My Reading Highlights of 2010

Books That Made Me Laugh Out Loud:

Can I Play Too? (An Elephant and Piggie book) by Mo Willems

The Siren Song by Anne Ursu

The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimes by Kelly Easton and Greg Swearingen

New-To-Me Series That On One Hand I'm Glad To Have Found, But On The Other, I'm Seriously Horrified That I'd Missed Out On Until Now:

Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's boy (Bloody Jack Adventures) by L.A. Meyer

Sequel Happiness:

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

Book That Made Me Crave Food:

Fat Vampire by Adam Rex

Most Enjoyable Bad Book:

Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith

Forgettable Plot Saved By a Fresh, Honest Voice:

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angelberger

Book I Was Most Surprised By:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Made of Pure Awesome:

The Tomorrow Code by Brian Falkner

Crunch by Leslie Connor

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Newsgirl by Liza Ketchum

Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper

Best Book Hidden Under the Worst Cover:

Pride an Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

More Adorable Than Sparkling Puppies:

Birdie's Big Girl Shoes by Sujean Rim

YA Book Most Likely to be Loved By Adults More Than Actual YAs:

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Biggest Disappointment:

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Books that Invoked Irrationally Violent Emotions in me:

Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman

Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper

The Compound by S.A. Bodeen

Books I Loved For Their Imperfect Heroines:

Fat Cat by Robin Brande

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Best Vampire Book For Twilight-Haters:

Fat Vampire by Adam Rex

Worthy of the Hype:

Knuffle Bunny Free by Mo Willems

Favorite Roadtrip Book (and MAN, there were a lot of them!):

Ranger's Ransom by Emily Diamand

Best Action/Adventure Book:

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

Books that were weird just to be weird:

It's a Book by Lane Smith

The Boy Who Couldn't Die by William Sleator

Sci-fi's that made me think there is still a future for this genre (future, get it):

The Tomorrow Code by Brian Falkner

Crunch by Leslie Connor

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

X-Isle by Steve Augarde

Books I lent out to people multiple times:

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Jumper by Steven Gould

The Tomorrow Code by Brian Falkner

Worst Book of the Year:

The Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klavan

Have a question about this list. Wonder why I loved or hated a book? Leave a comment...let's discuss.

Setting:New York City - Reality:None

Despite the lack of book reviews, I promise I have been reading quite a few books over the past few weeks, and through no fault of my own, many appear to have the same interesting trend. The trend being this: That more and more teens are fairly wealthy and live in New York City in apartments that are larger than their other rich friends but never have the one thing they want the most. For boys, this is often a girl, often blond and also rich who doesn't give the main character the time of day because she is currently going out with someone richer and/or manlier. For girls, they are usually searching for popularity and something equally mundane, while trying to squash their opponents/other girls. As an added bonus, these teens often find themselves searching for meaningful adult relationships with the parents who have neglected them due to their money. Take the following books into consideration:

Not to say that all these books are trash, in fact some teeter on the edge of being decent, and a few like The Boy Who Couldn't Die and Beastly are actually rather fun. But most are Sweet Valley High without the kitsch and teens are devouring books like this. Why? Is it because we all imagine what it would be like to be rich? But as you can see, it isn't just the book packaged mass produced series that contain this trend.

The second most popular setting appears to be all girl's boarding schools which is fascinating because although I know they really exist, a raise of hands as to how many people went or know anyone who actually went to one? Off-hand, I can think of only one acquaintance who I worked with ten years ago.

And why are so many books set in New York City? May I venture to say that I imagine for editors (the majority of which work in NYC), would find a book set in their stomping grounds to be more appealing that one set in Wisconsin? As a child who grew up in New Jersey, I used to imagine that New York City was teeming with children my age simply because I had read so many books set in that city that I used to imagine that this was where most of the children of the world lived. I used to imagine that there were roving gangs of children wandering the city treating one another cruelly with no parental supervision. Harriett the Spy may have been to blame for this notion.

All I know is, I am tired of reading about rich people in large apartments in NYC. I think it is time to return to my beloved genre fiction. I'm in the mood for a distant planet full of aliens or a land where the rich are nobility and everyone despises them for it. Any suggestions?

Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion by Mo Willems

Trixie and Knuffle Bunny are back in this third and final tale of Knuffle Bunny and it is just as delightful as the others. In this tale, Trixie and her family are going on a vacation overseas. As any parent has experienced, it is very easy to misplace things when traveling and Trixie is no exception. Caught up in the delight of flying and visiting Oma and Papa, he leaves Knuffle Bunny on the plane and by the time they realize, the plane is headed to China!

One of the more uncommon themes in a children's picture book is the coming of age story. Some may argue that all picture books are a coming of age story, teaching the children who read them important lessons to help them in their growing up journey, but the Knuffle Bunny books have allowed children to watch Trixie grow from an unintelligible baby, to a little girl beginning preschool, to the cute blond who discovers happiness without her Knuffle Bunny. And I'll tell you, I may have shed a tear at the end. Okay, maybe more than one for the back pages of this book are incredible.

Mo Willems does it again. Knuffle Bunny is a cute, funny, coming of story, set in another country, with all the love and passion of the previous books. This one definitely deserves to be a Christmas gift.

The Game of Sunken Places by M.T. Anderson

Gregory and Brian arrive at their Uncle Max's house for what will admittedly be a strange fall vacation. True to form, eccentric Uncle Max lives in a giant mansion where he immediately burns the boys' clothes and forces them to wear clothes the turn-of-the-century. The 20th century. They sleep in a nursery where they find a strange fame called the The Game of Sunken Places. But Jumanji this game is not. There are no dice or pieces just an hourglass that is slowly counting down--but to what? The boys are in a race against time, bu they don't know the rules and this game is deadly.

This books is full of wonderful descriptive elements that really bring this world to life. You can feel the crisp fall New England air and whenever the wind blows, there is a creepiness that will crawl up under the covers with you. Yet, for all the brilliant descriptions, it reminded me of a movie where the editing is slightly off. The scenes jump, with only a sentence to bridge where they are going. If you aren't paying attention the characters are suddenly going down a flight of stairs and you aren't quite sure how they got there. Yet Anderson is unafraid of spending an entire paragraph describing an object or using poetic language to make us understand the wind or the languishing canal. All of this is the same issues I have had with other M.T. Anderson novels. Anderson is a brilliant writer, with language and sentences that any writer could be envious of, but sometimes it throws off the pacing. This is not due to lack of plot, but because Anderson doesn't pay the same attention to detail in all aspects of his writing. His language is beautiful and his transitions feel stilted.

The characters in this story are great though, although you may be surprised as to who the main character really is. We are taken on a journey with the Brian and Gregory and I'll admit, I wasn't sure if they could win, although I knew they must.

Anderson does take us on a journey, but I often myself wondering why these boys went on the journey in the first place? Perhaps that is the wrong question for a fantasy novel, but if this happened to me as a child...I don't think I would have continued to play the game. Perhaps that is the joy of this book though, Brian and Gregory go on a journey that most people would be too afraid to set out on. Not a bad book, but it isn't one of Anderson's best.

Mockinjay by Suzanne Collins

Let's get one thing straight. I didn't finish this book. I made it 2/3 of the way through and stopped. I couldn't continue. Some was due to friends telling me that the book was great and then the last 1/3 of the book just died. One friend was so upset he said he threw the copy of his book (hardback) into the trashcan. He hated the ending that much. I told myself it didn't matter, that I needed to know the ending, but I just can't finish it. I think I am happier with the ending I have created in my head. Also, I grow weary of Katniss.

I promise I won't spoil the book for those who haven't read it yet, but I ca tell you this...Katniss is bring. All she does is sit around and whine and complain as those in power use her as an unwilling and completely naive chess piece. She acts as if she knows what is going on, but as far as I can tell (for the amount I read), Katniss is never a real instigator of anything. She is always the pawn. This girl was completely clueless about the insurrection her acts of "defiance" created. Not that she was ever willfully defiant, those acts were always completely by accident. In act, it feels like everything Katniss does is an accident. She is terrible at fake acing, so they drop her off at a field hospital where she witnesses the death of hundreds and finally is able to deliver her defiant line about fighting. Truly, it was just a happy accident. Would she have been able to deliver such a line if no one had died? Probably not, because Katniss doesn't do anything with purpose. Falling in love. Friendships. It all just happens to her and the poor thing is just along for the ride.

What made this book harder to swallow was that Katniss was the only character telling the story in this narrative. No jumping to Peeta's viewpoint, which was a little annoying a he is a far more interesting character. Also, in this book he is clearly being tortured and for some reason I could never figure out, the rebels label him a traitor, which just made no sense. It's like calling a Prisoner of War a traitor simply because they had the misfortune to be captured. They already know the government is manipulative and that Peeta was in danger by leaving him in the government's hands, but the instant he appears on television they call him a coward? The logic just doesn't pan. But why aren't we given Peeta's perspective as in the other books?

For me, the setting and plot of this final book are weak. Which makes the characterization so much more critical and sadly, it fell. I think it was already stumbling in Catching Fire, but for me this books failed. Anytime I can't finish reading a book out of fear that the author just can't fix all the mistakes they are making is a very bad thing indeed. I need my characters to be intentional. Especially the heroes. And especially if they are willing heroes like Katniss is supposed to be in this final battle.

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner Book Review

The Scorch Trials
By James Dashner
The Gladers have escaped the Maze, after losing nearly everyone including Chuck, only twenty are left alive, taken to some safe house where they are fed and given warm beds. Book Two opens as the boys are woken from their dreams by Crazies with cracked faces, screaming at the windows. Within hours of rescue, the boys are thrown into a situation worse than before. This time there are metal balls that drop from the ceiling that literally suck your head off. Lightning bolts from the sky that will fry a person where they stand. Crazy people who will chase you down just to chop off your nose. Beings with light bulbs on their bodies. Betrayal. Friendships. Loss. Pain. Mystery.
Book two of The Maze Runner series starts right where the last book left off. No back-tracking. No quiet reminders of what happened last time. If you didn’t read The Maze Runner, don’t read this book because you will be more than confused. No starting in the middle for this series. And all those questions left in book one…Why were they locked up in the Maze? Who are they? Why kill Chuck? Who is WICKED? What do they want with the Gladers? What is The Scorch? What is the purpose of them being there? Who was Thomas to WICKED?
Not a single one of those questions is answered fully.
I liked the book. Lots of action and adventure, however, I really needed some questions answered and after two books I am growing impatient. Of course I will read the next one. I want to know the answers. Here’s the catch—those answers better be damn good. I usually figure out twist endings, yet I have no idea where this storyline is going, so the answers to all the questions listed above will have to be mind boggling. I think after two books, the readers deserve that much.

I'm Back!

Did you wonder where I had gone? Well, I got a new job. One of those new 9-5 jobs which means I work 8-6:30. Then I moved. Then my computer was stolen. Let's be silent for a moment for my poor Mac.

Luckily I do have a terribly slow Dell to write on, but no Internet. Not sure if I am ever going to sign up for it as it is a huge distraction in my writing life.

That said. I am back in a much more subdued form. For now, book reviews will be the staple, at least until I can get back into a normal rhythm of life that will allow three times a week blogging. I have backlogged two reviews and will be posting them on Fridays just as before. Enjoy.

The Name of This Book is Secret

The Name of this Book is Secret

By Pseudonymous Bosch

It’s so secret that I can’t tell you what it looks like. Or where you can buy it. I can’t tell you whether or not you would like it. Perhaps you would, but I can’t tell you whether this is a story about orphaned children or a little girl who loves dogs or even whether there are girls and boys in it at all. Which means you may or may not like it. Honestly, I’m warning you, don’t read this book at all. It’s dangerous. It’s information you should not have nor do you want to know. Turn back now.

Okay, well I guess I can tell you something about this book. It is boring. How many times did I start and re-start this book, sure that with the next go-round this whole crazy jumble of nothing would begin to make sense, that it would suck me in, that this time, I would make it more than a chapter. Eventually I did, but only by sheer will and determination. It’s not that the book was bad, it was that it was…well, I don’t know. What’s it about? Does it matter? The book itself is funny at times, an entire book that is secretive and full of clich├ęs, both done on purpose, which is different. But it got old and I can’t really see myself reading another four books like it.

But go ahead, read the book if you dare. The characters are, well, I can’t tell you, but you may or may not like it. You may or may not find it interesting. But beware, you may not be able to get into it. And if that happens, don’t say I didn’t want you.
Ender’s Game

By Orson Scott Card

This is the first book that my youngest brother fell in love with. Up until the point of this book, he had only read two other books in his entire life. After this, he wanted to read the sequel, he asked for the third one for Christmas. What made this book so special? Why didn’t he react this way to Treasure Island or The Outsiders?

Because this is the ultimate “male” book.

By male, I mean written by, for, and like a man. This is how a man thinks. It is action upon action upon action with very little ruminating. Not that Ender Wiggin doesn’t think, no he thinks a lot. He thinks about his family, about the Battle school, friends, combat training. But the difference is that Ender thinks AND acts. He doesn’t think and then act. He doesn’t act and think later. The two are the same. The action is immediate. Constant.

So why Ender’s Game and not Treasure Island, which is rumored to have the same thing, action and thinking? I think that in truth, the action isn’t constant enough. Too much talking in Treasure Island. Talking and not doing. Sure there is action, but there are also long drawn out conversations and eavesdropping. Ender’s world is always in the now and it makes for a riveting story.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Orson Scott Card, especially his more recent books, and I will probably never finish reading the series, because for all the action and twist ending, I found I could only take so much Ender Wiggin, who was never a pure genius to me. Smart for sure, but he was a kid, a military kid trained to the point of insanity, but a kid nonetheless. I also found the constant action, the never ending battle training to be boring after a while. Like reading a sports novel with one game after another. But again, those may be the very things that make guys love this book.

Illustrator of the Week - Dan Santat

Dan Santat is most well-known as the creator of the Disney series, "The Replacements," a show in which two children have the power to replace 'boring' people in their lives. Have a disgusting gym teacher? Replace hi with an awesome Elvis impersonator. Dan graduated from the Arts Center, College of Design and works as a children's book writer and commercial illustrator. He has worked on numerous books including Chicken Dance, Always Lots of Heinies at the Zoo, The Secret Life of Walter Kitty, Guild of Geniuses, and Oh No! Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World. The last of which is getting a lot of early Caldecott buzz.

Author of the Week - Billy Collins

Today isn't the usual fare of an author bio. I stumbled across this poem and wanted to share it with my readers as it hit both the intellectual and childlike way that I view books. Enjoy.


From the heart of this dark, evacuated campus
I can hear the library humming in the night,
a choir of authors murmuring inside their books
along the unlit, alphabetical shelves,
Giovanni Pontano next to Pope, Dumas next to his son,
each one stitched into his own private coat,
together forming a low, gigantic chord of language.

I picture a figure in the act of reading,
shoes on a desk, head tilted into the wind of a book,
a man in two worlds, holding the rope of his tie 10
as the suicide of lovers saturates a page,
or lighting a cigarette in the middle of a theorem.
He moves from paragraph to paragraph
as if touring a house of endless, paneled rooms.

I hear the voice of my mother reading to me
from a chair facing the bed, books about horses and dogs,
and inside her voice lie other distant sounds,
the horrors of a stable ablaze in the night,
a bark that is moving toward the brink of speech.

I watch myself building bookshelves in college, 20
walls within walls, as rain soaks New England,
or standing in a bookstore in a trench coat.

I see all of us reading ourselves away from ourselves,
straining in circles of light to find more light
until the line of words becomes a trail of crumbs
that we follow across a page of fresh snow;

when evening is shadowing the forest
and small birds flutter down to consume the crumbs,
we have to listen hard to hear the voices
of the boy and his sister receding into the woods. 30

Billy Collins, 2001

Illustrator of the Week - Bernice Myers

As I was cleaning out my shed in preperation for a move and yard sale, I ran across a box of books my mother had set aside. These books she fondly refers to as her "Grandma Books". These books were hers when she was a little girl. When she grew up she read the book to me and my brothers. In turn she hopes that she can read them to her grandchildren and perhaps, if we love them as much as she does, we will read them to our granchildren and so on and so on. Sadly, many of those books are falling apart, having lost their covers or even entire pages over the years because we do in fact love them. Perhaps one of the favorites of my brothers was How Joe the Bear and Sam the Mouse Got Together. Part of the reason for this is because my mother used to change the characters names for my brothers. It is known in my house as How Nathan the Bear and Sam the Mouse Got Together.

So today's illustrator is in honor of that book. All hail Bernice Myers, whose books live on in my family and perhaps yours.

Book of the Week - X-Isle

X-Isle by Steve Augarde

Half of the world is underwater. Those who have survived are struggling to get by, dreaming of a place where food isn't scarce and dry land. Baz's father wins his son passage on a ship to an island where boys work, but there is rumored to be tons of food brought up by divers. And things were as promised, there are tons of food, not that Baz or any of the others boys can eat it. Along with nine other boys, Baz lives in a filthy room. He is forced to work hard labor six days a week, and hopes to stay out of the way of the cruel drunken men who roam the island on Sundays. On Sunday, Preacher John, the island's leader and self-appointed prophet, preaches of sacrifice, a worrisome lesson as he grows more and more insane. Together with the other boys, Baz begins to form a plan to free them from their oppressors, but is their planning enough against the cruelty displayed by their captors?

When I first started this book I was apprehensive. There was a lot of foreshadowing and I was sure that I knew where the plot was going by page 15. One of the biggest red flags to me was the fact that no one had ever met any other boys who had come back from the island. This told me right away that the boys were being killed and I thought this would be the real crux of the story. I am happy to report it was not. In fact, that little tidbit of information was lightly glossed over. One of the other boys looks at Baz and basically says, "Come on, you don't really think anyone ever gets back do you? Think Baz. Think." For that I was grateful.

Although the plot was predictable at points, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the turns in events. Most importantly, I liked Baz. He is a survivor in a world full of them, and he stands out. He refuses to become a mindless drone or a hard hearted fool. Instead he forces the other boys to cooperate. To think outside the box. That is what made the book good. But here is the best part, this book just flows. I couldn't stop reading. I wanted to know what would happen. The story is dark and grim, but there is hope and this is what I love about young adult sci-fi. That glimmer that the characters are searching for.

Birthday Favorites

As it is my Birthday, I thought I would make a list of my 29 (as that is my actual age) favorite children's books of all time.