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September always feels like the start of awards season – the time when people who are into children’s and YA books get serious about what they think should win awards. I haven’t read nearly as much as I’d hoped to (isn’t that always the case?) and in no way am I trying to make predictions about what will win. These are just my favorites, out of the books I’ve managed to consume so far. If you have a favorite that I don’t mention, please suggest it in the comments!
- Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz. She’s already won once, but not for a novel. This one felt like a heavy hitter – tons of atmosphere, great characters, rich historical setting, and some fantastical elements. Top of my list, so far.
- Liar and Spy, by Rebecca Stead. Again, she’s already won once. Some books by previous winners don’t live up to the expectations, but I thought this had a lot of the strengths of When You Reach Me without feeling derivative.
Those are the two that feel completely deserving of a medal. A few others that have felt solid, but not quite as distinguished, are The Humming Room by Ellen Potter, See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles, and Wonder by R.J. Palacio. These feel worth a look and some discussion.
- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. That magical combination of superior writing and a story that I love, love, loved. I can’t imagine anything else this year beating this as my favorite for the award.
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Yeah, it’s a tearjerker. But John Green has a way with characters and sharp dialogue.
- Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. Fantasy! Dragons, like you’ve never seen them before! Oh, and great characters and world-building. Please give it an honor.
- The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats. More historical fiction – characters you love to hate and a time period I was fascinated to learn about.
Any suggestions for me? You can check out the complete list of everything I’ve read this year to see what I’ve read that didn’t make the cut (so dramatic!)
I’m completely conflicted about this one. On one hand, I was enjoying the pace and the tension and all of the mysterious unknowns, both plot-wise and in terms of Ryan’s world-building – what will her version of life in space look like? On the other hand, I never clicked with either of the main characters whose POV we follow. As the story went on, I found the ambiguity surrounding their actions more and more frustrating. Wait, do I trust him now or not? Wait, is she being reasonable or suffering the effects of trauma? How much can I trust each narrator? I wavered back and forth between thinking that Ryan was doing brilliant things with characterization and being completely annoyed. That pretty much sums up my whole experience!
This wins major points for addressing all the issues I had with Glow. This is really one of those series where it would be best to sit down and read them all in a row (if they were all out yet). Glow left me frustrated with a few things – I didn’t click with either of the main characters, and there was a boatload of ambiguity about how people were acting and why. Was I supposed to be siding with Waverly or Kieran? And what about Seth?
While I still didn’t completely click with any of the main characters in Spark, I certainly found myself less frustrated. More of the characters’ personalities were falling into place, and we got more of Seth’s perspective to help explain his behavior. Of course, the plot also continues to thicken, which again gave the book a brisk pace and plenty of action. I also became more accepting of the ambiguity – maybe I was just in the right mood for it this time – and I really appreciated the way Ryan doesn’t let the characters be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – they’re all somewhere inbetween, and increasingly aware of their own flaws. Nicely done, very nicely done.
I’d recommend this series to teens (and some middle-schoolers) who are interested in space travel, or who like morally complex stories that also have plenty of action.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It was so easy to slip into this story. Rebecca Stead does an excellent job with world-building, which is a concept I usually think of more with fantasy novels, but I think it applies to any story where a sense of place is crucial to the story. Here, it’s an apartment building. The whole story takes place within walking distance of Georges’ new building. It’s very much about discovering a new place, a place that maybe you’d rather not be, but which turns out to have its own rewards.
The story is also layered beautifully – lots of little things that add up to something bigger. There’s a hint of mystery, developing friendships, contrasts between now and then, school bullies, family dynamics. It all ends up feeling necessary.
I might even bump up my rating after I sit on this one for a while. It didn’t blow me away, but it has all the hallmarks of excellence.
Source: ARC from NetGalley
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My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The fact that this took me a while to read should in no way reflect on its quality (I have a love/hate relationship with reading books on my phone, which is currently my only way to read ebooks). In fact, each time I opened it up again, I immediately knew where I was and what was happening in the story, with the whole thing as vivid as if I’d read it over just a few days.
‘Splendors and Glooms’ is really the perfect description of the story – the gloom is easy to spot, in the downtrodden lives of Victorian orphans; in the sadness of Clara, her parents’ only living child; in the brutality of puppeteer Grisini; in the agony of a witch torn between hanging on and finally letting go.
The splendors are there, too – Parsefall’s love of the puppet theater, and Clara’s, too; and the sense of redemption that the story brings (although telling would be spoiling). There’s magic and surprising humor and a delicious Gothic feel.
Also splendid is Laura Amy Schlitz’s writing – this woman has a way with her pen, and each story she turns out is masterful yet distinct. I think I’m bumping this to the top of list of Newbery favorites for the year.
Source: ARC from NetGalley
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Ah, finally the temperatures have slipped back down to the low 80s (the heat doesn’t usually last long in Oregon, but it’s always a shock to the system) and I feel human again. Part of the problem is that our whole, tiny apartment heats up if you turn on the stove for five minutes, so there’s been a lack of baking and real, balanced meals around here. Hopefully I’ll get in some serious baking time this fall!
As for books, I’ve been reading steadily but my numbers feel like they’ve slipped. I’ve been doing more ‘reading up on things’ and reading less fiction – boo! I’ll post some complete reviews soon, but here are a few recent reads that hit the spot:
The writing style felt very old-school – not dated, necessarily, but there was something about the book that gave me flashbacks to my fantasy-devouring adolescence. This was my first Mahy, and now I’d like to try more.
It’s been a while since I reread Persuasion, so I enjoyed the similarities without being distracted by any ways that this homage might not have lived up to the original. I particularly liked the ways that the futuristic setting allowed Peterfreund to explore social issues that often lurk in the background of Austen’s novels. Note: not set in space, and I’m not sure exactly why I thought it was (for a few chapters, actually).
Strangely enough, I didn’t love this on audio as much as I loved the print version. The narrators did a good job, but I think I appreciated the material more as ‘silent reading’ – I felt the mood of the story more strongly on my own. Plus, in the early, difficult sections, the audio version doesn’t let you skim over the horrors the way the print version does. I’d forgotten how the story wraps up (my poor memory makes for great rereading) and it was interesting to see which of my guesses were right.
While this was marketed as young adult in the US, I believe it was originally marketed to adults in Australia – and I think it could go either way. There are some aspects of the story that feel YA, and others that feel impossibly adult. I’d recommended it to older teens and adults.
Speaking of Jane Austen, this was a fun read-alike. It felt like something perfectly in between Austen and We Capture the Castle, and it won me over from the opening scene. Sure, there were some predictable elements, but it was sheer fun to read.