Must Reads Before 01/01/09

I cannot believe it is almost October.  The year is 3/4 over and there are still so many books I need to read.  Here is a list of books I consider must reads for myself by the end of the year:

Any other wonderfully amazing and/or possible Printz-worthy books I should add to my year’s must reads?

P.S. I just found this awesome booktrailer for The Adoration of Jenna Fox.  I think it is more compelling than almost anything I’ve read about the book.

Cybils 2008

I am so very excited to learn that I am going to be a Young Adult Panel judge for this year’s Cybils.  This is my first year involved with Cyblis and I can’t wait to get started.  For those who don’t know, the Cybils are children and young adult bloggers’ literary awards.  Check out their website and get ready to nominate your favorite children’s or young adult book from the past year starting October 1 (which, wow, is right around the corner).

The Hunger Games

by Suzanne Collins

Katniss Everdeen has had a tough life.  She lives in District 12, the poorest district in the country of Panem, once known as North America, and in the poorest part of District 12 known as the Seam.  When her father died, Kat became her family’s support system as her mother gave into grief and her sister, Prim, was too young to bear the burden.  Now, at 16, Kat illegally hunts to keep her family alive.  Things are going as well as they can until it is time once again for the Hunger Games.  The Hunger Games take place once a year.  24 teens are chosen to participate, two from each district, one boy and one girl.  Each teen is on their own, fighting to the death against each other in unknown terrain.  Only one teen can win; it is survival of the fittest.  This year, despite every safeguard Kat has put in place, Prim’s name is called.  Kat cannot bear the thought of her young, innocent sister in the Hunger Games, so Kat does the unthinkable for her district and volunteers to go in place of her sister.  Kat knows how to survive, she’s been keeping her family alive for years, but can she outwit, out-maneuver, and overcome those contestants who have had lives of priviledge and years of training for the games?  Kat will be tested in ways she never imagined as she strives to endure the Hunger Games.

Reaction:  I can definitely see why The Hunger Games has been floating around as a possible contender for the Printz this year.  It is a wonderful story with broad appeal, both emotional and action-packed.  Collins has a wonderful way with words.  Readers are given enough background to understand what is going on and how Kat came to be the person she is without being bogged down with over-description.  Katniss is an amazing and complex character.  She has such a hard time loving people and an even harder time trusting, due to the hard knocks she’s been handed, but when she loves and when she trusts she does so with her whole being.  Her emotions, and sometime the lack thereof, play a large part in the games.  I felt very sorry for Katniss because she spends much of the time holding herself back from others; survival is her main goal but she does not understand what she might be missing out on by shutting others out.  While the story line is basically wrapped up in the end, there are still so many unanswered questions and so much uncertainty regarding the future that I cannot wait for the next installment to see where Collins is going to take us next.

Cover: I know I tend to comment on cover art a bit much but I am a firm believer in the power of covers to make or break a book.  With Hunger Games, since it is getting such great publicity, I don’t think this will be the case, and the cover isn’t bad, I just think that it could have been better.  My first reaction to the cover was, “This looks like an adult book.”  The size (smaller in length and width than the average adult hardback) helps distinguish it as teen but I’m not a fan of the old-school, rigid block lettering for the title and I think it is, overall, a bit too simplistic.  Also, while the gold emblem will mean something to those who read the book, it means nothing to people simply browsing for a good title.  I think it was a good idea to use the emblem for the cover but I wish it had been incorporated into an illustration instead of being the sole focus.  Finally, I’m sure I will be the only one to make this connection, but the cover reminded me of the packaging of this product…maybe not the best association for me to make with a teen book.

Other Reviews (I’m sure there will be many more to come): nineseveneight and Librarilly Blonde

Booktrailer (My new favorite things!):

Cat Among the Pigeons (A Cat Royal Adventure)

by Julia Golding

Orphan Cat Royal, of the Theater Royal on Drury Lane, has recovered from her adventures and her stint in jail (The Diamond of Drury Lane) but just when she believes everything has gone back to normal, the unthinkable happens.  Pedro, the young musical prodigy, former slave, and Cat’s good friend, has become a star on stage, but his stardom has brought his presence to the attention of a very evil man, Mr. Kingston Hawkins.  Mr. Hawkins is Pedro’s former slave master, and he claims that Pedro was sold illegally and must return with Hawkins to the plantation.  Hawkins wishes to make an example out of Pedro and show all of his other slaves just what happens to Kingston Hawkin’s “property” when they misbehave.  Cat and her friends are appalled and frightened.  Cat, her crew, and a group of abolitionist fight tooth and nail to save Pedro, but will their efforts be enough?  And can Cat stay out of trouble enough to be of any help to Pedro?  Before it’s all over, Cat will have made a pact with the devil for the chance to save her dear friend’s life!

Reaction: What better book to read by candlelight while the electricity is out that a historical adventure, and Cat Royal did not fail to deliver.  I was a bit worried when I picked up the book for two reasons.  1) It is way shorter than the first but this turned out to be a positive.  In the first book, I thought part of the ending was unnecessary and felt more like an addition rather than a cohesive part of the tale.  This did not happen in Pigeons.  The book was exactly the right size and ended right when it should have.  2) Slavery is a huge and heavy issue, and I was worried it would dampen some of the fun, adventurousness of the Cat Royal stories.  This was not the case.  Cat still found time to run from the law, dress like a boy and attend an all boys boarding school, take on the role of a pious Quaker girl, and have a few run-ins with the Billy “the Boil” Shephard, the sinister gang leader who has a special interest in Cat.  Not only did Cat still have her fun, I thought the issue of slavery was portrayed very well.  While reading this book I even thought that Cat Among the Pigeons would be a great way to introduce middle schoolers to the views of slavery in Britain in the late 1700s.  My only complaint (and its minor, especially considering the intended audience) would be that slavery vs. abolition was portrayed as a very black and white issue — i.e. all slavers/plantation owners were bad (they played the roles of bullies as well as the evil antagonist) and all abolitionists were good.  I don’t think the issue was necessarily that cut-and-dried but it did work for the story.  Overall, Cat Royal is a fun read and I’m looking forward to her next adventure.

Cover: Much like I did for the Diamond of Drury Lane, I like the UK cover (right) much better than the American cover.  Again, the American cover isn’t bad but the UK cover just has so much more flair!

Previously: The Diamond of Drury Lane

What’s Next: There are several more books in the series.  Check them out on Julia Golding’s website.  I’m not sure which one’s have been published in the US but I’m keeping an eye out for them.

Celebrities Writing Books. Ugh.

Lauren Conrad, of the reality show The Hills, has signed a three book deal with Harper Collins. When I first heard that she had signed a book deal I assumed it was to put her (oh so interesting) life story on paper, but no. She is writing a semi-autobiographical teen series about a girl who moves to Hollywood and is on a reality TV show. Supposedly it will be reminiscent of the Gossip Girls series. What I want to know is what is up with this trend of famous people writing stories? Don’t they have enough to do, enough other projects to conquer? Just because you’re famous does not mean you are a talented writer. I’m sure this is a shocking bit of information for many actors, actresses, and reality TV stars. While there may be celebrities who are talented writers, they can’t all be, can they??? Back to Lauren Conrad. She is not even famous for any talent but for her ability to have her life filmed (kind of because I’ve also heard its pretty scripted/re-shot/etc). Maybe she is a talented clothing designer, I don’t know, but a writer? I suppose I will hold back final judgment until I read her books, but no matter what in the back of my mind I know I am going to picture a team of toiling editors completely rewriting whatever she’s sent them.

Added 9/25: So Meg Cabot has made me feel better about the whole thing.  She writes in her blog that since publishers make so much money off of people like Lauren Conrad they will be able to support more talented but not necessarily popular authors who might otherwise never have been published.  I wish I had Meg’s ability to put such positive spin on negative situations.

Hell Week (Maggie Quinn: Girl vs. Evil)

by Rosemary Clement-Moore

First, I know that I’ve posted about how uber-excited I was to read Hunger Games and now here I am obviously having read something instead of Hunger Games. I’ve had a very stressful last couple of weeks and needed something lighter to read. I want to be in a fully engaged frame of mind when I read Hunger Games. Hopefully that will be soon! Now on to the review…

When we last saw Maggie Quinn (Prom Dates from Hell) things were looking up. She had just defeated an evil demon and had a promise of a date with cutie college-guy Justin. Well, things have changed a bit. Maggie has graduated from high school and is now in college. She is participating in sorority recruitment (aka rush) in hopes of landing a big behind-the-scenes story, but has no guaranteed spot with either the local or school newspapers. According to the school newspaper adviser, he does not accept freshman on staff. Also, Maggie and her best friend Lisa are fighting because Lisa is dabbling in witchcraft, especially since last time Lisa dabbled she resurrected a demon from hell. And Justin, who spent his summer in Ireland researching for his thesis, has been home for at least a week and has yet to contact her. Things begin to look a little better when the editor of the school newspaper offers to anonymously publish her sorority expose, but it means that Maggie must continue with the inanity of rush. Once Maggie actually pledges a sorority, Sigma Alpha Xi, she begins to notice some stranger-than-normal things about her new sisters. For one, everyone in SAXi is abnormally successful, even alumnae. Second, the rituals seem a bit more intense than the average sorority ritual; in fact, they seem more like spells and raise the hairs on the back of Maggie’s neck, a sure sign of foul play. Then there is the fact that ever since pledging SAXi, Maggie’s ever-present intuition dreams have been stolen. She knows she’s dreaming but there is always a hole in her memory where the dream was when she wakes up in the morning. Also, time has flown so fast for Maggie she barely knows what day it is. She forgets things she wants to research, especially things regarding her sorority. Maggie has also become incredibly lucky, with larger and larger roles with the school newspaper and a hot fraternity boy chasing after her. What is going on with the SAXis and will Maggie be able to figure it out before she is permanently caught in the web of sorority sisterhood?

Reaction: Thoroughly enjoyable supernatural mystery. While Maggie remains caustically sarcastic, it is not quite so over-the-top as in Prom Dates from Hell. For me, this was neither good nor bad. I loved the crazy Maggieisms from the first novel but the toned down Maggie was a bit more realistic. I enjoyed Maggie’s supernatural abilities more in Hell Week. In Prom Dates from Hell, I was not completely sold on Maggie’s supernatural powers. I thought they were ancillary and distracted from the rest of the story. In Hell Week, Maggie’s supernatural talent makes much more sense and is a more integral and important part of the story. Other than that, I don’t have too much to say about Hell Week. It was a fun, light read, fairly well-written, and exactly what my poor, over-taxed brain needed. Wow, what a short review for me!

Previously: (Obviously, since I’ve mentioned it a bunch) Prom Dates from Hell.

Next: Highway to Hell out 3/09

Holy Wind Batman

As I sit here and type this I am going into my 6th hour without power — thankfully I have an extra long life battery for my laptop. While we have been lucky not to have any major rain come through, today we had the mother of all wind storms. I have never seen anything like this. Sever winds whipping through our streets, downing trees and power lines a-like, and making driving hazardous. The winds have died down but we still do not have power. We also have a heck of a lot of limbs and broken trees to clean up and some missing roof tiles. Ahh, the joys of home ownership. I am certainly thankful that downed trees and a few roof tiles are all we have to worry about! But now I have caught up with several days’ worth of blog posts and they will all be available when I once again have internet.

Yeah!  After 26 hours I have internet (and power)!

The Demon Ororon (Volume 1)

by Hakase Mizuki

Chiaki notices Ororon alone and hurt on the street and offers to help him. What Chiaki doesn’t know is that Ororon is a demon, the King of Hell to be exact, and is fleeing from the many people (well, things I suppose) that are trying to kill him. For her kindness, Ororon offers to grant Chiaki one wish. Her wish is that Ororon stay with her forever. Chiaki is an orphan. Her parents disappeared when she was very young; she grew up with her grandfather who recently died; she is often approached by ghosts asking for help so rarely ventures outside and barely attends school; and her best friend’s family is moving away. In other words, Chiaki is very lonely and feels like everyone she loves leaves. Soon Chiaki, Ororon, and Ororon’s housekeeper have formed a small family, but Chiaki quickly learns that it is not so easy living with Ororon. Ororon is constantly plagued by demons and others trying to kill him, and Ororon has no qualms killing them in return. Chiaki’s nature is very gentle and she has a hard time with Ororon’s ease at taking another’s life. Is Chiaki truly ready to make a life with the demon Ororon?

Reaction: I don’t read a lot of Manga, so I’m not really sure how to properly review it. I can tell you that I liked the art. I am not an expert on Manga art and I’m not even sure what it is I liked about it, but I know that I’ve picked up Manga titles and put them right back down because I disliked the style of the art. So, that’s probably not helpful for a review, but there it is nonetheless. The story line is what got me to read the book. I was definitely interested in a love story between a demon from hell and a girl who is the half-breed daughter of the archangel Michael and a human (Chiaki is in denial about this so I didn’t mention it in the summary). I love the whole concept of good vs. evil but with blurred concepts of who is good and who is evil. For example, there are angels from heaven whose purpose it is to kill Ororon and Chiaki (because half-breeds are not supposed to be allowed to live). These are angels from heaven, therefore they should be good, but their purpose is to kill, which is wrong, so are they good or evil? What I really liked about this first volume is Chiaki’s genuine kindness but also her blindness regarding the realities of the world. She sees everything in black and white, and will need to grow up and change some of her views if she and Ororon are going to be together.

As with me and most Manga, there were things that went over my head. Take Gomi the cat, for instance. Gomi started out looking like a normal cat, and then all of the sudden there was a person with cat ears. Is this Gomi or someone else (a demon?) who has cat ears? I’m not sure, but it didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the overall text.

What I am really happy about is that The Demon Ororon is only four volumes. I am not a fan for never ending Manga series. I like my stories to have a distinct beginning, middle, and end, and I think that’s one of the main reasons I don’t read more Manga. The unfortunate thing is that my library only carries volume one of the and I doubt they will be obtaining the other volumes since this is an older series, so I will more than likely have to purchase the other volumes. What’s good, though, is that the whole series has been complied into one book for only $13.99, which is a steal because otherwise each volume would cost $9.99. Guess what’s going on my Christmas list?

Excited!!! Part 2

I learned today that not only has my library purchased Hunger Games but they have also purchased Graceling.  YEAH!!!!  I really thought that I was going to have to buy it but now I will be able to enjoy its wonderfulness for free.

Sovay

by Celia Rees

Sovay Middleton stands up for herself, her family, and her beliefs.  When she finds out her fiance is cheating on her, she dresses up like a highwayman and robs him.  When she learns her father is to be arrested for sedition and possibly treason, she rides out once again as a highwayman to steal the warrant then takes off for London to warn her father.  When Sovay reaches London she learns that her father and brother are missing, both rumored to be in France.  Sovay is determined to find her family and keep them safe.  While trying to determine her father and brother’s exact whereabouts she acquires a horrible enemy, the evil chameleon Dysart.  Now Sovay must not only save her family and herself but must help save the entire country from the dastardly Dysart.

Reaction: I liked Sovay but didn’t love it.  I didn’t find Sovay a very strong character.  She tried to present herself as a strong-minded equal to all the men around her but often had to be rescued by one of the slew of male characters.  It isn’t necessarily that she had to be rescued that bothered me as much as her sometimes wish to be rescued.  At one point she dreams of her white knight saving her.  At another she is happy to see her friend Virgil trying to rescue her even though it is a death sentence for him.  This instance bugged me because Sovay knew rescue was futile but was glad to see Virgil because his rescue attempt lets her know that she was not forgotten.  That seems like a petty reason to be glad to see him.  “I know if anyone tries to save me they will die but I soooo hope someone tries so that I know I am loved.”  If she was so concerned with saving her family she should have hoped that no one tried to come after her but worked on saving themselves.  At times Sovay seemed more like a petulant child who didn’t wanted to be left behind that a strong-willed woman who wanted to be an equal.

Speaking of “slew of male characters,” to quote myself, there were a ton of characters in the novel, a majority of them male and most of them were willing for some unknown reason to drop everything they were doing and risk their lives to help Sovay.  There is Gabriel, the childhood friend and steward’s son; Captain Greenwood, the highwayman who takes Sovay under his wing; Virgil, the American spy who keeps Sovay updated on the whereabouts of her father and brother; and, finally, Leon, the ex-aristocrat who fights for freedom in France and with whom Sovay falls in love despite the fact they barely know each other and hardly spend any time together.  There are more characters…Sovay’s brother Hugh, Toby, the Fitwilliam brothers, and Lydia to name a few…and sometimes it was just too many people.

My final gripe is that there seemed to be holes or things that didn’t really make sense to me.  For example, when Sovay, Hugh, and Virgil travel to France, why is it that Sovay and Virgil are doing all the sleuthing?  Hugh is portrayed as committed to his cause yet he never actually seems to be doing anything other than hanging out at the prison and flirting.  So, I want to know, where’s Hugh?  Why even have Hugh as a character if he isn’t going to really do anything?  Also, what is up with Dysart, his castle, his rituals, his sexuality, everything?  Dysart was an evil villain whose ideals were hard to pin down.  Finally, what happens to Sovay’s father in the end?  The story just kind of ends and there is no mention of Mr. Middleton despite the fact that saving Mr. Middleton was Sovay’s goal from the start.

My negativity aside, I would not not recommend this book.  It was ok to good.  Having read The Red Necklace, I was really happy to read a story about the French Revolution from the side of the English.  I hadn’t realized how much the war in France had affected England.  The other nice counter-balance to The Red Necklace was that Sovay deals with the end of the war while The Red Necklace focuses on the beginning.  I have to say, I think I might have liked Sovay better if I had not first read and looooovvvveeedddd The Red Necklace.

Cover: The cover at the beginning of the post is the cover on my book but I also found this cover.  Usually I really like one cover over the other but I like both of these!  I think they both are really eye-catching and do a great job of selling the book.  Anyone prefer one of these over the other?

Recommendation:  Check out some of Celia Rees’ other titles instead.  My favorite is Pirates! but Witch Child is also very good.

Read-a-like: The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner