Thursday, October 1, 2015

Popular Young Adult Science Fiction Book List

Do you like Science Fiction? Want to read something new and exciting? Check out this book list...

1) "All Our Yesterdays" by Cristin Terrill

Time travel done right.

Narrator Em and her boyfriend, Finn, escape from their totalitarian future, time traveling back four years to commit a heart-wrenching assassination of a loved one in order to prevent time travel from being invented and the future from turning so wrong. The future’s hinted-at horrors are threatening but expertly backgrounded, avoiding dystopia-fatigue. The clever, accessible time-space treatment isn’t weighed down by jargon. Em and Finn’s proactive mission means the characters are the hunters instead of the frequently seen on-the-run teen protagonists. The other side of the storyline, taking place in the past that Em and Finn travel to and starring their past selves, is narrated by Marina (Em, in this timeline) and involves her brilliant yet interpersonally challenged best friend (and crush) James and his friend Finn, who annoys Marina, as they deal with a tragedy in James’ family. The believable, complex relationships among the three characters of each respective time and in the blended area of shared time add a surprise: A plot ostensibly about assassination is rooted firmly in different shades of love. Perhaps richest is the affection Em feels for Marina—a standout compared to the truckloads of books about girls who only learn to appreciate themselves through their love interests’ eyes.

Powerful emotional relationships and tight plotting in this debut mark Terrill as an author to watch. (Science fiction. 12 & up)

2) "Unraveling" by Elizabeth Norris

In a refreshing change of pace from the current glut of angel books, when Janelle is killed in a car accident, she doesn't move on to a seraphic afterlife; she's brought back from the dead instead.

Her savior is stoner Ben, and even as he is bringing her back to life she notices his "huge brown eyes,… wavy dark hair [and] tortured half smile." Janelle needs to be alive. Her mother has withdrawn into total bipolar uselessness, and though her X-Files–obsessed, FBI-agent father is fabulous, he works insane hours, so Janelle holds the family together. Through some efficient snooping in her dad's office, Janelle learns that people are turning up melted—including the person in the car that hit her. And there's mention of a countdown to an event that could destroy the Earth. Could there be a connection? First-time author Norris surrounds her likable narrator with equally appealing and complex primary and secondary characters, compensating for a relatively slow pace. Plotting is not quite so strong, particularly in the book's science-fiction elements. Ben's healing ability is given a ludicrously vague explanation, and the potential Earth-ending event is made only barely more credible. Still, the writing is smooth, and the love story satisfies despite its predictability.

Good for romance fans, if not science-fiction aficionados. (Science fiction/thriller/romance. 14 & up)

3) "MILA 2.0" by Debra Driza

A fast-paced sci-fi adventure complete with artificial intelligence, military intrigue, secret societies and a hint of romance.

Mila is shocked to learn—by falling out of a truck and discovering wires and high-tech gadgetry where blood and bones should be—that she is not a teenage girl, but a military weapon. Her mother is actually one of the scientists who created her; she then spirited her away when it was decided that Mila should be scrapped in favor of a newer model, as her too-genuine emotions proved an unacceptable vulnerability. When Mila and her mom are caught, Mila must face a series of tests to save her mother and herself from elimination. To survive, she’ll have to figure out how to make the most of her military hardware and training as well as her human emotions. While it definitely raises interesting questions about identity and memory, this offering depends much more on the fast-paced plot to keep readers engaged. It eschews for the most part the deep philosophical musings on what it means to be human that elevate otherwise similar titles such as Mary Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox (2009), for example, beyond thrills.

With likable characters and nonstop action, this one will please readers who prefer adventure to ethical exploration. (Science fiction. 12 & up)

4) "Steelheart" by Brandon Sanderson

A straight-up Marvel Comics–style action drama featuring a small band of human assassins taking on costumed, superpowered supervillains with melodramatic monikers.

It’s certainly a tried-and-true formula. Twelve years ago, a mysterious Calamity began turning random ordinary humans into evil Epics gifted with various combinations of superpowers (and also, always, some Achilles heel). Now, 18-year-old David Charleston manages at last to make contact with a cell of Epic-killing Reckoners led by legendary mastermind Jon Phaedrus. Then it’s on to a nonstop thrill ride that begins with the killing of David’s father 10 years before and roars through car and motorcycle chases, secret missions, huge explosions and hails of gunfire with high-tech weaponry to a climactic battle with Epic Steelheart. He’s bulletproof, shoots energy balls, has transformed the entire Chicago area into solid steel with a wave of his hand and wears a stylish silver cape. Shockingly, the book closes with the stunning revelation than not all Epics are evil through and through. As further sign that Sanderson (Rithmatist, 2013, etc.) isn’t taking any of this too seriously, the cast of Epics includes not only the likes of Steelheart, Faultline and Deathpoint, but Pink Pinkness and El Brass Bullish Dude, and some of their powers are equally silly. Stay tuned for sequels.

There’s violence and gore in profusion, cool gear, hot wheels, awesome feats, inner conflicts on both sides—all that’s missing are the pictures. (Fantasy. 11-14)

5) "A Thousand Pieces of You" by Claudia Gray

A girl and her two possible heartthrobs travel across parallel universes to avenge her father’s murder.

Marguerite’s parents are both brilliant scientists, inventors of a device called the Firebird that allows the bearer to travel across the multiverse. When her dad dies in a car crash after his brake lines have been cut, everyone blames Paul, one of two research assistants working for the couple. But Paul has escaped by using the Firebird to travel to another universe. Theo, the other assistant, teams up with Marguerite in a prototype to chase Paul. They discover that although some things are different from universe to universe—technology in particular—the people are the same. Inhabiting the bodies of their parallel selves, they find Paul, but things go awry and they wind up traveling to yet another world: a nicely drawn parallel czarist Russia where Marguerite is the czarevna and secretly in love with that world’s Paul. But she’s also attracted to Theo. And, in the parallel worlds, who is really who? Gray doesn’t worry much about actual science in her science fiction, muddling the concept of multiple universes with that of multiple dimensions, but she keeps the plot moving and has some good fun keeping all of the parallel people sorted.

This trilogy opener offers solid entertainment for readers willing to go with the fictional flow.(Science fiction. 12-18)

6) "The House of the Scorpion" by Nancy Farmer

Matt Alacrán has spent his youth secreted away in a secluded hut, his only knowledge of the world provided by his caregiver Celia and his view out the window on the white ocean of poppies growing all around. Matt is a clone, an outcast hated and feared as a beast by human society. When he uses an iron cooking pot to smash his window and goes out into the world, Matt sets into motion a fantastic adventure in a land called Opium, a strip of land between the US and a place once called Mexico. Opium is ruled by El Patrón, a 142-year-old drug lord, inhabited by “eejits”—docile farm workers controlled by brain implants—and overseen by an army of bodyguards. Farmer’s tale is a wild, futuristic coming-of-age story with a science-fiction twist: How do you find out who you are when what you are is a clone—a photograph—of a human being. How have you come to exist, and for what purpose? Can you ever expect to be more than what you were designed to be? As demonstrated in The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm (1994), Farmer has a talent for creating exciting tales in beautifully realized, unusual worlds. With undertones of vampires, Frankenstein, dragons’ hoards, and killing fields, Matt’s story turns out to be an inspiring tale of friendship, survival, hope, and transcendence. A must-read for SF fans. (Fiction. 11+)

7) "Life As We Knew It" by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Sixteen-year-old Miranda begins a daily ten-month diary documenting the survival ordeal her rural Pennsylvania family endures when a large meteor’s collision with the moon brings on destruction of the modern world and all its technological conveniences. The change in the moon’s gravitational pull begins to cause natural havoc around the globe in the form of catastrophic tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes and other weather-related disasters. Miranda’s American teen view gradually alters as personal security, physical strength and health become priorities. Pfeffer paints a gruesome and often depressing drama as conditions become increasingly difficult and dangerous with the dwindling of public and private services. Miranda’s daily litany of cutting firewood, rationing canned meals, short tempers flaring in a one-room confinement is offset by lots of heart-to-heart talks about life and its true significance with her mother, older brother and religiously devout best friend. Death is a constant threat, and Pfeffer instills despair right to the end but is cognizant to provide a ray of hope with a promising conclusion. Plausible science fiction with a frighteningly realistic reminder of recent tragedies here and abroad. (Fiction. YA)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Popular 1960s Book List

The 1960s was a revolutionary time. A lot of things happening in society and in individual homes. Check out this book list...

1) "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett

The relationships between white middle-class women and their black maids in Jackson, Miss., circa 1962, reflect larger issues of racial upheaval in Mississippi-native Stockett’s ambitious first novel.

Still unmarried, to her mother’s dismay, recent Ole Miss graduate Skeeter returns to Jackson longing to be a serious writer. While playing bridge with her friends Hilly and Elizabeth, she asks Elizabeth’s seemingly docile maid Aibileen for housekeeping advice to fill the column she’s been hired to pen for a local paper. The two women begin what Skeeter considers a semi-friendship, but Aibileen, mourning her son’s recent death and devoted to Elizabeth’s neglected young daughter, is careful what she shares. Aibileen’s good friend Minnie, who works for Hilly’s increasingly senile mother, is less adept at playing the subservient game than Aibileen. When Hilly, an aggressively racist social climber, fires and then blackballs her for speaking too freely, Minnie’s audacious act of vengeance almost destroys her livelihood. Unlike oblivious Elizabeth and vicious Hilly, Skeeter is at the verge of enlightenment. Encouraged by a New York editor, she decides to write a book about the experience of black maids and enlists Aibileen’s help. For Skeeter the book is primarily a chance to prove herself as a writer. The stakes are much higher for the black women who put their lives on the line by telling their true stories. Although the exposé is published anonymously, the town’s social fabric is permanently torn. Stockett uses telling details to capture the era and does not shy from showing Skeeter’s dangerous naïveté. Skeeter’s narration is alive with complexity—her loyalty to her traditional Southern mother remains even after she learns why the beloved black maid who raised her has disappeared. In contrast, Stockett never truly gets inside Aibileen and Minnie’s heads (a risk the author acknowledges in her postscript). The scenes written in their voices verge on patronizing.

This genuine page-turner offers a whiff of white liberal self-congratulation that won’t hurt its appeal and probably spells big success.

2) "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" by Ken Kesey

This is a book which courts the dangers of two extremes. It can be taken not seriously enough or, more likely, critical climate considered, too seriously. Kesey's first novel is narrated by a half-Indian schizophrenic who has withdrawn completely by feigning deaf-muteness. It is set in a mental ward ruled by Big Nurse -- a monumental matriarch who keeps her men in line by some highly original disciplinary measures: Nursey doesn't spank, but oh that electric shock treatment! Into the ward swaggers McMurphy, a lusty gambling man with white whales on his shorts and the psychology of unmarried nurses down to a science. He leads the men on to a series of major victories, including the substitution of recent issues of Nugget and Playboy for some dated McCall's. The fatuity of hospital utilitarianism, that alcohol-swathed brand of idiocy responsible for the custom of waking patients from a deep sleep in order to administer barbiturates, is countered by McMurphy's simple, articulate, logic. This is a thoroughly enthralling, brilliantly tempered novel, peopled by at least two unforgettable characters. (Big Nurse is custom tailored for a busty Eileen Heckert.) Though extension is possible, make no mistake about it; this is a ward and not a microcosm.

3) "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K. Dick

Mr. Dick's hero Deckard lives in a dying world where animals are a status symbol; you can dial an emotion to fit a mood and the Voigt-Kampff test for telling an android from its human counterpart appears to have become fallible. It's an empathy would you respond to a purse made of homo sapiens baby hide? But it also seems that schizoids fit the android psychological (?) make-up. A problem for Deckard since he's an android bounty-hunter who only pauses long enough to go to bed with one of them. Even electric sheep could find greener pastures.

4) "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath

It is difficult to read Sylvia Plath's novel (which appeared in England under a pseudonym in the year of her death, 1963) with any degree of objectivity since it deals with her earlier breakdown and suicide attempt. The telltale lesions are everywhere and in the hindsight of what has happened, the experience of the bell jar (""To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream"") becomes even more fateful. Certainly any marginal illusion of fiction is nullified. When first met Esther is a naive nineteen-year-old who reads and writes poetry, who remembers with some irritation the first boy she really dated at college, and who comes to New York for a few weeks in the summer of her junior year having won one of those magazine apprenticeship awards. Esther broods over the Rosenbergs' electrocution (some of Miss Plath's parallels are too obvious to even be justified as symbols); she overeats; she becomes immobilized in indecision and returns home to lie in bed and never sleep. After one or two visits with a non-verbal psychiatrist who gives her shock treatment, she attempts suicide and the rest of the account deals with her institutionalization and An occasional line (""A heavy naughtiness pricked through my veins"") offends, but there's some remarkable writing with a straightforward and irreducible simplicity: ""The silence depressed me. It wasn't the silence of silence. It was my own silence."" There is no mistaking or evading the airless suspension of life within the bell jar.

5) "In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote

"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.

6) "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" by Muriel Spark

An attention-getting writer (novels, Memento Mori. The Ballad of Peckham Rye, The Bachelors, and short stories, The Go-Away Bird) pursues her multi-personae interests, her concern with religion, and her refusal to allow the reader to be at one with her purpose. Here she disperses her story (a loose but provocative thing) over an extended -- and interrupted -- period (thirty years) during which Miss Brodie, (in her prime) holds young minds in thrall, at first in delight at the heady freedom she offers from the rigid, formal precepts of Edinburgh's Marcia Blaine (day) School, later in loyalty to her advanced sedition against the efforts to have her removed. Finally the girls grow up -- and Monica, Rose, Eunice, Jenny, Mary, and Sandy, (particularly Sandy with her pig-like eyes) separate, and the "Brodie set" dissolves- with war, death, marriage, career, and conversion to Catholicism. But there still is a central focus -- who among them betrayed Miss Brodie to the headmistress so that a long-desired dismissal was effective? In this less-than-a-novel, more-than-a-short story, there is the projection of a non-conformist teacher of the thirties, of a complex of personalties (which never becomes personal lives), and of issues which, floating, are never quite tangible. But Muriel Spark is sharp with her eyes and her ears and the craftiness of her craftsmanship is as precision-tooled as the finest of her driest etching. With the past record, the publisher's big push, and The New Yorker advance showing, this stands on its own.

7) "Franny and Zooey" by J.D. Salinger

In this cerebral exercise of precision in communication, is implementation to the Salinger saga. For this mirror held up to Franny and to her brother Zooey reflects also their mother and their other brothers and the two sections interlink as first Franny and then Zooey come into focus. Franny, unable to make her football date understand her new conversion, retreats to her home when Zooey moves in to dissect her submission to her new concepts. In a series of near monologues which fully cover the family background and education of these two, both work toward inner clarification. Not as effective as Catcher, this is nevertheless excellent fare for Salinger adherents which include countless young adults among them.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Inky Award Book List

The Inky Awards recognize high-quality young adult literature, with the long list and shortlist selected by young adults, and the winners voted for online by the teen readers of There are two awards: the Gold Inky Award for an Australian book, and the Silver Inky Award for an international book.
Check out this book list...

1) "All the Truth That's In Me" by Julie Berry

Eighteen-year-old Judith Finch gradually reveals the horror of her two-year disappearance in a stunning historical murder mystery and romance.

One summer four years ago, Judith Finch and her friend Lottie Pratt disappeared. After two years, only Judith returned. Lottie’s naked body was found in the river, and Judith stumbled back on her own, her appearance shocking the town—not just because she had returned, but that her tongue had been cut out, and she can’t tell anyone what happened to her. Illiterate, maimed, cursed, doomed to be an outsider but always and forever in love with Lucas Whiting, Judith finds a way to tell her story, saying, “I don’t believe in miracles, but if the need is great, a girl might make her own miracle,” and as her story unfolds, all the truth that’s in her is revealed. Set in what seems to be early-18th-century North America, the story is told through the voice inside Judith’s head—simple and poetic, full of hurt and yearning, and almost always directed toward Lucas in a haunting, mute second person. Every now and then, a novel comes along with such an original voice that readers slow down to savor the poetic prose. This is such a story.

A tale of uncommon elegance, power and originality. (Historical thriller. 12 & up)

2) "The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee" by Barry Jonsberg

Twenty-six chapters, one for each letter of the alphabet, chronicle Candice’s efforts to fix her family, her friend—and even her fish.

Candice Phee’s family is a mess. Her baby sister is dead, her mom has had a double mastectomy and is depressed, and her father has quarreled with Rich Uncle Brian. Others in the 12-year-old’s life also need help, from her teacher, who has a lazy eye, to her only friend, Douglas Benson from Another Dimension, who is convinced that his parents are facsimiles. Even her pet, Earth-Pig Fish, is religiously confused. Candice, who likes everyone although she knows no one likes her, is somewhere on the autism spectrum (her pencils and pens cannot touch) and is literal to a fault, painfully honest and on a mission to make everyone happy. Award-winning Australian author Jonsburg captures quirky, irrepressible Candice’s voice in this first-person narrative that is as touching as it is funny. The humor stems from both Candice’s rigid literalness and her well-intentioned but often bungled efforts to fix things.

Once readers are past the book’s uninviting title, they’ll find it impossible not to root for Candice in her valiant and endearing quest to mitigate the sadness of those around her. (Fiction 10-14)

3) "The Raven Boys" by Maggie Stiefvater

An ancient Welsh king may be buried in the Virginia countryside; three privileged boys hope to disinter him.

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Blue Sargent, daughter of a small-town psychic, has lived her whole life under a prophecy: If she kisses her true love, he will die. Not that she plans on kissing anyone. Blue isn't psychic, but she enhances the extrasensory power of anyone she's near; while helping her aunt visualize the souls of people soon to die, she sees a vision of a dying Raven boy named Gansey. The Raven Boys—students at Aglionby, a nearby prep school, so-called because of the ravens on their school crest—soon encounter Blue in person. From then on, the point of view shifts among Blue; Gansey, a trust-fund kid obsessed with finding King Glendower buried on a ley-line in Virginia; and Adam, a scholarship student obsessed with his own self-sufficiency. Add Ronan, whose violent insouciance comes from seeing his father die, and Noah, whose first words in the book are, "I've been dead for seven years," and you've got a story very few writers could dream up and only Stiefvater could make so palpably real. Simultaneously complex and simple, compulsively readable, marvelously wrought. The only flaw is that this is Book 1; it may be months yet before Book 2 comes out.

The magic is entirely pragmatic; the impossible, extraordinarily true. (Fantasy. 13 & up)

4) "Shift" by Em Bailey

The intriguing plot points and themes on offer here could easily power several novels; frustratingly, none is fully developed.

Olive Corbett, the mentally fragile, unreliable narrator, dresses bizarrely and mutters to herself. A social outcast at her Australian high school, she takes refuge in the music of an indie band, Luxe, to drown out feelings of guilt for her father’s departure and her brother’s nightmares. The arrival of new student Miranda Vaile, rumored to have killed her parents, is a welcome distraction. Lackluster Miranda is inexplicably taken up by Olive’s former best friend and A-list queen bee, Katie, whom Miranda dominates, then eclipses. Meanwhile, despite her issues, Olive’s pursued by hunky Lachlan Ford, who ignores behavior that would give most boys pause. Following a plot twist that won’t surprise alert readers, the school setting all but disappears as Miranda pursues an obsessive friendship with Olive. The untidy plot leaves a plethora of loose ends. Did Olive take refuge in mental illness to escape her popular-girl persona and make a fresh start? Why does Miranda choose Olive? Is Miranda a parasitical shapeshifter? (The prospect of celebrity shapeshifters who use their status to stoke jealousy and draw power from sycophantic, wannabe victims presents rich possibilities that remain largely unexplored.)

If the pacing is too leisurely for suspense, sheer inventiveness should keep readers turning pages in this debut for teens that serves up half a delicious meal. (Paranormal suspense. 12 & up)

5) "Clockwork Angel" by Cassandra Clare

A century before the events of Clare’s Mortal Instruments trilogy, another everyday heroine gets entangled with demon-slaying Shadowhunters. Sixteen-year-old orphaned Tessa comes to London to join her brother but is imprisoned by the grotesque Dark Sisters. The sisters train the unwilling Tessa in previously unknown shapeshifter abilities, preparing her to be a pawn in some diabolical plan. A timely rescue brings Tessa to the Institute, where a group of misfit Shadowhunters struggles to fight evil. Though details differ, the general flavor of Tessa’s new family will be enjoyably familiar to the earlier trilogy’s fans; the most important is Tessa’s rescuer Will, the gorgeous, sharp-tongued teenager with a mysterious past and a smile like “Lucifer might have smiled, moments before he fell from Heaven.” The lush, melodramatic urban fantasy setting of the Shadowhunter world morphs seamlessly into a steampunk Victorian past, and this new series provides the setup for what will surely be a climactic battle against hordes of demonically powered brass clockworks. The tale drags in places, but this crowd pleaser’s tension-filled conclusion ratchets toward a new set of mysteries. (Steampunk. 13-15)

6) "Stolen: A Letter to My Captor" by Lucy Christopher

This debut novel about an English teen’s abduction and imprisonment in the Australian outback unfolds as a letter from captive to captor. From its compelling opening, the novel delivers taut suspense and a riveting plot in a haunting setting. Privileged Gemma, 16, is sympathetic and believable. Her captor, Ty, in his late 20s, is a less-successful creation. Abandoned child turned wasted drifter and stalker, Ty is now an expert survivalist, bent on teaching his abductee admiration and respect for the harsh world in which he’s imprisoned her. When Gemma’s escape attempts end in near death, Ty rescues her, returning her to captivity, using such handy teachable moments to instruct her on outback ecology. While the landscape is beautifully portrayed and deftly mined for subtext and symbolism, the novel can’t overcome its central contradiction. Ty—respectful of the struggling desert ecosystem from humblest succulent to deadliest snake, perceiving each element as part of a fragile, interconnected web—has kidnapped Gemma, in violation of her human rights and needs, and imprisoned her thousands of miles from home.(Fiction. 14 & up)

7) "Where the Streets Had A Name" by Randa Abdel-Fattah

As she did in Does My Head Look Big in This? (2007) and Ten Things I Hate About Me (2009), Abdel-Fattah introduces a bright, articulate Muslim heroine coping with contemporary life, this time during the West Bank Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2004. After the Israelis confiscate and demolish their home, 13-year-old Hayaat and her Palestinian family endure curfews, checkpoints and concrete walls, exiled in a cramped apartment in Bethlehem. Hayaat’s father silently mourns his lost olive groves, while her grandmother longs for the Jerusalem home her family abandoned in 1948. With her face scarred by shattered glass, Hayaat wears her own reminder of the occupation. Determined to retrieve some Jerusalem soil for her ailing grandmother, Hayaat and her Christian pal, Samy, secretly embark on a short but harrowing mission into forbidden territory. Hayaat chronicles this life-altering journey in the first-person, present tense, giving readers an intimate glimpse into the life of her warm, eccentric Muslim family, who survive despite the volatile political environment. A refreshing and hopeful teen perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma. (glossary of Arabic words) (Fiction. 9-12)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Novels for the Wanderer List

Are you feeling a little bit restless? Want to take a trip? These characters are feeling a little wanderlust too...check it out...

1) "Divergent" by Veronica Roth

Cliques writ large take over in the first of a projected dystopian trilogy.

The remnant population of post-apocalyptic Chicago intended to cure civilization’s failures by structuring society into five “factions,” each dedicated to inculcating a specific virtue. When Tris, secretly a forbidden “Divergent,” has to choose her official faction in her 16th year, she rejects her selfless Abnegation upbringing for the Dauntless, admiring their reckless bravery. But the vicious initiation process reveals that her new tribe has fallen from its original ideals, and that same rot seems to be spreading… Aside from the preposterous premise, this gritty, paranoid world is built with careful details and intriguing scope. The plot clips along at an addictive pace, with steady jolts of brutal violence and swoony romance. Despite the constant assurance that Tris is courageous, clever and kind, her own first-person narration displays a blank personality. No matter; all the “good” characters adore her and the “bad” are spiteful and jealous. Fans snared by the ratcheting suspense will be unable to resist speculating on their own factional allegiance; a few may go on to ponder the questions of loyalty and identity beneath the façade of thrilling adventure.

Guaranteed to fly off the shelves. (Science fiction. 14 & up)

2) "The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green

He’s in remission from the osteosarcoma that took one of his legs. She’s fighting the brown fluid in her lungs caused by tumors. Both know that their time is limited.

Sparks fly when Hazel Grace Lancaster spies Augustus “Gus” Waters checking her out across the room in a group-therapy session for teens living with cancer. He’s a gorgeous, confident, intelligent amputee who always loses video games because he tries to save everyone. She’s smart, snarky and 16; she goes to community college and jokingly calls Peter Van Houten, the author of her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, her only friend besides her parents. He asks her over, and they swap novels. He agrees to read the Van Houten and she agrees to read his—based on his favorite bloodbath-filled video game. The two become connected at the hip, and what follows is a smartly crafted intellectual explosion of a romance. From their trip to Amsterdam to meet the reclusive Van Houten to their hilariously flirty repartee, readers will swoon on nearly every page. Green’s signature style shines: His carefully structured dialogue and razor-sharp characters brim with genuine intellect, humor and desire. He takes on Big Questions that might feel heavy-handed in the words of any other author: What do oblivion and living mean? Then he deftly parries them with humor: “My nostalgia is so extreme that I am capable of missing a swing my butt never actually touched.” Dog-earing of pages will no doubt ensue.

Green seamlessly bridges the gap between the present and the existential, and readers will need more than one box of tissues to make it through Hazel and Gus’ poignant journey. (Fiction. 15 & up)

3) "The Humans" by Matt Haig

A fish-out-of water mashup where the water is Earth, and the fish is an extraterrestrial.

Professor Andrew Martin has solved the Riemann hypothesis. A mathematical problem of fiendish difficulty, it explains the distribution of prime numbers. This is big news in a galaxy far, far away. The Vonnadorians, in their wisdom, believe we humans are unprepared for this breakthrough. They are so concerned, in fact, they kidnap Professor Martin, of Cambridge University, and send a Vonnadorian to destroy the proof and kill everyone Martin informed. Alien/Martin assumes the shape and identity of human/Martin to insinuate himself into the world. Our alien assassin is narrator and protagonist. And in spite of extraordinary Vonnadorian technology, he is, to quote Foghorn Leghorn, about as sharp as a bag of wet mice, and a softie to boot. He falls away from the rational principles of his distant world, develops a taste for crunchy whole-nut peanut butter and Australian wine, admiration for "his" dog, Newton, love for "his" wife, Isobel, and Gulliver, "his" angst-y teen son. Haig goes all-in on the alien-goes-native humor, and then he goes further. Turns out, human/Martin was an arrogant jerk, while alien/Martin falls hard for our little blue planet, for our contradictions and our mortality, our joys and our follies, for the Beach Boys and Emily Dickinson. Alien/Martin becomes more expert on us humans than dozens of self-help–book authors: “I felt blue with sadness, red with rage and green with envy. I felt the entire human rainbow.”

A saccharine novel.

4) "The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared" by Jonas Jonasson

A Swedish debut novel that will keep readers chuckling.

Allan Karlsson has just turned 100, and the Old Folks’ Home is about to give him a birthday party that he absolutely doesn’t want. So he leaves out his window and high-tails it to a bus station, with no particular destination in mind. On a whim, he steals a suitcase and boards a bus. The suitcase’s owner, a criminal, will do anything to get it back. This is the basis for a story that is loaded with absurdities from beginning to end—the old coot has plenty of energy for his age and an abiding love of vodka. The story goes back and forth between the current chase and his long, storied life. From childhood, he has shown talent with explosives. This knack catches the attention of many world leaders of the 20th century: Franco, Truman, Stalin, Mao and Kim Il Sung, to name a few of the people he meets. Want to blow up bridges? Allan’s your man. Want much bigger explosions? Just pour him a drink. He’s neither immoral nor amoral, but he is certainly detached, and he is absolutely apolitical. In the past, he insults Stalin (luckily, the translator faints), learns Russian in a gulag and walks back to Sweden from China, barely surviving execution in Iran along the way. In the present, he meets a strange and delightful collection of friends and enemies. Coincidence and absurdity are at the core of this silly and wonderful novel. Looking back, it seems there are no hilarious, roll-on-the-floor-laughing scenes. They will just keep readers amused almost nonstop, and that’s a feat few writers achieve.

A great cure for the blues, especially for anyone who might feel bad about growing older.

5) "Trains And Lovers" by Alexander McCall Smith

Four strangers sharing a railway carriage from Edinburgh to London recall their very different experiences of love in this stand-alone from McCall Smith (Unusual Uses for Olive Oil, 2012, etc.).

Andrew, a Scot en route to a new job, begins by telling of his love for Hermione, who served with him as an intern at an auction house, and its principal obstacle: her wealthy, imperious father, an alpha male who brooks no opposition. In response, Andrew’s fellow passenger David, an American academic, recalls a story too intimate for him to share aloud: his unconsummated love many years ago for Bruce, a Princeton math professor’s son whom he saw only during his annual vacations. Kay, an Australian who lives in Perth, recounts the romance between her parents, a Scot who settled in the Outback to manage the remote railroad station of Hope Springs and the pen pal whom he persuaded during a brief trip to Sydney to follow him back to a posting far from anything she’d ever known. Trains also play a pivotal role in the story of Hugh, who absent-mindedly disembarks at the wrong station in Gloucestershire and ends up in a relationship with Jenny. All goes well until a former boyfriend warns Hugh that Jenny is not what she seems to be—a possibility Hugh struggles to deal with. The interplay among the four stories is mostly limited to aphorisms like “[l]oving the good thing we do in our lives” and “[e]verything is possible in love.”

A warmhearted, understated serving of comfort food.

6) "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky

Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angst—the right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking. More sophisticated readers might object to the rip-off of Salinger, though Chbosky pays homage by having his protagonist read Catcher in the Rye. Like Holden, Charlie oozes sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.). But Charlie’s no rich kid: the third child in a middle-class family, he attends public school in western Pennsylvania, has an older brother who plays football at Penn State, and an older sister who worries about boys a lot. An epistolary novel addressed to an anonymous “friend,” Charlie’s letters cover his first year in high school, a time haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. Always quick to shed tears, Charlie also feels guilty about the death of his Aunt Helen, a troubled woman who lived with Charlie’s family at the time of her fatal car wreck. Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when he’s gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion). Depressed when all his friends prepare for college, Charlie has a catatonic breakdown, which resolves itself neatly and reveals a long-repressed truth about Aunt Helen. A plain-written narrative suggesting that passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety. Perhaps the folks at (co-publisher) MTV see the synergy here with Daria or any number of videos by the sensitive singer-songwriters they feature.

7) "The Host" by Stephenie Meyer

The body snatchers are coming, but they just want to talk—to themselves.

Meyer, author of the Twilight young-adult series (Eclipse, 2007, etc.) concerning the latter-day adventures of werewolves and vampires, turns inward and cerebral with her debut book for adults. That is to say, her protagonists are no longer throat-rippers; neither is this novel wholly a bodice-ripper, even if it does involve a drippy, kissy-face romance and sometimes strays into the space-gothic genre. The problem for studly young Jared throughout is just who he’s kissing, since his beloved, young Melanie Stryder—echoes of The Fellowship of the Ring there—has been swallowed up like poor Sméagol by an extraterrestrial being who turns out to be, well, pretty OK once you get to know him/her/it. Melanie has taken a spill down an elevator shaft while trying to avoid becoming one of the pod people. Fortunately, the aliens have a good health plan, and the great and noble soul called Wanderer finds Melanie’s shell to be reasonably capacious and well-appointed enough to serve as a vessel. Yet Melanie hasn’t been wholly evicted, and Wanderer and she find themselves locked in an uncomfortable dialog: “I hate you, the voice hissed in my head. ‘Then maybe you should leave,’ I snapped.” Wanderer may have lived on six or seven planets—opinion among the ETs varies—and may have “been almost everything,” but he/she/it has never taken on a liberated American woman. In time, just as things start to get weird in the sci-fi world, Wanderer and Melanie reach an accommodation—at least of a sort. Who has to wash the dishes? Who gets to do the kissing? (“His tongue twisted with mine, and there was no part of my mind that was not invaded by the insane desire that possessed me.”) Stay tuned, earthlings.

A clever premise and competent writing keep this from turning into a pastiche, though after a couple of hundred pages, readers may wish that just one artery would get punctured.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Thought Provoking Book List

Are you looking for something that makes you think? Something where the plot isn't straight forward? Check out this book list...

1) "Forbidden" by Tabitha Suzuma

Perhaps inspired by V.C. Andrews' infamous Flowers in the Attic, British author Suzuma spins a tawdry tale of an illicit brother-and-sister relationship.

Lochan and Maya, the oldest of five siblings, narrate in alternating chapters. Their mother, an alcoholic, neglects the children, instead spending her time and money on clothing, drinking and dates with her boss. Caring for their younger siblings is chaotic and draining, a fact impressed upon readers both by heavy-handed exposition and by repetitive food disputes, bickering and belligerent outbursts from angry, defiant and reckless middle child Kit, by far the best-developed character. Over 100 pages pass before Lochan and Maya discover their feelings for each other. Though the author spares no cliché in evoking their tragically star-crossed love (Lochan even laments aloud, "How can something so wrong feel so right?"), she expertly manipulates tension, creating both pathos ("I can think of no other kind of love that is so totally rejected") and urgency ("Being with you every day but not being able to do anything...[i]t's like this cancer growing inside my body"), then delivering sizzling, multi-page frenzies of kissing, touching and more in the pair's rare moments of privacy.

Titillated teens will pass this guilty pleasure on to their friends, but they may advise skimming all but a few memorable scenes. (Fiction. 14-16)

2) "The Time Keeper" by Mitch Albom

Treacly fable by pop inspirationalist Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie, 1997, etc.).

Dava Sobel and Longitude be damned, God doesn’t like people who measure things. Six thousand–odd years ago—is the date a nod to Archbishop Ussher and his proto-creationism?—a fine young fellow named Dor invents the world’s first clock and is banished to a cave for the affront, since only the deity is supposed to be concerned with such things, it being the days before hourly wage work and lawyers who bill in 15-minute increments. Dor now sits in a cave, “listening to something. Voices. Endless voices.” And what do you suppose those voices want? Yup, time. More of it. Endless time. Or at least a year or two. Writing in his customary staccato (“But Father Time is real. And, in truth, he cannot age.”), Albom gives Dor a chance to redeem himself by instructing two hapless earthlings—a man dying of cancer, a teenage girl in danger of dying by her own hand—in the meaning of life. The Little Prince it ain’t: Albom seems to have taken the template for his novel from a corporate report, each page studded with boldfaced passages that would seem to signal something momentous; a person in a hurry could well read just those boldfaced passages and emerge with a pretty good idea of the storyline, which is plenty predictable in any event. Still, there are a few useful takeaways, among them these: If you’re moribund, a pocket watch will cheer you right up; if you’re worried about the prospect of imminent demise, then remember that, as the old dude who cometh from God’s side sayeth, immortality “is not a gift.”

A product less than a book; those with not enough time on their hands might spend what they have more meaningfully elsewhere.

3) "A Monster Calls" by Patrick Ness

From a premise left by author Siobhan Dowd before her untimely death, Ness has crafted a nuanced tale that draws on elements of classic horror stories to delve into the terrifying terrain of loss.

When a monster in the form of an ancient yew tree crashes through his bedroom walls after midnight, calling his name, Conor is remarkably unperturbed—“Shout all you want,” he says. “I’ve seen worse.” Indeed he has, in a recurring nightmare of someone slipping from his grasp, a nightmare whose horror he keeps to himself. Daily life is intolerable, as everyone from teachers to bullies treats him as though he were invisible since his mother began chemotherapy. The monster tells Conor three stories before insisting that Conor tell one himself. Asserting that “stories are the wildest things of all,” the monster opens the door for Conor to face the guilty truth behind his subconscious fears. Ness brilliantly captures Conor’s horrifying emotional ride as his mother’s inevitable death approaches. In an ideal pairing of text and illustration, the novel is liberally laced with Kay’s evocatively textured pen-and-ink artwork, which surrounds the text, softly caressing it in quiet moments and in others rushing toward the viewer with a nightmarish intensity.

A poignant tribute to the life and talent of Siobhan Dowd and an astonishing exploration of fear. (Fiction. 11-14)

4) "Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden

Cherry blossomdelicate, with images as carefully sculpted as bonsai, this tale of the life of a renowned geisha, one of the last flowers of a kind all but eliminated by WW II, marks an auspicious, unusual debut. Japan is already changing, becoming industrialized and imperialistic, when in 1929 young Chiyo's fisherman father sells her to a house in Kyoto's famous Gion district. The girl's gray- eyed beauty is startling even in childhood, so much so that her training is impeded by the jealousy of her house's primary geisha, the popular, petty Hatsumomo. Caught trying to run away, Chiyo loses her trainee status until taken under the wing of Mameha, a bitter rival of Hatsumomo. Chiyo flourishes with Mameha as her guide, soon receiving her geisha name, Sayuri, and having her mentor skillfully arrange the two main events vital to a geisha's success: the sale of Sayuri's virginity (for a record price), and the finding of a sugar-daddy to pay her way. Seeing the implications of Japan's militarism, Mameha pairs Sayuri with the general in charge of army provisions, so that as WW II drags on she and her house have things no one else in Gion can obtain. After the war, with her general dead and others vying for her attention, Sayuri pines anew for the only man she ever loved--an electrical- corporation chairman whose kindness to a crying Chiyo years before altered the course of her future. He seems out of reach since his right-hand man and closest friend is her most ardent admirer, but in the end her long-thwarted happiness is accomplished. Though incomparable in its view of a geisha's life behind the scenes, the story loses immediacy as it goes along. When modern times eclipse Gion's sheltered world, the latter part of Sayuri's life--compared to the incandescent clarity of its first decades- -seems increasingly flat. 

5) "Delirium" by Lauren Oliver

Oliver’s artfully detailed prose reveals, brick by brick, the sturdy dramatic foundation of an initially implausible premise. In her dystopian America, love has been outlawed as the life-threatening source of all discord. Citizens submit at the age of 18 to a neurological procedure that "cures" them of amor deliria nervosa, the chief symptoms of which are passionate feelings about anything. Poetry and contact between members of opposite sexes are forbidden; the authoritarian government rules with suspicion, violence and bureaucratically arranged marriages. As Lena, the soon-to-be-18 narrator, approaches the date of her procedure with both trepidation and relief, she meets Alex, a boy who inspires feelings that upend everything she has believed about her community and herself. Lena’s gradual awakening is set against a convincing backdrop of totalitarian horror. Chilling epigraphs from the government's rewritten histories begin each chapter, providing contextual propaganda so thorough that they've even reinterpreted the Bible to suit their message. The abrupt ending leaves enough unanswered questions to set breathless readers up for volume two of this trilogy. (Science fiction. 14 & up)

6) "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War--the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war--I would kill and maybe die--because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

I don't agree with this review. I found the book intriguing and a unique view on war. It is not in any chronological order and at times seem impossible to believe, but it can open your mind to new thoughts. I enjoyed this book so much that I bought not only for myself but also for my Father, who is a Vietnam Vet. I don't believe that it is a disappointment. 

7) "The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan

An inordinately moving, electric exploration of two warring cultures fused in love, focused on the lives of four Chinese women--who emigrated, in their youth, at various times, to San Francisco--and their very American 30-ish daughters. Tan probes the tension of love and often angry bewilderment as the older women watch their daughters "as from another shore," and the daughters struggle to free themselves from maddening threads of arcane obligation. More than the gap between generations, more than the dwindling of old ways, the Chinese mothers most fear that their own hopes and truths--the secret gardens of the spirit that they have cultivated in the very worst of times--will not take root. A Chinese mother's responsibility here is to "give [my daughter] my spirit." The Joy Luck Club, begun in 1939 San Francisco, was a re-creation of the Club founded by Suyuan Woo in a beleaguered Chinese city. There, in the stench of starvation and death, four women told their "good stories," tried their luck with mah-jongg, laughed, and "feasted" on scraps. Should we, thought Suyuan, "wait for death or choose our own happiness?" Now, the Chinese women in America tell their stories (but not to their daughters or to one another): in China, an unwilling bride uses her wits, learns that she is "strong. . .like the wind"; another witnesses the suicide of her mother; and there are tales of terror, humiliation and despair. One recognizes fate but survives. But what of the American daughters--in turn grieved, furious, exasperated, amused ("You can't ever tell a Chinese mother to shut up")? The daughters, in their confessional chapters, have attempted childhood rebellions--like the young chess champion; ever on maternal display, who learned that wiles of the chessboard did not apply when opposing Mother, who had warned her: "Strongest wind cannot be seen." Other daughters--in adulthood, in crises, and drifting or upscale life-styles--tilt with mothers, one of whom wonders: "How can she be her own person? When did I give her up?" With lantern-lit tales of old China, a rich humanity, and an acute ear for bicultural tuning, a splendid first novel--one that matches the vigor and sensitivity of Maxine Hong Kingston (The Warrior Woman, 1976; China Men, 1980) in her tributes to the abundant heritage of Chinese-Americans.