Category Archives: Young adult book review

Currently reading

In the last few months, I’ve read a lot of Agatha Christie mysteries – and I do mean a lot – in addition to my usual book group books.  I’m cooling down a wee bit on the Agatha Christie books now, partly because I have less time available for “fun” reading now that book groups are in full swing again (each group met only once over the summer, and not at all in September, which was a lovely gift of “fun” reading time for me) and partly because I seem to have exhausted the supply of Christie books at our two local bookstores.

This weekend I need to read The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for next Tuesday’s Teen Book Group meeting; I have great memories of reading the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was in highschool, and am looking forward to an adult re-reading of The Hound of the Baskervilles.  This reading of it will be tinged by laundry soap and dryer lint, since I need to spend a couple of hours at the laundromat today washing our comforter, but hopefully that won’t wreak the book for me.

I’m also reading The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda, a book which has happily surprised me.  I really only brought it home to read because the reviews written about the book have a wide range of reading levels – from 4th grade and up to 8th grade and up – and thus placement of the book in the library is difficult.  I placed it in our advanced reader section, which is for grades 5 & 6 and up, but now the book’s sequel is about to be published, with similarly divergent age recommendations in the reviews, so it was time for me to read the book myself and thus make a totally informed decision about placement.  It turns out that the book is well-written, engaging, full of action (which kids today demand above all else), and also gently educational as it introduces Indian mythology and culture.  I like the book enough that I may even choose it for a book group…hmmmm…

Other books in my to-be-read pile right now:

  • Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron
  • The Outcasts by John Flanagan
  • The Royal Ranger by John Flanagan
  • Pi in the Sky by Wendy Mass
  • Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus
  • The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion
  • Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie
  • Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie

And I’ve officially given up on the Megan Whalen Turner series that begins with The Thief.  I loved the first book, hated the second, and am luke-warm on the third at the half-way point.  Frankly, the character of Eugenides got on my nerves early in the second book, and it’s tough to finish a series when the main character drives you nuts.  I’ll be taking the whole series to the used book store soon, just to get it out of my house.

On that note, time to get to the laundromat and start reading The Hound of the Baskervilles

Reading, reading, reading

On my weekends lately, I’ve been doing a LOT of reading, mostly for book groups, but also for fun (not that book group reading isn’t fun, because it is), and I’ve also been creating a lot of new storytime lesson plans.  I’ll talk about the storytime lesson plans in an upcoming post, but meanwhile, here is an update on the books that I’ve read this fall for the various book groups at the library:

  • For the 3rd grade book group:  Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise, The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, and The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin.  All great books for this age group, and all were quite successful with the 3rd graders in the group.  I love each of these books, and for quite different reasons.  The Klise book is approachable and funny; the Pennypacker book has a wonderful, true-to-life main character, and the Lin book is poignant and lovely.
  • For the 4th grade group:  Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin van Draanen, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, and Dominic by William Steig.  DiCamillo’s book remains one of my all-time favorites, but I very much enjoyed the Sammy Keyes book and was glad to have finally read Dominic, though I’m not sure that I’d want to use Dominic again for a book group (the kids were a bit baffled by it, and it didn’t make for the best discussion we’ve ever had, despite this being a group of Readers who love to Discuss).
  • For the 5th grade group:  White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages, The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John, and Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison.  I enjoyed The Green Glass Sea much more than its sequel, which disappointed me, and I was a bit taken aback by the Gilda Joyce book, having expected it to be more juvenile than it was.  And I enjoyed my re-reading of The White Giraffe, of course, a book that is unique today in its brevity, considering its intended audience of upper grade readers.
  • For the 6th grade group:  Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, and The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen by M.T. Anderson.  After having connected with M.T. Anderson at the Simmons College Children’s Literature Summer Institute this year (see my posts on the Institute here, here, here, and here), I was delighted to be able to bring two of his books to the 6th grade book group this fall.  I’ve also been reading The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (Volume I – The Pox Party) in my free time – it’s a terrific book, one of the best I’ve read in a long time.
  • For the Teen Book Group: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin, Uglies by Michael Scott, and The Alchemyst by Michael Scott.  This group is still quite large, which means that we can’t read the hottest new young adult books, since we wouldn’t be able to get enough copies of the books for everyone in the group.  But I presented the group with one of my favorite books, Elsewhere, and they all loved it (and none of them had yet read it, even better), and with a book that had been a success with this group in past years, Uglies.   Surprisingly, none of the group members had read Uglies yet, and it too was a huge hit.  As for The Alchemyst – I had very high hopes for this book, and it didn’t quite live up to those hopes.  But, once again, none of the teens had read the book, and many of them have gone on to read the rest of the series (or, at least, what’s been published so far in the series).

It’s been a good fall and early winter for reading, and I’m now looking forward to the next batch of book group books that are sitting next to me, waiting to be read:  Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins (3rd grade), The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley (4th grade), Spy Mice: The Black Paw by Heather Vogel Frederick (5th grade), Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism by Georgia Byng (6th grade), and The Prophecy of the Stones by Flavia Bujor (teen book group).  The last three of these books were all chosen by kids in the book groups, which makes the whole process – reading and discussion – that much more fun.  Happy reading to me!!


I’ve been struggling – struggling, I tell you – to get through Tamora Pierce’s book Terrier, first in the Beka Cooper series.  It’s not that I don’t like the book, because I do, it’s just that I have SUCH a hard time reading high fantasy, and really long high fantasy (Terrier is 563 pages) just compounds the misery for me.  Misery is actually too strong a word; discomfort might be better.  Or perhaps I should go back to that word struggle. 

Pierce is a good writer, and I know many teens who devour her books.  And in fact, I’m reading Terrier because it’s the next Teen Book Group book, for our meeting on Tuesday – it was nominated by one of the group’s most dedicated readers, and the rest of the group almost unanimously chose it as one of this year’s books.  I’ve already heard from another group member who loved the book so much that she asked me to request the second book in the series for her.

But as for me, well, the problem with me and high fantasy is that I just can’t get fully immersed in an author’s created world.  I get frustrated by words that I have to look up in the appended glossary, and annoyed by needing to refer to the inevitable endpaper maps of the land.  It’s not just Pierce’s high fantasy, it’s any high fantasy.  Simply put, I’m the wrong person to read this genre because I’m a little too firmly rooted in reality and too unwilling to jump into an imaginary world.

And I’m only on page 150, with two good reading days to go before the book group meets.  And I need to do our taxes in those two days.  I’m in TROUBLE, and the teens in the group are bound to figure out that I wasn’t able to get through the entire book.  I’ll just have to tell them it’s not for lack of trying.  Sigh.

Jessica Day George Visit

It’s been a long day (a very long day), and I’m so exhausted I can barely keep my eyes open, but I really want to write this post tonight, so have patience with any upcoming slight incoherence…

Today the Teen Book Group had a fabulous experience – a Skype visit with author Jessica Day George, author of many books, including Dragon Slippers, Princess of the Midnight Ball, and the book that the group had read for today’s meeting, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow.  I’ve read and enjoyed two of Jessica’s books prior to this book, the two Princess books, but I absolutely love, love, LOVED Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow.  As I got towards the end of the book, I found that I was reading slower and slower in order to extend my reading pleasure… and once I had finished the book, I felt that deep sense of loss of having finished a wonderful book.  It’s not often that I have that feeling of loss after reading a book anymore, and it was delightful (and sad) to experience it again.

So, needless to say, I was looking forward to today’s Skype visit, and I know all of the teens in the group were very excited about it, too.  And Jessica did not disappoint – she was charming, funny, cool, and incredibly intelligent as she answered the group’s questions for her.  And patient, too, since a certain amount of shyness came over everyone once Jessica popped up on the computer screen, and all those well-thought-out questions disappeared from everyone’s minds in a poof of starstruck awe. 

I loved that the teens got to talk with someone who is clearly very intelligent (Jessica speaks Old Norse, for heavens sake!), and well-educated, but also fun and cool.  What a great role model for them, someone to show that it’s ok to be brainy and enjoy learning.  And that through hard work and persistence, you can achieve your goals; Jessica talked a bit about how many rejection letters she had received from publishers prior to having a manuscript accepted, and I could see the budding writers amongst the teens first look deflated, and then empowered by the thought that a writer can survive rejection and achieve success.

After we ended our forty minute or so conversation with Jessica, I handed out paper and pencils and asked if everyone would take a minute to write a thank you note to her.  Twenty minutes later, the notes were just getting finished, and they were really, really nice thank you notes: heartfelt, detailed, and sincere.  After reading these great notes, I felt bad that I’d only passed out pencils as writing instruments – I wish I’d had some pens and nicer paper on hand so that the end products were as visually beautiful as the words on the page.  The notes will be going into the mail soon, along with one of my handmade bracelets as a thank-you gift, though no notes or gift can fully thank Jessica for taking the time out of her day to share such wisdom and wit and sage advice with the group.  I know that they’ll remember their visit with her for a very long time, and that is a thing of immeasurable value. 

Thank you, Jessica!!!!!!!!!!

Demons of the Ocean

Jim and our friend Greg are working on the bathroom renovation this afternoon, while I do various library projects like download Skype for the upcoming author visit, read the book for Tuesday’s teen book group, and make a new feltboard story for the Cat storytime.  I’m really, really looking forward to the teen book group book, Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper, and I am so glad that it’s finally time to read it.  The book (and its sequels) have intrigued me since Lisa and I first ordered them for the library collection, and I’ve become even more psyched to read it since I’ve heard so much great feedback from the teen book group members.  Three of the teens in the group have made a point of coming to visit me in the children’s room to tell me how much they love the book.  In fact, they all have loved the book so much that they have gone on to read all of its sequels.  That’s really high praise from a discriminating bunch of readers.

And now I think I’d best stop writing and start reading.  I’ll let you know what my opinion of the book is once I’ve finished it.

Wolf Brother

This week, the Teen Book Group (which is grades 7 to 9) discussed Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother, the first in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series.  This was a book nominated by a group member, and voted on by all members of the group, which definitely boosted the conversation about the book (as opposed to the book I chose  for them at the beginnning of the year, Mortal Engines).  Interestingly, though, we spent a good amount of meeting time not discussing this book in specific, but rather addressing one of my pet concerns about contemporary children’s and young adult literature.

I will admit that I was less than inspired for this meeting of the book group, having just gotten over last Thursday’s stomach bug – just in time to get this week’s sore throat and cold.  But I think that my less-than-healthy physical state actually helped to inspire a slightly different type of conversation than we usually have.  At first, I kind of sat back in a stupor and let the kids have at it.  They kept looking at me from the corners of their eyes, utterly astonished that I wasn’t complaining about the fact that they were comparing Wolf Brother  to Harry Potter (usually, I vociferously enforce my anti-Harry Potter ban in all book group discussions).  But as I sat listening to them take the discussion in this direction, I decided to ask them to talk more about why so very many children’s and young adult books are part of a series, and why so very, very few are stand-alone works.  Why do kids and teens prefer to read books that are a part of a series?  What is the appeal? 

The group members replied that a series is better because you learn more about the characters – the plots are better able to be described and fleshed out – and the reader isn’t left with a cliff hanger; all plot issues are worked out in full over the course of a series.  One member commented that he read a stand-alone novel once that ended with a cliffhanger, and he would have much preferred it if there was a sequel, since the book ended in an unresolved manner.  To my mind (something I didn’t say to the group), I prefer a book that leaves something to the imagination at the end.  I love finishing a book, then going to bed and dreaming about what might happen next to the characters.  I love getting so involved in a story that I can continue it for myself, in a myriad of possible directions.  But I didn’t say that to the group, though in hindsight I wish that I had.

Instead, I asked them the following: do the reasons that they stated for the value of series books mean that most children’s and young adult literature is about plot, not quality of writing?  And they immediately agreed, and said yes, most books they read are about plot.  One clever young lady raised her hand very high, looked me in the eye, and said, “Abby, I’d like to ask you: what is your definition of quality literature??”  Ouch.  Tough question to be asked as you’re sinking down in your chair, under the influence of a mega-sore throat.  But I replied that I love Jane Austen’s works (groans from the peanut gallery), and that I also love some books by contemporary authors, like Gabrielle Zevin’s Elsewhere.  I also said that the definition of “quality literature” is obviously subjective, and that we each might have a different opinion.  But I thought that we could all agree that the Twilight saga is plot-driven but terribly (terribly!) written.  Thank goodness, they agreed, and then we tried to rank the book of the day’s discussion, Wolf Brother

We all agreed that the strengths of Wolf Brother lie in the relationship between Torak and Wolf, and most especially in the meticulously researched details about life as a hunter in Europe 6,000 years ago.  We all finished reading the book with the feeling that we had a sense of what life was like all those thousands of years ago, which is a big plus for the book.  But the writing is neither great nor terrible: it furthers the plot, but doesn’t excite the reader with its use of language.  I’d say that 90% of the group agreed that the book was a good diversion, but not our favorite, and that we wouldn’t bother to read the rest in the series (there are currently six sequels).  It should be noted that the book has one very big fan in our book group, who has read all seven of the books multiple times – and who was the group member to nominate it for discussion.  So of eight readers in attendance, Wolf Brother  has one very devoted follower, and seven readers who see its worth but don’t adore it.  That, actually, is not all that bad for a book.  And it did lead us to an excellent discussion, which I appreciate.  This teen book group is a smart, well-read, incredibly cool bunch of kids, and it was great fun having such a deep conversation with them.

Week in review

It was a crazy busy week (my favorite kind), with lots of attendees at the three infant storytimes, some book ordering, the first fall meeting of the Teen Book Group, and a bit of light at the end of my work tunnel.

Attendance at the infant storytime (for which I use the Mother Goose on the Loose curriculum) continues to be very strong, which makes me happy.  I love seeing my old friends who are growing up (some have even graduated to the Storytime for 2’s & 3’s) and also meeting all of the new friends who have found the storytime.  On Tuesday we smashed a record: the youngest storytime attendee EVER!  This baby girl, younger sibling to two storytime regulars, came for her first storytime at the tender age of five days old.  That’s right, five days old.  She is very, very cute, and her older siblings are sweet as ever and seem to be handling their new sister with great grace.

On Monday, we began the day with a sad note, as Susan and I arrived in the morning to find a dead bird lying on the ground next to the front door of the library.  Joanne, our in-house intrepid animal patrol person (Joanne has NO fear – she blows me away with her fearlessness) wasn’t due in until the afternoon, so Susan and I looked at each other, and I said that I would take care of the bird.  Using a snow shovel and a guide for voters, I scooped the bird up and placed it in the garden area behind the stone benches.  It was a very, very pretty little bird, and not a species that I recognized.  When Joanne came in for work later, we told her about the bird, and I took her out to see it.  She thought it was a type of thrush, and ended up taking the bird’s body home to identify it.  Turns out it was a Swainson’s Thrush, which Joanne told me are currently migrating.  We figure it hit one of the large windows and died upon impact.  Very sad, but what a pretty little bird.

On Tuesday, the Teen Book Group met, minus several members who had field hockey or soccer games, and discussed a book I chose for them, Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. Though it is a good book, it’s not a great book, and only one of the teens finished reading it (the rest of them read about half of the book).  But there was a little bit of method in my madness of choosing this book: I had just read the book for my own edification, and decided I’d give myself a bit of a break by choosing a book to discuss that I’d actually already read; and, more importantly, I was hoping to inspire the teens to come up with some book suggestions of their own.  My earlier email pleas for book suggestions had disappeared into the ether, with no response, so I figured that if I chose a fairly good book for the October meeting, but not a great book, that the teens would decide to help me out with some titles of books that they actually want to read and discuss.  The trick was that the book had to be good enough to get them to come to the meeting, but not good enough for them to trust me to choose the books for the rest of the year.  Sneaky, huh?  It worked, too – we have enough book suggestions to last us through the summer.  But I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading Mortal Engines, because it is a good read, best for a more mature reader (translation: adults will like this book more than teens) and for someone who really likes science fiction and is willing to try out a bit of steampunk. 

The week was also successful in other ways, as I work to get caught up after being out for those many days.  The Cultural Council grant application is finished, a bunch of books have made their way down to Susan for processing, and an order for new books has been placed.  My desk is as clean as it gets, storytimes are planned out for the next four weeks, my first class visit has been scheduled, and the feeling of panic has subsided down to the usual stressed-but-ok feeling.  Phew.  And now, with a long weekend ahead, I’m planning to make some feltboard stories…and to enjoy the gorgeous weather that has finally arrived.

Books n’ stuff

Though I haven’t written much about books lately, I have been reading a lot.  Here are the books I’ve read most recently, with a star rating for each (if I get really inspired I might write reviews of a few of these in the coming days):

Where The Mountain Meets The Moon by Grace Lin – 5 VERY enthusiastic stars

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead – 4 1/2  stars

Erak’s Ransom by John Flanagan – 4 stars

The Big Splash by Jack D. Ferraiolo – 4 stars

The Word Snoop by Ursula Dubosarsky – 2 stars

Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay – 3 stars

And I’m currently reading:  The Lost Years of Merlin by T.A. Barron.  Still haven’t managed to crack open either of those pieces of adult fiction that I bought with Jim’s birthday gift certificate.  Hmmmm.  What does that say about me?

Trickster’s Choice

At the risk of oversharing, I’d just like to excuse my lack of posts in the last couple of weeks – I’ve been fighting a wicked case of acid reflux, and haven’t felt much like blogging when I get home in the evenings.  Thus ends the oversharing.

But it has been quite busy at the library recently, and I do have lots to write about; I’ll start today with a quick post on Tamora Pierce’s Trickster’s Choice, which was the book selection for last Tuesday’s Teen Book Group.

I was very, very, VERY glad that I had the long holiday weekend to read Trickster’s Choice, since it’s one of those books that is impossible to skim and read quickly.  I did try to skim its 400-odd pages, but every time I skimmed, I missed some very important detail and had to backtrack to find what I had missed…thus slowing me down even more.  I wish that I had liked the book more, because I wouldn’t have begrudged the laborious reading process if I had liked it, but I’m just not a huge fan of high fantasy.  Pierce’s strength lies in the creation of her fantasy world, which is great for readers who like high fantasy, but her writing style tends to be overly-detailed and clunky.

Pierce does have a huge and loyal fan base, though, which is how we came to read this book for the Teen Book Group.  After four years of hearing teen girls rave about Pierce’s books it seemed only natural to choose one when it was proposed by a book group member.  Ten teens (nine girls and one boy) attended last Tuesday’s meeting, and the majority of those attending loved the book.  Two of the book group members have read every single one of Pierce’s books already, and I’d guess that at least five of the others will be seeking out Pierce’s other books.  (Two girls hadn’t read the book at all – I do serve a yummy afternoon snack at the book group – and I couldn’t really tell what the boy in attendance thought of the book.)  So our meeting became a Tamora Pierce love-fest, and the book generated one of the best discussions we’ve had in a long time. 

One member mentioned that this book needs to be read slowly, and almost all of the teens who had read the book cited this as a positive attribute.  There are a lot of fast, avid readers in the group, and they were glad to have a book that slowed them down and forced them to read every word of the text rather than skim.  Seeing that one or two teens got a little quiet here, I spoke up and said that I’m a slow reader, and I spent hours upon hours reading this book; and the quiet teens looked relieved as they nodded in agreement with me.  And then the discussion continued on to other things the teens loved about Trickster’s Choice: the characters, the setting, the descriptions, the unpredictability of the plot.  The teens who have read other books by Pierce also raved about how Pierce’s quartets of books interconnect and overlap with each other.

I’m glad that I’ve finally read a book by Tamora Pierce, and glad that I have a better sense of her appeal for teens, specifically teen girls.  I won’t be seeking out any more of her books for myself, but now I can better steer library patrons towards her books, and I better understand how her various quartets work together (an issue that had confused me in the past).

Next month’s teen book group book:  The Big Splash by Jack D. Ferraiolo.

Mortal Instruments series

Last night, way too late, I finished up the final book in the Mortal Instruments trilogy, City of Glass by Cassandra Clare.  And I went to bed feeling disappointed and a little grumpy that I’d stayed up late to finish a book that left me disappointed.

I loved the pace and feel of the first book, City of Bones.  In this first book, Clare does a great job establishing her characters and creating the urban fantasy world of Shadowhunters, demons, and Downworlders.  Reading the first book was like eating a perfectly sized slice of rich dark chocolate cake: not something I like to do every day, but a great treat.  But of course finishing the first book left me wanting to read the second, City of Ashes, which I promptly took out of the library and devoured in a couple of sittings.  And by the end of City of Ashes I felt like I’d had a piece of slightly stale supermarket birthday cake with super sweet frosting.  City of Ashes isn’t nearly as creative or engrossing as its predecessor, and (like my friend Lisa) I found the brother-sister plotline to be an annoying and gross plot manipulation.  But, of course, I still needed to know what happened next, so I requested City of Glass from the library network and eagerly sat down to read it through as soon as it arrived.  My bakery analogy for City of Glass?  A bit like an overcooked, lardy brownie that kind of cracks your teeth and sits like lead in your stomach.

Here’s why I think City of Glass doesn’t work:  the whole book takes place in the land of Idris, not New York City, removing the urban fantasy setting that made the first book so fresh and hip.  No more punk nightclubs for Clary; no more rundown urban hotels that are infested with vampires.  Just the boring bucolic Shadowhunter country setting.

But it’s more than the lack of urban grit.  Clare’s plot mapping feels too obvious in City of Glass.  While reading, I knew that she needed to take her characters from point A through point B in order for them to end up at point C, the end of the book.  And some things were too obvious to work [plot spoiler here, sorry]: I knew back at the end of the first book that Jace wasn’t Clary’s brother, and frankly it pissed me off that it took the author 1,470 pages to resolve the seemingly incestuous romantic conflict between them.  It would have been better if she had given her audience a little more credit for brains and fixed the brother-sister problem several hundred pages sooner. 

I could go on with small gripes about plotting and lack of character development in City of Glass, but it’s not necessary.  These books are decent young adult fantasy, definitely higher quality than Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, and I did enjoy reading them.  I just wish that the last two books of the trilogy didn’t feel as if they were written in a rush, but I suppose that’s more a product of the publishing industry today (churn out the sequels quick while the first one’s hot) than of the author’s inability to complete the series in a way that respects what she accomplished in the first book.  It makes me feel for authors who are put under that kind of pressure and who must surely sacrifice some of their artistic vision while bowing to that pressure.  Ah, if only we could move away from the desperate need for lengthy trilogies, and back to the good ol’ days of stand-alone works of fiction…