Libri Dilectio: November 2011

21 November 2011

Series Review: The Agency

A Spy in the House, Y.S. Lee
(Gr 7+)
Candlewick, March 9, 2010. Reviewed from library book.

Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets — including those of her own past.”

 The Body at the Tower, Y.S. Lee
(Gr 7+)
Candlewick, Aug 10, 2010. Reviewed from library book.

In this, the second book of the series, Mary Quinn sets out to uncover the truth behind a suspicious death at St. Stephen’s Tower, better known as the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament. The accident occurred after hours in a highly public part of town and despite the presence of night watchmen. Mary, disguised as Mark Quinn, becomes a builder’s assistant to find out the truth about the body at the tower.”

I’ve been meaning to read this series for awhile, but actually, I’m kind of glad that I waited. This way I was able to read the first one and immediately dive into the second one! That is the perk of being a late comer to a series.

Mary Quinn is a great character. She’s smart, brave, and nothing like other ladies of her time period. I love that she’s part street child, part thief, part lady, and part secret agent! She reminded me of Sally Lockhart, although Sally leans a little more to the lady side initially, she certainly becomes more and more of a strong, independent woman. I love Phillip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart mysteries and was very pleased to find a series that reminds me of them.

The mysteries in the series are wonderful. They keep the reader guessing, but are completely solvable by the reader if they pay attention. Mary doesn’t pull anything out of her hat at the last minute. Lee lays everything out for Mary and the reader. I figured out both of the mysteries and loved that I was able to. I think the best mysteries are the kind that the reader can solve with the main character. This is especially nice in mysteries written for teens.

Y.S. Lee is a great author! She writes compelling characters, interesting plots, and amazingly well researched stories. She has a PhD in Victorian Literature and Culture, and it shows reading these books. They are perfect for teens who want to learn about the time period, but don’t want to read a dry text book. I’ve already recommended the series to several teen girls, one of which came back to tell me how much she loved it and that she wanted the second one right away. If you’re looking for a great historical mystery series, check out The Agency, but try to get the first and second one, you’ll want both.


If you like The Agency, you might also like:
The Ruby in the Smoke, Phillip Pullman
A Great and Terrible Beauty, Libba Bray
The Diamond of Drury Lane, Julia Golding

15 November 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: The Sad and the Long Overlooked

This is the first time I’m participating in Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish (love that blog name, probably describes every book bloggers life).

This week’s topic, the top ten unread books on your shelves, was of particular interest to me. Just this weekend I went through my shelves and counted all the books I own, but haven’t read. There are a lot, like a lot, way more than 10. I keep acquiring books with intentions to read them right away, and then they just hang out on my shelves forever. If new books would stop being published for a few months, maybe I could catch up.

Going Bovine, Libba Bray
This has been sitting on my shelf since it first came out. I really want to read it, but I never seem to be in the right mood. To make matters worse, it’s been signed by the author…twice. I accidentally brought it to a book signing without remembering that she’d already signed it, but Libba Bray is so awesome, she just drew pictures in it.

The Demon King, Cinda Williams Chima
I love fantasy, so so so much. This author seems to get great reviews and have a devoted following. I’ll probably love this series…and yet, this book (and the next in the series The Exiled Queen) are just hanging out on my shelves. Sigh.

A Northern Light, Jennifer Donnelly
I loved Revolution so much that when I bought a copy of it, I also picked up a copy of A Northern Light. It’s just been sitting on the shelf since then. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did start it once, but put it down when a shiny new book I’d been waiting for came out. I have book ADD.

Reckless, Cornelia Funke
Another one that I bought with the best intentions, and yet it remains unopened.

One of the shelves where good books go to die. And my husband’s “office.”

Bright Young Things, Anna Godbersen
Oh how I loved The Luxe series. It’s one of my favorites. When asked what book world I’d most like to live in, this is the one I chose. My wonderful mother in law gave this to me last Christmas. I still haven’t read it, not even opened it. I’m a bad bad daughter in law.

Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan
Okay, so this one I have opened. I’ve actually started it at least 3 times. Something about this story has never grabbed me. Maybe I should try it one more time…then it might be heading for the donation pile. Poor Printz Award winners. I just never seem to read them once I buy them (one notable exception being Looking for Alaska).

Rot and Ruin, Jonathan Maberry
I love zombies. I love action. Why I have I not loved this book yet? No idea.

Jellicoe Road, Melina Marchetta
Another award winner that so many people seem to love more than anything, but I haven’t found the desire to try it yet. Maybe some day.

The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
Got this one at what my bestie referred to as a “Post-Apocalyptic Borders” during the initial closing of certain stores. No matter how much good stuff I hear about this series, or how much I LOVED A Monster Calls, I still haven’t tried this one.

The Uglies Series, Scott Westerfeld
Okay, so I have read Uglies, but just not the rest of the series. I got the boxed set for my 25th birthday, and, considering I’m coming up on my 27th, it’s been sitting on my shelves for awhile. I really do want to read the rest of them. No good reason why I haven’t.

There you have it, just a selection of the GREAT books I haven’t been reading. It seems that, for me, buying a book is a death sentence. It doesn’t have a due date anymore, I own it, I’ll always have it, I can read it any time I want – so I don’t. Maybe they’ll be another snowpocalypse this year and I can read some books I’ve been meaning to for so long.

02 November 2011

Book Review: Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs, Anne Ursu
(Gr 4-6)
Harper Collins/Walden Pond, Sept 27, 2011. Reviewed from library book.

“Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn’t help it – Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn’t fit anywhere else.

And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it’s never that simple. And it turns out, she was right. Jack’s heart had been frozen, and he was taken into the woods by a woman dressed in white to live in a palace made of ice. Now, it’s up to Hazel to venture into the woods after him. Hazel finds, however, that these woods are nothing like what she’s read about, and the Jack that Hazel went in to save isn’t the same Jack that will emerge. Or even the same Hazel.”

This modern day retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen is beautiful, endearing, and imaginative. The first half of the novel is realistic fiction. The story of a girl, Hazel, who’s wild imagination keeps her from fitting in with anyone her own age. Anyone except her best friend and neighbor, Jack. Hazel lives inside her imagination, comparing her life to those of her favorite book characters. Jack understands Hazel’s imaginings, and has some of his own to share. The two make a great pair, much to the dismay of Jack’s male friends, until the day Jack suddenly turns on Hazel.

I loved Hazel right from the start. She’s vivacious and creative. I actually had a little trouble believing that no one, other than Jack, wanted to be her friend. Really, no one wants to be friends with the nice girl who daydreams and reads a lot?! But, I digress. Hazel is the kind of girl who knows how to deal with trouble. She’s read about it enough. As long as she has Jack by her side, she doesn’t care that the rest of her classmates ignore her or call her “Crazy Hazy.” Even once Jack abruptly ends their friendship, Hazel is resilient. She knows something terrible has happened to Jack. He wouldn’t just stop being her friend, not ever.

The second half of the novel is straight fantasy, fairy tale. Hazel goes into the enchanted wood to save Jack from the Snow Queen. This part of the novel is perfect for all children who think they’d like to go on an adventure like the ones they read about. Hazel has always believed in good triumphing over evil and the strength of the smallest people, but when faced with her own adventure she realizes just how hard it is to be brave.

This book is wonderfully written. The descriptions are vibrant and will stay rooted in your imagination long after you turn the last page. This is a book lovers book. Hazel frequently name drops familiar characters or references places many readers will have visited in other stories. I gobbled this story up and enjoyed every minute – now I can’t wait to share it with all the kids at the library. Breadcrumbs is out now so pick up a copy! You’ll love it!

01 November 2011

Book Review: The Future of Us

The Future of Us, Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
(Gr 7+)

Coming 21 November 2011
Razorbill. Review copy provided by publisher.

“It’s 1996, and less than half of all American high school students have ever used the Internet.

Emma just got her first computer and an America Online CD-ROM.

Josh is her best friend. They power up and log on–and discover themselves on Facebook, fifteen years in the future.

Everybody wonders what their Destiny will be. Josh and Emma are about to find out.”

The premise of this story is really interesting. As I was reading the book, I found myself wanting to look at my own facebook profile and try to see it through the eyes of my sixteen year old self. Would I like the way I looked? Would I like my job? Would I be happy with my husband (of course, he’s adorable)? If you were a teenager and had a brief glance at what your future would be like in fifteen years, how much would you want to change? Obviously, a facebook profile can’t give all the details of a future life. Even people who put the most personal details online don’t put everything on, so can you really judge your future on only what you find on a social networking site?

I like stories about time travel, any kind of time travel really. I like it if the character manages to physically travel through time, gets secret messages from their future self, or, as it turns out, finds a future website. The story raised some great points about changing the future. Emma starts out right away thinking about how she can make her future life different than it is, better. Josh on the other hand, is worried about what his new knowledge might mean for the present and how it could screw up his future. For example, “This is making me nervous. The future seems so fragile. For instance, I already saw that I’m going to the University of Washington like my brother. And I definitely want that to happen, but what if knowing I’ll get in makes me slack on the application and then I get rejected?” (ARC 134-135). Yup, mind blown! What if just knowing the future changes your actions in the present and, therefore, changes the future!? I think I need a cup of tea.

Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler are a little bit of an author dream team. Together they created a compulsively readable book that I could not put down. Literally. I read the entire thing in just over 2 hours. Emma and Josh are sweet, fun, interesting characters who I would definitely want to be friends with. Their story is a perfect mix of obsessing over their future and trying to figure out their present. Each of them faces different dilemmas from their new knowledge – do they keep secrets or help friends? Their story will suck you in and you won’t be able to stop until the very end, so I recommend starting this book in a very comfy chair. Then ask yourself, how much would you want to know about your future?

Leave a Reply

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