Sunday, April 28, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #11

Only three books this week, but two were long ones.

One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, an Unlikely Coach, and a Magical Baseball Season by Chris Ballard

Set in the late 60's and early 70's, this is the true story of a small midwestern town and it's little team that could. Like all great baseball stories, this one is about more than baseball. When a young, liberal teacher comes to Macon to teach English, he shakes up the conservative town and only ends up coaching the baseball team because no one else wants the thankless job. 

Lynn Sweet, never intending to hang around Macon for long, ends up making a profound difference in the lives of his students and players. Sweet is the kind of teacher we all wish we had, whose lessons extend far beyond the classroom walls. His students demonstrate that some of the lessons we need to learn, and those that stick with us the longest, can't be measured by a standardized test.

Like Mike Lupica, another of my favorite sporty writers, Chris Ballard tells an engaging story that is accessible even to those of us who don't care much about sports.

The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey

The Monstrumologist, book three.

When Dr. Warthrop sets off on a quest with a new apprentice to find a monster that no one has ever seen (or at least lived to tell about), Will Henry is left behind. For the first time since the death of his parents, he has a chance at a normal life. But Will Henry no longer fits in with a normal family, and despite himself, he misses Warthrop and feels that his place is wherever the doctor is. When Warthrop's assistant returns to tell Will Henry of the doctor's death, Will Henry is convinced that the man is lying. 

Will Henry is soon on Warthrop's trail, and then on his way to Socotra, the Isle of Blood. On the hunt for a mythical monster that kills so violently that the sky literally rains blood and then builds nests from the scattered human remains, Will Henry will need to confront the darkness in his own soul.

Well-written, creepy gothic horror, suitable for adults and mature YA readers.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

The Diviners (the first in a new series, hooray!) is my favorite type of book--a blend of genres, fun to read and difficult to classify. It's a mix of fantasy, historical fiction, mystery, and suspense, with a dash of romance thrown in for good measure. Bray has painstakingly researched the Roaring Twenties and her gorgeous prose brings the period, and her characters, vividly to life.

After getting in trouble back in Ohio, Evie O'Neill's parents send her to New York to stay with her uncle. An expert in occult matters, he runs The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult--known by the locals as The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies. When Uncle Will is asked to help the police investigate a series of brutal, occult murders, Evie comes along for the ride. Will her ability to "read" objects help her solve the crimes or make her a victim?

Evie is not the only character with a special gift. There's also a pickpocket on a mission to find his mother, a Ziegfeld girl hiding from a dangerous past, a numbers runner with healing powers, and a museum employee who is more (and less) than he seems. Despite the supernatural elements, these characters are well-developed and realistic.

The audio version is delightful, and some of the expressions that felt a bit forced when I read them were much more natural while listening. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #10

Got a lot of reading done this week, thanks to the need to avoid writing my own novel. Well, at least I was productive on one front.

Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

Beautiful artwork accompanied by an engaging story.

After being homeschooled for most of her life, Maggie is ready to start her first day at the local public high school. She's kind of a tomboy, since she's used to roughhousing with her three older brothers. Maggie gradually comes to terms with her mother's abandonment and makes a couple of good friends. In the meantime, she tries to solve the mystery of the ghost who follows her around.

Ultimate Comics Spider-man, v.1 by Brian Michael Bendis

Though I enjoyed both the artwork and the storyline, some of the panels were confusing. Most of the time, the panels moved from top to bottom on one page before moving to the next page, but sometimes they stretched across two pages. 

Miles Morales gets bitten by a spider and soon finds that he is developing powers reminiscent of Spiderman. After Miles witnesses Peter Parker's death, he decides to take up where Peter left off, despite the fact that his father will most definitely not approve.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

I am old enough to remember when AIDS began to enter the public consciousness. No one really understood what it was or how it spread and that freaked everyone out. Tell the Wolves I'm Home, set in 1987, is a coming of age story of a teenager named June Elbus. She is kind of a square peg and the only person who really "gets" her is her uncle and godfather, Finn. Unfortunately, Finn dies of AIDS and June is feels alone.

After Finn's death, she meets his partner, Toby. Despite the fact that her parents blame Toby for Finn's death, June befriends him, if reluctantly at first. That friendship may be what they both need in order to make peace with Finn's death.

This was a beautiful, heart-wrenching story from the first word to the last. Highly recommended and one to savor.

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal

Having already read Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, I didn't really learn anything new about him in this one, but I did enjoy the way Blumenthal used his 2005 commencement address at Stanford to frame the story of Jobs' life.

This biography is accessible to younger readers and is, overall, inspiring. Despite his idiosyncrasies and his difficulties relating to other people, Jobs certainly provided an innovative spark that revolutionized the way we communicate today.

As a person who is old enough to remember life before computers, internet, and iAnything, it was fun for me to reminisce about where I was when each of Apple's new gadgets became a part of my world. I'll never forget the day my husband came home with a first generation iPod and explained what it was. My response..."You spent HOW MUCH on a music player when we have a perfectly good walkman?" 

These days, Apple products are an integral part of my daily life and I appreciate the genius of the man who not only pushed great ideas forward, but who also cared about making them simple and elegant.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #9

I've been more focused on writing this week than reading. It's week two of Camp Nanowrimo and I've written about a third-ish of my novel--some 19,000 words of literary awesomeness. At least that's what my mom thinks. Still no title, but my characters are starting to come alive and not do what I planned that they would. I completed only one book this week, but it was a "slow read." Next week's list should be more impressive, as I've got a couple of quick-read graphic novels up next.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Geraldine Coutts, an Ojibwe woman, lives on a reservation in North Dakota with her husband and teenaged son, Joe. Joe narrates the tale of the day his mother is brutally attacked and its aftermath. Geraldine knows the identity of the man who raped her, but is too afraid to tell either the white or tribal police who did it. Joe teams up with his friends to investigate the crime and to try to bring his mother's attacker to justice. 

The writing is absolutely beautiful and the story, although it meanders off the track occasionally, is one to savor. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #8

Due to my participation in Camp Nano, I didn't read as much as I would have liked. However, I did pass 11,000 words of writing in my as of yet untitled novel. Yay me!

Page by Tamora Pierce

Tortall Universe -- Protector of the Small, #2.

Keladry of Mindelan made it through her first year as a page, but unfortunately, her life has not gotten easier as her training continues. She has a full schedule trying to balance schoolwork and physical training. As if that isn't enough, she puts in extra training sessions every day, patrols the halls to keep bullies at bay, and attempts to overcome her debilitating fear of heights. Kel has a strong sense of right and wrong and her actions always reflect that. She rescues a dog who "adopts" her, and keeps him even though pages are not allowed to have pets. She also takes on a timid maid, Lalasa, and teaches her to protect herself from the unwanted advances of both nobles and other servants. 

While Kel may be a bit too perfect to be believable at times, she is an excellent role model and a strong female character who always strives to do the right thing. 

This is an excellent series for middle grade readers.

In preparation for book three of the Monstrumologist series, which IS on the YALSA list, I read the first two. 

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

The Monstrumologist, book one.

After the deaths of his parents, Will Henry is taken in by his father's employer, Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, a scientist who studies monsters. Will Henry has become used to visitors in the dark of the night, but when a grave robber stops by with some especially gruesome cargo, Will Henry and Dr. Warthrop embark on a terrifying quest to find and kill the rest of the monsters before they kill again.

Very well done gothic horror set in Victorian England. Gory details and high-level vocabulary make this one a good choice for more mature readers.

The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey

The Monstrumologist, Book two.

The leader of the Monstrumology Society, inspired by a young upstart named Stoker, is trying to convince his colleagues to include mythical monsters (like the vampire and the wendigo) in their studies. Warthrop sees this as the downfall of the science of monstrumology.

But when the woman he once loved asks him to rescue her husband (who was also once Warthrop's best friend), who disappeared while searching for a wendigo, Warthrop reluctantly accepts. This new quest turns out to be gorier and more horrifying than anything Will Henry has encountered before.

This book is much more character-driven than the previous one, and we learn more about the backstories and motivations of our main characters. But it feels even gorier than the first, perhaps because the people who die aren't random strangers.