Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Most Excellent Summary of Awesome Books: Middle Grade and YA

Every once in a while, I am compelled to share what marvelous delights I have found at the bookstore. YES, I know. I spend too much time/money at the Place of Grand Fun & Fancy and on the treasures stored within, but buildings that house books are IMPORTANT to me, and I fear, just as record stores have seen happen as of late, and given the scuttlebutt about Barnes & Noble closing stores in the US, bookstores could be going the way of the dodo. I don't know what I will do if that happens. Please, book gods, make it not be so. 

I've been on a middle grade kick recently, mostly because my eight-year-old is a voracious reader who consumes the words like a parched fox in the desert. (Do parched foxes eat words?) While the eleven-year-old is on a Darren Shan kick, his younger brother still enjoys the flights of fancy in the explosion of fantasy offerings to hit shelves. Here is just a sampling of what we've picked up in the last wee bit (all summaries from Goodreads).

(Forgive any weird formatting. Blogger hates me today.)

Savvy by Ingrid Law

For generations, the Beaumont family has harbored a magical secret. They each possess a "savvy" -a special supernatural power that strikes when they turn thirteen. Grandpa Bomba moves mountains, her older brothers create hurricanes and spark electricity . . . and now it's the eve of Mibs's big day.
As if waiting weren't hard enough, the family gets scary news two days before Mibs's birthday: Poppa has been in a terrible accident. Mibs develops the singular mission to get to the hospital and prove that her new power can save her dad. So she sneaks onto a salesman's bus . . . only to find the bus heading in the opposite direction. Suddenly Mibs finds herself on an unforgettable odyssey that will force her to make sense of growing up-and of other people, who might also have a few secrets hidden just beneath the skin.
[I'm reading Savvy right now, at the recommendation of my agent who also represents Law and brokered the sale for Savvy, a Newbery Honor Book. It's delightful, and I'm tearing through the last 40 pages. Fantastic!]
The sequel, Scumble, also looks charming: 
Nine years after Mibs's Savvy journey, her cousin Ledge has just turned thirteen . . . But Ledger Kale's savvy is a total dud-all he does is make little things fall apart. So his parents decide it's safe to head to Wyoming, where it's soon revealed that Ledge's savvy is much more powerful than anyone thought. Worse, his savvy disaster has an outside witness: Sarah Jane Cabot, reporter wannabe and daughter of the local banker. Just like that, Ledge's beloved normal life is over. Now he has to keep Sarah from turning family secrets into headlines, stop her father from foreclosing on Uncle Autry's ranch, and scumble his savvy into control so that, someday, he can go home.

Starring a cast both fresh and familiar, Scumble brilliantly melds Ingrid Law's signature heart and humor with the legendary Wild West.

Liesl & Po, by Lauren Oliver [I just finished this one -- it is haunting and adorable and poetic and I loved it. Oliver is also a YA writer (Delirium is a popular series), but I quite like her middle grade voice. The paperback cover is green, a little different than this, the hardcover.]

Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice,until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone.

That same night, an alchemist's apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable.
Will's mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.
From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver comes a luminous and magnificent novel that glows with rare magic, ghostly wonders, and a true friendship that lights even the darkest of places.

Wonder, by R. J. Palacio

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead [Daniel the agent also says anything by Stead is a worthy expenditure of your time!]

Winner of the 2010 John Newbery Medal
Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever.

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper: 

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. 

I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

The Cavenish Home for Boys and Girls, by Claire Legrand [Claire has an awesome blog -- she's quite witty! Addendum: Claire runs a middle grade short story blog called the Cabinet of Curiosities, alongside three other MG writers (including Stefan Bachmann, whose book The Peculiar is featured below. Check it out!]

At the Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, you will definitely learn your lesson. A dark, timeless, and heartfelt novel for fans of Coraline and The Mysterious Benedict Society.

Victoria hates nonsense. There is no need for it when your life is perfect. The only smudge on her pristine life is her best friend Lawrence. He is a disaster—lazy and dreamy, shirt always untucked, obsessed with his silly piano. Victoria often wonders why she ever bothered being his friend. (Lawrence does too.)

But then Lawrence goes missing. And he’s not the only one. Victoria soon discovers that The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is not what it appears to be. Kids go in but come out…different. Or they don’t come out at all.

If anyone can sort this out, it’s Victoria—even if it means getting a little messy.

The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart

"Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" ad attracts dozens for mind-bending tests readers may try. Only two boys and two girls succeed for a secret mission, undercover and underground into hidden tunnels. At the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, the only rule is - there are no rules.

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu [Another Daniel recommendation]

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.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Breadcrumbsis a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.

The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy

It’s 1952 and the Scott family has just moved from Los Angeles to London. Here, fourteen-year-old Janie meets a mysterious apothecary and his son, Benjamin Burrows—a fascinating boy who’s not afraid to stand up to authority and dreams of becoming a spy. When Benjamin’s father is kidnapped, Janie and Benjamin must uncover the secrets of the apothecary’s sacred book, the Pharmacopoeia, in order to find him, all while keeping it out of the hands of their enemies—Russian spies in possession of nuclear weapons. Discovering and testing potions they never believed could exist, Janie and Benjamin embark on a dangerous race to save the apothecary and prevent impending disaster.

The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Forester [The Canadian cover is a little different.] 

When homeschooled farm girl Piper McCloud reveals her ability to fly, she is quickly taken to a secret government facility to be trained with other exceptional children, but she soon realizes that something is very wrong and begins working with brilliant and wealthy Conrad to escape.

"Piper decided to jump off the roof. It wasn't a rash decision on her part. This was her plan: Climb to the top of the roof, pick up speed by running from one end all the way to the other. Jump off. Finally, and most importantly, don't fall. She didn't make plans in the event she did fall, because if you jump off the roof of your house and land on your head, you really don't need any plans from that point on. Even Piper knew that. So that's what she did. She jumped clean off her roof. But before we get to what happens next, you'll probably need to know a thing or two about a thing or two..."

Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow, by Nathan Bransford [Bransford is a former high-powered literary agent with a fantastic lit-centric blog you MUST follow if you're a writer type. OH, and Jacob Wonderbar already has two sequels out, so if your kid likes it, there's no waiting for the follow-up books!]

Jacob Wonderbar is used to detentions, but when a spaceship crashes near his house, he finds himself in a whole new level of trouble. After swapping a corn dog for the ship, he and his two best friends, Sarah Daisy and Dexter, take off on a madcap adventure. They accidentally cause an epic explosion, get kidnapped by a space pirate, and are marooned on planets like Numonia and Paisley, where the air smells like burp breath and revenge-hungry substitute teachers rule. And that's only the beginning . . . It turns out that there's an entire colony of space humans, and Jacob's long-lost father just might be one of them.

The first book in debut author Nathan Bransford's hilarious space adventure series has dynamite friendships, peculiar planets, and nonstop action. You'll never look at the stars the same way!

THESE are on my To-Buy list (it is so, so long ...):

Beholding Bee, by Kimberly Newton Fusco

Bee is an orphan who lives with a carnival and sleeps in the back of a tractor trailer. Every day she endures taunts for the birthmark on her face-though her beloved Pauline, the only person who has ever cared for her, tells her it is a precious diamond. When Pauline is sent to work for another carnival, Bee is lost.

Then a scruffy dog shows up, as unwanted as she, and Bee realizes that she must find a home for them both. She runs off to a house with gingerbread trim that reminds her of frosting. There two mysterious women, Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter, take her in. They clothe her, though their clothes are strangely out of date. They feed her, though there is nothing in their house to eat. They help her go to school, though they won''t enter the building themselves. And, strangely, only Bee seems able to see them.

Whoever these women are, they matter. They matter to Bee. And they are helping Bee realize that she, too, matters to the world--if only she will let herself be a part of it.

This tender novel beautifully captures the pain of isolation, the healing power of community, and the strength of the human spirit.

The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver [Again, because I enjoyed Oliver's Liesl & Po so much, I can't wait to get my hands on this one too!]

One night when Liza went to bed, Patrick was her chubby, stubby, candy-grubbing and pancake-loving younger brother, who irritated and amused her both, and the next morning, when she woke up, he was not. In fact, he was quite, quite different.

When Liza's brother, Patrick, changes overnight, Liza knows exactly what has happened: The spindlers have gotten to him and stolen his soul.

She knows, too, that she is the only one who can save him.

To rescue Patrick, Liza must go Below, armed with little more than her wits and a broom. There, she uncovers a vast world populated with talking rats, music-loving moles, greedy troglods, and overexcitable nids . . . as well as terrible dangers. But she will face her greatest challenge at the spindlers' nests, where she encounters the evil queen and must pass a series of deadly tests--or else her soul, too, will remain Below forever.

From New York Times best-selling author Lauren Oliver comes a bewitching story about the reaches of loyalty, the meaning of love, and the enduring power of hope.

The Peculiar, by Stefan Bachmann

Don't get yourself noticed and you won't get yourself hanged.
In the faery slums of Bath, Bartholomew Kettle and his sister Hettie live by these words. Bartholomew and Hettie are changelings-Peculiars-and neither faeries nor humans want anything to do with them.
One day a mysterious lady in a plum-colored dress comes gliding down Old Crow Alley. Bartholomew watches her through his window. Who is she? What does she want? And when Bartholomew witnesses the lady whisking away, in a whirling ring of feathers, the boy who lives across the alley-Bartholomew forgets the rules and gets himself noticed.
First he''s noticed by the lady in plum herself, then by something darkly magical and mysterious, by Jack Box and the Raggedy Man, by the powerful Mr. Lickerish . . .and by Arthur Jelliby, a young man trying to slip through the world unnoticed, too, and who, against all odds, offers Bartholomew friendship and a way to belong.
Part murder mystery, part gothic fantasy, part steampunk adventure, The Peculiar is Stefan Bachmann's riveting, inventive, and unforgettable debut novel.

Brother From a Box, by Evan Kuhlman

One new brother—assembly required. From the author of The Last Invisible Boy.

Matt Rambeau is officially a big brother—to a robot! Matt’s super-computer-genius dad is always getting cool tech stuff in the mail, but the latest box Matt opens contains the most impressive thing he’s ever seen: a bionically modified lifeform that looks human and calls Matt “brother” (in French)!

Norman turns out to be a bit of an attention hog and a showoff, but Matt’s still psyched to have a robotic sibling—even if he flirts with (ugh) girls. Then strange things start to happen. First a computer worm causes Norman to go berserk, and then odd men start showing up in unusual places. Matt soon realizes that someone is trying to steal the robot—correction—his brother!

In this zany, action-packed story with spies, skateboards, and plenty of artificial intelligence, acclaimed author Evan Kuhlman gets to the heart (and motherboard) of one of the most special relationships known to man (or machine): brotherhood.

Hokey Pokey, by Jerry Spinelli [Spinelli is a prolific writer with lots to choose from across the middle grade and YA genres.]

Welcome to Hokey Pokey. A place and a time, when childhood is at its best: games to play, bikes to ride, experiences to be had. There are no adults in Hokey Pokey, just kids, and the laws governing Hokey Pokey are simple and finite. But when one of the biggest kids, Jack, has his beloved bike stolen—and by a girl, no less—his entire world, and the world of Hokey Pokey, turns to chaos. Without his bike, Jack feels like everything has started to go wrong. He feels different, not like himself, and he knows something is about to change. And even more troubling he alone hears a faint train whistle. But that's impossible: every kid knows there no trains in Hokey Pokey, only tracks.

Master storyteller Jerry Spinelli has written a dizzingly inventive fable of growing up and letting go, of leaving childhood and its imagination play behind for the more dazzling adventures of adolescence, and of learning to accept not only the sunny part of day, but the unwelcome arrival of night, as well.

As for YA (young adult) titles, I just got these two:

The Beginning of After, by Jennifer Castle [I'm friends with Ms. Castle on FB, and she's lovely!]

Anyone who's had something truly crappy happen to them will tell you: It's all about Before and After. What I'm talking about here is the ka-pow, shake-you-to-your-core-and-turn-your-bones-to-plastic kind of crappy.

Sixteen-year-old Laurel's world changes instantly when her parents and brother are killed in a terrible car accident. Behind the wheel is the father of her bad-boy neighbor, David Kaufman, whose mother is also killed. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Laurel navigates a new reality in which she and her best friend grow apart, boys may or may not be approaching her out of pity, overpowering memories lurk everywhere, and Mr. Kaufman is comatose but still very much alive. Through it all there is David, who swoops in and out of Laurel's life and to whom she finds herself attracted against her better judgment. She will forever be connected to him by their mutual loss--a connection that will change them both in unexpected ways.

Jennifer Castle's debut novel is a heart-wrenching, surprisingly witty testament to how drastically life can change in the span of a single moment.

The Madman's Daughter, by Megan Shepherd [SO excited to read this one!!! Sounds crazy good!]

In the darkest places, even love is deadly.

Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father's gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.

Accompanied by her father's handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father's madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island's inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father's dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it's too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father's genius—and madness—in her own blood.

Inspired by H. G. Wells's classic The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Madman's Daughter is a dark and breathless Gothic thriller about the secrets we'll do anything to know and the truths we'll go to any lengths to protect.

And I'm looking forward to getting my hands on these:

City of Dark Magic, by Magnus Flyte

Cosmically fast-paced and wildly imaginative, this debut novel is a perfect potion of magic and suspense
Once a city of enormous wealth and culture, Prague was home to emperors, alchemists, astronomers, and, as it’s whispered, hell portals. When music student Sarah Weston lands a summer job at Prague Castle cataloging Beethoven’s manuscripts, she has no idea how dangerous her life is about to become. Prague is a threshold, Sarah is warned, and it is steeped in blood.

Soon after Sarah arrives, strange things begin to happen. She learns that her mentor, who was working at the castle, may not have committed suicide after all. Could his cryptic notes be warnings? As Sarah parses his clues about Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved,” she manages to get arrested, to have tantric sex in a public fountain, and to discover a time-warping drug. She also catches the attention of a four-hundred-year-old dwarf, the handsome Prince Max, and a powerful U.S. senator with secrets she will do anything to hide.

City of Dark Magic could be called a rom-com paranormal suspense novel—or it could simply be called one of the most entertaining novels of the year.

Invisibility, by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan -- not released until May [My draw to this title is Levithan. TOTAL fan girl here.]

Stephen has been invisible for practically his whole life — because of a curse his grandfather, a powerful cursecaster, bestowed on Stephen’s mother before Stephen was born. So when Elizabeth moves to Stephen’s NYC apartment building from Minnesota, no one is more surprised than he is that she can see him. A budding romance ensues, and when Stephen confides in Elizabeth about his predicament, the two of them decide to dive headfirst into the secret world of cursecasters and spellseekers to figure out a way to break the curse. 

But things don’t go as planned, especially when Stephen’s grandfather arrives in town, taking his anger out on everyone he sees. In the end, Elizabeth and Stephen must decide how big of a sacrifice they’re willing to make for Stephen to become visible — because the answer could mean the difference between life and death. At least for Elizabeth.

Game (Jasper Dent #2), by Barry Lyga -- not available until April 16 [Ahhhh! If you haven't read I Hunt Killers, you're missing out. Gripping! Hurry!]

I Hunt Killers introduced the world to Jasper (Jazz) Dent, the son of the world's most infamous serial killer.

When a desperate New York City detective comes knocking on Jazz's door asking for help with a new case, Jazz can't say no. The Hat-Dog Killer has the Big Apple--and its police force running scared with no leads. So Jazz and his girlfriend Connie hop on a plane to the big city and get swept up in a killer's murderous game.

Meanwhile, Jazz's dad Billy is watching...and waiting.

Your turn! What are you reading?

Xs and Os, lovelies ...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Welcome, Nuit! Oh, and Hallmark Has Us by the Ovaries

Because it's Valentine's Day, and no heart should be broken, I offer you this to love, in place of chocolates that will make you chubby and flowers that will wilt:

Hello, World. I am Nuit.
My name means night in French. Because I am black, and I have white that reminds my family of the moon and stars.

The kids were so broken after the death of our beloved Kovu, as was I. What better way to salve the wound than to smear kitten all over our faces. So we did just that. And now we take turns staying up with The Baby who decides that 3 a.m. is the BEST time to play chase and to parcour her way around the living room. Expect much in the way of photographic evidence of her awesomeness in the coming weeks and months (and, I hope, years).

In other news, as mentioned, 'tis Valentine's Day. I could give you the REAL story of Saint Valentine, which involves martyrdom, some clubbing and beating, and an eventual beheading, not at all romantic. Instead, I will share what my friends said when I asked them via Facebook about their MOST romantic encounters.

Chanel says ... I got to go to bed before the kids while hubby stayed up with them. I consider that more romantic than dinner and flowers.

Emily says ... Hiked three miles and up 3000 feet to the top of a mountain with an engagement ring in his underwear -- in the box -- to ask me to marry him. It may not have lasted a lifetime, but it was pretty darn good for about 18 years.

Melanie says ... Back when we were dating, my hubby got my roommate to let him in so he could write "I love you" in rose petals on my bed.

Triva says ... While we were dating, my husband lived over an hour away from me. But just about every day, he would get out of work and drive over in his huge truck (gas guzzler even when gas was cheap), just to see me and spend about two hours with me. Needless to say, we have been married for nine years and I still get butterflies when he kisses me.

Carolyn says ... Many, many years ago I was waiting tables at the Big Scoop Restaurant in White Rock. I just had the worst day at work. My boyfriend showed up near the end of my shift as I was leaving. He got down on one knee beside my car in the parking lot and proposed to me right then and there. Later I asked how come he didn't take me out for some fancy dinner and propose then. He said, "That was my original plan but then I saw what a bad day you were having and I changed my mind and did it right then to cheer you up." That's my husband of 22 years. He's never done anything the traditional way and I love him for it.

Ans said ... He cleaned the whole house after I came back from Holland but did the linoleum floor with furniture polish. Needless to say, you could ice skate on that floor for months to come!

Douglas said ... I once acquired tickets to a huge Broadway-style play and gave them to my GF for Christmas. The date was for February 14th. The seats were in the upper balcony but the show was enjoyable. On the drive home, we stopped for a bite to eat. It was Valentine's Day, so while we ate I presented her with her Valentine gift -- tickets to the same show a week later with seats in the 8th row.

Sarah said ... Had been dating a guy for a little while when he invited me to his work Christmas party. I was excited to meet all the co-workers, you know, it's kind of a milestone. I met him in Covent Garden after work and he suggested we get some food before the party because it was at a cocktail bar, not somewhere foody. He casually gestured to a little restaurant just near us and I said OK. After dinner we went looking for this cocktail bar. We were walking through the West End and we passed a theatre showing the LOTR [Lord of the Rings] musical. I had a little geek-girl swoon and mentioned how much I'd love to see it. He looked at the posters like he'd never heard of it and said, "Well, I guess we could do that tonight instead of the cocktail party." I sighed and said, "No, you have to book your tickets weeks and weeks in advance." He reached into his pocket and said, "Yeah, that's what I did," and pulled out two tickets.

Estrella said ... My husband is not a romantic kinda guy but he was with me at all times during the birth of my first two kids, telling me how proud he was of me and how he loved me all the more because I was his kids' mama and he couldn't have chosen a better mother for them, and even though I knew he was talking to me to make me feel better, I fell in love with him again and again.

*      *      *     *

Got a story of your own to share? Are you married? Single? Engaged? Divorced? Happily autonomous in a sea of madness that is Life? Got any horror stories (like mine from 1994 when my then-husband came home on Valentine's Day and sat down to a terrible attempt at chicken-fried steak and told me, while our three-month-old slept in her basket on the table, that I had to move out because he was in love with someone else)? Give it your best shot. Saint Valentine was beheaded, yo. This doesn't have to be all hearts and flowers.

My CURRENT husband (wow, that makes me sound like a regular Liz Taylor, doesn't it?) has tried VERY HARD to make up the Doom and Disgust of Hearts and Shit over these past thirteen years. This morning, I was greeted with mini York Peppermint Patties placed in the shape of a heart, the center of which beheld a mushy-love card (*blush*), and bookstore money. HE. IS. A. KEEPER. (And yes, I got me to the bookery shortly thereafter.)

I'm so glad that other dude dumped me. Genius!

We'll stop here for now, but I promise to update with all of the Awesome Books I Am Reading. (Hint: The Jane Austen Obsession continues ... oh, and middle grade books aren't just for 6th graders!)

Xs and Os, my lovelies ...