Libri Dilectio: August 2011

31 August 2011

Take Two Review: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

Every once in awhile I like to re-read the books that I loved when I was younger – my second opinion is a Take Two Review.
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Patricia A. McKillip
(Gr 7+)
Magic Carpet Books, January 1st 2006. (first published August 1st 1974). Reviewed from library book.

“Sixteen when a baby is brought to her to raise, Sybel has grown up on Eld Mountain. Her only playmates are the creatures of a fantastic menagerie called there by wizardry. Sybel has cared nothing for humans, until the baby awakens emotions previously unknown to her. And when Coren–the man who brought this child–returns, Sybel’s world is again turned upside down.”

I first stumbled upon this book when I was in 6th or 7th grade, and I gobbled it up as fast as I could. It’s still one of those books who’s images stay with my imagination and that I can recall almost instantly. What was it about this story that I loved so much and that’s stayed with me for so long? I figured a second (okay more life 4th) reading would give me some fresh insight.

First off, I remember instantly loving Sybel. She is such a unique character. She’s a strong, independent young woman who really and truly doesn’t need anyone, almost to a fault. If Coren had never shown up on her doorstep with baby Tamlorn, she probably would have lived out her entire life in solitude. She has her animals to keep her company, but she would never have placed any value on human relationships if one hadn’t been forced upon her. Yet, once she is put in charge of a baby, she quickly learns the value of human love. She knows that she can’t care for him alone and so reaches out to Maelga, a witch woman (and my FAVORITE character) for help. Together, Tam and Maelga show Sybel the importance of having a family.

The setting was also something that stayed with me. There are certain places that are easier for my imagination to conjure up than others, and Eld Mountain is at the top of the list. Sybel’s home, filled with places for her animals to live – a cave for the dragon, a lake for the black swan – and isolated from the world, was an imaginary safe place for my middle school self. What girl wouldn’t want a house filled with books, comfort, and magical creatures to talk to who would all do anything to protect you? Sounds perfect to me.

Of course I had an instant crush on Coren. He’s strong, loyal, smart, honest, and (in my mind) super handsome. I liked that he was the kind of leading man who wanted Sybel to be herself. The angriest he ever got at her was when she lied to him, he knew she wasn’t perfect, and he loved her anyway. Sigh, bestill my sixth grade heart.

Pick up this GREAT fantasy novel that (in my mind) is just as good to read if you’re a middle schooler or a done with schooler.

30 August 2011

Book Review: The Unwanteds

 Released into the wild TODAY! Check your local library or independent bookstore.

The Unwanteds, Lisa McMann
(Gr 4-6)
Aladdin, August 30, 2011. Review copy provided by publisher.

“Every year in Quill, thirteen year olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their deaths.

Thirteen-year-old Alex tries his hardest to be stoic when his fate is announced as Unwanted, even while leaving behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted. Upon arrival at the destination where he expected to be eliminated, however, Alex discovers a stunning secret—behind the mirage of the “death farm” there is instead a place called Artime.

In Artime, each child is taught to cultivate their creative abilities and learn how to use them magically, weaving spells through paintbrushes and musical instruments. Everything Alex has ever known changes before his eyes, and it’s a wondrous transformation.

But it’s a rare, unique occurrence for twins to be separated between Wanted and Unwanted, and as Alex and Aaron’s bond stretches across their separation, a threat arises for the survival of Artime that will pit brother against brother in an ultimate, magical battle.”

This book had some serious hype to live up to. I mean did you read that blurb on the front cover? “The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter,” from Kirkus! If you’re a librarian or anyone who does collection development/reads a lot of book reviews, you’ll know that a positive review from Kirkus is really something to brag about. Then there’s that comparison…really?! The Hunger Games AND Harry Potter? That’s almost too much to live up to, but The Unwanteds makes a valiant attempt.

Lisa McMann has done something pretty cool in my opinion. She’s taken the most popular (right now) genre in Young Adult fiction, dystopia, and made it into something for the middle grade crowd. Quill has all the features of a traditional dystopia – all powerful, corrupt government, total control over the population, and a familiar landscape. I like that the younger brothers and sisters who see their older siblings reading books like The Hunger Games or Divergent now have something more their speed to turn to.

Artime is a little bit like Hogwarts – with all the magic creatures hanging about and a dangerous, magical forest surrounding it. Young readers will love imagining what living in this magical place would be like. My personal favorite part is having a talking blackboard as a message service, especially since they all have their own names and personalities. That would be awesome.

Overall this book was creative, fun, and entertaining. I’ll be passing it along to tons of kids at the library. Although, if you ask me, it didn’t really live up to the hype, but, really, what would? The Unwanteds is out today, so check out your library or local independent bookstore for a copy – especially if you know a reluctant reader who needs something to shake off the back to school blues.

29 August 2011

Book Review: Anya’s Ghost

Anya’s Ghost, Vera Brosgol
(Gr 8+)
First Second, June 7, 2011. Reviewed from library book.

“Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn’t kidding about the “Forever” part…

Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who’s been dead for a century. 

Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya’s normal life might actually be worse. She’s embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she’s pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a ghost—is just what she needs. 

Or so she thinks.”

This awesome graphic novel really doesn’t need me to sing it’s praises, I mean just look at the top. If Neil Gaiman calls your gn a “masterpiece” you really don’t need anyone to say anything else. That’s like J.K. Rowling saying your fantasy novel is her favorite or Martin Scorsese saying your movie is the best he’s ever seen. It never hurts to have a little more love though.

I LOVE graphic novels, especially imaginative, well written, creepy, artistic ones. Anya is a wonderfully three dimensional character. She wants nothing more than to fit in at her preppy, private school. If that means ignoring her heritage, Americanizing her last name, and getting help from a ghost – so be it. Her story is part social drama and part ghost story, oh yeah, it’s as awesome as it sounds.

Brosgol’s imagery is fabulous. It’s gritty, realistic, and creepy. Her characters have great movements and awesome facial expressions. I’m not the most artistic person so I can’t go into too much detail, all I can say is, “I may not know art, but I know what I like,” and I super liked this book!

26 August 2011

Book Review: The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, Rodman Philbrick
(Gr 4-7)
Blue Sky Press. January 1, 2009. Reviewed from library book.

“Master storyteller Rodman Philbrick takes readers on a colorful journey as young Homer Figg sets off to follow his brother into the thick of the Civil War. Through a series of fascinating events, Homer’s older brother has been illegally sold to the Union Army. It is up to Homer to find him and save him. Along the way, he encounters strange but real people of that era: two tricksters who steal his money, a snake-oil salesman, a hot-air balloonist, and finally, the Maine regiment who saved Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg and won the war for the Union.”

This nominee for the 2012 Rebecca Caudill Award has been on my to read list forever. I love historical fiction so I was excited to sink my teeth into Homer’s adventures. Homer P. Figg reads like a very real young boy. He has his own logic that he uses to make sense of the world and is deeply loyal to his family. All he has left in the world is his older brother Harold, and he would do anything to keep them together. I loved Homer’s narration! It was funny, exciting, and sad. He is a character who will very much appeal to elementary school boys, he’s a little like a historical fiction Greg Heffley.

Young readers will be sucked into the fast pace of this novel and never notice all the great historical details, but they’ll absorb them. Philbrick has painted a very vivid picture of life during the Civil War and provided readers with context that will help in history studies. This book would be a great choice for teachers to share with their classrooms. I love the way fiction can help kids form a real sense of awareness when it comes to history – in a way that nothing else really does.

If you know a boy (or girl) who is looking for a book full of adventure, humor, and a little truth stretching, this would be a great choice. They’ll even learn something, whether they notice or not. Good choice Caudill comittee!

15 August 2011

Book Review: Incarceron

Incarceron, Catherine Fisher
(Gr 7+)
Dial, January 26, 2010. Reviewed from purchased copy.

Finn is a “cell born.” His entire life is a blank, except for the years he’s spent in Incarceron, an enormous, sentient prison that becomes it’s inmates’ entire world. Finn knows there must be a world outside the prison, a world that comes to him in visions he can’t control.

Claudia is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron and betrothed to a prince she hates. She longs for the paradise she believes exists inside the walls of the prison, but no one in the world knows it’s location, no one except the Warden.

Claudia and Finn each find a crystal key. A key that allows them to communicate with each other. Finn discovers that he was right all along, the real world exists, and he’s going to find a way back to it. While Claudia realizes life in the prison is not the Utopia she and the rest of the world have been lead to believe.

It has taken me an embarrassingly long time to get around to reading this book! Owning a book is the kiss of death for me, do you find that, when faced with a book you own and a library book/galley with an upcoming pub. date, you always end up choosing the one with a deadline? It’s a problem.

Catherine Fisher has created an incredible, rich fantasy world in Incarceron. I loved the vast differences between the world of the prison and the real world. Outside the prison, life has reverted (and stalled) in what seems to be the late middle ages. It was decreed that people would be safer if life just stopped changing. Unfortunately, certain technologies made it much harder to implement a true historical feel to the world, so they were simply outlawed. Claudia’s home is a fascinating mix of historic and futuristic; wands that wipe away wrinkles, specially manufactured cobwebs, and rooms that clean themselves are side by side with girls in corsets, men riding around on horseback, and courtly manners.

Incarceron was a character unto itself. The prison is huge and smart. It watches the inmates and guides their lives. Finn has a special relationship with the prison that the rest of his companions do not. He spends many nights staring into the eyes of Incarceron and trying to speak to the beast that is his whole world. Incarceron was a little harder than the outside world to envision at first, probably since the real world had a basis in history and the prison was completely fantastical, but once I had an image of it in my head, it was easy to get lost in!

This is a wonderful, exciting, well written adventure that will appeal to many teen readers. Finn and Claudia are both strong, interesting characters who are fun to get to know. Books like this are easy to recommend to boys and girls since they each get a main character to root for. My favorite character outside of the two main characters was Keiro, Finn’s oath brother. He has one of those awesome personalities that makes you constantly wonder if he’s a good guy, or the kind of guy who’s just out for himself. I can’t wait to read more about him in Sapphique. Check out this awesome adventure (if you haven’t already) and end your summer with a bang!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *