Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Abandon by Meg Cabot

Here is a new book by Meg Cabot (author of Princess Diaries which is one of my least favorite of the books she has written). This is definitely a teen novel, and targeted, I think, at those who liked the Twilight series. Pierce is the daughter of a wealthy oil mogul. When she is 15 she falls into her family's swimming pool in the middle of the winter, and gets tangled in the pool cover. There she dies, and then finds herself on the other side, waiting to get on a boat to "a better place." She is confused and disoriented, so she approaches the young and handsome man who seems to be in charge of the place, and asks for help. He falls in love with her and through a series of events, she is able to escape the underworld and return to her body and be resuscitated. After Pierce recovers from the accident, whenever she is in trouble, John (the death deity) rushes into the mortal world to try to save her, sometimes nearly killing those who threaten her. Pierce is both afraid of and attracted to John and she doesn't know what to do about his continued attentions. This was a fairly gripping book, and the reader, like the character, is never quite sure how Pierce feels about John. I really couldn't foresee how the book would end, and for good reason. It ended as a terrible cliff hanger. Only a mega-famous writer like Meg Cabot can get away with ending the first book in a series that way. Often publishers want the first book to have a fairly satisfying ending, so that if it doesn't do well, they can decide not to publish the sequel. When Meg Cabot writes something there is never a doubt as to whether it will do well, so she is free to leave a cliff hanger and the poor readers have to wait X amount of months to find out whether Pierce is going to leave her earthly life and become John's consort in Hades. This really is a good read, but it has some mature themes and I don't recommend it for anyone under, say, 13. I kind of suggest, however, if you want to read it, wait until the second one is out, so you can read them back to back and won't be left in long and tortuous suspense. (304 p.)

The Name of this Book is a Secret by Pseudonumous Bosch

This a an odd little book. It is one of the books in which the narrator addressed the reader directly. The narrator starts by telling the reader that there isn't much he can say about the story because if it got out that the reader knew the whole secret they would be in danger. Of course, then the narrator goes on to tell the story, but occasionally he stops and say things like, "I can't really tell you the name of the school the children attended, but just imagine it was a grade school just like yours." The main characters, Cass and Max Ernest come across a box that contains some mysterious vials and learn that it once belonged to an old magician who had recently died in a suspicious house fire. They set out to discover what happened to the magician, and stumble on a society of evil alchemists with the power of prolonging their youth. It is a bit random. I think the demographic who would enjoy this book are children in the 3rd or 4th grade who are pretty confident readers. Older grade school kids might find it a bit silly. It was a fun read, but not as fun as N.E.R.D.s by Michael Buckley which has a similar narrator reader interaction. (360 p.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Eggs by Jerry Spinelli

This book is pretty classic Spinelli. Of course, Spinelli is a well known author and winner of the Newbery award for Maniac McGee. What he does best is write about children dealing with life's problems. In this book David, age 9, is mourning his mother's death, and Primrose, age 13, is dealing with a dysfunctional mother. Both are grumpy and touchy, but they cling to each other and eventually they learn to give to each other what they need most. Another thing that Spinelli does really well is to show children moving through the city scape. In this book the two children sneak out at night and go dumpster diving. It is a little disturbing to me that the kids in the story never have anything really bad happen to them while they are out wandering the streets all night. Adults will see this as a very risky behavior, but to children it may seem like a interesting and grand adventure. I am afraid that it might encourage young readers to try it. Despite this, it was a book that I liked. Spinelli is such a master a characterization and he respects the fact that children have deep emotions. His kids are so realistic your heart just aches for them. You can see them struggling bravely, but in a believable, kid-like manner. (224p)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bell Teal by Ann Martin

Anyone who is over about 30 should recognize the name of Ann Martin. She was the writer of the hugely popular and never ending Babysitter's Club books. Many of us librarians considered her a barely better than average mass market series writer. Then a few years ago she started coming out with some stand alone books that were quite good, and what's more surprising, very serious. This is just such a book. Belle Teal lives in a rural southern town during the beginning of school integration. Belle is one of the only students in her class that makes friends with the new black boy in her class. With staunch loyalty she tries to help the other kids see that he is just another kid. Racism is not the only issue in the book. As in almost all other "social issue" books, Belle's mother is a single parent. Belle's grandmother who babysits her while her mother is at work is starting to go senile. Of course, in these kinds of books there is always the friend who is the victim of child abuse. So this book has all the elements found in all the social issue books, but it is a good read and nothing very terrible happens. I was especially sensitive to the depiction of the grandmother. Some things Martin got right, like when the grandmother asks the same question the same way over and over again. Other things didn't seem quite right. The grandmother would call Belle her uncle's name. I don't think a senile person would mix genders like that. She might forget the child's name, or think she was her mother, but senile people can still tell a girl is a girl. Anyway, Belle is a very likeable person in the story. I was glad that the author resisted the temptation to have the bad guy child abuser do something really terrible to the black family. (214 p)

Horton Tom Angleberger

I didn't include the full title of this book above because I wasn't sure it would fit. It is Horton Halfpott, or, The fiendish mystery of Smugwick Manor, or, The loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset. It is a great title and a very funny book. I was excited to see it come out. I loved Angleberger's Origami Yoda. This book is very different from that, but it is so much fun. Horton is a dishwasher in the castle of Lady Luggertuck. She is normally a grumpy and difficult mistress, but one day she decides to loosen her corset. It makes her a little less grumpy, and the repercussions of "the loosening" are felt throughout the castle. Her son, Luther, is not happy about "the loosening," decides to try to make everyone as miserable as they were before. He devises a diabolical plan and it is up to Horton and his friends to try to stop him. The tone of the entire book is tongue in cheek. The names of the characters are hilarious, and Angleberger includes several sequences of very well written physical humor (people falling in the muck and that sort of thing). Behind it all, however, is very clever wit and quite pointed satire. I loved the bit about the Lady Luggertuck's perfume. This would be a great one to read aloud but kids will also like reading it themselves. (206 p)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Time of Angels by Karen Hesse

Karen Hesse is known for her novels written in verse. Her poem/novel, Out of the Dust, won the Newbery in 1998 (?). I was a little intrigued to find this one written in prose so I decided to give it a try. Hannah is a Jewish girl who lives in Boston in 1918. During that year a terrible flu epidemic hit Boston and in the story people are dying all around Hannah. When her sisters and the aunt that takes care of them get the flu, her aunt tells Hannah to flee the city and save herself. Hannah boards a train, intending to go to a relative's house, but instead she is stricken with the flu and becomes delirious. She is taken to a charity hospital where she meets a wonderful older German man who takes care of her for a while. It is a beautifully written story. The prose has much of poetry in it. The relationship between Hannah and the old man is so sweet. The descriptions of the fear and tragedy caused by the epidemic are vivid but not overpoweringly depressing.

I was listening to this one on my MP3 player during the same period of time I was reading the Princess of the Midnight Ball (see below). I decided that one difference between children's realistic fiction and children's fantasy is that in the fantasy you are almost always ensured a happy ending. I was never in doubt that the Princesses would be saved in the end. In this book I really had no idea how it would end. The writer could have gone either way. Would Hannah discover her sisters had died and decide to stay with the nice old man, or would she return to Boston and find her sisters alive and well? There are no guaranteed happy endings in historical fiction.

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

This was a good book to read after I finished Coraline. It helped get the creepies out of my soul. This is a novelization of the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. That was one of my favorite fairy tales when I was a child. I even made an art work based on it and submitted it to the county fair when I was 12. This adaptation stays true to the original story, but fleshes out the details and the characters. One of the details that had bothered me in the original story was the princesses ages. In my childhood picture book, all the princesses looked like young adults and I wondered how they could all be sisters, and be so close in age. In this book, George has dealt with the issue admirably. She explains why the queen had so many girls so quickly. She also explains who the old woman was who gave the gardener the invisibility cloak, and how the girls came under the curse in the first place. The handsome gardener that saves them is very charming and likeable, the oldest sister with whom he falls in love is very charming and likeable. It is just a nice, normal, fairytale-ish book to snuggle with on the couch. (280 p)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

This is one of the creepiest children's books I have ever read. It is hard to believe that any child could read it without getting nightmares. Amazingly, however, there is a certain group of children who just love it. I think they are the same kids who liked Goosebumps, or Series of Unfortunate Events.

In the book Coraline is an only child who is often overlooked and ignored by her parents. One day she goes through a magic door and finds herself in a home much like her own, but with an "other mother," and "other father." The counterfeits, who have black buttons for eyes, try to win Coraline's affection by giving her everything she ever wanted, but Coraline senses that she is more like dinner than daughter to them. The other mother catches her real parents, and Coraline must use all her courage and wits to save them. Even though this book is full of very disturbing images, it is really well written. The reader it totally transported into the weird, twisted world of the Other Mother. Coraline is so plucky that you feel sure she will triumph in the end.

I listened to this on CD. It was read by the author. Often books read by the author are not that well done (e.g. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle) because authors are not professional voice actors. In this case, however, I don't think anyone else could have done the story justice. Gaimen's cadence and inflection were utterly important to the delivery of the the plot and characters. (162 p)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Blood Red Horse by K.M. Grant

I have read a few horse books that I really liked. I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Wilson is a horse book I really enjoyed. This book, however, I had a hard time getting through. It has the most shameless, unadulterated, horse worship I have ever read. William lives in Northern England during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. As a young squire he falls in love with a red horse, named Hosanna. For the rest of the book, Hosanna is the end all and be all of creation. Hosanna passes, temporarily, from owner to owner, but each man who owns him decides to repent of their sins, and become a better person. In the final scene William is fighting a desperate battle during the crusade and men and horses are getting killed one after another. But when Hosanna gets wounded, both Christians and Serisans are so distraught, they stop the battle and work feverishly to save the horse. Admittedly, I am not a pet person. I have never had a strong emotional bond with an animal and maybe if I had I would understand the book better. Other elements of the story were fine. The characters were interesting and complex. Grant's portrayal of the Crusaders was well researched and close to historically accurate. The pacing of the whole book was a bit slow. I just couldn't swallow the fact that the main characters cared so much more about the horse than they did about the other people around them. (277p)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Forbidden Sea by Sheila Nielson

I didn't really read this book this week- I read it nearly a year ago-but I thought about it a lot. It was written by my good friend, and it is doing quite well. The reason I was thinking about it this week was because I made the mermaid's gold collar. I just finished it today. There is more about that on my regular blog.

Forbidden Sea is about a girl who lives on an island off the coast of England. One day her sister is by the sea when something, or someone tries to grab her and drag her under. Adrianne is able to save her sister, but receives some scrapes on her arm during the encounter with what seems to be a mermaid. The as the wounds fail to heal, Adrianne feels the mermaids calling her into the deep. This is a great fantasy read. The main character, Adrianne, is complex and strong but at the same time insecure and vulnerable. It is refreshing to read a fantasy where the main character has such a strong sense of duty to her family, even though her family life is less than ideal. Nielson's mermaid world is well thought out. She obviously spent time thinking about the details and logistics of an underwater existence. I hope there will be a sequel. (296p)