Friday, December 16, 2016

It's Giving Time Again:
And Here Are Some Gift Book Ideas

In a word,  SEQUELS!  This was a big year for final books of popular trilogies, quartets and quintets (??).  Why do we love them so?  For one reason, a sequel is more of a known quantity and less of a risk.  If you loved the characters, you get to spend more time with them and get to know them better.  If you loved the world-building, or the writing style, or the way the plots unfold, you're reasonably assured that you will be happy with the next book too.  If you're a gift giver, well, Bingo!  A new book in a series your reader already knows and likes is an awesome and sure to be appreciated gift.

All titles are in print and available at your local independent bookstore (Little Shop of Stories is ours) or online. 


Seeds of America, by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Seeds of America trilogy is complete!  Exploring the lesser know history of African Americans in Colonial, then Revolutionary America, the trilogy begins with Chains, the story of young teen Isabel and her little sister Ruth, freed by one owner only to be re-enslaved by another.  Forge focuses on Curzon, a runaway slave fighting for his own freedom alongside Patriot soldiers in the rebellion against King George.  The 2016 final installment, Ashes, follows Curzon, Isabel and Ruth as they decide whether to cast their efforts with the British or the Americans.  Which side will bring them freedom from slavery?

Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children,  by Ransom Riggs

Riggs first novel was released in September 2016 as a Tim Burton movieMiss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children,  inspired by a strange collection of vintage photographs, concludes with Library of Souls.  Teenage Jacob, tracing his grandfather's stories back to a childhood on a Welsh island, discovers a special refuge for decidedly peculiar children (including a girl with bees in her stomach, an invisible boy, and a girl who can make fire with her hands).  This orphanage is hidden out of time, protected by an endlessly repeating loop of the same day.  Why hidden?  The children have been hunted for years, by monsters who would use their abilities for evil.  In Hollow City (#2), Jacob, Emma (the fire girl) and the other children flee the island for London, the peculiar capitol of the world, in search of a cure for Miss Peregrine, who has been transformed by the monsters into her namesake bird.  In Library of Souls, Jacob discovers abilities of his own, and the children evade the evil wights and hollowgasts to save all of Peculiardom from destruction.

The Rule of Thre3,  by Eric Walters

This is a Canadian post-apocalyptic survival trilogy, set in the mundane suburbs of Toronto.  The first book, The Rule of Three, starts with an ordinary day gone extraordinary, when all computers around the world just stop working. For good.  Soon, Adam's subdivision is in competition with other neighboring subdivisions for food, drinking water, building materials. To survive, the community must develop, and quickly, military-style intelligence, planning and defenses from armed attackers who want what Eden Mills has.  In Fight for Power, society continues spiraling into chaos, and Adam and the others begin to second-guess their complete trust in Herb, the neighbor whose secret government past has prepared him for leadership in catastrophic times.   Survial remains the theme in the concluding Will to Survive, as Adam struggles with the knowledge he has killed, and will do so again, in the name of protecting his family and his home.  The most sobering idea about this series is that it could happen tomorrow, and while it isn't a hard or super-sophisticated read, the questions asked, like "What would I choose to do in this situation," and "How do people stay moral in difficult and immoral times?" resonate with readers of all ages. Plus, things blow up!!

Divided We Fall,  by Trent Reedy

Lots and lots of things blow up in this version of a second American Civil War.  The trilogy begins with Divided We Fall  and Private Daniel Wright, a young National Guardsman and high school senior on the verge of graduation, whose gun misfires at a tense 2nd Amendment protest in Boise, and triggers the secession of Idaho.  He's a good man, but the more Danny tries to do the right thing, the worse things become. In Burning Nation, Federal troops have occupied Idaho, the state declares itself a Republic, and Danny is torn between wanting a normal life with girlfriend Jobell, and his sense of duty in supporting the guerillas fighting for Idaho's independence.  In The Last Full Measure, the war rages on but Danny (experiencing low-level PTSD) and his friends have left Idaho for a safe, normal life.  They quickly realize that the leadership of The Brotherhood of the White Eagle is as frightening as the tyrannies they've left behind, and separate from the group again.   Author Reedy was deployed to Afghanistan with the Iowa Army National Guard, and knows what he's writing about.  This super-realistic depiction of domestic warfare has plenty of action and firepower to keep teens reading, and asks questions not often raised in YA fiction -- "What kind of life do I want to live, and what's worth dying for?"
The Fifth Wave trilogy, by Rick Yancey

Alien invasion like you've never seen it!  In the beginning, the aliens who've targeted Earth as their new home (after they get rid of its human inhabitants) began the elimination with four distinct waves of attack.  The Fifth Wave, human-looking Others whose goal is the extinction of mankind, is terrifying, and relentless, and deadly.  Cassie, who thought she was the last human alive, discovers other survivors, and fights in a resistance effort while trying to find her little brother. Ben, another human teen, has transformed from a high school heartthrob to a hardened paramilitary soldier.  In the end, the teens have to decide which is more important for the world -- saving the humans, or saving their humanity.

Also closing with final installments this year:  Maggie Steifvater's  The Raven Cycle  with the eagerly awaited The Raven King and Pierce Brown's Imperial-Rome-on-Mars Red Rising trilogy finishing with Morning Star.

Open Series (there are more to come) 

Flavia de Luce mysteries, by Alan Bradley

This is a lovely, funny, clever series published for adults, set in Bishop's Lacey, a sleepy 1950s village hamlet.  It stars precocious 11-year-old chemist, Flavia de Luce, the youngest of three sisters, with a missing daredevil mother, a grieving titled (and impoverished) father, and a best friend (a bicycle named Gladys).  The series opener, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, was a big hit with a 7th grade "Tea and a Mystery" event hosted by Joanna Gibson and Joseph Cullen earlier this year.  In it, Flavia can't help but investigate the demise of a stranger in the estate's cucumber patch ("by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.")  By this year's Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd  (#8; the title is straight from Hamlet's witches), Flavia (still just 12 by this point) has protected gypsies, exhumed a saint, dabbled in resurrection, discovered what truly happened to her mother, been exiled to girls' boarding school in Canada, become an heiress, and grown up far more and learned more about the adult world than many.  A recent turn in the series looks like Flavia may become a junior secret agent!

Pagan Jones spy thrillers, by Nina Berry

Just two entries so far.  The early days of the Cold War is the setting for Nina Berry's mystery/romance/historical thriller The Notorious Pagan Jones. Pagan Jones, a fallen 1950s teen starlet burdened with an alcohol problem and the guilt of a car crash that killed her dad and sister, knows something fishy is up when a mysterious man springs her from the girls reformatory to star in an anti-Communist comedy being shot in Berlin.  Espionage, infiltration, and a Wall around East Berlin weren't exactly what she expected.  Pagan's next assignment puts her in a cheesy film in Buenos Ares in City of Spies.

Cormoran Strike mysteries, by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

The beloved author of the Harry Potter magical fantasy series has found another character to develop, this time for mature teens and grownups.  In this case, the main character is Cormoran Strike, a British military investigator home from the war in Afghanistan and building a London detective agency.  In The Cuckoo's Calling, Strike's failing agency is down to one client when a man hires him to investigate the apparent suicide of his supermodel sister.  An exploration of family dynamics, fame and envy, Strike's success in this case brings notoriety, and thankfully, more clients.  The Silkworm is about the world of publishing, poisonous competition among writers and academics, and the nasty death of an unlikeable person.  The author does a masterful job in developing her two main characters, Strike and his determined, capable assistant Robin Ellacot, over the course of the three entries in the series so far.  Career of Evil explores mysogeny, narcissism and revenge, as a string of gruesome murders seem to be a message directly aimed at Strike, from someone in his past.  And it turns out that Robin is one heck of an accomplished driver!  This series has been a big hit with faculty readers this year.

Big Ideas Simply Explained non-fiction series, from DK Publishing

The Big Ideas Simply Explained books are big hits with the inquisitive high school crowd.  Heavy on the visuals, each title is heavy in text and visuals, and is just plain heavy, due to the dense high gloss paper used. This year's series entry, The Movie Book, profiles 100 of the best movies ever made.  Each movie gets a double page spread with a synopis, context, innovation and importance of the film, stills, and side boxes featuring the director, production people, and related films.  Anybody who wanted an affordable film history survey class could use this book as an outstanding guide.  The others in the series are equally good and accessible.

First Books/New Series/Favorite Authors, bound to be popular.

Scythe, Neal Shusterman's latest novel, speculates on technology, ethics and society.  In The Giver, one person is trained to be the holder of all society's sad, violent or upsetting memories.  In Scythe, a select group of reapers is trained to choose and "glean" a quota of citizens each year, since there is no other way for people to die in a post-disease, post-war society.  Kind, responsible Rowan and questioning, independent Citra are chosen as apprentice scythes, a job neither of them wants (which makes them ideal candidates).  While in training, they realize there are competing factions within the order, and the side that enjoys gleaning is gaining power.   Shusterman's earlier Unwind quartet explores what a society might do with "problem" children in a post-abortion world. First in the upcoming Arc of a Scythe trilogy.

Marissa Meyer's new Heartless is the imaginative backstory of Wonderland's temperamental Queen of Hearts, back when she was young Lady Catherine, who just wanted to open a bakery with her best friend.  Meyer's incredibly popular Lunar Chronicles series (starting with Cinder) is a different kind of fractured fairytale, retelling Cinderella, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood and other tales in a cyborg space opera setting.

Standalones Too Good to Miss!

David Wong's Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, is awfully hard to describe.  There's a hedonistic city even more outlandish than Las Vegas, a social network that tracks everybody and everything, surgically altered supervillans, a smart & sassy young woman from a trailer park, a stinky cat and an incredibly wealthy,  immoral, and very dead dad.  It's funny, it's frantic, and scary in its predictions.  Belt yourself in for a wild, hilarious ride with this one!

Salt to the Sea is the latest YA novel from Ruta Sepetys, author of the acclaimed Between Shades of Gray from a couple of years ago.  Both explore periods not well known to American readers.  Salt to the Sea follows four German teenagers in the final days of WWII, fleeing from Russian army advances in East Prussia, and headed to the north coast, where Hitler's government is evacuating civilians and soldiers by sea.  Inspired by the 1945 sinking of the Wilhelm Gustlof in the Baltic Sea, the greatest, yet virtually unknown, disaster in maritime history.  Between Shades of Gray is about a Lithuanian family's exile in a Siberian gulag during WWII.

In Labyrinth Lost, Alex is so afraid of her Brooklyn bruja family's magic that she sabotages her coming-of-age ceremony. The botched rite accidentally banishes her loved ones to another realm, where a power-mad bruja is slowly destroying all living things within it.  Fascinating new fantasy laced with Hispanic myth and culture.

Mary Roach doesn't exactly write non-fiction series, but she definitely has a theme going.  She's written "curious science" explorations of cadavers, the scientific evidence of the afterlife, sex, the human digestive tract, and life on Mars.  Her latest, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, isn't a war book, it's a "holy cow, did you know . . .!" book.  How do soldiers defeat the non-human enemy (heat, sand, bugs, diarrhea)?  Answering questions like "how is a wedding gown like a bomb suit?" and "genital prosthesis??," Grunt is another fun science book that will leave you looking at the military in a whole new way.  

Happy Holidays!  (but really, you never need a holiday to give, receive or read a good book!)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor:
JH Reading Club

The last reading club meeting of 2016 met yesterday afternoon, to talk about Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a 2011 YA fantasy, the first of a trilogy. As usual, it was a small group of four students, but also as usual, all four had read the whole 418-page novel, and had lots to say. 

We were split -- one student proclaimed this her favorite book yet (!!), a second said it was a tie between this one and Afterworlds (October's book), and the other two put Afterworlds on top.  Those readers preferred the complexity of this alternating storylines, and the plots themselves.  None of this group of four were crazy about the romance aspect of Daughter of Smoke and Bone -- as I reread it for yesterday, I realized that I too am so over  the' hot angel boyfriend' trope.  That's my term, but the readers (girls and boys alike) said they were disappointed when the angel showed up and they realized it would be "just another love story."  The character of Akiva is definintely the least interesting.  In this book (I think it gets better in the remainderof the trilogy) he comes off as Edward-like ancient stalker-ish for a long time.

Luckily, there's so much more than hot angels to the story.  The characters of Karou, Brimstone and Zuzana were top topics, and we also talked about the roles of Hope, teeth, wishes and belonging in the novel.  A couple of students were familiar with Emily Dickenson's poem "Hope Is The Thing With Feathers," and we wonderered how that might tie in with Karou (whose name means 'hope' in Chimera) and the images of angel wings and feathers (she wears a feathered mask at the ball).  The legendary mythological nature of the animal/human creatures that are Chimera, and that in Laini Taylor's world they are the sympathetic characters and the Seraphim (angels) are the tyrannical, warlike bad guys.  We talked about Karou's tactic of telling the truth with a smile, so that none of her human friends believed that her outlandish tales were real, and I told them a story I'd read about actor Clark Gable's strategy of introducing his mistress at parties as "my mistress" -- his theory being that no one would believe such a bold statement! 

The collection of fan art below was a lot of fun to talk about.  Karou wasn't so difficult to imagine, but Brimstone was tricky.  Not everyone had imagined him with an animal face.  And Thiago (the guy with the white hair in the bottom row) -- there aren't that many examples of him online (he's a villain) and I explained why I chose that last drawing.  Thiago is a wolf-ish Chimera, described as strong and handsome, yet scary and repulsive.  That's my reaction to that drawing -- technically good-looking, but intensely creepy. And Akiva?  We looked up images online, and there was nothing remarkable at all.  Interesting, no?

Most of the drawings are from the artists social network (lots of fan art there!), and it turns out that one of the club members is a "Deviant Artist."  Cool!

We didn't get to watch the author interviews I'd embedded at the bottom of this page.  I forgot to take my own laptop, and the student iPad we used was blocked from YouTube.  Boo.  But I sent the links in an email so everyone can watch later.

This is a fantasy-loving group of readers.  I'm planning for us to read multiple genres (if you're interested in reading club but prefer other genres, let me know!!!), but for January we're still in the "fantastic" realm -- no magic, just cool, weird Steampunk, as we read Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve. Reeve's 2005 novel, Mortal Engines (out of print!!!), is set to be released as a movie next year.  Fever Crumb is a series in its own right, but sets up and takes place in the world that develops into the Hungry Cities of Mortal Engines.

Fan interpretations of Karou, Brimstone, Madrigal & Thiago

For a collection of international edition covers, check out Laini Taylor's blog!

A short interview with author Laini Taylor

Another interview with the author (in a noisy crowded place!)