Friday, December 16, 2011

Books of 2011, part 3, & giveaway #3!

For this installment I'll be giving away a hardcover copy of Angel Burn by L. A. Weatherly, a YA paranormal romance that pubbed in May about, you guessed it, angels & love & some kind of intergalactic war I think. This isn't my kinda book, but I've heard it's really good. I bet it is because Candlewick publishes fantastic books. So comment away!

Books of 2011, Nos. 11-15

11. Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan (2010)

I think Sarah, Plain & Tall is one of the most perfect books ever written. I remember just thinking it was okay as a kid, but rereading it for grad school I was blown away. There is not a wasted word in it, just 60-something pages of beautiful, seemingly effortless prose, a simple story that's concise & complex at once. Needless to say, I was expecting a lot from Word After Word After Word. But... insert sad trombone sound here. I read this book in March & remember literally nothing about it. I remember that there is a creative lady who visits a classroom of students & inspires them to... do something. Write? I think they write stories? There was nothing impressive or inspiring about this little book; it was completely unremarkable. I was going to take a few minutes & look up the plot to give you a better idea of what it's about, but ya know, it's not even worth the time. Just read or reread Sarah instead.

Rating: 2/5 stars
Recommended for: Someone looking for a simple story they can get through in about an hour

12. The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau (2003)

Unlike with MacLachlan's book, I wasn't expecting a lot from this one. I thought it would be a pretty run-of-the-mill middle-grade fantasy, but to my pleasant surprise, it was much more original. Ember is a city - a sort of last resort of the human race - surrounded by total darkness, whose only light comes from huge lamps that are starting to flicker. Lina & her friend Doon discover a garbled message that they decide holds the key to saving the city, & try to unravel the mystery before the city is plunged into darkness forever. The scenes are so vividly imagined that even now, months later, I can picture exactly the layout of Ember, the architecture, the key characters, & some of the integral scenes. There are some logical fallacies where you can't help but ask, "Why didn't the people of Ember ____?" or "But how did they go all these years without ____ happening?" but eh, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for a good story. & it is a very good story, almost like a Plato's Allegory of the Cave for kids. I went right out & bought the sequel, The People of Sparks, though I haven't read it yet.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommended for: Readers (young or old - this book is classified as YA but I'd recommend it to a third or fourth grader, no problem) of fantasy, suspenseful stories, dystopian lit

13. The Small Adventure of Popeye & Elvis by Barbara O'Connor (2009)

I am a sucker for a charming, Southern story (as long as they're authentic), & this little book is full of Southern charm. I fell in love with the cover instantly: "That was me as a kid!" Popeye is perpetually bored in his little town in South Carolina, so when a motor home breaks down belonging to the rambunctious Jewell family & Popeye meets Elvis, who rocks a "so what?" attitude, life gets a little more interesting. Their small adventure begins when they start finding paper boats sailing down the creek with secret messages in them. This isn't a groundbreaking or life-changing story, but a sweet, solid, Southern read.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommended for: Kids (as young as maybe second grade) who like safe adventures, humor, & mystery, & any kid (or former kid) who gets a thrill out of playing in a creek

14. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (2006)

God, this book. It broke my heart & didn't even care. The matter-of-fact style Boyne uses to tell this story makes it feel like a centuries-old fairy tale, but give it a Holocaust setting & you end up with something much darker than fantasy. I hesitate to pigeon-hole books into "for children" or "for adults," but that this book was marketed so hard as a kids' book really confuses me. Even the cover I think you'd have to be at least an older teen to understand the nuances of Boyne's story - as the narrator is clearly an adult voice commenting on childhood innocence, but perhaps as a group read, a teacher could use this in a younger classroom. I'm not sure about that, though. People generally think of fairy tales as being "for kids," & I don't think they are, so do with that what you will. 

What I can say for sure is that you read the book with a sense of impending dread & then the end hits you like a bus, & you feel pretty dead inside. In the story, Bruno, the son of a Nazi officer, makes friends with a boy in striped pajamas who lives on the other side of the fence beside Bruno's house. That's about all I'm going to say. If you read this book hoping for a realistic Holocaust story, it's not. A lot of the things the characters do/say/believe fly in the face of reason, so you really have to take it with a grain of salt. It's not realistic; it's not fantastic; it's a bizarre story. But definitely worth reading, & not one you're likely to forget.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommended for: If you need a good punch in the heart, or if you're on a Holocaust kick like I was (The Book Thief, followed by this, followed by The Diary of Anne Frank). I hesitate to recommend this book for kids.

15. Bossypants by Tina Fey (2011)

First, I have a major girl crush on Tina Fey. I love everything she glorifies: the woman who's not smooth, who's trying to have it all but who doesn't want to settle, who celebrates nerdiness & being smart, who gets to date Jon Hamm but would really rather stay at home watching Bravo & eat cheese than go out with a dude. Not to mention that she is freakin' hilarious. From her thoughts to physical beauty to unrequited love to career success, this book is a wonderful trip into her head. I should note that for me it was very important to look at this as a book of essays; it is not a memoir. If you go into it expecting her life story, as I did, you're going to be disappointed. But about halfway though (I read it in one sitting) I realized this is not supposed to be her life story, just a bunch of snippets of her life - none too specific - that have brought her to this point in her life. This was really my first "celebrity read," & not a genre I plan on frequenting, but hey, Tina Fey got to where she is by being an awesome writer, & this is an awesome book. I cried a lot - mostly from laughing so hard, but also when she sneaks in really beautiful, yet still silly thoughts, like this poem for her daughter. If you love her as much as I do, & if you too had a rough patch from 12 to 17, you will absolutely love Bossypants, this celebration of all her neuroses. 

Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommended for: Everyone who loves Tina Fey or humor writing

Come back soon for reviews 16-20, & you guessed it, another giveaway! & in case you're wondering, I'll "draw names" for the winners at the end of the list, not as I go along. Patience.

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