Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Vampire Kisses by Ellen Schreiber

I am not positive whether this book is juvenile or young adult. The character is in high school but the books are rather short and simple for the young adult genre. Either way - it's a really good series.
Vampire Kisses follows the story of Raven who is the only gothic girl in her entire upscale (white bread) community. Her best friend Becky is the other outsider. Raven dreams about being a vampire. She finds herself sneaking into the local "haunted" house, only to find it's occupied by Alexander. Alexander is about her age, from Romania and Raven's dream come true. Turns out he's a vampire but he's madly in love with her.
The romance is really secondary to the difficulty of being an outsider. Raven is so caught up in the dream she living that she has to learn what the reality of the situation is. Raven and Alexander live in two different worlds and neither of them are old enough to make it right. It's a real twist on the whole coming of age genre.
Despite the whole Twilight feel - this book is completely different. Alexander is a bit brooding but he is 17. He has to make really tough decisions and always puts Raven first. There is a little mystery and a little danger but the story really is about having a relationship with someone you really connect with but can't really be with in the world's eyes (neither sets of parents have any problem with the relationship). It's also about growing up and discovering who you are.
I just finished the 6th book and in it Raven is challenged to discover what she wants to be when she grows up. It's an interesting plot because Raven always thought she would be a vampire when she grew up but it's not as easy or as likely as she had dreamed. Being a vampire won't necessarily pay the bills.
I look forward to the next book (and many books after). I really think this is one of the better vampire YA series out there - so much better than the ones that have gotten all the publicity. Ellen Schreiber has a wonderful way of getting to the heart of the matter and giving the characters depth.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Artemis Fowl by Eion Colfer

Every time I read one of the Artemis Fowl books, I am struck by how the world of books is really a game of chance. Eion Colfer's books are amazing and yet I think they get overshadowed by other series. This series is often recommended for those who enjoy Harry Potter and need something to read. I am glad to see the recommendation but I think it gets lost in the Harry Potter world. Artemis Fowl is nothing like Harry Potter except that they are both young english men who have dealings with a fantasy world.
Artemis Fowl is a young criminal mastermind who decides to reconstruct his family's fortune by capturing a leprecon. What he gets is not what he expects. For those who have not read a single book in the series I will not spoil the fun as I have just finished the 7th book. Artemis grows as a boy and doesn't really ever feel that he's not in control (even at 12 years of age). He's a smart boy who uses every resource he can get his hands on whether he should or not. I love the play on the technology and the fact that the fairy world is just as technologically advanced as the human world (okay - they are more advanced but that's just a technicality). There's a mix of magic and machine as Artemis goes from challenge to challenge. I appreciate that Artemis takes responsibility for his actions and never doubts himself or those around him. Even in this newest book, when Artemis succombs to the dreaded Atlantis Complex which slowly causes him to lose his mind - he doesn't lose himself the way other books lose their characters. He's not a whiny mopey teen, in fact his maturity is endearing.
Artemis Fowl is a "villian" but you can't help but relate to his life. He's not out to conquer the world - he just wants to put his world right. He makes choices based on what he thinks will have the best outcome for him but it's not as selfish as it seems.
I don't think Eion Colfer is sneering at his success but I wish his books would have the same draw as some of the other books have gotten. I look forward to seeing Artemis on the big screen someday.
On another note - Artemis Fowl is now in graphic novel form. I believe there are 3 but I have only read the first one. It's a good interpretation of the book but I still recommend the full novel - there is so much internal dialogue that you don't get a full picture of Artemis and his struggles.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

Granted this is not a juvenile book but I can't help when requested books will come in from the library. This is a short, easy to understand book so it could easily be read by a juvenile. This book is not your typical Stephen King. I wanted to read it because I have fallen in love with Haven on the Syfy channel which is based on this book. I was a little nervous that it might ruin the show for me - like give me the answer to the mystery. The book was good maybe even great but I haven't really decided yet.
The book is a story told from two elderly newsreporters (at a very small newspaper in a small town)to their young intern. The story they tell is about a man who is found on the beach 25 years earlier. No one knows really how he died and he had no identification. They tell her how they discovered his identity and all the little mysteries they solved but in the end - there is only mystery no solution.
In someways, I really liked that it wasn't all neatly wrapped up in a bow - it allows me to come up with my own solutions. But then I really am not one who likes an unanswered mystery so I suppose it's a good thing I really like the TV show.
It's a well composed story so I definetly recommend it.

The Secret Science Project that Almost Ate the School by Judy Sierra

This book was another one of those picture book shockers. I don't know how these books get on the juvenile reading lists. You may have a child who finds this book to be too young but it was nonetheless funny. The little girl in the book does not want to do a science project for the fair and finds the perfect one in a mail order advertisement. What she gets is a slime monster that eats her family and follows her to school (where it eats her teacher and fellow classmates). It's a cute story that opens up a discussion about consequences for not doing your work.
Judy Sierra wrote the book in rhyme and it really helped the story flow. It was rhythmic and entertaining from page one to the end.

Graphic Novels

I understand that graphic novels have a bad reputation of being a cheap and lazy sort of book but I disagree. I read my first graphic novel in junior high. Our school librarian had the Elfquest collections (I am not positive they were called graphic novels in that day). These were books that basically housed several comic books that completed most of a story line. I loved them so much I bought several Elfquest comic books. Then the comic books went away - I am not certain they were no longer being made, I just could no longer get them. So with that, my interest in comic books went away.
While I was in college, the movie Schindler's list came out. There was a big display of like-minded books at the bookstore and one of them was Maus by Art Spiegelman. If you have not had a chance to read the two Maus books he wrote - find them. Art Speigelman uses the "comic" medium to tell the story of his father's experience as a Polish Jew during the time of WWII and a little beyond.
I can't say it threw me back into the world of the graphic novel but I did manage to find a novel sized edition of the Elfquest books. That book sat proudly with my Maus books on my bookshelf for my son to discover years later.
It was my son who actually pulled me into the world of the graphic novel and it didn't hurt that graphic novels were making a comeback. He loves series books such as Inu-Yasha and Pokemon (in fact last year he had the flu and was sick for a whole week, during that time all he read was graphic novels - we were begging the librarian for more and more because he was reading them so fast).
What I have found is that graphic novels are just a different approach to a story. You can still find the typical superhero novels but they are so much more than that. There are historical graphic novels (some fiction, some non), classics in graphic novels (from horror/mystery to children's classics), romance, adventure, and anything you can think of. So many popular books are being redone as graphic novels.
Graphic novels can be a great gateway into reading.
For younger readers I recommend:
Cirque De Freak by Darren Shan
Courtney Crumin by Ted Naifeh
The Good Neighbors by Holly Black
Vogelein by Jane Irwin
Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaimen
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
selections by Shannon Hale
Selections I haven't read yet for young readers:
Warriors by Erin Hunter
Alex Rider by Anthony Horowitz
Hardy Boys
Nancy Drew
For older readers:
Maus by Art Spiegleman
Watchmen (you really had to live during the 80's to understand this book)
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (the 2 novels she wrote were turned into a movie)
Anita Blake books by Laurell K Hamilton
Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (I tried reading this book but it was awful. However it's really popular so I added it here)
One's I haven't read yet:
Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Gunslinger by Stephen King
Circle trilogy by Ted Dekker
Odd Thomas books by Dean Koontz
As you can see there is a large library of graphic novels out there and more and more keep coming. These books we found at our local library. Because they are such quick reads I don't purchase many graphic novels. Those we have purchased my son has read over and over. Manga books (ones from Japan or in the style of) are often backwards to what is "normal" in America. They are a little tricky to read but still well worth it.
I even found a parenting book in Manga style and will talk all about it when I have read it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Leaping Beauty by Gregory Maguire

This is a cute collection of fairy tales that Gregory Maguire re-wrote for the animal kingdom. Many of the endings are familiar but not all end the way the traditional story ended.
The stories are short for short attention spans and filled with the humor that Gregory Maguire is famous for. The stories are rather silly and the characters are a mishmash of animals. For example - the story of Hansel and Gretal is now Hamster and Gerbil with their beaver father and skunk step-mother (who really is a nasty character).
The stories lose a lot of their morals typical in fairy tales but they are a good time for all.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Ghost of Fossil Glen by Cynthia DeFelice

I love reading a book and then discovering it has sequels. This is one of those books and unfortunately, the sequels were not on my list so I have to wait until the next library trip to get them.
The Ghost of Fossil Glen follows the story of Allie, an 11 year old girl with a very active imagination. However, what happens to her is not a figment of her imagination but a very real and very frightening experience. While playing in Fossil Glen, Allie starts hearing a voice - not voices just one. Then she comes home to find a journal giftwrapped with her name on the box. This is just the start of the mystery. Allie discovers a girl her age disappeared from Fossil Glen, a few years earlier. What happened to this girl and was her disappearance a crime?
Cynthia DeFelice pulls the reader into a ride that is sure to please. I love how she touches on important matters without making them the focus of the story - for example, how do you know who your real friends are? This is a question even adults ask. Allie says "When you start to see ghosts and hear voices - that's when you find out who your friends really are."
Another topic is about imagination. Personally, I have a great imagination and think it should be considered a great atribute. Sadly, not everyone feels this way. So when does imagination become lying and when is it not appropriate? I really think that we praise some people for their imagination and force it away from others - which is not really fair. This world can made for dreamers too!!!

Lives of Extraordinary Women by Kathleen Krull

This is the only non-fiction book on my list. I am not really one who reads non-fiction cover to cover. I really prefer getting all my non-fiction via Discovery Channel. This book, however, is a great exception.
Lives of Extraordinary Women covers the lives of 20 women who influenced history. Some are quite familiar such as Cleopatra and Joan of Arc but others are lesser known such as Wilma Mankiller and Jeannette Rankin. I was impressed by the cultural variety of the book as well as the realistic picture painted of these women. Some were not your fairy tale women who fought proudly - some were actually quite vile when it came to women's rights or the way they lived. I could really appreciate the work the author did. She even clarified some more fictional aspects of some of these women's lives.
I really appreciated how she wrapped up their lives in a few short pages - giving enough detail to understand the woman's significance without droning on. It gave me a taste to learn more which is always a good thing. I don't think this is the ultimate report writing book but enough to give a child a chance to find someone of significance. The book is somewhat in chronological order since some of these women were alive at the same time. Some were in politics, some were political activists and others were explorers. I can't imagine there isn't someone in the book that won't strike a cord with every reader.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

This book was so good I devoured it and then got online to see if there would be more Penderwick books. There will be more but the next one is not coming out until 2011.
These books are going to be classics right up there with Little Women and Pippy Longstocking. The tales are timeless and touching. In this sequel, the girls are faced with their father dating, a crush from the boy across the street and a new neighbor. The chemistry amongst the characters is amazing and realistic. Makes me want to have four girls (or three sisters).
Another thing that is fun about these books is Jane, the third sister, is an avid reader and often brings in quotes from other books such as Magic by the Lake and The Little Princess.
Jeanne Birdsall's writing is smart. A little latin, a little classical reference but I never get the feeling she's writing above my head (as happens with some writers). I don't know the latin but I get it's meaning (and it's not dumbed down for the reader either). It's a great work of literature and the only regret I have is that I didn't read it sooner.... but then it would be a longer wait for the next book.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

Reading this book, I would have sworn it was written decades ago instead of a few years ago. It stems from a simpler time and is timeless. The story follows four sisters as they vacation in a cottage behind a mansion. The mansion houses a very cranky woman and her son who fits right in with the girls.
The story has such great themes from family honor to standing up for yourself but they are wrapped up in imagination and innocence. Each sister has her own personality and challenge but it doesn't distract the reader from the whole story of their summer vacation.
I am not sure how a boy would respond to this book but any girl out there can find themselves in this book. I can definetely see why this is a must read book and can't wait to start on the sequel.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Whales on Stilts by MT Anderson

Holding the book in my hand, I just wasn't sure it was for me. The cover seemed a little to science fiction for my taste and I struggled to get myself to open it. In laid a case of "don't judge a book by it's cover." Though the book seems science fictiony - the truth is it's rather funny. I chuckled several times. The premise is silly but then so are so many other stories that fall into this category.
Lily goes to work with her father one day to discover his boss is really a human whale hybrid and plans to take over the world with his army of whales on stilts. To help her save the day are her two best friends Katie and Jasper, both of them famous adventurers with their own series of fictional works. The story is simple - the good guys stop the bad guys and the laughter does not come from failed attempts or mistakes that they make but from quick wit and the author's little random bits. For example, Jasper's fan club is sponsored by a Ovaltine knockoff which appears here and there - similar to a 1950's tv show.
I think my favorite line is - Katie shrugged. "With fiends like these, who needs anemones?"
Another thing about this book is it's touching way it pulls in other topics. Such as a scene where Lily saves Katie and the authors of Katie's books come in and say that Lily can not be the hero because she's not pretty enough. Katie defends Lily and they talk about having your own story. Katie says "It's your story. You have to realize that it really is. It's only when people realize that the story can be about them that they can start to change things."
This book is like a Bugs Bunny cartoon - simple enough for the youngest reader but the adults will get more of the jokes. In this case, the jokes are very clean but may not be understood by readers who haven't been exposed to movies and tv from the 50's.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Fairy's Mistake by Gail Carson Levine

This book is part of a series titled The Princess Tales. Each book is a retelling of a fairy tale. This is a short, sweet book with an interesting twist. Rosella and her twin sister Myrtle are bespelled by a fairy. Each time they talk something comes out of their mouths - for Rosella it's jewels and for Myrtle it's creepy crawlies. What happens is an interesting journey for all three parties (the fairy included). All of the books in the series are just as interesting. I expect them to replace the fairytales of our youth.
With that said, I highly recommend Gail Carson Levine - her books are well written and entertaining. She has even written a book for teens on becoming writers themselves and that was an amazing book.

Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black

I finished the last book of both Spiderwick series'. I am a little sad to say goodbye. The books are wonderful and even the movie was great. The first series follows the story of Jared, Simon and Mallory as they discover a fantasy world just under the surface of our world. In the Beyond the Spiderwick, the trio is joined by Jules, Nick and Laurie (technically it's the other way around). The kids are forced to battle this other world to save ours but lightly sprinkled throughout this series is a touching story about what it means to be family and what it means to sacrifice. The kids learn so much and pull the reader along with them on a very bumpy ride. This book is simple enough for an early reader and is broken up with pictures to help keep the book from becoming too confusing. The writing is witty and appropriate. The book is action packed but not too scary for a young reader.

Lionel and the Book of Beasts by E Nesbit

E Nesbit's name comes up on a number of must read lists for children. I was a little shocked when the librarian handed me a colorful picture book instead of the novel like juvenile book I had imagined it would be. Nonetheless, the book was on the list and I read it. It was fun. Little Lionel wakes up one morning to find he has been made king - his great great great great great grandfather was the last king and since then the people of his kingdom have been saving up to buy him a real crown. Lionel's grandfather (many greats) had been a wizard and so had a magical library. In that library was the Book of Beasts and whatever page Lionel turned to released the Beast on the page. It was alright until he got to Dragon. Lionel was forced to save his kingdom from his mistake. It's a short happy book with large colorful pictures and well worth it's place on the must read books.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Never Trust a Dead Man - Vivian Vande Velde

This was such a cute book and so worth it's recommendation. Though it sounds like a horror story - it's not really. The book follows Selwyn who is falsly accused of murder and his punishment is to be buried in the tomb with the body. A witch rescues him and helps him solve the murder in exchange for years of service. Selwyn agrees and she brings back the dead boy in the body of a bat. I can not say hilarity ensues but what follows is a touching and entertaining story as Selwyn discovers people are not who they seem to be and there were plenty of secrets in his village. At under 200 pages it's not for the youngest reader but the language is simple (even if some of the names are not) and it's neatly broken into 22 chapters so a strong younger reader could really enjoy it. I would put the level at about 4th grade but the story would interest older readers as well.
Enjoy reading!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Are You Scared Yet? Haunted Houses

This is a new series by Robert D. San Souci. I picked it because it's a collection of scary short stories which is what my son likes best. However, the book sat there for a couple of weeks so I thought someone should read it. The book has 10 short scary stories all centered around houses - even though with some of the stories it's a stretch. They were all well written with a good combination of fright and relief so that even the youngest reader won't have nightmares. Not all of the stories have a happy ending though and that made for a good mix. The book is considered middle grade (4th-7th) but has a simple enough style that a younger reader could read the book. It's not a short book at nearly 300 pages but it is broken into 10 stories so no one tires. I am interested in seeing where the author is going to go with the series. I was not familiar with him but it seems he quite a selection of scary stories. I did attempt some reading outloud to my son and found it worked well except my son didn't come across as that interested but then we were in the doctor's office.
One thing I really appreciated about the book was the diversity of the characters. It seemed that the author managed to touch on all the "major" cultures. I was rather impressed that he didn't fall into casual stereotypes either. This could be a good classroom story book with some follow up on cultural ghost stories - The Tea House being a good crossover story since it touches on some asian folklore. All in all I consider this a good read and for those adults out there who disagree, remember it was written for children so get over it.

Juvenile and Young Adult Books

I love getting books from the juvenile and young adult book sections of the library. Some may think it's a little weird but when you think about some of the most popular books lately have come out of the young adult genre - Harry Potter and Eclipse. However they are not the only great books on the shelves. For the next month (in theory 3 weeks since that's how long the check-out is at our library), I plan on reading a large stack of Juvenile books and sharing here. I will then share them here. Some of the books I have selected have come from well known authors in book children and adult genres, some come highly recommended from various child must read lists and the rest I find on my own. Because I am starting with Juvenile I expect myself to read the books rather fast so there will be quite a variety popping up here. After that I will move to my Young Adult list of must reads and see where I go from there. I want to spend some time this fall reading some of the classics as well - such as Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz. If any one has suggestions I am willing to try them.