Friday, December 22, 2006

The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Wrede, Patricia C. and Stevermer, Caroline. 2006. The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc.

The sequel to The Grand Tour (which follows Sorcery and Cecilia) this third novel offers another adventure of cousins Kate and Cecy (and by now their families) ten years later. The story is told through letters to each other and is about how England is being transformed by the new railway system. James and Cecy must track down a missing German railway engineer (and magician) who disappeared quite suddenly (and rather suspiciously). While they are looking into it, they notice that the new railways are disturbing the natural magic in the area, which if not fixed could spell disaster for England!

Meanwhile, Kate is busy looking after all of their children...until one is kidnapped and when she and her husband Thomas find him they find another missing child who they take under their wing. Who is she they don't know and neither will the child talk to tell them and yet somehow all of these strange events are tied together...

A very satisfying read from two well known YA authors, Ms. Wrede (pronounced REE-dee, and here I've been saying it wrong all this time!) is known for the Enchanted Forest Chronicles while Ms. Stevermer is more known for her novel River Rats as well as other fantasy novels. The book is a nice blend of magic, adventure, and mystery - although I don't know if I'd try to keep them going since they've aged their characters so much now. I think it would have made a nicer series if they had continued with their characters a bit closer together where they'd left them off at in the last book.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

Sonnenblick, Jordan. 2005. Drums, girls, & dangerous pie. Waterville, ME: Thorndike Press.

When his five-year-old younger brother, Jeffery, is diagnosed with leukemia, thirteen-year-old Steven tries to deal with the complicated emotions, his school life, and his desire to support his family both emotionally and financially.

The story is told from Steven’s viewpoint and gives a very realistic view of the life of a family dealing with crisis. Steven’s Dad basically shuts down and shuts people out, his Mom becomes the sole caregiver for his brother, and in the whirlwind Steven is left to cope on his own. School is no longer a priority and his grades go from above average to failing very quickly. Music becomes the only thing that really matters to him and he looses himself in it.

However the story is saved from being overly melodramatic by the wit, complexity, and realisticness that Sonnenblick infuses his characters with. All the horrors of dealing with cancer are there, from chemo to vomiting; yet there is also love and hope and the lesson that even in the middle of tragedy life will go on – sometimes for the worst but also for the best.

The Canning Season by Polly Horvath

Horvath, Polly. 2005. The Canning Season. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

A National Book Award winner for 2003 The Canning Season by Polly Horvath, is a novel about a thirteen-year-old girl, Ratchet, who is unceremoniously dumped by her mother into the care of two old, distant, twin great aunts, Tilly and Penpen, that live in Maine in a very large remote house surrounded by blueberry bogs and bears. Supposedly Ratchet is going to stay just for the summer while her mother attends to more important things, like gaining entry to the country club and her new boyfriend, but Ratchet ends up looking after and caring very much for Tilly and Penpen. When an unwanted teenage girl, Harper, shows up on the front porch, the household dynamics change somewhat, but Ratchet and Harper become friends in caring for the older women, learning the ways of rural Maine, and dealing with a shared sense of abandonment.

This book was so-so for me...I object to the use of the "F" word in the seemed that she was going for shock value instead of just telling the story, I feel that she could have used some other expletive and still gotten the point across. It's a book that I would recommend for older teens because the themes are a bit obscure I think for younger students.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Stop Pretending by Sonya Sones

Sones, Sonya. 1999. Stop Pretending: what happened when my big sister went crazy. New York: HarperTempest.

A younger, 13 year-old, sister has a difficult time adjusting to life after her older sister has a mental breakdown. The story is told in a sequence of short and intense poems that detail the younger sister's feelings of isolation, disbelief, despair, and hope. Beginning with the shock of her older sister suddenly transformed into a stranger on Christmas Eve to the horrors of visiting her in the psychiatric hospital, it details very real feelings of worrying what friends will think when they find out or if she too could become crazy, to poignant memories of what life was like before the breakdown. As her sister begins to recover, the girl begins to find hope and happiness in herself and in her own life.

At the end of the novel, there is an author's note where we learn that many of the poems found in this novel detail the true experiences the author when one of her older sister's went crazy and was diagnosed as manic-depressive. She explains some on how the book came to be and offers a list of places where one can seek help and support if your worried about yourself or someone you love being mentally ill.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant by Darren Shan

Shan, Darren. 2001. Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, book 2. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

The second book in the Cirque du Freak series, Darren returns to the freak show - Cirque du Freak - after traveling with Mr. Creapsley, the vampire that turned him into a half-vampire. The sequel deals with Darren's issues of not being able to make 'normal' friends, which is why they return to the freak show. Mr. Creapsley thinks that being around others that are in a similar situation will help Darren to cope. Darren learns more about being a vampire in this book and fights his need to drink human blood, thinking it will make him evil if he does.

I'm still not loving this series, maybe because the books seem so simplistic (I checked it out today and finished it this evening) and the forshadowing is everywhere, making it easy to second guess what will happen - at least as an adult. I've come to the conclusion that this would be a great creepy series for reluctant readers and can even go a little younger than the 'young adult' age range - say maybe 4th grade level. As the series develops, I would like to see Darren develop more as a character, so far the narration from him seems superficial and without much depth. There are some moments that are jarring emotionally for him and it would be nice to see some character development from them, as it is, Shan leaves the ending hanging just enough so that you'll want to go check out the 3rd one just to see what will happen to Darren, Mr. Creapsley, and the Cirque du Freak next.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Give credit where it's due...

Just a note to give titlewave the credit for supplying the photos of the covers of the books in the reviews below. Thanks!

Also...a thanks to Dr. Hilbun for bearing with all the html links in my document I turned in - I only just figured out how to do them and now that I know I love it! :-) Isn't technology grand?


Friday, November 10, 2006

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro, Kazuo. 2005. Never Let Me Go. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Alex Award Winner for 2006, Never Let Me Go, is a book about a woman, Kathy, and her being reunited with old school friends from Halisham, a private school. Upon getting back together, they are forced to face the truths of their existance. I could leave it all murky and dark...and if you hate spoilers then read no further...but the meat of the story is that Kathy and her school mates are all clones, created by the government for the sole purpose of organ donations.

Ugh! I almost evoked my right to put this one down and pick a new one. If I hadn't read the verso page I would have been clueless as to what was coming in the book. As it is, you have to stick with it all the way to page 81 before any light dawns and things are even partially explained. It doesn't get too detailed, and certainly isn't forthcoming in information as to what is going on and why, so it is unclear if the clones are randomly created just as an organ supply or if they are created for certain people who want to prolong their own lives with organs from their personal clone. I think that the central idea is a great one and could have been explored better with a more straight-forward plot that doesn't wander back and forth from one point in the past to a different one to the present.

I don't particularly care for this book, I think the writing style is very meandering, and frankly I'm surprized it is considered an Alex award for 2006 considering how casually sex is treated and the confusing, meandering plot. I don't think this would keep a YA's attention at barely kept mine.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Cirque Du Freak: the saga of Darren Shan by Darren Shan

Shan, Darren. 2001. Cirque Du Freak: the saga of Darren Shan, book 1. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Two boys who are best friends, Steve and Darren, visit an illegal freak show, where encountering a vampire and deadly spider forces them to make life-altering choices.

The first book in this series is poised to grab the horror-loving audience who are tired of the R.L. Stine Fearstreet type books and are looking for something new in the dark and twisty category. A fast-paced read, I could not put it down - I think I read it in a day. While the spider part did gross me out, it was never so gross to where I couldn't stand reading it, besides the twists and turns of the plot made me read on. The characters could be more well developed and don't always give reasons for why they feel or act a certain way but maybe that will be explored better in the following books. It definitely leaves the reader hanging and thirsting for more...the end is only the beginning.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher

Crutcher, Chris. 1991. Athletic Shorts. New York: Greenwillow Books.

Athletic Shorts is a collection of six short stories, five of them feature characters from Crutcher's other books and one (the first one) is an original short story that appeared in Connections by Don Gallo. Each story is prefaced with a note from the author that gives some background on the story or tells why he chose that particular character to expand upon with a short story.

I love how Chris Crutcher doesn't shy away from the realities of life. His characters are well-developed and often based on real people or real situations. Also, his humor appeals to me - just the title alone Athletic "Shorts" cracks me up! The majority of the characters here have been in his other novels, but that isn't a restriction; you don't have to have read the other novels to enjoy this book. These stories are able to stand on their own. His themes in this book have great appeal for young adults and adults alike and range from racism to insecurity to father-son friction. He is dynamic on delivering the feelings of the young adult male and yet making the stories approachable for the female reader too. If anything, Athletic Shorts will give you a taste making you want to get to know the characters better through the books that feature them.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Define "Normal" by Julie Anne Peters

Peters, Julie Anne. 2000. Define "Normal." Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Upon agreeing to meet with Jasmine, or Jazz as she liked to be called, as a peer counselor, Antonia never dreams that the girl with the black lipstick, purple hair, and pierced eyebrow will end up helping her to deal with serious home issues and become a good friend.

I kept thinking that this book might lean in the lesbian direction, because Julie Anne Peters is well-known for her books that focus on the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered theme, but it never did. I like it and think that the theme it does focus on is so true for young adults today. Basically the theme is that you can't judge a book by its cover. One protagonist - Antonia, is the very straight-laced, straight A's, conservative type girl...but she's dealing with a dysfunctional family life where she is the mother figure for her little brothers (cooking, cleaning, getting groceries, signing school permission slips, etc.), her mom is in severe depression, and her father ran out on them. The other protagonist - Jazz, is the punk-rock, purple-haired, pierced, tattooed type who you would expect to have the dysfunctial family, be in a gang, or deal/do drugs but who actually is from a very well-off, well-to-do family, makes good grades, and plays classical piano. Having to be peer counselors to each other, they solidify a friendship that ordinarily might not have happend. I liked the juxtaposition of these two characters and how it makes you think about appearance and that most of the time those appearances are just something to hide behind.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Yoga for Teens by Thia Luby

Luby, Thia. 2000. Yoga for Teens: how to improve your fitness, confidence, appearance, and health -and have fun doing it. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers.

An informative non-fiction book that explains the philosophy and benefits of yoga and provides color photographs of teens demonstrating, with step-by-step instructions and pictures, a variety of yoga poses.

Thia Luby has studied and practiced yoga since 1972 and is a nationally recognized yoga instructor. The book begins with basic information about hatha yoga, benefits of yoga, an explanation of the chakras, and how to get started. After that are step-by-step instructions of roughly 40 yoga poses from beginner poses moving to more advanced ones. There are also variations for some poses to make them more advanced and even shows how some can be performed with a partner; it wraps up with sample workouts and poses summarized into various categories (i.e. by ability level, to alleviate certain ailments, or by which chakra is stimulated).

A source on her own, sources on the beginning information would lend even more stability to a well-defined, appealing book. My interest in yoga began this year and this book helped build that interest level and answer some questions. The instructions for poses are easy to follow, although I was surprised that some were made up by the author herself (noted in the back of the book). Whatever their fitness level, teens (and teenagers at heart) will find this book informative and inspiring.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

ER Vets: Life in an Animal Emergency Room by Donna M. Jackson

Jackson, Donna M. 2005. ER Vets: Life in an Animal Emergency Room. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

A non-fiction book that describes life in an animal Emergency Room, obstacles faced by being an ER Veterinarian, and real-life animal ER cases. A well-researched book, Donna Jackson portrays the emotional and physical strains working in an ER clinic but balances it nicely with the rewards of the profession and the strong bond between pets and pet owners.

Filled with full color photographs, this highly visual book doesn't lack in the information department. To get the scoop, the author immersed herself at Colorado State University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital where she watched and interviewed the ER team in action. Case studies (both happily ever after and-realistically-not so happily) keep the book on track and give it a purpose. Profiles of the veterinarians, vet technicians (like nurses), and grief counselors, alternate with the case studies and informative inserts - such as, knowing your pets vital signs, toxic treats, etc. Includes a reading list for further information, websites to check out, a glossary, and an index.

I'm not typically an nonfiction reader, but I couldn't put this one down! The easy pace and short chapters kept my attention and kept me engaged. This is a great book for learning some general information about the emerging career of an ER vet.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography by Chris Crutcher

Crutcher, Chris. 2003. King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography. New York: Greenwillow Books.

The young adult author of books such as "Stotan" and "Whale Talk," Chris Crutcher, tells tales of growing up in his hometown of Cascade, Idaho and how events and people in his life shape his stories and him into becoming a writer.

If you are a Crutcher fan then this book explains all! Even if you aren't much of a Crutcher fan (which was me, I knew of him but hadn't really read him) or have never read any of his books, you can enjoy his poignant reminiscent stories of childhood. I like Crutcher's writing style, and how he doesn't worry about telling things in chronological order -- he just tells the story without a hidden agenda. The connections he makes between the characters in his stories and the people in his life is interesting, refreshing, and sort of a behind-the-scenes glimpse of writing (or at least his writing). As I was reading, I was wondering how he was going to pull it all together, but he does it well, leaving the reader with a sense of knowing him better and yet knowing that that wasn't everything about him, and pulling it back to his writing and drawing inspiration from the world, peopled with his characters, around him.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Donnelly, Jennifer. 2003. A Northern Light. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc.

In 1906, Mattie is determined to get her high school diploma and attend college to become a writer against her father and fiance's wishes. She takes a job at a summer inn where she discovers the truth about the death of a guest. While the story of Mattie is fictional, the events she finds herself surrounded by are based upon real happenings.

Told in flashbacks, you find yourself cheering for Mattie to go to college and pursue her dream of being a writer and at the same time agonizing with her on her new found love with a local boy. Will she marry the handsome Royal Loomis? Or will she come to realize that she cannot live her life for others and go to college?

A Printz Honor Book, A Northern Light evokes a sense of stepping back in time to the turn of the century and is a great find for lovers of historical fiction. I was very satisfied with the story and I think the fact that it centered around real happenings kept me reading -- however, I didn't find it to be a story that just really sucked me in - one of those books where I can't put it down even though I have other things to do. Characters are portrayed in a realistic sense and Jennifer Donnelly doesn't sugar coat the hardships they face. Throughout the book Mattie and her friend, Weaver, have 'word duels' that at times I found distracting, but on the other hand, it does help make the character and Mattie certainly wouldn't be Mattie without her love of the English language.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Funke, Cornelia. 2003. Inkheart. New York: The Chicken House/Scholastic.

Meggie finds out that her father Mo, who is a bookbinder, can by reading aloud turn fictional book characters into real people. The downside is the character from the book switches places with a person who is listening to the story. This is what happens to Meggie's mom when an evil character, Capricorn, freed from the novel "Inkheart" that Mo read him from years earlier takes her mom's place. Capricorn has been hunting Mo down ever since he learned the ways of the new world he ended up in and wants to force Mo to read an immortal moster from the story. There are many twists and turns of the plot but in the end Meggie must think of a way to save them all.

I like Cornelia Funk. I've read some of her other books and short stories, however, I just couldn't work up the love for Inkheart. The story just kept going on and on. Maybe I just like a faster pace, but if you think you're going to whiz through this one like the Harry Potter novels then think again. The writing style is slower and doesn't move the plot along quickly. However, her central idea of characters coming to life and leaping off the pages is very engaging. What avid reader hasn't wished that at some point? Also with it being a book about books, book lovers will love the quotes from classics above each chapter that set the tone what is coming. Overall, it is a well-written if lengthy battle of good versus evil.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Hale, Shannon. 2005. Princess Academy. New York: Bloomsbury Children's Books.

A Newbery Honor book, Princess Academy is about fourteen-year-old Miri who lives with her family on Mt. Eskel. Miri wants more than anything to work in the rock quarry with the others but her father considers her too delicate for such a job. When the priests in the kingdom divine that the next princess will come from Mt. Eskel, then a 'princess academy' is established to prepare all eligible girls to become princesses. Miri sees it as her chance to prove herself to her father and discovers unknown talents within herself while attending the strict academy.

I enjoyed reading Princess Academy, the imaginary world created by Shannon Hale has strong yet vulnerable characters and the imagry is easy to follow and picture in the mind creating a vivid mental picture of the setting. Although it falls into the fantasy catagory, don't look for any fatastical creatures in it. The main fairy tale elements deal with how the people on Mt. Eskel communicate with each other (which is a kind of magic), the rags-to-riches hope, and the love of a prince. My only real complaint is that it was sometimes hard to keep all the girls in the story straight, but the story wraps up nicely with a little unexpected twist.

Hello & welcome...

Hi, welcome to A Book Look.

In this blog, I will initially be discussing 10 young adult literature novels to fulfill requirments for Option B of the Final for LS 5623 Advanced Young Adult Literature and while I welcome any comments please keep in mind that this is a course project in progress.

I do hope to keep expanding upon this blog upon completion of the course so check back for more!