780316036061 (hardcover), 9780307968722 (audiobook)
CDs/Discs: 8 CDs, 9 hours 54 minutes
Pages: 341 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown, and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., c2011.

“Don’t, Dylan. Don’t ‘ever since your dad died’ me.” The ice scraper falls from my numb hands. I pick it up. “I haven’t changed. I’ve always been this way.”
“No, you haven’t.”
“Okay, well, I don’t remember that Jill.” I hold my hands to my face to warm them up, to press back tears. “I don’t remember. I’m sorry. And I can’t be her now, and I’m never going to be her again,” I say, my voice rising. I realize it, finally. This elusive old Jill I’ve been chasing isn’t someone who can be found. Short of my father coming back from the dead, it’s not happening. Which doesn’t mean I can’t change, just that I can’t change back. (302)

Jill is dealing with a lot of change. In the last year, her father died in a car accident, she’s lost her friends and on-again off-again boyfriend while trying to deal with her grief, and now her mom is adding a baby to the mix. Mandy is the pregnant, unmarried teen who has struck up a tenuous deal with Jill’s mother through emails and has come to live with them until delivering the baby. Their backgrounds are drastically different, but their fears all revolve around this unborn child and how the birth will impact their lives. But can these two girls learn from each other, or will their differences push them further apart from the love they both need?

I think depending on where readers are in their life, different people will get different things from this book. Both girls have their own attitudes, problems, and flaws, making them each extremely relatable in their own way. Mandy has led a hard life, dealing with neglectful mother whose ideas come from real-world experience rather than ideals. She comes across as naive because while she knows life is hard and that she wants a better life for her child, Mandy doesn’t plan very well for her own future because she’s never had that ability before. By contrast, Jill has a primarily sheltered idea of the world and comes across as spoiled, never questioning her ability to plan a gap year and follow her father’s nomadic footsteps. Isolating herself from her friends and family in an attempt to deal with her grief privately, Jill is starting to break out of her shell again and yearn for the time before her father’s death. But as the quote above (which I absolutely love) recognizes, it’s nearly impossible to go back.

Yes, I’ll admit that the self-reflection might get a little corny for some, but it isn’t overdone or too preachy, as this is an emotional book, and it’s beautifully written and read. Ariadne Meyers and Cassandra Morris make this book come alive, with inflection that makes you feel like you’re a fly on the wall listening to these conversations. There’s a reveal that’s alluded to that makes Mandy’s attitudes all the more realistic. Jill and Mandy’s opinions are understandably conveyed best, but the minor characters are in no way background. Jill’s mother has her reasons for doing what she’s doing, Jill’s boyfriend Dylan and Jill’s friends are frustrated, confused, and clueless on how to help her work through her grief. Someone from the past also enters the picture, slowly but surely becoming more and more involved in the present day events. Attitudes change gradually, regressing and advancing, ebbing and flowing as second and third thoughts continue to encroach upon everyone.

The Shadow Throne

Shadow ThroneTitle: The Shadow Throne
Series: The Ascendance Trilogy, book #3 (sequel to The Runaway King)
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Map by: Kayley LeFaiver
Narrator: Charlie McWade
ISBN: 9780545284172 (hardcover), 9780545640060 (audiobook)
Pages: 317 pages
CDs/Discs: 9 hours, 4 minutes, 8 CDs
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2014 (Scholastic Audiobooks, c2014)

With an unsteady voice, she added, “Jaron, do you expect to die in this war?”
My thumb brushed over hers. Not for the first time, I wondered how her skin could be so soft. Then I said, “With the kind of threat we’re facing, I will fight to the death before I surrender. And I don’t see a path to victory.”
“But you’ll find a way. You always do.”
“Maybe Carthya will come through this. But mine has never been the kind of life that leads to old age.” (20-21)

Jaron has every reason to be defeated. After returning home from the pirates camp with a broken leg, he knows war is on the horizon, and receives word of its arrival at the same time he learns of Imogen’s capture. He saved her once, he can do it again, right? With his friends scattered, his country surrounded, and a possible spy in their midst, Jaron is flung into the deadliest battle yet. While he recognizes that he might not make it out alive, he refuses to admit or believe that fate might fall on one of his friends. But will his efforts force him to choose between his companions, his country, or his own freedom?

I posted reviews to the first and second books in the series earlier this year. I still recommend the audiobook versions as an enjoyable listening experience, with Charlie McWade literally providing a voice to Jaron. But with the amount of movement going on between towns and countries, readers might prefer having the map in the print version readily available as a reference of everyone’s destinations and locations. The other thing that I noticed this time around is that the Jennifer Nielsen presents conversations quite frequently as summaries from Jaron’s perspective. I don’t know if she does this to speed the plot or to avoid writing dialogue. I also don’t know if I noticed this more because I was listening to the audiobook rather than reading it. For instance, here are two examples of times I wish I could have “heard” the conversation:

To avoid any argument, I explained only what was necessary of my plans. Mott’s mouth was pinched in a think line of disapproval and Harlowe didn’t look much happier. Tobias clearly thought I had gone insane during my time in captivity, and as that wasn’t entirely impossible, I didn’t contradict him. In the end, they agreed to all that I asked, and Harlowe made Mott and Tobias Promise to keep me safe. Mott replied that he could protect me from everyone but myself, which I thought was a fair compromise. (122-123)

The more we talked about it, the more I was certain that something was very wrong. (194)

Listening to the audiobook, descriptions like the ones just quoted feel as if Jaron is breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the reader. Readers also get first hand analysis of Jaron’s physical and mental state, such as “I was neither the biggest nor the strongest in this battle. My only hope was to be the quickest.” (205) These comments might have read more fluidly if the book had been presented in the third person or if someone else had told Jaron, but from Jaron’s perspective such self-awareness can be slightly jarring.

At other times, these asides are some of the most beautiful and heart-felt portions of the book. I can’t quote any of them without giving away way too much of the plot. Suffice it to say, you’ll know what I mean when you encounter them. Swoon! Balancing the more heart-felt moments, Jaron’s biting sarcasm is a welcome constant in the series. For instance, after encountering a friend, Jaron claims “I need to smile. Tell me something not awful.” After hearing his companions were “miserable”, Jaron arches an eyebrow and says “This is the worst good story I’ve ever heard.” The story continues with an evening rain, making it “cold and so dark we could barely see our own fingers, and the night seemed to last forever.” Jaron responds “I’m beginning to wonder if you understand what ‘not awful’ means.” (94-95) That’s the Jaron we know and love, and those times always brought a smile to my face.

While the print copy benefited from the map, the one benefit of the audiobook was the inclusion of an “exclusive scene” that was not included in the print copy. This bonus scene transports readers to a mid-point in the story and shows an event which Jaron is not present to witness. It explains the actions of another character, and I find myself comparing it to the Harry Potter epilogue at the end of book seven. Some people might like it, but I would have rather been kept in the dark about this character’s motivations than receive this somewhat loose rational behind their actions. It definitely adds more intrigue to the situation. Just like the second book, Jaron paints himself into one corner after another, with no possibly way to get out (at least to everyone else) until some miraculous foresight is revealed that propels him to the next problem. You can’t help but admire his intense planning, but it is also hard to believe a plan this complicated and hinged on so many factors is going to succeed. Still a highly recommended series, this book is Inception meets Princess Bride, and I think fans of both would appreciate the complexities.

Kingdom of Fantasy

Kingdom of FantasyTitle: The Kingdom of Fantasy
Author: Geronimo Stilton
ISBN: 9780545980258
Pages: 314 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic, c2003. (English translation c2009.)

The Kingdom of Fantasy? I gulped. It sounded like a horrible scary place. Oh, how I missed my safe, cozy mouse hole. I took off my glasses so I could cry freely. Scribblehopper didn’t notice. But he did notice the music box in my backpack.
“Great jumping tadpoles!” he croaked. “That belongs to Blossom, Queen of the Fairies!”
In a flash, Scribblehopper had pulled the rose-colored scroll out of the music box. “This message is written in the Fantasian Alphabet,” he went on. Suddenly his eyes bulged out. “Leaping lizards!” he cried. “Queen Blossom is in terrible danger. She says that only you can help her!’I twirled my tail nervously. I wasn’t a hero. I was just an ordinary mouse. (29-30)

Geronimo Stilton has found a music box in his attic that transports him to the Kingdom of Fantasy, where a talking frog informs him he has been called to save the queen. He travels through lands populated by witches, mermaids, dragons, pixies, gnomes, giants, fairies, and trolls. Along the way he makes friends throughout the realms, but the true question he’s asking himself if he will ever make it back home.

This is my first Geronimo Stilton book, and I was hoping that it would interest me because it was longer than the typical paperback novels in the series. But it didn’t. I can only imagine that adults must have felt the same way about the Baby-Sitters Club series that I read when I was younger. The writing felt like a fourth grader wrote it, with no build-up of plot, characters, setting, or suspense. I really don’t know what to say, except that I really wasn’t impressed. That obviously doesn’t mean that I won’t keep recommending or purchasing them for the library since kids gobble them up like potato chips, but I do think there are better books out there.

The Runaway King

Runaway KingTitle: The Runaway King
Series: Ascendance Trilogy #2 (sequel to The False Prince)
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Narrator: Charlie McWade
ISBN: 9780545497695 (audiobook)
Pages: 331 pages
CD/Discs: 7 CDs, 8 hours 27 minutes
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Audiobooks, c2013.

Newly crowned King Jaron is convinced that the neighboring community of Avenia is set to attack and claim their land, but none of his advisers will listen to the mad king who just resumed the throne after his presumed death at the hands of pirates years ago. When a failed assassination attempt convinces his advisers to hand over a captured traitor in the hopes of placating the group, Jaron fears they will relieve him of his crown in order to send him into hiding. Instead, Jaron puts his own plan into play, which involves sneaking across the border and tracking down the pirates who are trying to complete the unfinished task and collect on the spoils of war. As Jaron’s past catches up with him, he wonders which of his assumed identities he will have to maintain in order to survive. Is he an orphan boy, a street thief, a prospective pirate, or the ruling sovereign of a kingdom in danger? His strength, stamina, and smarts are put to the test in a political game that everyone thinks he will fail.

Jaron is an arrogant, dishonest, insolent, manipulative, overconfident, sarcastic, self-righteous, and stubborn individual, and I can definitely see why his departed father’s advisers would not get along with him. Jaron has his own way of doing things and refuses to listen to anyone’s concerns unless he has no other option. On the other hand, he usually proves himself right by the end of the adventure. I’m not sure if it is maddeningly coincidental that things happen to go his way or just a way for author Jennifer Nielsen to prove his unflappability in the face of obstacles. Scaling a rock wall with a broken leg is not something I would attempt, but he faces it with a determination that you think would ultimately be detrimental to his cause, if not his body. His physical endurance and ability to read his opponent and maintain charades and mind games makes him appear superhuman. And yet, you can’t help rooting for him to succeed and yelling at him to don’t do something stupid that you predict is going to fail.

Jaron’s journey is filled with delays, and it’s a wonder he gets where he needs to be at all. While realistic to the vast distances he needs to cross and the dangers he faces, it does slow down the pace of the plot. In return, you have daring sword fights with his enemies that are over in a manner of minutes at most. A lot of political scheming and plotting is presented, and while I found myself enjoying it more than I thought I would, some readers might want more of the fight and flee action that most fantasies have today. We’re privy to Jaron’s inner thoughts regarding his reasoning, but sometimes only as he tells another character his plans. The audiobook proved slightly problematic, as Jaron’s inner thoughts are sometimes indistinguishable from the dialogue. However, I thought Charlie McWade did an acceptable job distinguishing between the accents and tones of the older advisers, Jaron, the pirates, and his younger friends.

Obviously a set-up for the third novel, with the upcoming conflict revealed in the final chapter of the book, I feel like this suffered the sequel syndrome and didn’t live up to my expectations of the first one. Some readers might remember that I was on the committee that chose The False Prince, the first book in the series, for a Cybils award when it was published in 2012. Knowing who Jaron really is cut down on the tension and intrigue, and the ending, while leaving enough unfinished business for a third book, came about a bit too cleanly. I’m sure Jaron would think privately that it was anything but easy, although he would never voice his frustrations or admit to his limitations aloud. That’s just not his style. It’s a trip of endurance, and many readers might question what they would do in that same situation, never fully understanding Jaron’s motivations or his innate ability to overcome adversity.

2 The Point Tuesday The False Prince

I was on the Cybil’s committee that chose The False Prince as the winner for 2012. I’ve held off on posting a review of this because I didn’t want to tip my hand. Now that I’ve reviewed the sequel The Runaway King, I thought I would post a copy of our summary as a To the Point Tuesday. To the Point Tuesday was formed as a 150 word review of a recent read. It’s slightly over the 150 word limit, which I’m okay with because of how much happens in the novel and also how much I loved the book. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

False PrinceTitle: The False Prince
Author: Jennifer A Nielsen
Narrator: Charlie McWade
ISBN: 9780545391665 (audiobook), 9780545284134 (hardcover)
Discs/CDs: 7 CDs, 8 hours 14 minutes
Pages: 342 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic, c2012.
Publication Date: April 1, 2012

“You’re a trick to figure out Sage. Would you ever be on my side, even if I chose you above the other boys?”
“I’m only on my side. Your trick will be convincing me that helping you helps me.”
“What if I did?” Connor asked. “How far would you go to win?”
“Th better question, sir, is how far you will go to wine.” I looked him steadily in the eyes as I spoke, although his back was to the fire and his eyes were set in shadow. […] So we know you’re willing to murder to win.”
“I am.” Conner backed up, speaking to all of us again. “And I’m willing to life, to cheat, and to steal. I’m willing to commend my soul to the devils if necessary because I believe there is exoneration in my cause. I need one of you to conduct the greatest fraud ever perpetrated within the country of Carthya. This is a lifetime commitment. It will never be safe to back down from my plan and tell the truth. To do so would destroy not only you but the entire country. And you will do it to save Carthya.” (28-29)

Sage is taken from his orphanage along with three other boys and thrust into an attempt to save the kingdom from impending war. If he loses, it’s certain death, but Sage is very reluctant to win, since the prize at the end means becoming someone’s pawn and living a lie for the rest of his life. The detailed world Nielsen creates is full of life, populated with mystery, twists and turns, and engaging and complex characters. Readers don’t know who to trust, while Sage knows he can trust no one, especially not Connor, the man who stole them away and has aspirations of his own. Sage’s voice is perfection, reading like a medieval Sherlock Holmes. Unreliable and snarky, Sage keeps his observations, assets, and motivations to himself until he knows he can benefit. Readers can’t help but cheer for him, even as he struggles to come to grips with the ups and downs of a fate he doesn’t desire.

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