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It just occurred to me that, as much as I’d like to really write a review of everything I read in 2010, I’d rather have a fresh start for the new year.  So here are some quick thoughts about all the books I finished in the last few months that never got a proper review.

Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve: This is on the Mock Printz list for this (next weekend!) and I’m always impressed by how individual each of Reeve’s books are.  I haven’t read the series to which this is a prequel, but it stands on its own and is some kind of fascinating.  Absorbing world and characters, although the plot has faded in my memory.

Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen: After being forced to read Hatchet in middle school (or maybe it was read aloud?) I swore off Gary Paulsen.  Until this one made it onto the Mock Newbery list this year and I had to give him a second chance.  He’s still not my cup of tea, but I can respect what he does and the appeal that his stories have for lots of readers – to the point, visceral, often brutal.  There’s not a lot of pretty shiny language here, and the character development is sometimes slim, but the pace is gripping.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well the non-fiction interludes worked – they could have been choppy, falling in between the chapters, but they gave key information with info-dumping into the storyline, and they gave me a chance to catch my breath before jumping back in.

The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter: One of those stories that you itch to reread as soon as you reach the end, just to see how it all came together.  Plenty of secrets and red herrings and truths hiding in plain sight (even a mystery about the narrator).  One thing that bugged me while I read was the inconsistent use of Britishisms, but once someone mentioned that it could have been intentional, fitting with all the other quirks of the story, it stopped bothering me.  It’s been over a month since I finished it, and that “want to reread” itch is still there, so hopefully I’ll find time to revisit this one.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly: Oh, wow.  Jam-packed with musical references, old and new, details of Paris now and Paris during the French Revolution, visits to the catacombs, artifacts,writing and hearts (literally), with a main character who’s so broken it hurts, yet whose story you can’t put down.  Gripping.  Totally gripping, and the kind of big YA novel I love to find, and completely different in scope from Donnelly’s other novels.

A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson: Are you an Eva Ibbotson fan?  If not, what are you waiting for?  I would’ve loved her as a child – that blend of magic and adventure and cozy comfort, always with a hard-won but happy ending.  I adore her books, even meeting them for the first time as an adult.  Lucky me, I still have several I haven’t read, plus I know they’ll be comfort rereads some day.  I was sad to hear that she died recently – there’s a really lovely piece about her by Laura Amy Schlitz that you can read – and if that doesn’t make you want to pick up one of her books right this instant, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.  All of which is to say that A Company of Swans is lovely and fun, and I know it was written first, but for me it was a chance to revisit the Amazon setting of Journey to the River Sea, plus it has ballet!  Love, love, love.

More to come!  I still have a frightening number to write about.

I’m often torn between writing nice little reviews of what I’ve read, and just gabbing about books as I go along.  A more gossipy approach with a little critique thrown in – and today I’m in a gossipy mood.

I polished off three books last night, which sounds more impressive than it really was.

  • The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey, the sequel to last year’s Printz Honor book The Monstrumologist. Horror’s not really my cup of tea, and in this one the gore was less concentrated in a few key scenes and more generally spread out through the book, but never anything I couldn’t handle.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from a sequel, even though the first one definitely set itself up as the first in a series – would it follow the same basic pattern of Will & the doctor chasing a monster?  Yes and no – the doctor doesn’t believe they are chasing a monster, describing the wendigo as a fiction and decrying fellow monstrumologists for believing it be real.  We see more of the doctor’s background, and the story becomes a little more personal.  Along with that, it’s also a little bit more depressing at the end.  The story has enough resolution but leaves you hanging on larger questions about Will’s identity.
  • Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing by Ann Angel – I picked this up when it made YALSA’s shortlist for the Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults (what a mouthful!)  My sister has been a Janis fan for as long as I can remember, and certain of her songs are completely linked with certain memories for me, so reading the book had me pulling out her music and singing along.  I didn’t know much about her life, and Angel’s biography provides just enough information to give you a sense of both her personality and the time and culture in which she lived, without ever overwhelming the reader with information.  Short enough to read in one sitting on the couch, but enough depth to come away with a new appreciation for her music.  The book also has a fantastic design with easy-to-read columns and the rest of the page taken up with psychedelic designs.  The pictures were fascinating, but I would’ve liked just a few more (although that may have been an issue of getting rights).
  • After I finished Janis, I remembered that I’d never quite finished the last chapter of They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti – another YALSA finalist that was also on this year’s Mock Newbery list and Mock Printz list.  So I whipped that out and polished off the last chapter and browsed through the timeline, notes and afterward.  It’s definitely an impressive work of scholarship, but I didn’t find it quite as gripping as her Hitler Youth from a few years ago, and I thought it was interesting that she left the story of her visit with a contemporary Klan group until the very, very end of the back matter.  I can respect that she left it out of the main book, since it’s not really within the scope of the book, but I wonder if any more casual reader would ever find it, stuck in after her extensive bibliography?  The writing is strong, though, and I learned more than I ever did in school about Reconstruction and the challenges faced by all sides.  The book also does a great job of showing the effects of individuals on history – from choices made by politicians to the decisions of ordinary people.

The DreamerThe Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Unfortunately I’ve waited too long to review this and many of the details are gone from my memory – I kept hoping I’d decide how I feel about it. On one hand, it’s absolutely gorgeous in terms of both design and how Ryan captures childhood imagination in words. On the other hand, it’s got a slow start and the poetic language took a while to pull me in. By the end I was emotionally engaged – something I think the story was trying to accomplish – but I can’t quite work up any enthusiasm for the book. I’d recommend it to adults, mostly, and kids who enjoy slower, dreamier stories.

Source: my public library

View all my reviews

PS: The Dreamer was on the list for the Mock Newbery I attended, and it was one of those titles where I wished someone would talk me into loving it.  That didn’t happen.  In my small group discussion, people had positive things to say but nothing that swayed my thinking one way or another.  It ended up with enough support to end up as one of our honor books – so obviously a few people loved it.  If it ends up actually winning any awards, I’ll have to give it a reread and see how I feel the second time around.

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the NightDark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman

Each look reveals new, fabulous details: the dusk and dawn double-page spreads that begin and end the book. The eft, a newt-like creature, that stars in his own poem (“Come all you young efts,/ so brave and so bold”) but creeps onto each page, even the verso. The fact that the illustrations are made by the process of relief printing – “there are definitely faster methods of making a picture, but few more enjoyable in a backwards sort of way.” The richness of the poems – a compelling combination of ordinary and grand, from the “perched missile” of the great horned owl to “the tiny hiccup/ of my heart” described by the fleeing mouse. The way information – both necessary and fun – has been condensed for the unobstrusive sidebars, tucked next to the illustrations in a smaller print than the poems.

Source: my public library

View all my reviews

PS – Dark Emperor took the gold in the Oakland Public Library’s Mock Newbery, and I totally would have voted for it if it had been on the OLA/WLA list.  Sidman’s other book this year, Ubiquitous, has been getting some love on “best of the year” lists, but so far I’ve only seen Dark Emperor on the Horn Book’s Fanfare list – I hope it gets more love come awards time.

I’m not quite sure how the last two weeks slipped by without a post, but it’s sure not for lack of things to write about.  I spent a few days in California visiting Bronwen and Kate, and came back with lots of pictures of Linnea and some of the grown-ups in the kitchen, which is where we quite happily spent a lot of our time.  (I still need to go through the pictures and upload the best of the bunch.)  Bronwen and I caught up on some Long Distance Kitchen recipes that we’d both neglected and we shopped for unusual grains, and at Kate’s we were treated to tuna that Keith caught, fresh chanterelles and enormous oysters, and of course some extremely local bacon (as in, from their pigs).

I’ve also neglected to talk about all the mock awards I’m going to this year – I’ve done one or two each year for the past few years, but this year I’m doing the triumvirate of mock awards: Mock Newbery, Mock Caldecott, and Mock Printz.  Hooray!  I love mock awards.  The tricky part is making sure you squeeze in all the books around the rest of your reading.  Fortunately the Mock Printz isn’t until January, and the Mock Caldecott books are short.  Here are the lists for anyone who’s curious or wants to follow along at home:

Mock Newbery

  • The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan. Illustrated by Peter Sis. Scholastic, 2010.
  • Mirror, Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer. Illustrated by Josee Masse. Dutton, 2010
  • The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood. Illustrated by Jon Klassen. Balzer & Bray, 2010.
  • The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz. Illustrated by Angela Barrett. Candlewick, 2010.
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. HarperCollins, 2010.
  • They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Houghton Mifflin, 2010.
  • Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen. Wendy Lamb, 2010.

I’ve read them all except They Called Themselves the KKK (which is also on the Mock Printz list), but so far I’ve only written about the ones I linked above.  My favorite so far is still One Crazy Summer (and I recently finished listening to the audio version and thought it was even better on rereading).  I’m also partial to The Night Fairy and I’d vote for The Dreamer, too.

Mock Printz

  • They Called Themselves The K.K.K.: The Birth Of An American Terrorist Group. Bartoletti, Susan Campbell.
  • Spies Of Mississippi: The True Story Of The Spy Network That Tried To Destroy The Civil Rights Movement. Bowers, Rick
  • Incarceron. Fisher, Catherine
  • Finnikin Of The Rock. Marchetta, Melina
  • As Easy As Falling Off the Face Of The Earth. Perkins, Lynne Rae
  • Fever Crumb. Reeve, Philip.
  • Revolver. Sedgwick, Marcus.
  • The Last Summer Of The Death Warriors. Stork, Francisco X.
  • Nothing. Teller, Janne
  • A Conspiracy Of Kings. Turner, Megan Whalen. (I actually never wrote about this book – WHAT? – but what I said about the rest of the series holds true for this one.)

I still need to read Nothing, Revolver, As Easy as Falling off the Face of the Earth, Spies of Mississisppi, and They Called Themselves the KKK. In an ideal world, I would also reread A Conspiracy of Kings and Finnikin of the Rock, although not back-to-back like I did initially (Finnikin suffered).  While it would take a miracle for anything to supplant COK in my affections, I do owe Finnikin a fair shot.  I also just got Incarceron on audio – I don’t know if I’ll listen to the whole thing, but I wanted to have it a little fresher in my mind before the discussion and before Sapphique comes out at the end of December.  In a flash of brilliance, I just put the audio version of Finnikin on hold, and hopefully I can squeeze that in.

Mock Caldecott (I left this list at work, but let me see if I can remember it)

  • City Dog, Country Frog
  • Mama Miti
  • Dave the Potter
  • Paris in the Spring with Picasso
  • Henry in Love
  • Dust Devil
  • Art & Max
  • The Extraordinary Mark Twain
  • The Boss Baby

I’m sure I’m forgetting one, but my mind is blank.  Right now my favorite is City Dog, Country Frog – not only because I just plain love it, but also because I it’s most effective at being a picture book.  I mean, I can pore over the illustrations in Mama Miti or admire the genius of Art & Max, but neither of these has that seemingly effortless combination of pictures, text and story.  The award is for “the most distinguished American picture book” and to me, this one fits the bill.  Some of the others might have more extraordinary illustrations, but this is a picture book that really has “a collective unity of story-line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised.”  And yes, I don’t think it’s in the criteria but I’ll admit a preference for books that make good read-alouds.

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