Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top Ten of 2016

So 2016 wasn't the greatest year in general, but book-wise it was pretty good!  I started out reading excellent book after excellent book.  The first 7 on this list are from the first half of the year.  My second half wasn't so hot.  Now it wasn't that I read a bunch of duds, I just didn't find as many that I LOVED.  In fact, finding a tenth book was somewhat difficult.  

So, in no particular order (except for the order in which I entered them into Goodreads):

LOVED this book about a ballerina whose world is going out of her control.  She signs up for an internship in Antartica before her family can do anything to stop it and she's stuck up there, trying to pretend she knows what she's doing and that she isn't really running from life.
Heartbreaking and beautiful.  Suzy tries to come to terms with her best friend's death from a jellyfish sting.  At the same time, she's trying to understand how their friendship slowly diminished.
AHHH!  I could not get over this book.  And it seemed like I waited forever to get through a few months before the sequel came out!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Jane Austen.  Loved it. The sequel comes out early 2017.  Already pre ordered!
Didn't expect to love this book so much.  It's about friendship and finding out who you are when it's just you.
Ahhhh!  The sequel was amazing and now I'm desperate for the next one.  Terrifying.  Really it is.  Should I read the first two over again beforehand?  May have to make that happen.

Middle School Friendship.  Positive friendship.  Making good choices.  Standing up to and for your friends when needed.  I loved this book and its positive messages.
A sequel with lots of adventure and a strong female character.  Serafina has to solve another mystery, save herself and her friends, and figure out where she belongs in the world.
Yes!  I was temped to put An Ember in the Ashes on this list too since I re-read it before this one came in, but I decided that wasn't fair.  I loved this sequel, but once again, I need the conclusion.  I need to know what happens next.  Please tell me soon Sabaa Tahir!

This may be a cheat on multiple levels.  First, it's really three books.  Second, it was a re-read.  However enough time passed that I felt satisfied including it in here. :)  

Have you read any of these?  What are your favorites?

Monday, December 26, 2016

Under the Never Sky Trilogy Re-read

I had put this trilogy on my list of books to read again about a year ago and never got to it. Until I was looking around on Overdrive and realized that I could get all three through my library! AND all three were available right at that moment. Whoo hoo!

Now, I must warn you that there are spoilers here. We're talking about a trilogy, so it's kind of difficult not to spoil things.

Under the Never Sky, Through the Ever Night, and Into the Still Blue
Veronica Rossi
Harper Collins,  2012, 2013, 2014
Genre: Sci Fi, Dystopian, YA
Rating: 5 out of 5

 In Under the Never Sky, Veronica Rossi introduces us to the world Aria lives in: sheltered in a pod from the outside world that is slowly being destroyed by strong cosmic level storms.  Aria has spent most of her life attached to a smart eye, allowing her to go and do anything--virtually.  But not long after we meet Aria, who is smart and level headed, finds herself thrust into the outside world, no longer connected to her virtual life.  Living the real is hard.  And then she meets Perry, an outsider who terrifies her and she's certain would kill her, except that he needs her.

Perry has left his tribe, running away from his older brother's wrath and the shame of being the reason his young nephew was taken by some of Aria's people.  When he runs into Aria, he realizes that she can help him get Talon back and he will make sure she does.

Both Perry and Aria are trapped between worlds.  They don't truly have a place to belong.  Aria seems very needy and keeps getting herself into scrapes that Perry saves her from.  However, this is understandable as she learns what life is like out in the real world.  Women in the real aren't weak.  In fact, they're expected to defend themselves and their tribes--although men still are the leaders of the tribe and the women are sold off in marriages.

Aria's abilities and understanding of her world grow as she becomes more accustomed to her surroundings. In Through the Ever Night she has become strong and capable in her new world, no longer needing to be saved every minute or two.  She meets other strong women as well.  She doesn't always get along with them, but they are not weak or weak-minded.

However, some female characters are relying on their sexuality as a tool.  I haven't decided if this is something she chooses or if it's something she just uses because she knows that she lives in a man's world and must use it to get what she wants.  Because as we see more of this world, it's very much a man's world.  In Perry's tribe, it's always Blood Lords who rule.  In Aria's old world, men are in charge of the pods and hold their power over her.  Although Aria is doing what she feels is the right thing to do, she acts for Perry, and not so much for herself.  Maybe she isn't as strong as I thought before.  Maybe she's not as independent as I wanted her to be because I love her character.

Everything builds in Into the Still Blue as Aria and Perry are working together with Aria's people, and fighting against one of the strongest Scires there is.  Sable knows what he wants and he will do anything (I do mean anything) to get what he wants.  He cares not for who it will hurt.  He will make any promise (and then go back on it if it suits him better).  Sable is dangerous and they all know it, but it will take a coming together of two different worlds in order to save all the people Aria and Perry love.

At this point there are so many things happening that it's hard to put down.  It's one event after another and there isn't much time to breathe.  I do see some issues still with Aria not being as independent as I want her to be, but she's coming into her own.  I think that you have to look at Aria's character in light of all three books and not in isolation.  There is some serious character development.  However, I still was getting annoyed because so much of what she does is for Perry.  Granted, it's for her too, but when did what Perry wanted become what she wanted?  And what does Aria want--for herself?  I have faith that she'll find that in the future.  The situation they are in kind of makes it difficult for someone to think about who they are beyond what will keep them alive.

Even on my second read of this trilogy, I loved it.  I read all three within about a week, during the 2nd to last week of school before Winter Break.  So there was a lot to do, but I find time to read this a lot more than I should because it was difficult not to do so.  There was enough of a time lapse between readings that some parts were vague and other parts I didn't even remember until I got there.  So at times it was like I hadn't read it before.  This is a great trilogy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs

Belly Up
Stuart Gibbs
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2010
Genre: Middle Grade, Adventure, Animals, Mystery
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Teddy Fitzroy lives in a giant amusement park zoo, FunJungle, with his gorilla researcher mom and wildlife photographer dad.  After spending the early years of his life in the Congo with his parents, Teddy is pretty comfortable around animals and knows a lot more than the average adult, let alone other twelve-year olds.  So when FunJungle's mascot, a cranky old hippopotamus named Henry suddenly dies, Teddy suspects foul play.  With the help of the zoo's owner's daughter, Summer McCraken, he is determined to figure out what is going on--even though none of the adults believe him.

Teddy Fitzroy is a bit of a prankster and gets in trouble A LOT at the park.  He's the only kid there (except for guests) and many of the adults look down at him as an annoying kid.  This could be explained by the pranks he plays on keeper, guards, and guests, but his jokes are just that.  They would never hurt any of the animals or people.  He would never do that.  He truly does care about the animals and most of his pranks are in response to the rude and ridiculous actions perpetrated by the guests as they throw things into animals' enclosure or bang on the glass to entice the animals.  He's really just standing up for them.

Teddy is also very knowledgeable about animals.  After spending most of his life (he's only 12) in the Congo with his parents, he's seen a lot of animals in the wild.  He understands more about them than most adults do, like the keepers and researchers on staff at FunJungle.  So when Henry dies, he just wants to know what's up because he's seen plenty of dead animals before, but never seen an autopsy.  Teddy is curious.  However what he learns, leads him on a chase for Henry the hippo's real killer.

This story is full of adventure and fun.  Kids will laugh at the antics Teddy gets into and root for him as he dodges the not so intelligent adults.  There are a few minor curse words in this, but nothing I would be concerned about for middle school kids, grades 6+.  Teddy have a crush on a girl, but it's all very innocent.

I definitely recommend this book to readers.  Kids who enjoy Carl Hiassen will probably jump into Belly Up.  And, there are at least two more books in this series about Teddy and his adventures at FunJungle.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

For Darkness Shows the Stars

Diana Peterfreund
Balzer + Bray, 2012
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Years ago a genetic experiment gone awry left a good deal of the population with limited mental capacity.  Those who were not affected, stepped up to take cared of the Reduced, and became known as the Luddites.  They are the elite in society, running everything, and living off of nature.  Rules have been set in place that ban scientific exploration, medicines, and anything else that isn't natural.

Generations later, the Reduced's offspring are not all affected in the same way.  They are called Posts and despite being mentally capable, are still forced to work in menial jobs on the plantations where they born.  The North Plantation is no different, except financially things are not going too well and Elliot North does her best to hold things together.

Four years ago Elliot North's best friend, Kai, a servant, ran away from the North plantation, begging Elliot to go with him, but she couldn't.  Despite loving him, she knew she was the only one keeping everything together and keeping the Reduced on her land safe.  If she left, they had nothing.  Now Kai has returned with a group of Post-Reductionists looking to change things.  Kai is so different, with a new name, new clothes, and new friends.  He refuses to acknowledge his past or his relationship to ELliot, but when Elliot learns something about the friends he came with she must make decisions that could change their world forever.

I didn't expect to enjoy this book so much.  It happened to be on sale and I read a few reviews and it sounded okay, but nothing that I would devour--which I did.  This future world, which looks pretty provincial due to banning technology and science and experiments, is complicated with hierarchies that have been in place for decades.  Despite this, it wasn't difficult to follow the background story.

Elliot is a strong female character who has to pretty much hide how intelligent she is so that he father will allow her to continue managing the plantation.  She has to find ways to convince him to agree with her ideas, but make it seem like it's his idea--this is really difficult.  Often her father ends up ruining her plans to make improvements and spends money like there was an abundance of it.  She's desperately trying to keep their servants fed and safe.  Elliot is well liked because she stands up for those she's taking care of (some of whom have limited capacity to understand if they are being mistreated) and does her best.  She's also chosen to not follow her love, but to do what she knew was the right thing.  Even though throughout much of the book, she wallowing over Kai and why he's angry with her and convincing herself she doesn't care.

I enjoyed this book because I wasn't really sure of where it was headed.  It's supposed to be inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion, but I can't attest to its similarities because I've never read Persuasion (Sorry Jane Austen fans).  I was interested in finding out what happened and that kept me interested and wanting to know more about the story.  The backstory was interesting to me as well and that piqued my interest as it was interwoven through.  I was interested in a second book, but when I looked, it's a completely different story--from what I can tell.  If I'm wrong, please let me know.

I would read it.  I enjoyed it and couldn't put it down, staying up until 2 on a school night to finish.  And if I'm willingly open to dealing with middle schoolers on less than 4 hours of sleep, you know it was good!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

Raina Telgemeier
Genre: Graphic novel, Paranormal, family, illness, middle grade
Rating 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is my first Raina Telgemeier book!  My students have been reading Smile, Sisters, and Drama for a few years and they insisted that I read this one.  In it, Cat's family has just moved to Northern California due to her sister's illness.  Maya has cystic fibrosis, which affects her lungs and makes it difficult to breathe as her lungs slowly degenerate.  Their move is supposed to help Maya breathe easier and have a fuller life.  Cat isn't happy about the move, even though she loves her sister.  Upon arriving, they're introduced to the town's infatuation with Dia' de los Muertos and the celebration they throw to invite the ghosts back.  Cat is terrified, especially when an adventure to find the ghosts in early September leaves Maya in the hospital.  Maya, though, is as infatuated with the ghosts as they seem to be with her, even as Cat tries desperately to keep them all away.

I liked the idea that both Cat and Maya are coming to terms with the fact that Maya will die.  Cystic Fibrosis is a terminal illness and it means that Maya 's lung don't get better, they continue to get worse.  Maya is a little girl and she wants to talk with the ghosts so she can understand what will be coming for her in the future.  Cat wants them to stay away because she knows she can't protect her sister from death, try as she might.  Don't worry--this book ends on a happy note and the only death is the visiting ghosts on Dia' de los Muertos.