Monday, June 24, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #19

Whew! It's finally starting to feel like summer. I was able to slow the pace of life a bit and make time for reading and lounging. I enjoyed what I read this week. Even though the challenge is over, there are several more titles that I plan to read this summer, as well as some other books that have languished in my TBR pile for the last several months. Now it's time to switch gears to get ready for the July incarnation of Camp Nanowrimo and its writing frenzy. Literary fun for everyone--I hope you'll join me!

Squire by Tamora Pierce

Book three in The Protector of the Small quartet.

Kel has passed the big examination and become a squire. Now what? She is raring to get out into the field to train as a knight, but she worries that no one will want to take on "The Girl." And when Neal gets her dream mentor, she has to remind herself to be gracious about it. 

Lucky for Kel (and the realm), Sir Raoul sees her potential and is ready to train her. he takes her out with the King's Own, warriors who travel around keeping order. As she has in the other books, Kel has to prove herself again and again to the warriors, both friend and foe. She also falls in love. Her four years as a squire pass quickly; all too soon it is Kel's time to face the Ordeal. She must spend a night inside an ancient chamber that will force her to look deeply inside herself--to confront her fears and to decide whether or not she is fit to become a knight. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book and will certainly recommend it to my students. The only part that left me a bit unsatisfied was the resolution to Kel's ongoing conflict with Joren and his cronies. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but you'll know what I mean when you get there.

Lady Knight by Tamora Pierce

Last book of The Protector of the Small quartet.

Kel has finally become a knight and longs to set out in search of Blayce and his terrifying killing machines. Instead, she is given a very different assignment--commander of a refugee camp right in the middle of the war zone. With the help of two other brand new knights, Merrick and Neal, she is to keep about 400 refugees safe from invading Scanrans.

Despite little assistance from the larger army and the initial skepticism of her charges, she eventually manages to train even the children to fight and earns the respect of everyone in the camp. But then tragedy strikes and Kel finds herself on the path to her destiny.

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

Amelia has it bad for Chris, a fellow cashier at the local grocery store. Sadly, she knows he'll never go out with her, as he's a 21 year old university students, while she is only 15. They gradually become friends, though Amelia continues to idolize him.

She's smart and passionate about things besides Chris, which is refreshing. Even though Chris knows that Amelia is too young for him, at least right now, he sees that she could be his Perfect Women, given a bit more time to grow up.

Buzo perfectly captures the hopefulness and awkwardness of first love, and even though not much happens in terms of the plot, the characters are a pleasure to spend time with. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #18

Alas and alack! Summer vacation has been so darn busy so far that I am simply exhausted after only a week away from school. My husband and I have started a new diet and exercise program, visited several doctor's offices, and wandered around our local farmers' market purchasing locally grown foodstuffs for delicious home-cooked meals. What we have not done much of is, you guessed it, reading. I did finish one more book from the list, as well as another that's been on my nightstand for several months.

Pure by Julianna Baggott

Pure is the first in a trilogy. 

The world-building is phenomenal; plotwise, nothing much happens until very near the end of the book (and it is an enormous book).

In a horrifying post-apocalyptic world, enhanced nuclear weapons have destroyed nearly everything. The survivors have been fused with whatever they happened to be holding (or standing next to) during the Detonation, creating a variety of grotesque mutations. Pressia, 16, has a doll's head in place of one hand. Another character has birds fused into his back. Other characters, called Groupies, are connected to other people. The descriptions of these survivors are disturbing, and I think, what made this book very difficult for me to read.

There is another group of survivors, people who were kept safe from the Detonations, protected inside of the Dome. They are called Pures. Partridge lives in the Dome, which is controlled by his father. Despite his privileged upbringing, Partridge has never felt like he fits in. When he discovers that his mother might have survived, he escapes from the Dome and sets out to find her.

Pressia and Partridge, on the run for their own reasons, soon find out that more than 
mere chance binds them together.

Not on the YALSA list, but worth a read.

Freakonomics:  A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Leavitt (an economist) and Dubner (a journalist) collaborate to answer some rather strange questions that, on the surface, seem to have little to do with economics.

Which kills more children--guns or swimming pools? How much money do drug dealers really make? Which factors determine whether or not a child will have a successful life? Can statistics reveal cheaters on standardized tests? How does access to safe and legal abortions affect the rate of violent crime in our cities?

A fascinating read.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #17

Oh, the excuses never end. I intended to get significantly more reading done this week than I actually did, especially since Thursday was the last day with students. A new exercise program and some quality time with the hubby turned out to be more engaging than reading this week. We are starting the summer off right, even though it's looking ever more unlikely that I'll meet my goal of reading every book on the list by the end of this month. I'm now at 44 books, which is enough to have officially finished the challenge, but only slightly more than half of the 85 titles. I've also been working on one book, Pure, all week that I just can't seem to get into. It's got all of the elements I love, but it's not grabbing me. Maybe I'm finally fed up with dystopian fiction. Hmmmm, I'll keep going and review it next time. Meanwhile, I did finish one this week.

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

As the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, Sunday has a whole lot of magical potential, but feels inadequate and overlooked compared to her dashing and daring elder sisters (all also named for days of the week). Her brothers are pretty interesting too, but Sunday feels like her talent, writing stories that have a strange way of coming true, pales in comparison to those of her many siblings.

One day, she meets an enchanted frog in the forest who is fascinated by her stories. Gradually the two become friends, and yes, something more. However, when the frog is finally transformed into his former self, Prince Rumbold, Sunday is not there to see. He slowly regains his memories and realizes that Sunday and her family blame him for the death of her brother, Jack. 

As always, there is more to the story than first appears. Rumbold and Sunday, along with the rest of their families, are soon caught up in a struggle to renew the balance between light and dark.

Fairytale fans will enjoy picking out the references to many different tales and seeing how they come together in one new tale. I will be interested to see how the rest of the series plays out. A fun read!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #16

Three more books checked off the challenge list this week, although I am still not going fast enough to be able to read all 85 titles by the end of this month. At just under half of the list done, I do need to get my read on. It's only bragging rights, but still...

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

"Your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in."

The economy sucks and Clay Jannon is laid off from his job as a web designer. When an odd little shop catches his eye, he wanders into Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, and is soon hired as the newest clerk. It doesn't take long for Clay to suspect that there is more to Mr. Penumbra and his store than meets the eye. The few customers check out books from the towering shelves in the back of the store, what Clay calls the "Wayback List," but never buy any of the newer books displayed in the front of the shop. 

Curious about what is really going on, Clay designs a program to map out the store and the movement of the customers. When this leads him to a perplexing discovery, he enlists the help of his friends to uncover a mystery that stretches far beyond the walls of the shop.

The characters are more like sketches of common fantasy archetypes than fully-realized people, but I still went along for the ride. I absolutely loved the ending, especially the final page. 

Lovers of books will appreciate the intersection between technology and good old-fashioned books.

"...the right book exactly, at exactly the right time."

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert

Helen Keller was trapped in a dark, silent world until Annie Sullivan came to be her teacher. Annie, partially blind herself, struggled to communicate with Helen and to let her know that everything has a name. Finally, they had a breakthrough and Helen began to learn at an amazing rate. 

I've always been fascinated with Helen Keller's story, but this book really didn't live up to my expectations. The jumps back and forth between Helen's present and Annie's past were distracting and made the story hard to follow.

Code Name Verity (audiobook) by Elizabeth Wein (narrated by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell)

Maddie and Queenie, raised in very different social circles, become best friends during WWII. Maddie is a pilot and Queenie a spy.

When Queenie is captured by Nazis in France and broken by torture, she agrees to cooperate in return for a quick death. Her written confession makes up the first half of the book. Initially, the flow of her narrative is hard to follow because of the switches from present to past tense. Once you get used to it, though, it actually helps keep track of past versus present events.

The last part of the book is more reliably narrated by another character and sheds light on Queenie's story in some surprising ways.

The friendship between Maddie and Queenie is realistic and moving. They are both strong characters, each a hero in her own way.  The narrators do an amazing job of bringing Maddie and Queenie, as well as a cast of other characters, to life. While I'm glad I read the print version first, the audiobook is the version I'll revisit again and again.

Highly recommended historical fiction.