Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Countdown: 12 Books for Christmas Gift Giving

I'll have to start with Neil Gaiman's Graveyard book--because it feels so Christmasy and all.
What, you don't think a story of a child raised by ghosts in a graveyard can be cheery?  Warm, and filled with love?  Well, you'd be mistaken.  Even with a triple-murder kicking the story off, this book manages to feel like a family book, through and through.  With a shadowy conspiracy group threatening his safety, a legion of ghosts as his family, and an undead mentor, Bod, aka Nobody, isn't your average youngster.  But his needs and wants as an ordinary kid anchor the supernatural elements of the story.  Underneath and around his adventures in the realm of the ghouls and a brush with a cursed treasure, he's bored with his lessons and stubborn about food he doesn't like.  It's the kind of story that in the wrong hands would be a total flop, but with Neil Gaiman's masterful storytelling is a book I can truly recommend for everyone on your list.

The Golden City, by J. Kathleen Cheney

Set in historic Portugal and teeming with magic, this book was a refreshing change from predominantly British inspired historic fantasy.  Both fascinating and whimsical, it follows the story of Oriana as she navigates life as a banned Sereia (inspired by merfolk) and spy in a hostile city and quietly makes her way amongst the elite nobility of the city.  With a little romance, a lot of magic, and a strong dose of the detective story, this book left me anxious to get my hands on the second book, and has stayed with me since setting it down. Smoothly written and evocative, it's not a book you'll quickly forget.

Assassin's Apprentice, by Robin Hobb

I first read these books at the insistence of some good friends, and though I consumed them faster than ice cream on a hot day in summer, I wasn't sure when I finished them if I liked them or not.  The end to the first trilogy, which begins with Assassin's Apprentice, was frustrating to me.  That was close to a year ago.  I've recently begun and read my way through most of the sequel trilogy which begins with Fool's Errand, and must admit now that I either love these books or am a serious sucker for punishment.  A gripping tale of high fantasy, the world of the Farseer monarchs is beautifully detailed and so artfully crafted that you will find yourself believing beyond any doubt that somewhere these people and this world exists.  Complexity of plot and political intrigue are balanced by deep characterization, and combine to make a series that can easily stand alongside the Wheel of Time books or Game of Thrones.

Dave Barry Is Not Taking This Sitting Down, by--who else?--Dave Barry

A rather abrupt change of focus, I know, but there's always a chance that you might have a reader on your list who isn't a fantasy lover.  I've heard they exist...though I'm not sure I've met one.  But whatever your reader's preferences, there's a good chance they'll love this book if they like to laugh.  It's not his latest book, and in fact I only picked it up because I wanted to know what the 'big wigs' of humor were writing and our library had a copy.  But, it's funny!  So I'm recommending it.  A few topics touched on are low-flow toilets, school science fair projects, celebrity diets, and cruise ship buffets.  In other words...life, as it happens to us all.

Happy Reading!!!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Countdown: Twelve Books for Christmas Gift Giving

I've been pondering my recommendations for the past two week and still keep coming up with these first three as easy picks. I put my age recommendations below the titles, but this is just my opinion.

Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
Midgrade and Up

This is my favorite book of the year.

I know, I know, you Bartimaeus fans won't find him inside, and you'll miss him because, well, who else could possibly be Bartimaeus?* But you will find another** alternative London identical to our own with the addition of a plague of visitors: ghosts, haunts, spirits, and specters that only young psychics can sense and vanquish.

This is the story of  young Lucy Carlyle after she joins a small psychic investigation agency run by Anthony Lockwood, himself only a teenager. When a bumbled case results in the entire haunted house burning to the ground, they are eventually enmeshed in a mystery that can only be solved by investigating, and surviving, the most haunted house in England, which features a screaming staircase and the aptly named Red Room (shudder).

If you like action, suspense, humor and are giddy about inventive verbs and sophisticated punctuation, you are my kind of person, and you will treasure this book. Not to mention, it's the first time in years that I've been truly creeped out by the dark.

My two teens loved it, my adult neighbor loved it, my husband is mad that it hasn't been out of someone's hands long enough to read it himself yet, and we all have very different taste in books.

All the Truth That's in Me, Julie Berry
Teens and Up 

This is a powerful book: an engrossing story well told by a teen who has lost the power of speech.

When Julie Berry spoke about this book at my library, I was disappointed that she was giving away key points of her climax. No. She only told some bits of what happens in the first fourth of the novel. To call this book riveting is an understatement, but what else can you say? Gripping, spell-binding, relentless, enthralling, stay-in-bed-and-pretend-you're-sick-for-a-weekend-so-you-can-finish-it-good. If you haven't been glued to a book in a while, this one's for you.

Four years before the novel opens, Judith and her best friend go missing from their home in colonial America. Her best friend is found dead a few days later. Judith returns after two years unable to speak and assumed to be unclean by those around her. I know it sounds dark and heavy, but it's one of those books that courageously resounds with hope. You just have to read it.

Julie Berry is a master weaver of words and she will make you think and feel as you feverishly turn pages deep into the night.

Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan

The twelfth in this bestselling series came out this year and, though I haven't read it yet, I am working my way through this simple adventure series set in an alternative England of the middle ages.

In the first book, a boy coming of age hopes to become a knight but is chosen to apprentice as a creepy ranger and doesn't know what to make of it. There's a bully who is bullied in turn, a killer pig or two, and a dangerous outcast who can control the minds of fantastical murderous creatures.

What I love about these books is the straightforward writing style that somehow makes you see every scene as if you'd dreamed it yourself. The author claims he doesn't see the scenes he writes, he hears them, using words to evoke emotion and description all in one. All I know, is I'd like to be able to do that, too. I have laughed out loud and shed tears in each and every book. They just get to me. Plus, there's a movie in development. You can be one of the cool people who liked it first.

Dog in Charge by KL Going, Illustrated by Dan Santat

This was my favorite picture book of the year, though it was published in 2012. It's a simple little thing, easy to read, fabulous pictures... And then you realize that on top of the counting to five and the cats your kids get to find hidden in the pictures, there are plot reversals, an exciting midpoint, even a dark night of the soul, all wrapped up in a tight little package.

Yes, there was some Deus Ex Cattus but Dog earned it.

I am seriously going to have kick my game up a level if I ever hope to publish another picture book. I wasn't surprised to see that Going is a Printz Honor winner and a successful YA novelist.

So there you go. Don't forget to check out Boleyn Deceit by Laura Andersen...intrigue, mystery and romance in an alternative Tudor England. Sigh. LOVING IT.

*I am such a nerd. I found this Bartimaeus Trilogy wish list in progress on IMDB and was so excited: Alan Rickman, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Rhys-Davies, and on and on. NOT A REAL CAST LIST. Sigh. Well here's to hoping that someday it will be a movie...and Artemis Fowl, too. Still, I don't know why I get all excited. Books are always better. Almost always better.

**For the uninitiated, The Bartimaeus Trilogy also features an alternative London where leaders are magicians who have learned the art of harnessing demon magic. Bartimaeus is a demon an esteemed genie. He is also fond of footnotes.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Countdown: Twelve Books for Christmas Gift Giving

When the Cabinet decided to recommend books for gift giving, my first inclination was to showcase new releases--but I changed my mind. Here are four five of my all time favorite reads and a couple books being released in December as a bonus. Speaking of new releases. How cool would it be to preorder books for someone, like the gift of a new release every month?

Okay, enough small talk. Here are my recommendations.

THE CURSE WORKER series by Holly Black, including WHITE CAT, RED GLOVE and BLACK HEART.  Why give a single book as a gift? Make a reader’s holiday seriously amazing by the gluttonous gift of the entire CURSE WORKER series. I rank these three books among my all time favorite YA contemporary fantasies, though in truth they’re much more than pure fantasy. The depth of the world in which these stories take place makes them deliciously genre blending. They also are definitely books that would appeal to an adult as well as a teen.

My next two picks are also by one author. I had a spell earlier last summer when every book I read seemed mediocre, and then I heard Rainbow Rowell on Narrative Breakdown. She was talking about writing romance (actually she made an eye-opening comment about why the romance in TWILIGHT worked so well for a large number of readers). At any rate, I bought her novel ELEANOR & PARK and fell in love with her writing and characters.  I immediately bought her newer novel FANGIRL and enjoyed it even more. I have talked to a few people who aren’t fond of her novels, but I’m certain that has more to do with individual life experiences and taste rather than the quality of Rowell’s writing.  Hands down, these two books rank in my top ten reads so far this year.

Bonus books: I’ll be doing interviews with these authors on my personal blog over the next few weeks.  There will be book giveaways, so be sure to check them out.  Link to follow my blog

THE PROMISE OF AMAZING by Robin Constantine (coming out Dec 31st) A sweet YA romance blended with a touch of humor--and maybe a few dark secrets as well. Wonderful characters and genuine romance.

SOUL CUTTER by Lexa Cain (came out Dec 2) Fast paced and scary, this YA horror novel is the story of a girl who goes to Egypt to search for her mother but finds the supernatural, a killer, and an unexpected romance.

THE SECRET OF ISOBEL KEY by Jen McConnell (coming out Dec 19) NA this exciting mystery flashes between contemporary and 17th century Scotland. Romance, witch trials, self-discovery and mysteries, what more do you need?  This book was originally self-published, but was so successful that it was picked up by a publisher. 

Watch next week for another Cabinet member's recommendations.