Wednesday, January 26, 2011

One woman's search for books to read

Guess what? My to-read is list empty. Naught but a dust bunny doodled in the corner. Horrors! For guidance and inspiration, I turned to the internet. But...

 "Upcoming YA titles 2011", "new young adult fiction", "2011 recommendations"--none of those searches turned up anything interesting. Upon scouring the plethora of YA lit blogs, I realized something disturbing. There is a lot of paranormal, dystopian YA fiction and romance being published right now--and I'm just, well, gosh darned sick of it. I have nothing against a good paranormal and/or dystopian novel, but nowadays they all seem a little too cookie cutter. How many romances about werewolves, vampires, zombies, fallen angels, and faeries does the YA genre need? Not this many, in my humble opinion.

But anyway, the reason for all that preamble is this: it took me a long time (and some clever internet magic) to come up with the following list of books that I want to read in the near future. Not all of these are YA fiction. There's even a non-fiction one thrown in just to mix things up. But they all seem interesting.

The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge (2007) 

After reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, I've become inspired to scout out fantastic non-fiction books. My sister recommended this to me--and amazon reviewers agree with her: this one's supposed to be a fascinating read.
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (2010)

Bacigalupi's debut YA novel seems to be an interesting one. I wasn't sure if I wanted to read this (it seemed a little dark), but the reviews are positive. Hopefully this dystopic YA novel breaks some new ground. I guess we'll find have to read it and see.

Replay by Ken Grimwood (1987)

Now this one seems like it'll blow the rest of this list out of the water. Replay reputedly has a cult following, but I've never heard of it before. A man replays his life over and over again, each time with all the knowledge and experience of his previous lives. Amazon reviewers say this book is a spiritual, mystical, expansive experience. That's a lot to live up to. I have high hopes for this one.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (2005)

I've seen mention of this title and its sequels thrown around quite a bit on the internet, always with positive comments. I don't know why I never fully believe those comments. Or maybe I do--but I just can't shake the feeling that this book won't be my cup of tea. Perhaps I'll prove myself wrong.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (1908)

I've been wanting to read this for ages. I finally have it on my kindle. And yet, now that I have it, somehow the drive to read it is fading. I've heard so many good things about it that I feel guilty for not trying harder.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Let me just say it:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an amazing book.

There are books that entertain, amuse, educate, philosophize, dictate, subvert, divert, interest, and/or bore. This book will do more than all that. This book will change your world.

For me, it changed the way I understood Science--with the capital S. Science is oft referred to as today's reigning religion. The scientific method, process, and philosophy undergird much of the way we approach knowledge and the world around us. Science is neat, methodical, objective. It is safe, controlled, and above all, ethical. Or so I thought, as a Biology major.

This book turned that all around. The Immortal Life of Henrieta Lacks is about many things: the enigma that is Henrietta Lacks, the scientific revolution sparked by the first ever cultured immortal human cell line (HeLa), the story of a family's quest for truth, and the injustices done upon the Lacks family. For me, this is also the story of Science and its dirty beginning.

Rebecca Skloot is an excellent story-teller with an excellent story. Gripping, horrifying, shocking, revelatory--The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks should not be missed by anyone. Get it at the bookstore, get it on your kindle, get it at the library. One way or another. Get it. You will not regret it.

Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Crown, 2010. Print.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Do you like bloody, visceral gore? Do you like your horror with a touch of effluvia, offal, disembowelment, and the (semi-frequent) decapitation?

Neither do I. I am neither a fan of the horror genre nor a fan of the gothic, Victorian-era novel.

But Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist has changed my mind.

It is 1888 and Will Henry is an apprentice to the enigmatic and irascible Dr. Pellinore Warthrop. Doctor of what, you ask? Well, Will Henry has been instructed to tell you that the doctor is a doctor of philosophy. In truth, however, he is a doctor of something darker, something much more terrifying. He is a Monstrumologist—one who focuses his life and learning on the study of creatures not generally accepted by science. Monsters.

It is 1888 and when twelve-year old Will Henry has finally become accustomed (or as accustomed as one can be) to his guardian’s grotesque profession, there appears a new threat that will plunge Will Henry and the Doctor into a maelstrom of danger, carnage, and fear. It is a threat with thousands and thousands of shark-like teeth. A threat with no head. A threat with claws that can puncture the hardest bones in a human body. A threat with the name of Anthropopagi: Human eaters.

Will Henry and Doctor Warthrop must confront the enemy (the true enemy) and the ghosts of history before they can stop the impending bloodbath that will befall their town. They must venture into the lair of the ultimate predators. Predators that only eat humans. They must survive--or die a most horrific death.

Rick Yancey has written a book that will enthrall young and old alike. The Monstrumologist is thrilling and horrific, exploring the moments and ways in which humanity crosses over into monstrosity. And amidst all the gore, the fear and the monstrosities, The Monstrumologist is also ultimately about the relationships between fathers and sons—and the sins that we inherit from our families.

If you think you won’t like it: give it a try. This is an excellent book with an excellent story. The violence and gore is not gratuitous, and you might learn some new vocabulary words (I certainly did). It goes without saying that fans of horror and gore will love this book, but all readers will definitely be hooked by this fast-paced gothic novel.

And there's even a sequel in the works!
(Just this: If you are easily spooked, do not read it before bedtime.)

Rick Yancey's Website

Yancey, Rick. The Monstrumologist. New York: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2010.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong

Ben was supposed to get a car when he turned 15. Instead, he finds himself on a sailboat in the Bahamas with his two younger brothers and his father. For a year, their father promises, they will sail from island to island, enjoying the high seas. What Ben’s father doesn’t say is that he is running away from the memory of their mother—recently deceased.

Ben doesn’t want to be on the boat where he, his brothers and his father are crammed tightly together. Ben doesn’t want to take orders from his father-captain who has uprooted the whole family, selling Ben’s childhood home and family sailboat, to live on the ocean. Ben is angry, furious, and sad—understandably so. But life goes on, and for a while it seems everything is going as well as it can go.

Until Ben’s father disappears. There’s no way to tell if he jumped or fell, and there’s no time to think about it because Ben and his brothers must survive a massive storm without their father, without a radio, and without a GPS.

As Ben slips into his father’s role, struggling to keep himself and his brothers alive, he learns something about love, family, devotion, and courage.

M. H. Herlong’s debut novel is at turns a thrilling, contemplative, and sad adventure story about a family dealing with the wounds of loss. Ben is a compelling and sympathetic narrator with a clear voice, while the rest of the characters are well-developed. Ben is never preachy and his love for his brothers palpable. The final scene might even bring some readers to tears.

The Great Wide Sea will especially appeal to fans of survival stories as well as readers who enjoy sailing. However, I think anyone who reads this book will be drawn into the well-written adventure and quiet family drama.

Although the sailing and nautical terms can get somewhat technical, M. H. Herlong has a wonderful companion site that provides lots of information about sailing, navigation, and the boys’ adventure. Teachers who wish to teach this book will find it an excellent resource.

Herlong, M.H.. The Great Wide Sea. New York: Viking Juvenile, 2008. Print.

Companion Website

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pop by Gordon Korman

Marcus Jordon is the new boy in town. As he practices football by himself one day, lonely and bored, he meets an eccentric middle-aged man named Charlie who, without invitation, joins Marcus in his football practice. Despite his age, Charlie packs a wallop and is perhaps the best football player Marcus has ever known. But apart from his name and his predilection for pranks, Marcus doesn’t know very much else about Charlie. And that’s a problem when Charlie has stuck Marcus with the bill of a broken car window.

That’s not Marcus’s only problem, though. The football team at his new High School is remarkably resistant to upstarts—and Marcus’s outsiderness is certainly not helped by the fact that the current quarterback’s ex-girlfriend begins a flirtation with Marcus.

Of course, the quarterback (Troy) has more than just girlfriend issues when it comes to Marcus. As it turns out, Marcus’s new friend, Charlie, is none other than Troy’s father, also known as The King of Pop: an NFL veteran. Unfortunately, Charlie also has early on-set Alzheimer’s due to the multiple concussions he suffered as a younger player.

Charlie’s condition is a secret from the town, and his family thinks they have it under control. Marcus, however, thinks otherwise, and he plans on taking matters into his own hands.

Pop by Gordon Korman is an enjoyable read that football fans will especially love. Marcus is a believable protagonist, and there is a full cast of likable characters. The star of the book is Charlie, of course, with his charismatic, quirky, and intense character.

Touching without being sentimental, poignant without being contrived, Pop is well-written and engaging. I think it would be particularly useful in appealing to reluctant readers and a male audience.

Korman, Gordon. Pop. New York: HarperTeen, 2009. Print.

Monday, April 12, 2010

In the Path of Falling Objects by Andrew Smith

Brothers Jonah and Simon head out across the desert to find their father who is about to be released from prison in Arizona. Their mother has been gone for days, weeks even, perhaps, and their older brother is fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. It is 1970.

Enter Mitch and Lilly, a mysterious pair from Texas, who pick the two hitchhikers up in a stylish and out-of-place convertible. Jonah is immediately drawn to the beautiful and flirtatious Lilly but feels wary of the unpredictable Mitch. Simon, on the other hand, is quick to please Mitch, enjoying his rakish intensity.

As Jonah struggles to put family first, he finds himself pitted against a man more dangerous than he could have ever imagined. The two boys soon find themselves hostage to a psychotic murderer and they risk their lives to save Lilly and each other.

And then, of course, there is the gun.

Andrew Smith’s In the Path of Falling Objects is an intense and nerve-wracking novel that intersperses Jonah’s account of his and Simon’s journey with letters from their older brother in Vietnam. The book begins with a shocking murder and the feeling of being trapped only increases the deeper you wade into this book. The tension is almost too much—I wish Andrew Smith had allowed for some space in the novel to breathe a sigh of relief and relax—but it all builds to a heart-stopping climax that will leave readers on the edge of their seats.

Be warned: there is much violence and death in this novel; Mitch is one of the most incredibly disturbing characters I have come across in YA fiction. Readers who like gritty, intense novels will want to give this a try. Everyone else should read this knowing it just might give you nightmares.

Smith, Andrew. In the Path of Falling Objects. New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2009. Print.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Every year, the Capitol of Panem requires that each District send two tributes (a boy and a girl, aged 12 to 18) to participate in the yearly Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games is reality television at its most extreme—a live telecast of 24 children battling for their lives in an enclosed arena. The tributes will face wild animals, natural (and unnatural) disasters, hunger, and most dangerous of all, one another. Only one tribute will survive. The Hunger Games is at once a form of punishment for the Districts and invaluable entertainment for the Capitol.

This year, in place of her 12-year-old sister, Prim, Katniss Everdeen of District 12 has volunteered to go to the Hunger Games. In the history of the Hunger Games, only two winners have come from District 12—and for good reason. District 12 is the poorest and most neglected of the Capitol’s districts and its tributes have always been at a distinct disadvantage compared to the well-fed, well-trained tributes of wealthier districts. With the odds against her, Katniss must fight to survive and to retain her humanity in the mounting inhumanity of the Games and the Capitol.

The Hunger Games is an absolutely thrilling read. With a true voice, an extremely likable protagonist, conspiracies, action, and intellectual depth and maturity, The Hunger Games is a truly stellar book. Everyone will find something to like in The Hunger Games. Readers may find echoes of books such as Ender’s Game, The Handmaid’s Tale, Graceling, and Battle Royale in the novel, but Suzanne Collins has made The Hunger Games distinct and marvelous in its own right. The only complaint I have is that I won’t be able to get my hands on the sequel, Catching Fire, quickly enough. Although Katniss is a female protagonist, I am sure both boys and girls will find themselves enthralled by the book. And though readers of action-fantasy will particularly enjoy the book, I believe its appeal so wide that I would hesitate to pigeonhole its potential readers.

Collins, Suzanne. Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Press, 2008. Print.