December 31, 2012

Best Books 2012

It's hard to believe the year is coming to an end, and I'm again posting my favorite reads for 2012. I didn't read nearly as much this past year and it is my resolution to read more in 2013. I have to admit, I read a lot of sci-fi and dystopian, but I do try to read across genres. While reflecting on last year, I look forward to what is in store for the next. My biggest problem is not in finding something but in choosing something. I wish I were a faster reader!!! The order of the books is the order in which they were read. You can read the full reviews by clicking on the title. While not all rated a 5, each one has some sort of emotional attachment for me...

The Only Ones by Aaron Starmer
Posted January 21, 2012
Read this for the writing as well as the creativity. While many MS readers will find it difficult to get through, it is well worth it.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Posted March 29, 2012
This book made me a fan of John Green. An emotional tale of a young girl, living and dealing with cancer. Keep a box of tissue handy. Read it before the movie is released.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Posted May 6, 2012
A futuristic retelling of Cinderella?  So I thought. While some of the elements are there, this is a creative, original sci-fi. Get to this one soon as the sequel Scarlet (Little Red Riding Hood?) just came out.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Posted June 30, 2012
I didn't give this a strong score, 3.5, because the first half is so slow, that I almost put it down. The second half pulled me in like a pit of quicksand. The characters, setting and plot created an atmosphere that resonated with me long after I finished the book.

Paper Towns by John Green
Posted August 12, 2012
John Green has created a smart and humorous novel with sharp and witty dialogue. His writing is well crafted, and one that, quite frankly, I'm very envious of. He leaves lots to ponder, but the end is especially thought provoking and will leave you with lots of questions.

Looking for Me by Betsy Rosenthal
Posted August 12, 2012
A collection of poems, that create a short, poignant account of eleven-year-old Edith, growing up in a Jewish family of twelve children in Baltimore during the 1930's.  A quick read, to be read with an open heart.

The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
Posted September 1, 2012
This book will hold you from first page to last. It is well written, moves quickly, has unexpected plot twists, and well developed characters and setting. While it is violent in terms of a middle school read, it is an excellent read for older, more mature readers. 

UnWholly by Neal Shusterman
Posted December 29, 2012
A sequel to Unwind, new characters make the story more complex and raise more ethical issues It all comes together in a hair raising, fiery climax that leaves you yearning for more. A fantastic read but recommended for more mature readers for violent content.

December 29, 2012

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

Georges' (the s is silent) family had to move to an apartment in Brooklyn after his dad lost his job. When emptying trash in the basement, they discover an old notice, announcing a spy club meeting. When Georges goes to the meeting, he meets Safer, a boy of similar age, who pulls Georges in to learn how to be a fellow spy, and investigate Mr. X, a mysterious apartment tenant that only wears black. Safer's sister Candy, sometimes helps, and is sometimes in the way. Georges also has to deal with Dallas, a bully at school that has it in for Georges. Georges must leave his comfort zone when Safer asks him to intrude on Mr. X's privacy, as well as deal with Dallas at school. It is clear that both boys, Georges and Safer, have a growing friendship, but both have their demons and are hiding something.
Having read Stead's When You Reach Me, I was expecting a little more from this. Liar & Spy is a sweet, simple read; nothing too complex. One of the things I appreciate about this book, is that all of the adult characters are real, caring people.
Reed Reads Score: 3

December 23, 2012

UnWholly by Neal Shusterman

Shusterman's Unwind (click to see original review) was a haunting vision of America's future. It remains one of the most popular science fiction novels in the library. Five years later, Shusterman comes up with a sequel, UnWholly: Book 2 of the Unwind Trilogy. I felt that this book was unnecessary, as Unwind was incredible and complete.
Then I read the book.
Shusterman is a master storyteller. I don't know if he originally intended to write a trilogy, but he has constructed a more complex, more intense followup that makes this a compelling read. Often the middle book of a trilogy is the weakest, but UnWholly managed to take the story in directions I never expected, and left me hanging, screaming for book three.
Unwinding is the process of dismembering teenagers between the ages of thirteen and seventeen using their body parts for transplantation. Originally it was a solution to a civil war over the abortion issue, but is now accepted by society, and a big business. Unwind is the story of three rebellious teenagers, Connor, Risa, and Lev who escape their unwinding and are on the run, creating a rebellion that questions the morality of unwinding. UnWholly continues their story, and introduces some new characters. Connor is now running the Graveyard, a sanctuary for unwind runaways. Risa joins Connor, but is wheel chair bound from a spinal injury. Lev has become somewhat of a folk hero as the tithe that rebelled, became a clapper (unwinds that have their blood injected with an explosive that detonates when they clap), that was captured, and is now the inspiration of tithes that were saved from their unwinding. The story introduces three new characters;  Starkey, a rebellious teenager, taken for unwinding, Miracolina a tithe, like Lev, looking forward to her unwinding, and Cam, a new person created from unwound body parts, yearning to figure out what he is and how he fits in to society. These new characters make the story more complex and raise more ethical issues, as their stories are told in separate, alternating chapters, but come together in a hair raising, fiery climax that leaves you yearning for more. A fantastic read but recommended for more mature readers for violent content.
Reed Reads Score: 5

November 30, 2012

Scrivener's Moon by Philip Reeve

Scrivener's Moon, the third installment of the Fever Crumb series, left me breathless and a bit out of sorts. The series is the prequel to the four part Mortal Engines series, which I have not read. This book made me feel that I wish I had started there, as many of the events and characters lead to Mortal Engines.
Fever Crumb is back in London, after attempting air flight and a brief romance in Web of Air (book 2 in the series). London is moving forward in becoming a mobile city, and Wavy, Fever's mother, is the chief engineer for the project. Fear of a mobile city in the northern regions, based on the premonitions of a young girl called Cluny, sparks a rebellion, while at home, sinister Charlie Shallow (who tried to murder Fever in book one), works his way up the London power structure, crushing anyone who blocks his way. Wavy forms an expedition to the Northern region to substantiate a rumor of a pyramid locked with technological remnants of the past. Fever insists on joining her mother. The events that follow, including an unexpected romance, challenge all of Fever's beliefs and understanding of the world. Vivid imagery with interesting and colorful characters make this a satisfying read.
Read Reads Score: 3.5

October 25, 2012

A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle

Mary O' Hara, a cheeky twelve-year-old, was facing many problems in her life: her best friend had moved away, her beloved grandmother was in the hospital, and she didn't really like school (hated it). But one day after school, Mary met a mysterious woman who claimed to be her granny's mother and seemed to be a ghost. The story is told in 4 perspectives of women in each generation, Mary, Scarlett, Emer, and Tansey and short segments of their pasts with their mother. In this story, the characters get to learn more about their relative they might have not really known about because the relative might have died before they could have met him/her. Readers get to learn about the importance of family and growing up without a mother.
In the beginning of the book, it starts off slow-paced and dull and didn't seem to have much an interesting plot. But as I read on, it became heartwarming with a somewhat happy but vague ending. A book mostly with dialogue, I thought that this book was a very sweet book that made me sad and happy at the same time. But I don't really recommend it to read.
Read Reads Score: 3

Deadly Pink by Vivian Vande Velde

Vivian Vande Velde, author of acclaimed novel, Heir Apparent, is back with a brand new novel, Deadly Pink. It centers around a futuristic world that is altogether possible, in which video games are immersible and can be played in. Grace Pizzelli is the boring daughter, not particularly beautiful, or popular, or smart, like her sister, Emily, but she is the only one who can save her from a virtual suicide. Emily works for Rasmussem, a company which makes virtual reality games, and designs a game made for young girls, a land of butterflies and sprites. One day, she decides to barricade herself into the game, knowing fully well that her brain will overheat from the technology. Grace must discover what could have caused her perfect sister to even consider this virtual suicide, and to try to get her out from the overly sparkly, pink happy land. Can  she save Emily before time runs out? Unless she does, Emily will die, not just in the game, but in real life.
Having read many other science fiction and virtual reality novels, I found this book to be interesting, in that it was much more realistic than the usual novels of the genre. This world is quite like ours, except with somewhat more advanced technology. The plot dragged halfway through the book, not enough to make me put it down, but enough to make me lose some interest. Emily's character comes off a bit snobby, and unlike one her character should be. The contrast between Emily and Grace was not nearly shown enough, though their sisterly relationship was well woven into the plot. The ending is left a bit unsettled and the problems are too easily solved afterward, but overall, this book and its twists and turns were quite interesting.
Reed Reads Score: 3.5

October 15, 2012

The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Peffer

Every single day, we use hundreds of things that we don't even think about, things that are there to help with our everyday lives. But what if all those things disappear suddenly, if the world turned upside down? What if you weren't guaranteed food every day? What would you do in the middle of winter with no heat? What would you be willing to do to keep your family alive?
When a giant asteroid hit the moon, the moon was propelled towards the Earth. Most people figured that it was no big deal. Many didn't care. They only started to care when their TVs stopped working,  planes fell out of the sky and the subways flooded. Alex Morales is coming home from a perfectly normal day to his two sisters waiting at home. He notes the sirens of the ambulances and fire trucks as just part of the New York sound track. He doesn't notice his world is falling apart till the next day when his mother fails to return, his brother is sent out with the Marines, and his father is trapped across the continent. In this state of crisis, Alex does all that he can to save his family, making some of the hardest choices in his life.
The Dead the Gone is the sequel to Life as We Knew It, and both are stunning novels of survival. As I read this book, I could feel myself making choices right along with Alex. Throughout the book, you can feel yourself growing right along with him, and are sympathetic to his challenges that you hope that you never have to face. I loved the character development, not only of Alex, but of his sisters as well. This different perspective on the same disaster is far from boring, but refreshing. Although, if it's not your cup of tea, it could easily become depressing.
Reed Reads Score: 4.5

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

A wonderful story of deception, love, and magic.
The once alluring, powerful nation of Ravka has now been split by a dangerous lake, The Shadow Fold. The Shadow Fold lurks with carnivorous monsters, darkness beyond imagination, and fear. The kingdom is full of people who possess magical powers, who try to keep the path safe, but it's still considered suicide to pass through.
When Alina Starkov, a girl orphaned by the Border Wars, is discovered to possess magical powers that could close the Shadow Fold, a mysterious figure known as The Darkling takes her on as his student, ripping her from her only friend, Mal. Alina believes she's being trained to save her country, to close the Shadow Fold, but who is The Darkling? Can she trust him?
I found Shadow and Bone to be a good way to pass the time, but a bit too cliche. You could easily predict what would happen next and the writing didn't delve into the personality of Alina nearly enough for me. Still,  it did make me gasp, smile, and shiver with fright.
Reed Reads Score: 3.5

October 6, 2012

What Came From the Stars by Gary Schmidt

In a world light years away, the Velorim are about to be annihilated by evil Lord Mondus. Velorim power is in their art, and to keep it from Lord Mondus, it is forged in a chain, sent up to the heavens to a world galaxies away, eventually landing in Tommy Pepper's lunch box. Tommy puts the chain around his neck, not knowing of its powers and the evil sent from Velorim to retrieve it. The chain and its powers will change the life of Tommy, his family, and the community. An unexpected fantasy from Gary Schmidt, the writing is strong and emotional, but did not speak to me as did his other titles. The story is told in alternating chapters between Plymouth, MA and the world of the Velorim. The story of Velorim is told in a language created by Schmidt, and can be difficult to follow, but Tommy's story is poignant as he and his family grieve over the death of his mother. The love between Tommy, his sister, and father are what brings heart to the story.
Reed Reads Score: 3

September 29, 2012

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

A story of a horse and the lives of the owners linked to him. Told in the voice of the horse, the story opens in England, as the young horse is separated from his mother when sold at auction. He is bought by a farmer, but trained and loved by the farmer's son, Albert who names the horse Joey. With World War I looming, and the farmer in need of funds, the horse is sold to a British army commander, to the distraught of Albert. Albert is promised by the commander that Joey will be well taken care of and returned at the end of the war. The horror of war is told through the experience of the horse, as he is captured by the Germans, adopted by a young girl, won back to the British by a soldier's bet, and reunited with Albert, now a soldier in the army. I found the first-person account, told through the voice of Joey, a horse,  off-putting. The language seemed stiff, coldly descriptive, and detached. The story attempts to be heart warming, but might have been more successful told in the third person.
Reed Reads Score: 2.5

September 9, 2012

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

We are all familiar with the reality shows where a survivalist is shown in the wild with nothing but their keen knowledge of the wilderness and what's on their back to survive... all the while knowing there is a camera and crew behind the scenes.  Hiaasen's Chomp looks at the genre with humor and adventure. Wahoo Crane's father Mickey is an animal wrangler in Florida. Short on cash, Wahoo's father takes a job with a T.V. show Expedition Survival!, whose star, Derek Badger, is an egotistical, fool hardy, phony. Derek Badger has never spent one night in the wild, and has a liking for luxury hotels and rich food.

Mickey and Wahoo are asked to travel with the show which will be shooting a show in the Everglades. While shopping for supplies, Wahoo runs into a friend from school named Tuna. Noticing her black eye, Wahoo learns that Tuna's father is beating her. Wahoo is in disbelief, and Mickey while wanting to beat Tuna's father to a pulp, decides to take Tuna with them on the Everglades expedition to get her out of the house. What happens is an adventure that Mickey and Wahoo will never forget, from Derek being bitten by a bat, then believing he will turn into a vampire to Tuna's dad coming after her. A good read for animal lovers and reality show junkies.

Reed Reads Score: 3.5

September 1, 2012

The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

This is a violent and bloody book, that is sadly, reflective of our times.
A future United States is ripped apart by a bloody civil war, and the landscape has been altered by melting polar ice caps, flooding coast line cities. In this companion book to Ship Breaker, Tool, a genetically created human/animal designed to kill, is now further north than the gulf coast setting in Ship Breaker. Captured by one of the warring factions, he has now escaped and is hiding in the jungle. He is near death. Mahalia is a young girl who is mixed race, her father a chinese "peacekeeper", and her mother American. She is considered an outcast, or "war maggot" and has been beaten and maimed (one of her hands chopped off) by the warring groups. She has been taken in by a peace loving doctor and trained to help him treat victims of the war. She is devoted to Mouse a young boy that helped save her, and who has also been taken in by the doctor. When their village is savagely taken over by a battalion, she fights back, causing embarrassment and damage to the soldiers. She escapes to the jungle with Mouse where she runs into Tool. Tool takes Mouse captive, promising to release him, if Mahalia brings him antibiotics. Returning to Tool with the doctor and promised medicines, she treats Tool, against the will of the doctor. Returning to the village, the doctor is killed, and Mouse recruited to be a soldier. This sets in motion the union of Tool and Mahalia to search for and find Mouse.

This book will hold you from first page to last. It is well written, moves quickly, unexpected plot twists, and well developed characters and setting. The book, at least for me, was a commentary on the current situation in the Middle East, where more than a generation knows nothing more than war, children are recruited as soldiers, there is no value for human life, "peacekeepers" have attempted, but failed to help, and any sense of humanity is lost to the "cause".  An excellent read, but for older, mature readers because of the extreme violence.
Reed Reads Score: 4.5

August 12, 2012

Looking for Me by Betsy Rosenthal

A short, poignant account of eleven-year-old Edith, growing up in a Jewish family of twelve children in Baltimore during the 1930's. Told in free verse, the words are succinct, and evoke the feeling of what life was like for this little girl. While this genre is a difficult sell to many students, if they read it with an open heart, it will be impossible for them not to be touched. The first poem really pulled me in;

"I'm just plain Edith.
I'm number four,
and should anyone care,
I'm eleven years old,
with curly black hair.

Squeezed / between / two / brothers,
Daniel and Ray,
lost in a crowd,
will I ever be more
than just plain Edith,
who's number four?

In my overcrowded family
I'm just another face.
I'm just plain Edith
of no special place."

Reed Reads Score: 4.5

Paper Towns by John Green

The stage is set for Paper Towns, when nine year old Quention, or Q, is bike riding with his neighbor Margo. In a park, they discover a body surrounded with blood. As Q steps back in horror, Margo steps forward. As Q tries to forget the horror forever imprinted in his mind, Margo investigates. She discovers its a suicide, and while Quentin generalizes, Margo concludes that "Maybe all the strings inside him broke." Margo and Quentin are very different...
Fast forward to high school senior year. Q and Margo have grown apart. Margo is popular and social, while Q is nerdy and peripheral with two close friends; Ben and Radar. Q is already accepted to Duke and all seems set, until Margo mysteriously shows up at his bedroom window, insisting that Q join her on an adventure of revenge against her friends that she feels have betrayed her. The adventure is totally out of character for Q, but the enigma of Margo, and the adventure they have is memorable and intoxicating for Q. The next day, Margo disappears. Q now must find her. The intricate maze of clues she has left behind creates a mystery to be solved and an adventure to be had by Q and his buddies.
John Green has created a smart and humorous novel with sharp and witty dialogue. His writing is well crafted, and one that, quite frankly, I'm very envious of. He leaves lots to ponder, but the end is especially thought provoking and will leave you with lots of questions. There is much to quote from here, but my favorite "I'm not saying that everthing is survivable. Just that everything except the last thing is." just left me saying, "Yeah, I like that."  For mature readers.
Reed Reads Score: 4

July 24, 2012

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

This is an unusual historical fiction/fantasy that starts firmly rooted in reality but soon requires a complete suspension of disbelief. It is 1952 and 14 year old Janie is told that she is leaving the comfort of her home in Los Angeles, for London. Her parents are Hollywood writers who fear that McCarthyism will force them to testify against their colleagues, and so they leave to London for refuge. London is a world apart from L.A., but Janie tries to adapt. She is fascinated with a boy from school, Benjamin, who is openly defiant, and fascinated with being a spy. She learns that he is the son of the apothecary from a shop down the street from her apartment. When the apothecary disappears, Janie and Ben discover a book left to them called the Pharmacopoeia, which they discover is magical, and sought by Russian spies. Janie and Ben must unravel the mystery of Ben's father's disappearance, why the Russians want the book, and the magic contained in the book itself. It is the magic the book offers that ultimately give Janie and Ben the power to solve the mystery.

I REALLY wanted to love this book, as many students recommended it to me. For some reason, I just didn't feel the magic the way I have in other books. Perhaps the realistic setting made it too difficult for me to accept the magic, as well as the fact that Janie's parents seem loving and caring, but decide to leave her on her own in London for a time (but necessary to leave her open for the adventure she pursues). I would recommend The Apothecary, but its definitely not a favorite.
Reed Reads Score: 3.5

June 30, 2012

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

An old Irish myth describes horses that emerge from the sea each November, eat flesh, and if ridden, are the fastest and the strongest. These water horses can become dangerous when they can see, taste, or touch the sea. They are most certain to kill man or beast. It is this myth which forms the basis for The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.

Sean Kendrick's nineteen-year-old life has been defined by the Scorpio Races, a contest held annually in November, in which water horses are raced on the beach. A person is most certain to die in the races, as did Sean's father when Sean was a young boy. Sean has become a hardened expert in the racing and training of water horses. Sean works for the wealthy Mr. Malvern, raising both water horses, and racing thoroughbreds. Sean has a deep connection to Corr, a water horse he has raised, raced, and eventually would like to own.

Puck (Kate) Connolly's parents were both killed by water horses, and is now caring for their house, for herself, and her two older brothers. Her best friend is Dove, a pony that she rides like the wind, carrying the memory of her mother who taught her to ride. There is little income, and all seems lost when Puck finds out that the house is going to be foreclosed on. In desperation, she decides to enter the Scorpio Races and use her winnings to pay off the house. She breaks tradition by being the first woman in the races, and racing Dove, a horse that is not a water horse.

The novel is told in the alternating voices of Sean and Puck, who eventually meet, form a bond, and support each other in the climactic race. Sean's motivation to win is ownership of Corr. Puck's motivation is to save her house. Complications arise from Sean's nemesis,  Mutt, Malvern's son, and a blossoming relationship between Sean and Puck.

I was motivated to read the novel because it had great reviews. Stiefvater devotes much of the narration to building her characters, and a richly textured fact, I think too much. The book almost lost me, as I wanted the plot to move on. For the first half of the book, I felt bogged down. The second half is excellent, with a few surprises. My greatest surprise was what did NOT happen... a love story between Sean and Puck. While there is a kiss, and Sean is distracted by thoughts of Puck,  the story is ultimately about two damaged kids who find redemption in their determination, will to improve their lives, and how their common bond of the love of horses brings them together to find the strength to move on. Might be for mature readers, because of the violence, but otherwise nothing harmful.
Reed Reads Score: 3.5

May 25, 2012

Web of Air by Phillip Reeve

This steampunk novel is the long awaited sequel to Reeve's Fever Crumb. The future-world in which Fever lives is one in which the technology of the "ancients" is scorned and deplored. Fever is an engineer who seeks only the practical and is curious about the ancient technologies. Taking off from where Fever Crumb left off, Fever has departed London with orphaned Ruan and Fern, joining a drama troupe who travels on the barge (large traveling land ships) Persimmon's Electric Lyceum. The barge provides the living space and theatre for cast and crew. Fever's only interest in theatre is to provide the unheard of technology of electric lights and special effects for the she finds the plays themselves absurd, illogical and a waste of time. One day, as she is walking about, she is struck by a model idea from the past, that has long been abandoned. Fever is fascinated with the ancient technology of air flight, and must find where the model airplane came from. Her search will lead her to a young man named Aarlo. His secrets and knowledge will captivate Fever and lead her into danger, wonder, and feelings that she has never experienced.
If you haven't read Fever Crumb, start there, as the background is really necessary to fully understand what is going on. A good sequel, but looking forward to the next installment.
Reed Reads Score: 3.5

May 6, 2012

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

It is 126 years after the fourth world war. Countries of the world have become somewhat settled, and in New Beijing (old Beijing destroyed in the war), the Eastern Commonwealth is ruled by Monarchy. People travel by hovercraft, menial work is done by androids, and humans can now have their lives extended by becoming cyborg. Sounds like a perfect setting for Cinderella. Right. Cinderella? Marissa Meyer may have used the fairy tale as a loose framework for this sci-fi adventure, but once well into the story most recognizable similarities dissipate, as the quick moving plot draws you in.

Cinder is a 16 year old cyborg, who has no memory of where she came from, and whose adoptive father has just passed away. Left with her step-mother and step-sisters, she feels out of place, as her interest is in fixing androids, or any other machine, and has no interest in trying on frilly dresses for the upcoming ball. The current monarchy is unstable as the Emperor is mortally ill with a plague for which there is no cure. Cinder is in disbelief when the Emperor's son, Prince Kai, visits her stall in the marketplace, requesting that she repair his broken android. Cinder is accompanied by her step-sister Peony on a trip to the junk yard looking for spare parts, when Peony suddenly shows symptoms of the plague, and after Cinder's call for help, is taken away by med-droids to be placed in isolation. Cinder's step-mother blames Cinder for what has happened, and as her caretaker, volunteers her for plague research, and as a guinea pig, means certain death. From here the story takes off, as her experience will reveal parts of her past, special powers she possesses, and relationships between the Monarchy and Lunars, a human sub-race that inhabits our moon.

At first, I was skeptical, but quickly became wrapped up in this science-fiction, adventure. With much foreshadowing, symbolism, and parallels to today's society, there is a lot to ponder and discuss. This is the first book of Meyer's series The Lunar Chronicles, the second book, Scarlet, due out next year.
Reed Reads Score: 4

April 8, 2012

Matched by Ally Condie

Society provides all with a beautiful and worry-free life. What you eat, what you wear, what you do, who you marry, and when you die are all pre-determined for you. Cassia has much to look forward to. Her "matching" ceremony has revealed that she will marry Xander, her life-long friend. Cassia is ecstatic about her match...until she sees a different face revealed on the screen for only an instant, that of Ky Markham. While she loves Xander as a friend, her feelings about Ky grow until she and Ky recognize their love for each other. Cassia now grows to distrust and hate the Society that she once believed in.

The situation of a dystopian future, and a strong female protagonist torn between two likable young men, is reminiscent of the Hunger Games Trilogy. With the emphasis more on the romance aspects, Matched will have a wider appeal to a female audience. While I didn't love the book, it held my interest enough to want to go on to the second book, Crossed. The third, and final book, Reached, is to be published November 2013.
Reed Reads Score: 3.5

March 29, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

A book about teenagers with cancer...not a very happy premise, but one you will want to read.  Hazel, a sixteen year old terminal cancer patient is forced by her mother to go to a support group meeting. One of the members, nearly blind Isaac, brings a friend, Augustus to a meeting. Hazel and Augustus discover each other, a friendship and romance ensues, and you can imagine the rest. The book doesn't disappoint. It will meet your expectations. But that is NOT why you should (or should not) decide to read this book.
Why should you read this book?  It is quite simply, beautifully written. Read this because John Green takes a plot that anyone can mostly predict, and makes it soar with language.  Read it and appreciate a well told story with rich, witty, and intelligent characters that you will relate to on many levels. Read it because it tackles many of life's questions. Read it because the book is so finely crafted, that even if its nuances are missed, it will be loved.
A good companion novel, is Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco Stork. For mature readers because of mild sex and some strong language.
Reed Reads Score: 5

March 11, 2012

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

A nostalgic, semi-fictional account of a summer in Jack Gantos' childhood. Twelve-year-old Jack lives in small town Norvelt, Pennsylvania. During the summer of 1962, his grand plans of playing baseball and a carefree summer are dashed when he gets grounded for the entire summer for plowing down his mother's cornfield. Going stir crazy staying in his room, he jumps at the chance to get out when his mother tells him he has to help their elderly neighbor, Mrs. Volker, investigate deaths in the community and write their obituary. Their relationship grows over the summer, as the relationship becomes a bit symbiotic. Expect some humorous plot twists and events, but for me, the book was a bit of a bore. The pacing of the writing, and richness of the characters, doesn't come close to Gantos' Joey Pigza series. Clearly, others feel different, as this is the recipient of the 2012 Newbery Award. I'm sure some of you will enjoy the warm tone, and the gentle humor, but I can only recommend this to those of you who really enjoy nostalgic historical fiction.
Reed Reads Score: 3

February 4, 2012

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Anya is a Russian immigrant teen who is trying desperately to leave her culture behind to be accepted as a typical American high school girl. She's rather unsuccessful as, she has only one friend (who is rather abusive to her), is not doing well in school, and lusts for a jock who already has the beautiful blonde babe girlfriend. She skips the bus to school and side-tracks through a wooded park where she falls into a deep well. Lighting a match (yes, she's a smoker to be cool...all apart of the effort to fit in) she discovers a skeleton, from which the ghost of Emily Reilly appears. Emily is delighted to see Anya, as she has been in the well for 90 years. Anya wants little to do with her, and when found leaves her she thinks. One of Emily' bones is swept up in her bag as she leaves, and Emily reappears at school. Emily helps Anya with a test, helps her get invited to a party, and soon Anya sees value in a friendship with this ghost, and decides to let Emily stay. Emily seals her friendship when she explains to Anya, that her fiancee was sent off to World War I and killed. Her family was murdered and in her escape from the same fate, she fell into the hole and was never found. Anya promises to investigate and solve her murder so she can rest in peace.
      This is a graphic novel whose story is humorous and horrifying centering around a character that is full of teen angst, and very believable in her actions and reactions to the social pressures of an immigrant trying to fit in. While I found some curious inconsistencies in the story, this is a great, quick read for grades seven and up.
Reed Reads Score: 3.5

January 21, 2012

The Only Ones by Aaron Starmer

This book is weird. Weird in the most literary way. Which makes this book not for everyone. This is a book for readers that love post-apocolyptic science fiction. A book for readers that love the unpredictable. A book for readers that constantly ask themselves questions and make predictions as the story turns and twists in a non-linear way. A book for readers that appreciate beautifully written and lyrical story telling. Definitely a book for mature readers...
       Marvin Maple has spent his entire life with his father isolated on an island offshore. During the winter, he and his father build a machine, for which Marvin does not know its purpose. During the summer, the island is a retreat for vacationers that his father avoids. When the machine is almost complete his father must go ashore for the last part. Marvin's father never returns, and neither do the vacationers. For two years Marvin is alone raiding homes for their food and their books, as Marvin reads voraciously to learn about the world. Marvin finally decides he must go ashore. When he arrives, he finds a world that is completely devoid of people. As he wanders inland, he at last discovers another young boy who directs him to a town named Xibala, where 40 children have created a functioning society. As Martin acclimates to this new world, he becomes convinced that the machine his father built has the answers. As the story moves forward, there are answers...just not the answers you would expect.
Read Reads Score 4.5

January 1, 2012

Best Books 2011

At the end of the year we all tend to reflect on the past year. As I am no different,  below are what I would consider my favorite reads of 2011. These are books I read in 2011, not necessarily those that were published in 2011. You can read the full reviews by clicking on the title. While not all rated a 5, each one has some sort of emotional attachment for me...

Posted February 20, 2011
A blend of YA realistic, a touch of fantasy, and a heart warming story about a teenage cab driver that seems to have lost his way, who is "enlisted" to do good deeds for people in need. Sounds a bit dweeby, but for me this was a box of Kleenex.

Posted May 6, 2011
The length, the complexity, the fusion of science fiction and fantasy was captivating. Don't let the length turn you off, it will go quickly.

Posted June 30, 2011
An outstanding science fiction thriller in the vein of The Hunger Games.

Posted August 2, 2011
Maybe because the time period is the 60's/70's (my childhood), maybe because its about a boy who is able to move beyond his abusive father, or maybe because the writing is so perfect, I absolutely loved this book. I wish I had an easier time of it when I try to sell the book to my students.

Posted August 30, 2011
An excellent dystopian science fiction novel. Well developed characters within a detailed and textured world, with plenty of action.

Posted October 2, 2011
Just as brilliant as Hugo Cabret, but uses the format ingeniously to explore two story lines. The book is ultimately about the strength of family and overcoming adversity which always pull me in.

Posted October 19, 2011
After The Book Thief and I Am the Messenger,  Zusak is clearly one of my favorite authors. This was his first book released in the U.S. Some of the themes are a precursor to I Am the Messenger. A story about working class teenage brothers, seen as losers, but have big hearts for each other and their family. I am particularly impressed by how their parents are very real and respected by the main characters rather than being portrayed as idiots that are oblivious, or abusive.

Posted November 20, 2011
This one has grown on me. An excellent techno, sci-fi thriller, that is plausible, and cautionary.