Holes (Holes #1)
Author: Louis Sachar
Publication Date: 8/20/98
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
A darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment. Stanley Yelnat's family has a history of bad luck, so he isn't too surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to a boys' juvenile
detention center, Camp Green Lake. There is no lake - it has been dry for over a hundred years - and it's hardly a camp. As punishment, the boys must each dig a hole a day, five feet deep, five feet across, in the hard earth of the dried-up lake bed. The warden claims that this pointless labor builds character, but she is really using the boys to dig for loot buried by the Wild West outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow. The story of Kissin' Kate, and of a curse put on Stanley's great-great-grandfather by a one-legged gypsy, weaves a narrative puzzle that tangles and untangles, until it becomes clear that the hand of fate has been at work in the lives of the characters - and their forebears - for generations. With this wonderfully inventive, compelling novel that is both serious and funny, Louis Sachar has written his best book to date.Review:
I am very sad that I never read this as a young person, because I think that I would have loved it even more than I do now. I think that it probably would have blown my mind. I have to applaud Louis Sachar for being so courageous in a children’s novel.
Effortlessly weaving together the past, present, and ancient history of these characters, Mr. Sachar examines the impact of our history and the nature of hope and human compassion, all while maintaining a light, humorous quality. This is a book for children, but one that never speaks down to children. It is both mature and youthful.
Stanley is tried and convicted for a crime that he didn’t commit, sent to a reform camp for boys, and forced to work day after day in the hot sun digging holes – without any hope of aid. He’s treated callously and unfairly, but he must learn to keep going, get along with the boys around him, and survive.
This is not a book that promises (like so many other children’s books do) success and rewards for good behavior, for choosing all the right paths. That’s not what real living, real maturity is all about. It’s about learning to deal with adversity and tragedy and failure when they come – because they will. It’s about making the right choices even when there are no rewards, no promised successes, simply because they’re right. And more than that – it’s about choosing kindness and compassion, even when everything around you is hard and unfair.
The only part of this novel that I don’t quite like is the ending, which seems to undermine the more realistic quality of the rest of the novel. I wish that Stanley and Hector could survive happily without a fairy tale ending, because
after all of that, they know that they don’t need one to be happy. But I think that as a child, I would have enjoyed seeing them win the day.Perfect Musical Pairing
Brett Dennen – Darlin’ Do Not Fear
This is a very sweet song about growing up and holding onto hope during the hard times.
Your confidence is faultless your faith etched in stone
and neither could comfort you from the wild unknown
So bury your burning hatred like a hatchet in the snow
Darlin' do not fear what you don't really know.
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Publication Date: 4/13/10
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
A LOADED GUN. STOLEN GOLD. And a menacing stranger. A taut frontier survivor story, set at the time of the Alaska gold rush.
In an isolated cabin, fourteen-year-old Sig is alone with a corpse: his father, who has fallen through the ice and frozen to death only hours earlier. Then comes a stranger claiming that Sig’s father owes him a share of a horde of stolen gold. Sig’s only protection is a loaded Colt revolver hidden in the cabin’s storeroom. The question is, will Sig use the gun, and why?Review:Revolver
is a 2011 Printz Honor
winner and yet, only 276 people on Goodreads have read it. After reading this book, I understand why.
This a beautifully written YA novel, but I have no idea who would be its audience. Boys will not read it because there is no magic or action, girls - because there is no romance or high school drama. Revolver
is set in 1910th Antarctic wilderness. 14-year old Sig just found his father's dead body. He froze to death after falling under ice while crossing a nearby lake. As Sig is waiting by his father's corpse for his sister and stepmother to come back with help, he is approached by a man who claims that Sig's father owes him gold from 10 years ago. What follows are 36 hours that test Sig's courage and his belief in life lessons taught to him by his parents...
A mix of mystery, psychological thriller and historical fiction, this book is, surprisingly, an ode to... a revolver, which is a major player in this story. As Anton Chekhov
once said, "One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it"
. The revolver in this novel does get fired and the decision to do it is a vital one and, of course, carries very serious consequences.
I think people who still like Jack London
's stories about Gold Rush will appreciate Revolver
. But how many teens are there interested in this period in American history? I'll bet every public and school library in America has a copy of this novel, but all of them are destined to gather dust on the shelves. No matter how good the book is, its subject matter is just not of much interest to current generation.4/5 stars
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publication Date: 2002
Publisher: Harper Children's Audio
When Coraline explores her new home, she steps through a door and into another house just like her own - except that
things aren't quite as they seem. There's another mother and another father in this house and they want Coraline to stay with them and be their little girl. Coraline must use all of her wits and every ounce of courage in order to save herself and return home... but will she escape and will life ever be the same again?Review:
This would be a perfect choice for a road trip with small children (maybe age seven and up or so). It’s an incredibly imaginative, quirky adventure that’s simple yet not excruciatingly so. I felt entertained throughout, and some of the dialogue had me laughing out loud. There’s no question that this book is creeeeeepy but I’m one of those people that believes kids can handle a lot more than watered down fluff books. Coraline is such a wonderful heroine: she’s a clever, matter of fact, singular girl with an awesome fashion sense (Day-glo green gloves and yellow wellington boots that look like frogs? YES.) and a quiet determination to succeed even though no one takes her seriously. The
stakes are high, the villain is completely unsettling and evil, and Coraline is alone, but she triumphs! It is very satisfying.
Coraline (who everyone mistakenly calls Caroline) lives in a big old house, once a large estate, but now divided up into flats. Her parents are constantly unavailable and absorbed with boring work on their computers, except for when her Dad wants to try out a crazy recipe or her Mum wants to go shopping for boring school clothes. There’s no one for her to play with except the eccentric Misses Spink and Forcible, former actresses, and the old man in the attic who claims to be the ring leader for a mouse circus. More than anything, Coraline wants something new, an
adventure, even if it might be dangerous.
“On the first day Coraline's family moved in, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible made a point of telling Coraline how dangerous the well was, and they warned her to be sure she kept away from it. So Coraline set off to explore for it, so that she knew where it was, to keep away from it properly.”
This book is exceedingly quotable; the paperback is only one hundred sixty two pages, but there are three pages of quotes currently listed on goodreads. I particularly loved Coraline’s conversations with the cat:
“What's your name,' Coraline asked the cat. 'Look, I'm Coraline. Okay?' Cats don't have names,' it said 'No?' said Coraline. 'No,' said the cat. 'Now you people have names. That's because you don't know who you are. We know who we are, so we don't need names.”
Definitely another cat for the “best talking cats” list. The writing is spare but still manages to be atmospheric and inventive. This quote is so simple, but it’s one of my favorites:
“The sky had never seemed so sky; the world had never seemed so world."
Finally, I have to mention that this audiobook is narrated by the author and he does an AMAZING job. If I could have one person narrate my life, it would be Neil Gaiman.Perfect Musical PairingThe Rat’s Song
This is the audiobook version of the Rat’s Song that Neil Gaiman wrote for the book. It appears in segments in the book, and in the audio version (as you’ll see) it is chanted in eerie, echoing verses. I listened to this while walking through heavy fog right before sunrise and it was CREEPY. Enjoy! Try not to have too many nightmares.4/5 Stars
The Lost Conspiracy
Author: Frances Hardinge
Publication Date: 9/1/09
Blurb(GR): Two young sisters who live on a beautiful island soon become caught in a deadly web of deceit. Neither girl is exactly what she pretends to be, and when they are drawn into a sinister conspiracy, one discovers that the only thing more dangerous than the secret she hides is the truth she must uncover.Review:
I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like The Lost Conspiracy
. Maybe that’s why this book isn’t very well known: it’s hard to describe, let alone label, package, and sell. This book is just amazing though; it’s like a triple whammy of great writing, fully realized and complex characters, and an amazing story. So seriously, just stop reading this review right now and go get it. Still here? Okay, okay, keep going. But just know that I will be harping on about this book in various and annoying ways until you all break down.
Hathin is the assigned caretaker for her sister, Arilou. This has been her sole, devoted purpose for her entire life. Arilou is thought to be one of the rare “Lost”: a group of people capable of sending their five senses away from their bodies to travel the island. Several hundred years ago, Gullstruck Island was colonized by outsiders, and over the centuries, the customs and traditions of the native people have been taken over or diluted by the pervading culture of the newcomers. The Lace, an extremely close-knit indigenous tribe, is the only remaining population that still remembers the old ways, and the dangerous consequences that will befall those that do not follow them. The rest of the island’s populations view the Lace with suspicion and fear. Their ways are foreign and illogical to the outsiders. There is a dark history that lies between the two groups that keeps the outsiders balanced on a dangerous edge between fear and rage. Arilou is the only Lost to ever be born into the Lace tribe. When a string of tragedies are blamed on the Lace, Hathin finds herself thrown onto the trail of a vast conspiracy. Hathin must escape with Arilou, and find the strength inside herself to lead, despite living in the shadows for her entire life.
The writing is spectacular – she infuses every sentence and paragraph with shadowy, sometimes threatening imagery. This book is darkly atmospheric; even the chapter titles are a bit haunting and they all have hidden meanings. My favorites are “No More Names” and “Death Dance.”
I am so completely impressed by the massive, sweeping scope of the world that she has built in this book. This is one hell of a world! Taking cues from tribal legends and practices from all over the globe (there’s a nice little acknowledgements section at the end), Hardinge creates a living, breathing, sinister place in Gullstruck Island. This is an island where the flora and fauna can unravel your soul, sing you to death, and loosen your senses away. The volcanoes have personalities, and they feud and love and prank. There are mysterious assassins who use cremation dust to give themselves magical powers, and ominous ancient legends that are all based in truth. The Lace are fully alive and meticulously drawn, and they have a hidden strength that no one sees.Our enemies think that Lace make good victims and scapegoats. They are wrong. They think that they can strike at us and we will do nothing but scatter and hide. They are wrong.
There were only a couple of times where I thought, “how will I keep track of it all?” because for the most part she so effortlessly weaves all this world-building into the story. And what a story! There’s a murder mystery, a revenge quest, and the genocide and enslavement of one group by another. Despite this incredibly foreign (to me) setting, the plight of the Lace is a tale as old as time (unfortunately).
Hathin develops and matures to a staggering degree in this book, and it’s very inspiring. I love the idea of her invisibility and seeming unimportance as strengths. I have to admit, the ending took me by surprise. I was expecting something much darker. I think that the fairy tale quality of this story sneaks up on you. It’s hard to see at first, through all the darkness and tragedy, but this is actually a powerful story of one girl coming into her own. Perfect Musical Pairing
Bjork – It’s In Our Hands
I think that Bjork, with her unique, bizarre, atmospheric, beautiful sound, is the perfect complement to this book. I had a hard time deciding which one of my many favorites would relate best . But I was eventually drawn to the lyrics (with me, it’s always the lyrics) of It’s In Our Hands. Look no further
Look no further
I look no
Always to ourselves
It mustn't get
Any better, off
It's in our hands
It always was
It's in our hands
In our hands
The Hollow Kingdom (The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy #1)
Author: Clare B. Dunkle
Publication Date: 9/19/06
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Blurb(GR): "She had never screamed before, not when she overturned the rowboat and almost drowned, not even when Lightfoot bucked her off and she felt her leg break underneath her with an agonizing crunch. But now she screamed long and loud, with all her breath."
Hallow Hill has a strange and tragic history. For thousands of years, young women have been vanishing from the estate, never to be seen again. Now Kate and Emily have come to live at Hallow Hill. Brought up in a civilized age, they have no idea of the land's dreadful heritage-until, that is, Marak decides to tell them himself.
Intelligent, pleasant, and completely pitiless, Marak is a powerful magician who claims to be a king-and he has very specific plans for the two new girls who have trespassed into his kingdom. The Hollow Kingdom is a 2004 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.
This book is exactly the type of fairy tale that I love the most. Now, I know that I have been outspoken in the past about my dislike of fantasies featuring caveman, bad-boy type hero characters. However, I think that I know and respect dozens of women who melt in the presence of these guys. Do I look down on my friends for their fantasy preferences? Absolutely not, because guess what? We all have a fantasy weakness. We all have that certain fairy tale that bypasses every logical part of our brains and just makes us feel giddy and excited. So, you can safely assume that mine is decidedly not the perfect specimen, territorial, alpha male. This book keys into the fairy tale that’s always turned me into a puddle of goo:
He’s ugly (but only on the outside, of course), a bit ruthless, desperate, smart, and he has one hell of a library. Except that in this book, he’s comfortable in his own skin, and he doesn’t turn into a foppish, effeminate prince in the end (which is what I always wished would happen).
This book is not going to go down in history as one of the greatest works of all time, but I can feasibly see myself re-reading it whenever I need a bit of comfort. It’s like the literary equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich. I was completely drawn in by
the prologue, and by the time the intelligent, practical, and resourceful heroine Kate and her plucky little sister Emily run into the Goblin King Marak I knew that this would become a favorite of mine.
Marak is the ruler of a colorful, dangerous race of goblins, dwarves, and elves who live within Hollow Hill. It is a long and traditional practice for the Goblin King to steal a human or elf bride and imprison her underground until the next King is born and his people are secure. When Kate inherits Hollow Hill after her father’s death, she and her sister become the wards of two elderly great aunts and a shady, pretentious cousin. Kate and her sister soon catch the eye of the Goblin King, but Kate is revolted and determined to escape his grasp at all costs.
As Kate and Marak engage in a battle of wills and wits, this book actually began to remind me of Pride and Prejudice. These two characters have a lot of preconceived notions and ideas about each other, and their verbal sparring is charged and exhilarating. Here is one of my favorite scenes:”’Indeed it is, Kate,’ Marak agreed. ‘It’s time to plan your revenge. Goblins just adore revenge.’ He grinned. ‘Do you have anything in mind?’
Kate was taken aback. ‘Revenge is wrong,’ she told him solemnly. ‘Vengeance belongs to God.’
The goblin put his head to one side and watched her through narrowed eyes. ‘You won’t even give God a little help?’ he asked softly.”
Kate is independent and powerful, but not unrealistically so. She’s a proper Englishwoman who reacts in realistic ways to her surroundings and the hideous goblin court. And by the end of this book, she fits the specs for all of my favorite female heroines: she’s determined, powerful, a bit merciless and bloodthirsty, and she has a sword (plus the most entertaining magical charm around).
My only “thirty year old woman” type gripe is that this book, despite being what I would class as a romance novel, is
clean enough to give to a ten year old. Which is actually great for when my daughters get a bit older, but the lack of anything even mildly suggestive felt like a big gaping omission to me.Perfect Musical Pairing
Joshua Radin – The Fear You Won’t Fall
This sugary sweet song is not something that I like to listen to all the time, but it’s a definite comfort food song for me. This is a song about falling harder than you thought you could for someone, who may or may not love you back.4/5 Stars
Author: Vera Brosgol
Publication Date: 6/7/11
Publisher: First Second
Blurb(GR): Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn't kidding about the "Forever" part . . . Of all the things Anya expected to find atthe bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who's been dead for a century. Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya's normal life might actually be worse. She's embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she's pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend--even a ghost--is just what she needs. Or so she thinks. Spooky, sardonic, and secretly sincere, "Anya's Ghost "is a wonderfully entertaining debut from author/artist Vera Brosgol. "Anya's Ghost" is a 2011 "Kirkus" Best Teen Books of the Year title. One of "School Library Journal"'s Best Fiction Books of 2011. One of "Horn Book"'s Best Fiction Books of 2011.Review:
It’s been a while since I’ve read a real
graphic novel that’s not just text with illustrations. So it may be partly because I’ve been missing the format, but I was completely blown away by this book. It made me remember everything that’s possible in a graphic novel, but impossible when the story is confined to mere words. Beyond that, I think that it takes an incredible amount of talent to convey so efficiently and precisely
the story, characters, emotions, and just everything in the space of a drawing. Vera Brosgol infuses every cell with so much meaning and emotion.
I think that I fell in love with Anya on about page two. She is a curvy, sarcastic, insecure, unmotivated, smart, snarky, dark, sweet Russian girl who wishes to be everything that she’s not. All of this comes across within the span of a few pages. There are very few words to this book, but any more would be simply unnecessary. The story is rich and detailed and complex as it is.
Anya has a hopeless crush on the school basketball captain, and an envious sort of hatred for his girlfriend, the perfect blonde Elizabeth. When she falls into a well one afternoon, she discovers that she’s not alone. The ghost of a young girl lingers there, her body left to desiccate for ninety years. Anya is scared at first, but soon she discovers just how useful a ghost can be.
There is a lovely message within these pages too. Anya feels so much like an outsider, and the bullying that she suffers as a child after immigrating to the U.S. encourages her to turn away from her identity and heritage. This is a
common feeling for young people who must start over in a new place, but it is also a feeling universally shared by teenagers. I think that a lot of young people have that insecurity, that feeling of ill-fitting discomfort, like your entire person just doesn’t quite belong anywhere. There can be a tremendous amount of pressure to change and mold and adapt yourself to assimilate. Anya rejects everything curvy and smart and Russian. But Anya finds out that not all that seems perfect actually is, and that it’s a good thing to be different.
This theme is nothing revolutionary, but the humor, the dash of the paranormal, and the fantastic artwork all contribute to the extraordinariness of this book. I highly recommend this for everyone.Perfect Musical Pairing
Regina Spektor – Raindrops
Regina seems like an obvious choice for this book, and this song is very fragile and sweet, like I imagine Anya is on the inside. This is a song about looking for connection and hoping to meet that special person that’s still unrevealed.4.5/5 Stars
Author: Mark Shulman
Publication Date: 9/14/10
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Tod Munn is a bully. He's tough, but times are even tougher. The wimps have stopped coughing up their lunch money. The administration is cracking down. Then to make things worse, Tod and his friends get busted doing something bad. Something really
bad. Lucky Tod must spend his daily detention in a hot, empty room with Mrs. Woodrow, a no-nonsense guidance counselor. He doesn't know why he's there, but she does. Tod's punishment: to scrawl his story in a beat-up notebook. He can be painfully funny and he can be brutally honest. But can Mrs. Woodrow help Tod stop playing the bad guy before he actually turns into one . . . for real? Read Tod's notebook for yourself. Review:
Well, if you’re looking to get deep into the mind of a bully, this ain’t it. (Go check out Courtney Summers instead.) That’s because Tod Munn isn’t really
a bully. Or if he is, he’s a rather benevolent one. He’s also on the honor roll, has perfect attendance, and is a pretty talented seamstress (seamster?). He’s well-read, a fantastic speller, and doesn’t use drugs or drink or even swear.
And okay, yes, this book is written as a series of journal entries from Tod to his guidance counselor so maybe he's heavily editing/putting a good spin on his own behavior. But I just never got that impression. Even when Tod begins writing in his own private notebook, the journal entries don’t become any more explicit. I never felt like he was lying to me…and I love narrators that lie to me.
However, for what this is – essentially the story of a good kid, forced to deal with poverty, absent parents, and teachers who’ve labeled him the bad kid – it’s an enjoyable read. It’s very rewarding to see Tod discover writing as both a release and a way to examine his own life and try to make it better.
I grew up in similar circumstances as this main character. I can still remember clearly all the mortification that I felt at being poor, using free lunch tickets, having no clothes to wear, no food at home, no parents. I remember shame, selfish desperation, and learned resourcefulness. Unfortunately, this book did not make me recall any of those feelings. In one way I am thankful for that, because I don’t enjoy reliving those memories. But this book would have earned more of my respect if it had challenged me.
Everything here feels toned down and oversimplified. Tod’s home life seems hard, but then much of it is explained
away. His bullying, rather tame to begin with, is brushed aside with “mitigating” factors. In fact, Tod isn’t even the real bully…he’s the victim! Of course. The ending is just ridiculous. Tod takes almost no responsibility for anything that he’s done, but when the real
bully is finally revealed, no consideration is given to his/her mitigating circumstances. He/she is just plain mean. So yes…let’s all take a walk in Tod’s shoes and understand just where he’s coming from…but everyone else? Nah. Perfect Musical Pairing
Queen – Under Pressure
This song makes me feel all the emotion about poverty, hunger, and compassion that I think this book is lacking. Put it on after finishing this book if you feel the same way! Or, you could just play it right now…because Queen is one of the greatest bands of all time. You’re welcome.3/5 Stars
Zombies vs. Unicorns
Edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier
Publication Date: 9/21/10
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
It’s a question as old as time itself: which is better, the zombie or the unicorn? In this anthology, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (unicorn and zombie, respectively), strong arguments are made for both sides in the form of short stories. Half of the stories portray the strengths–for good and evil–of unicorns and half show the good (and really, really bad-ass) side of zombies. Contributors include many bestselling teen authors, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan. This anthology will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?Review:
Beatles vs. Rolling Stones. Cats vs. Dogs. Coke vs. Pepsi. Zombies vs….Unicorns?
Who knew? Apparently this is the
divisive question of our time. And now, thanks to this anthology of stories, there’s a handy rubric for determining just how you should answer.
I listened to the audiobook, which was excellent. Phil Gigante, who some of you may be more familiar with as the voice of Jericho Z. Barrons, delivers many an eargasm as master of ceremonies. Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier provide their own rather nice voices for introductory/ back and forth banter at the beginning of each story, and the cast is pretty decent, with the major high point of Nick Podehl (aka, Todd Hewitt), and the major low point of Ellen Grafton (aka, Janie from Wake/Fade/Gone). My Score Card:The MediocreThe Highest Justice
by Garth Nix
-Gruesome undead Queen with oozing pus and rotting limbs who just wants…a kiss: +2 stars
-Murderous Unicorns: +2 stars
-I forget if this is supposed to be a unicorn story or a zombie story: -1 star
-I think the author probably had his unpaid intern write this: -1 star
A very boring, soporific start to the anthology. 2 starsPurity Test
by Naomi Novik
-A nice play on the unicorn/virgin mythology: +2 stars
-A heroine who’s homeless, tough, and realistic: +2 stars
-Ellen Grafton makes her sound like she’s a scrappy twelve year old: -1 star
-Sounds like something I would write in a bout of silliness in one afternoon, and I’m a horrible writer: -1 star
Forgettable and not very funny. 2 starsPrincess Prettypants
by Meg Cabot
-A unicorn who farts rainbows but can also turn into a fiery-eyed vengeance demon when necessary: +2 stars
-A cute, enjoyable story that is also about as deep as a mud puddle: +0.5 stars
Sweet and funny, but barely scratches the surface of a premise that is actually pretty ripe with darker possibilities. 2.5 starsCold Hands
by Cassandra Clare
-Even Justine Larbelestier (the head of team zombie) can’t keep herself from using the phrase “emo zombies” when referring to this story: -1 star
-A weird mish-mash of Victorian England and present day America that makes no sense: -1 star
-Zombies that actually aren’t all that different from regular ol’ people: -1 star
A story about zombie civil rights…in the same way that Disney's The Little Mermaid is a movie about human civil rights. -3 starsThe MiddlingBougainvillea
by Carrie Ryan
-Everything up to the ending: -1 star
-The ending: +4 stars
Teen angst, over-descriptive prose, and lust/love in the midst of a zombie apocalypse…which is all mostly redeemed by that fantastic ending. 3 starsThe Children of the Revolution
by Maureen Johnson
-Angelina Jolie as a crunchy granola, immortality seeking weirdo +3 stars
-A narrator that’s likeable and amusingly clueless: +1 star
-Ellen Grafton makes her sound like she’s a scrappy twelve year old: -1 star
A genuinely hilarious mockery of globe-trotting celebrities, their crazy religions, and their scores of adopted children. 3 starsProm Night
by Libba Bray
-Teenagers running society! +4 stars
-And they’re actually succeeding…there’s bartering, a police force, the prom…all the important things: -0.5 stars
-Boy serenades girl and it’s supposed to be sexy romantic: -0.5 stars
This feels more like an introduction to a novel than a short story. It’s very classic Libba Bray, with a lot of sarcasm and bluster. I’m starting to realize that I’m not really a fan. 3 starsInoculata
by Scott Westerfeld
-Half zombie teenagers inherit the earth! +3 stars
-Lonely, snarky, independent main character who also happens to be a lesbian: +0.5 stars
This one also feels more like an introduction to a series than a short story. AND, it’s very classic Westerfeld, with a foursome of teenagers set apart by paranormal abilities and born into a frightening world. My love for Scott Westerfeld is pretty much cemented by now so I would definitely read a full-length novel featuring these characters. 3.5 starsThe MasterfulLove Will Tear Us Apart
by Alaya Dawn Johnson
-2nd person perspective used well: +1 star
-m/m zombie “romance”: +1 star
-The fact that I needed to use quotes in the above tally (because this isn’t the gushy, I will love you forever type
of romance): +1 star
-Nick Podehl has the most wonderful voice in the world: +1 star
A gritty, emotional tale that breathes new life into the old “I want you but I also want to kill you” story. 4 starsThe Third Virgin
by Kathleen Duey
-A sort of Interview With the Unicorn: +1 star
-Creative twist on the unicorn healing mythology: +1.5 stars
-Nick Podehl puts on a very mediocre but adorable Welsh accent: +0.5 stars
-Use of the phrase “in a trice:” +0.5 stars
A very unique idea that also manages to sound incredibly familiar. 3.5 starsThe Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn
by Diana Peterfreund
-Venomous, human-eating unicorns: +2 stars
-Thought-provoking religious and moral questioning: +1 star
-A boy named Eve: +0.5 stars
-Diana Peterfreund actually seems to know what a short story is: +1 star
This is one of my favorites of the anthology. The main character’s incredible growth throughout the story is very moving. The ending is a nice punch in the gut; I wouldn’t be surprised if Diana Peterfreund is an experienced short story author. 4.5 starsA Thousand Flowers
by Margo Lanagan
-Narration passed effortlessly between three points of view: +2 stars
-Nick Podehl puts on vaguely English accent: +0.5 star
-Beheadings, childbirth, suicide, and...unicorn love. +2 stars
-Why do unicorns like virgins so much? Oh. OOOOOOH. +1,000,000 stars
The most genuinely creepy and haunting story of the bunch. Margo Lanagan somehow wrote a unicorn story that trumps every single zombie story in terms of genuine horror. Zombies seem downright cuddly now. 1,000,004.5 starsPerfect Musical Pairing
So let’s see. My final score is…*drumroll*Zombies: 13.5 stars
Unicorns: 1,000,014.5 stars
So that means the winner is…ALL OF US, because we get to bask in the genius that is America.
America – The Last Unicorn
How to Save a Life
Author: Sara Zarr
Publication Date: 10/18/11
Publisher: Little Brown
Blurb (GR): Jill MacSweeny just wishes everything could go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she's been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends--everyone who wants to support her. And when her mom decides to adopt a baby, it feels like she's somehow trying to replace a lost family member with a new one.
Mandy Kalinowski understands what it's like to grow up unwanted--to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, one thing she's sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It's harder to be sure of herself. Will she ever find someone to care for her, too?
As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy--or as difficult--as it seems.
Critically acclaimed author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr delivers a heart-wrenching story, told from dual perspectives, about the many roads that can lead us home.Review:
Reading Sara Zarr reminds me of that old Hemingway quote, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Boy does she know how to do that. Only, she translates every emotion with such stark, raw purity that it feels like I am the one bleeding. Maybe not everyone has been a pregnant teenager with a dreadful home life or a hostile, sarcastic girl who’s just lost her closest support, but I think that it would be hard for anyone not to find something to relate to in these girls.
Mandy and Jill are two girls who want more
. Mandy is eight months pregnant and takes a desperate chance on Robin, a middle aged widow who agrees to adopt her child with no contracts, lawyers, or social workers. Jill is Robin’s daughter, still reeling from the loss of her father only a year ago, and highly suspicious of Mandy and her motivations. These girls couldn’t possibly have less in common, but they are thrown together, and they may end up
impacting each other’s lives in unexpected ways.
Each Sara Zarr novel that I have read features a young woman dealing with conflict in her life and learning to cope, and yet none of these girls feel at all like the same person. Each novel feels original. And that’s true here as well: Mandy and Jill have very distinct personalities and voices. I could relate to Mandy’s insecurity as a potential mother, to her confusion about who she is, to her firm conviction about who she’s not. I could also relate to Jill; to her desperate fear of love and intimacy, after experiencing real loss for the first time.
I like the love interests, but I love that they don’t play a major role in this story. This is a story about Mandy and Jill finding peace and certainty within themselves, and learning to trust. The only part of this story that doesn’t feel quite real to me is the end. But, I think that most of you know by now that I have a hard time with happy endings. What seems incongruous to me, will probably only increase the popularity of this book. Who doesn’t love a happy
ending? SPOILERS AHEAD
Maybe it’s because I could relate so much to Mandy’s doubts that she would be a good mother. That’s not something that goes away as soon as your baby is born and placed into your arms. There’s no magical balm for that. I have had to earn what little confidence I have piece by piece, one bedtime, one meal, one scraped knee at a time. I guess I wanted to see some of that in Mandy – that everything wasn’t magically fixed. And I know that Christopher should be told about the baby, but it felt too much like Mandy seeking for some kind of outside completion, outside validation. She doesn’t need that. END SPOILERS
Perfect Musical Pairing
Mumford & Sons – Timshel
I love this album for these books. This song is such a healing balm, which is something that I think both Mandy and Jill need. It has two distinct phrases, which remind me so much of Mandy and Jill.
Jill:"Cold is the water
It freezes your already cold mind
Already cold, cold mind
And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance"
and Mandy:"And you are the mother
The mother of your baby child
The one to whom you gave life
And you have your choices
And these are what make man great
His ladder to the stars
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Publication Date: 9/27/11
Publisher: Little Brown
Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.
Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.
When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?Review:
Not just five stars…one million stars, two sister moons, and two pairs of wings in flight. That’s how beautiful this book is. I hope this is a huge hit, and all the kids read it. Listen up kids, this book has everything that you’re looking for: secrets, paranormal creatures, hot guys, best friends; passionate, enduring, forbidden, love…and angst! But unlike all the rest, this one is the real thing.
It’s times like these that I wish I was a real, honest to goodness book fairy, with little wings, a wand, a tutu, and magical powers of course. Kids can simply place whichever one of the mountains of published young adult paranormal romance novels that they’ve purchased in the past few years under their pillows, and I’ll replace them all with this book. Sort of like the tooth fairy. (And after reading this book, the question really begs to be asked: what are you doing with all of those teeth, tooth fairy? WHAT ARE THE TEETH FOR?!)
The beginning of this book is almost lulling in its routine and normalcy. Karou is a young art student in Prague, attending classes, dealing with her obnoxious ex-boyfriend, and going out with her petite best friend Zuzana. She’s a little eccentric, a little odd, but her classmates don’t ask too many questions, and Karou has perfected the art of the non-answer. Her popular journals contain vivid drawings of another world, populated by mythical creatures: part human, part animal, each with detailed traits and peculiarities. “Where do you get your ideas?” her classmates ask, and Karou responds with a trademark little smile and assures them that it’s not made up; it’s all true.
Disquieting little details about Karou’s life are revealed almost casually, and the apprehension grows. Soon the curiosity and apprehension build to outright anxiety and you just have to know. But you don’t want to know. Maybe you think that you’ve already figured out a few things, but "you can’t know until you know.”
Karou’s feelings: her indignation, her terrible curiosity, and her aching loneliness all come across so powerfully and vividly. I think that I felt every single thing that she feels through these pages. I felt immersed
in Karou. And just like Karou, so many details and hints became devastatingly clear to me only after it was too late.
The world that Laini Taylor creates is intricate, bright, original, and it will stretch your imagination. The characters are layered with concealed motivations, and they’re heartbreaking and real. The love story is tragic and intense (and takes advantage of perhaps the only justifiable excuse for instalove). And the writing! Beautiful, emotional, lyrical, shattering…all those words don’t even begin to describe it. This woman can write.
But perhaps the most astonishing thing to me is this book’s complete dearth of cynicism. This book is all about love, peace, and the magic of hope. ”Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”
I can’t believe that it got through to me so much, but it really did. I think that it will be difficult for even the most committed of cynics not to be affected by this book.Perfect Musical Pairing
The Smashing Pumpkins – Muzzle
Okay, so I really like it when I can pair up a writer with a specific group. It gives me a nice little feeling of symmetry. The lyrics of this song apply so perfectly to this story, and when I listened to it I even got a bit emotional about the book so that’s always a good sign. “All things will surely have to end,
and great loves will one day have to part.”