Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
I was a little late jumping on the bandwagon of The Fault in Our Stars. I’m usually not one to read what is popular, but rather what appeals to me content-wise. There was about a 10% chance that I would read a book about cancer, and less so one about kids with cancer. As many people have been touched by the hands of cancer, it still is a difficult subject to think about and talk about, let alone read about.
This was my second venture into listening to audiobooks, as I felt a greater sense of story while listening to Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater than the first time I read it. So I felt that I should try The Fault in Our Stars in audio book format, as I could multi-task while listening.
However, John Green’s words had other plans for me.
The Fault in Our Stars was engaging and witty, sharp-tongued and unique. I adored the way Augustus called her “Hazel Grace” instead of just “Hazel.” I was surprised with the sincerity that John Green wrote Hazel’s character, and the honesty of Augustus’s life and metaphors. There was a true appreciation of young adults in this novel that is hard to find, and John Green does it perfectly. He wrote two extremely smart teenagers that were realistic and three-dimensional. Young adults are the intellectuals of our generation. They feel everything and say what they mean with earnestness. This book tore at my emotions, something books rarely do for me, and I do think that this was enhanced by the wonderful performance given by narrator Kate Rudd.
This was the very first book I’ve read/listened to by John Green, and I can’t be more excited for the movie version of The Fault in Our Stars to be released in June 2014.
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Or check out the audiobook
What if you built a machine that could receive messages from the future? What messages would you like to receive? Probably your first answer would be winning lottery numbers. But what if, along with the winning numbers, you also received an SOS? Tane and Rebecca receive just such a message, and they sent it to themselves. Something horrific is about to happen to their New Zealand home, and they must decipher their own messages to stop it. They follow the directions they receive to the best of their ability, but they still don’t know exactly what they’re up against. Early attempts to carry out their instructions don’t go exactly as planned, and when the threat does become clear, it might be too late.
A mist has begun moving South through New Zealand. At first, it is centered mostly over farmland, wilderness, and uninhabited land. The first reports from populated areas indicate that it rolled in without warning and then began to thicken. It moves at no consistent rate of speed and moves against the wind. The transmissions end there, and when backup is sent in, they are also never heard from again. Everyone who encounters the mist seems to simply disappear. If this is the danger Tane and Rebecca warned themselves of, how will they ever be able to stop it?
Falkner has written a suspenseful science fiction horror story that kept me turning the pages. While the reasoning behind the creation of the mist seems a bit heavy handed, I suppose that there had to be some sort of back-story for the “villain” of the piece. I won’t give it away, but it works as well as any for this type of sci-fi thriller.
Check the WRL catalog for The Tomorrow Code
I enjoy the work of children’s book author and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg, particularly his 1984 book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. This is not your average children’s picture book; instead, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is a series of 14 exquisitely detailed, black and white illustrations, each accompanied by an enigmatic title and caption. Alternately whimsical and haunting, the illustrations in this book inspired me (and countless other readers) to invent stories to explain what was going on in the pictures. Recently, I had the opportunity to revisit a cherished part of my childhood by reading The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, an illustrated short story collection in which 14 authors, including Stephen King and his wife Tabitha King, Sherman Alexie, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire, and Cory Doctorow, have contributed stories inspired by the illustrations in The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
All of the stories are original to the collection with the exception of Stephen King’s “The House on Maple Street,” which originally appeared in his 1993 book Nightmares & Dreamscapes. The stories themselves are not linked by any recurring characters or situations, so readers shouldn’t feel that the stories need to be read in any specific order. Like Van Allsburg’s illustrations, each story has its own unique tone and style; some are dark, like Jules Feiffer’s “Uninvited Guests,” while others, such as Louis Sachar’s “Captain Tory,” are sweet and poignant.
One of my favorite stories in the collection was M.T. Anderson’s “Just Desert,” the tale of a boy named Alex who, on the eve of his 10th birthday, discovers that nothing in his world is as it appears. I felt the authors did a fine job of capturing the surreal atmosphere found in Van Allsburg’s illustrations. Lemony Snicket’s introduction is also a real hoot.
The Chronicles of Harris Burdick is a good, quick read that should appeal to readers who grew up intrigued by The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
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Check the WRL catalog for The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
Emerson can see dead people. Or, to be more precise, she can see people from the past. Sometimes they are easy to identify—the Scarlett O’Hara wannabe in the hoop skirt was easy to peg—but others look just like the living. It’s not until she brushes against them, or tries to interact with them, that she realizes they aren’t really there. It has become especially problematic now that more and more of the past is bleeding into her present. Where she would once see only individuals, now objects and entire scenes from the past are visible. Emerson’s visions began just before the tragic death of her parents, and now her brother and legal guardian Thomas is determined to find Emerson some help. She’s tried shamans, psychics, therapists, and nothing has worked. When she is heavily medicated the hallucinations stop, but she can’t function in that zombified state forever.
Enter Michael, a consultant from The Hourglass, who Thomas has hired to work as Emerson’s mentor. Michael is surprisingly unfazed by Emerson’s visions, and even has terminology for the things she can see. He calls them Rips, short for Ripples, and is adamant that The Hourglass can help her. Michael is slow to reveal his secrets, but Emerson soon realizes that Thomas’s hiring of Michael wasn’t exactly coincidental. She (and her ability) would be extremely useful to Michael’s latest project.
Hourglass is the first in a series, and I’m looking forward to reading more stories set in the world McEntire has created. She spends a bit of time setting up the rules that her characters must live by, and dropping hints for future novels, but succeeded in leaving me wanting more. There is enough going on that McEntire could have left out one of the romantic rival sub-plots (which has hopefully been permanently resolved) but that ultimately amounts to only a minor annoyance.
Check the WRL catalog for Hourglass.
A teenage girl shoplifts a too-tight, red, sleeveless turtleneck from Walmart. Immediately afterwards, the only adult in her life (who turns out not to be her mother or official stepmother) drops dead in the checkout line. This roller-coaster start sets the tone for this stirring tale of Lutie and her young brother, Fate, as they struggle to survive alone.
The plot bounds along as appalling events follow closely one after another. The children end up living on the streets of Las Vegas where they are prey to a parade of unsavory characters who seem to offer a helping hand but really want to exploit them. Teenage Lutie is often flawed, sometimes to the point of not being likable, but I realized that she has adult responsibilities without any help or guidance. Ultimately, she knows she loves her shy, bookish brother and wants to do what is best for him. A series of plot twists and turns ensue including Lutie’s forays into child prostitution and drugs. I found this very plausible and and also very disturbing.
Lutie and Fate’s desperate situation and downward spiraling luck drew me into their story, but I found it increasingly difficult to believe that they would ever extricate themselves from the mess their lives had become. Readers of Billie Letts’ other novels, such as the popular Where the Heart Is, know that she leans towards tearjerking but heartwarming endings, and Made in the U.S.A. follows that pattern. Who knows, maybe some of the exploitative strangers are genuinely kind? And maybe Lutie will find a practical use for her gymnastic talents?
This book is for you if you like a fast-paced, human interest novel with strong, quirky characters, that shows the dark side of life but ultimately has a joyous ending. I was glad that their story ended how life should proceed rather than what often happens to the many real Luties and Fates alone and lost on city streets.
Check the WRL catalog for Made in the U.S.A.
Cas and his mother just moved to a new town. They move around pretty often, so Cas knows the routine: find a house, find a school, find the popular crowd, and get them to share the local ghost story. Chances are, if Cas has done his research well, the ghost everybody thinks is just a story will turn out to be real. That’s why he and his mom moved to town in the first place. Cas is a ghost hunter.
His current case is the titular Anna Dressed in Blood. She was murdered while walking to a school dance in 1958 and her killer was never found. Anna now haunts her former home, killing anyone who enters, until the day Cas comes to call. Cas is the first person to enter Anna’s home and make it out alive. In fact, not only is he alive, but he is entirely unharmed. He is the first person to enter Anna’s home who could actually cause her harm, could even destroy her, and still she chooses to let him go. Now Cas is driven to solve both Anna’s murder and the mystery of her sudden change of heart. In Cas’s experience, a ghost with a track record like Anna’s doesn’t just turn over a new leaf. But then Anna isn’t quite like any ghost Cas has ever hunted before.
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The best fantasy writing makes you believe completely in the validity of the story, and by that criteria, Maggie Stiefvater’s young adult novel The Scorpio Races is certainly a winner.
The story is set on Thisby, a mythical island off Ireland or Scotland in an otherwise normal world. Thisby is a misty, Brigadoon-like mecca for horse lovers because it’s the place where the capaill uisce, the beautiful, terrifying water horses, emerge from the sea. For unclear reasons, they come ashore every November, when some of the most daring locals dare to capture and ride them in the annual Scorpio Races. The races are both thrilling and horrifying, a bloody spectacle in which some riders are inevitably killed as the capaill uisce charge along the beach, bite each other and anything else in reach, and frequently resist their riders to plunge back into the ocean.
The atmospheric island has little else to recommend it. Sure, it’s scenic, but it’s also a difficult place to make a life, with wild weather, little food, entrenched ways and only a few wealthy landlords who dominate the other locals. Most young people leave the island for adventures on the mainland or in America, and as the novel opens, Puck Connolly’s older brother Gabe announces that he plans to leave as well. That’s a problem because Puck, her somewhat compulsive younger brother Finn, and Gabe are orphans left behind after their parents were killed by the water horses and Gabe has been supporting them. To stall Gabe’s departure and perhaps to win enough money to save their home, Puck decides to ride in the Scorpio Races, although a woman has never competed and she’ll have to ride her speedy but undersized mare Dove instead of a capaill uisce.
One of her competitors is Sean Kendrick, a young man who has won more Scorpio Races than any other rider, but who has been trapped by Terence Malvern (the same man who is foreclosing on Puck’s house) into working in his stables. Sean loves riding Corr–the fierce red water horse on which he’s won so many races–more than anything else, but Malvern owns Corr and keeps Sean in line by refusing to sell him. Sean’s tenth share of his race winnings have made him wealthy by island standards, but not compared to Malvern who still controls the only thing Sean wants. Sean’s life is further complicated by the jealousy of Malvern’s horrible son, Mutt.
The lives of these two riders become entwined as the book continues and they rise from mutual frustration to grudging respect to romance, but their survival is constantly threatened, their personal problems seem insurmountable, and their final goals are in conflict. Surrounding them with quirky islanders, a mysterious American visitor, and the sometimes thrilling, sometimes terrifying water horses, Stiefvater weaves a tale that will keep you enthralled from start to finish. I felt like I’d run in my own Scorpio Race by the time I was done, and I certainly came away a winner.
Check the WRL catalog for The Scorpio Races
Or try The Scorpio Races as an audiobook
Three’s the charm for the novella-length short stories in this young adult collection, centered around three kisses. Some kisses are promises and some are threats; some could make you lose your soul, and others might help you get it back again.
In “Goblin Fruit,” the handsome new boy in school has eyes only for Kizzy, which would be a good thing, if he were human. (Kizzy ought to know better: her grandmother gave her a stiletto for occasions just like this.) A contemporary take on Christina Rossetti’s creepy poem, “Goblin Market,” which you certainly don’t need to know to enjoy it, this story ends in an unsettling place… or makes you want to start writing the next chapter.
“Spicy Little Curses Such as These,” set in India at the height of the British empire, was my favorite of the three stories. An elderly woman, “with a stare that could shoot laughter from the air like game birds,” serves as an ambassador to hell, taking tea with demons to ransom souls back to the living. (I notice that most summaries of this story focus on the beautiful young girl, cursed with silence lest she kill anyone who hears her voice, and the young man who falls in love with her. But young couples in love always get the headlines. Old ladies who take tea in hell: that’s what I’m talking about.)
In “Hatchling,” a brown-eyed girl wakes up with one blue eye and her mother freaks. Taylor unfurls the story of the mother’s past in a fantastically-detailed mountain eyrie court, ruled by a heartless queen who keeps children as pets and feeds her cats to bridge trolls. This involving story is something like watching Narnia’s White Witch get a second chance.
Taylor’s prose is lushly descriptive, but among her poetic similes are also short, pointed, painful sentences, like thorns among roses. She’s a fantastic storyteller. Readers of folk and fairy tales will recognize elements of Orpheus, Sleeping Beauty, Andersen’s Little Mermaid and other motifs. These stories incline to the darker side, full of blood and menace, and will appeal to older teens. Each of the stories is introduced by a wordless mini-graphic-novel by illustrator Jim Di Bartolo, setting the scene in fine gothic style.
Check the WRL catalog for Lips Touch: Three Times.