Thursday, June 30, 2011

Along for the Ride

Along for the Ride
By Sarah Dessen
Viking, 2009. 383 pgs. Teen fiction

After graduating high school, Auden goes to stay with her father, stepmother ,and new half-sister. While there, she develops a friendship with Eli, a fellow insomniac, as they find ways to pass the night. Finding out that Auden, whose parents are academics, has pretty much missed out on a normal childhood, Eli encourages her to try things she's never done. All seems to be going well with their quest until a family struggle brings up all Auden's unresolved issues from her parents' divorce and she pulls back from Eli and retreats to the safety of books and academia.

When this book first came out in 2009, I read and loved it; I gave it a rave review on my library's book blog. However, this time around, I listened to it, and I loathed the narrator's reading of it. There were so many times when she got the rhythm of sentences wrong, pausing at places that changed the meaning of or disrupted the flow of the sentences. It was highly irritating. And, as the same time, perhaps because I was cranky as I was listening to the narrator butcher a book I'd previously enjoyed, I started getting irritated by other things--like, the underage drinking with absolutely no hint of a consequence, the fact that Auden hooks up with Eli's brother (before she and Eli meet) and there's absolutely no effect on their friendship and blossoming relationship because of it, and how completely impossible Auden's parents are. However, these things didn't bother me in my previous reading, so why now? Well, I started another of Dessen's books (This Lullaby), which again, I had previously liked and now couldn't get into, and I think perhaps it's not so much Dessen's books personally as that I've reached a saturation point in my reading. I'm TIRED of reading about teens drinking and sleeping around and horrible parents, etc. Are these things realistic? YES. Are some books about these topics necessary? Of course. However, there are also teens who are still virgins and not bemoaning the fact, there are teens who have no desire to drink or use drugs, and there are functional, happy families out there, I personally would really like some books that show that. I don't want June Cleaver or whatever, but I want more balance. I think it's possible to write great books that really reach teens that deal with serious issues and are well-written that don't have all this stuff in it...Joan Bauer's books come to mind, actually. So, basically, I think that just as I am SOOOOOOOOOOOO tired of vampires and all things supernatural, I'm tired of books about parents who are so selfish, stupid, etc. and teens who are drinking, sleeping around, etc., and I want more balance in what's being published. Please, please, publishers and authors:Give me something different.

End tangent. Back to the book...I don't really know what to rate it. Before, I would have given it five stars, but after listening to it, I would only give it a three. So I guess I'll average it and give it a four...but unhappily so.

Also, another note to producers of audiobooks: Shorter tracks, please. Ten minutes per track is RIDICULOUS! Don't go over five minutes, I say.

Code Talker

Code Talker
By Joseph Bruchac
Dial Books, 2005. 231 pgs. Teen fiction

From the time he is sent to a boarding school run by whites and assigned a new name, Ned Begay is told that being Navajo is a bad thing. He's not allowed to speak his native language and is constantly told that only by leaving his heritage behind can he amount to anything. However, when Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, the Marine Corps suddenly has a need for Navajos who can speak both their native tongue and English. The first twenty-nine Navajos recruited devise a code to convey messages, based on their native tongue, and Ned, in the second wave of Navajo recruitments, becomes one of the code talkers vital to the success of the Marine Corps as they fight to retake American territories in the Pacific as well as establish a presence on Iwo Jima and Okinowa.

This is a fascinating piece of historical fiction, showing the contribution of the Navajos to the armed forces during WWII. I particularly enjoyed the details about how the code was developed and taught, as well as the incorporation of Navajo traditions into the story. Some of the military details bogged down the story for me, but I think others who are interested in war stories wouldn't mind that at all.

One thing I didn't like about the novel was that it talked about the cruelty of the Japanese military in their treatment of prisoners of war and when they took over Pacific Islands even put the native peoples in concentration camps, but it didn't mention at all how the Japanese in the U.S. were rounded up and stripped of their homes and everything as they were forced to live in concentration camps. While Bruchac did talk about how many of the Japanese (in Japan) didn't agree with the war, there seemed to me to be a slight imbalance by pointing out what the Japanese army did wrong and not what the U.S. did wrong.

Overall, great book. I wish there were more books out there by American Indian authors.

4 stars. Clean read, other than a little, little bit of language.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray
By Ruta Sepetys
Philomel Books, 2011. 344 pgs. Teen fiction

In 1941, Lina and her family are living in Lithuania, which has been invaded by Stalin's Soviets. After her father disappears, Lina, her brother and mother are rounded up, forced onto a train, and taken to a labor camp where they live in horrible conditions, with little food, terrible captors, and the constant worry about where their father is and if they will ever be reunited. Lina, an artist, draws pictures of their experiences so that someday, she'll be able to share them with the world, and also tries to find some way to contact her father.

Wow! This book is a powerful look at a time period that I knew nothing about. I vaguely knew that the Soviet Union had labor camps and people were lost in the system for years, but this book took that little knowledge and made it real. Although it's fiction, the situations and circumstances portrayed provide an eye-opening look at a very real, terrible time in history. With such an intense topic wrapped into gripping writing, there's not much more I could ask from the book. I do ask publishers and authors to provide more books, both fiction and nonfiction, on this topic for teen readers.

5 stars. Clean read. (There might be a little language, and a little bit of realistic vulgarity in how the Soviets talk about and to the captured women.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Contest (on someone else's blog)

Jessica, the cool blogger from Musings + Teen Librarian, is doing a giveaway--more information here:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Attolia series

There are four books (so far) in the Attolia series by Megan Whalen Turner, and I'd like to stress that there will be spoilers in this post! It's impossible to describe later books in the series without giving away spoilers for earlier books. So, if you don't want spoilers but you do want to read a great series, just trust me that you need to read them and DON'T read any summaries anywhere of them. Okay?

Book 1: The Thief
Recorded Books, 1997. 7 CDs(7 hr., 15 min.) Teen fiction

The magus of Sounis (the king's highest advisor) rescues a common thief from the king's prison and drags him on a long journey to find and steal (from the gods, no less) a mythical stone that gives the possessor of the stone the ultimate right to rule. However, Gen, the thief, is not quite what he seems.

Book 2: The Queen of Attolia
Recorded Books, 2007. 8 CDs (9 hr.) Teen fiction

Eugenides, the thief of Eddis, is captured in the kingdom of Attolia. As punishment, the queen cuts off his right hand and sends him home to Eddis, where he mopes and mourns the loss of his hand, and he thinks, his entire purpose in life. However, when he realizes that Eddis has gone to war with Attolia and that war with Sounis, their neighbor on the other side, Eugenides realizes there might still be something he can do to help his country--and himself.

Book 3: The King of Attolia
Recorded Books, 2006. 9 CDs (10 hr., 30 min.) Teen fiction

Having wed the Queen of Attolia, Eugenides must now try to win over her people. His attendents and royal guard all seem to hate him, including Costis, the young guard who goes so far as to strike the king. Rather than having him killed, Eugenides assigns Costis to his personal guard, and he, like other Attolians, comes to realize that there's more to the king than they initially saw.

Book 4: A Conspiracy of Kings
Greenwillow Books, 2010. 316 pages. Teen fiction

Sophus, the heir to the throne of Sounis, is kidnapped and sold into slavery. He must figure out how to escape, and following the death of his uncle (the king), unite his country, which is divided by civil war and subject to invasion by the Medes. He goes to Attolia to seek help from Eugenides and the queen of Eddis, and it will take all three countries to defeat the Medes and put down the civil war.

This is an intriguing series, with a fantasy world somewhat like Greece in its heyday. There are SOOOO many twists and turns that it's almost impossible to predict everything that's going to happen. I was hooked from the first book, and I actually think it might be my favorite of the series. I actually liked the fourth book the least, but I think that might be because we don't get to see as much of Eugenides as in the other books, since Sophus is the main character. Also, I got a little tired of all the political stuff--I guess I understand why kings and queens would have to act they way they do but sometimes it just doesn't seem so nice and I don't like that. It's accurate and probably necessary for the story...but still, not always easy to when Eugenides doesn't seem quite so nice to Sophus anymore.

One thing that can be a bit jarring about the books is that the narration does change. Book 1 was Gen's story. Book 2 was mostly Gen with some of the queen of Attolia thrown in. Book 3 is mainly Costis's story, and book 4 is entirely Sophus's, and the point of view also changes--sometimes third person limited, sometimes omniscient, and sometimes first person.

I listened to the first three books on CD and really loved Jeff Woodman as the narrator. (I read the fourth one, and my head was a decent narrator ;) but not as good as Woodman). I highly recommend listening to this series if at all possible.

4.5 stars. Clean reads. Great series!! Check it out. I know my summaries didn't do them justice, but trust me: the books are well worth reading.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Heist Society

Heist Society
By Ally Carter
Brilliance Audio, 2009. 5 CDs (6 hr., 10 min.) Teen fiction

Kat Bishop comes from a family a thieves and cons, and although she conned her way into an elite boarding school in order to get away from that life, finds herself drawn back to the family when her father is accused on stealing some paintings from Arturo Taccone, an evil mobster. Kat's dad swears innocence, but Taccone doesn't believe him and he gives Kat two weeks to get his paintings back. So, Kat must assemble a team, figure out who stole the paintings and where he stashed them, and get them back to Taccone or the lives of everyone she loves are in danger.

There's not much not like about this book--there's adventure, suspense, a kick-butt protagonist with a good supporting cast, a bit of a love triangle, and a cool plot line. And, the audio version is great.

4 stars.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Small Acts of Amazing Courage

Small Acts of Amazing Courage
By Gloria Whelan
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011. 217 pgs. Teen fiction

Rosy is a British girl living in India following World War I, as many Indians are starting to cry out for independence. Many of the British avoid the Indians, or employ them only as servants, but when Rosy rescues an Indian baby, sold to a cruel man when the family can't afford to keep him, she meets some British citizens who actually support Indian independence. Upset with his daughter, her father sends her to England for a proper education, but there, just as much as in India, Rosy comes to know her own mind and influence those around her.

This is a great piece of historical fiction, letting readers see what life was like in India in 1919. It's a brief story, but it's one that is well-written, with not a single wasted word, and readers will be enriched by reading it.

3.5 stars.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn
By Allison Goodman
Viking, 2008. 531 pgs. Teen fiction

In the fantasy world where Eon lives, there are 12 dragons, based on the Chinese zodiac. that affect the political system. While the emperor is the ruler, each dragon has a Dragoneye and an apprentice who will eventually become a Dragoneye. These men can tap their dragons' power and are major players in the country's political system. The apprentices are chosen from a group of hopefuls, selected by the dragons themselves. As the year of the Rat Dragon approaches, Eon hopes to be selected as the apprentice. However, Eon is crippled and, worse, a girl, Eona. Although she is disguised as a boy, if she is found out, she will be killed. Yet, she has the dragon sight, meaning she can see the dragons, and she knows that becoming the apprentice would change her life. What she doesn't know is just how much things will change and how dangerous her situation really is.

I don't consider myself to be a hard-core fantasy reader; I like fantasy like Harry Potter where there's a slow introduction to magical things but there are Muggles and everyday things to relate to. Well, this fantasy is NOT like that; readers are thrown into a foreign world. While it's skillfully developed, for some readers (like me), it will be difficult to follow all the intricacies of the world. However, Eon's struggle to find her place in the world and to stop the kingdom from falling apart is an intriguing story (although, really, it took her a long time to figure out the major point, which I won't mention because I don't want to ruin it). Overall, this might be a big investment for readers who aren't adept fantasy readers, particularly since the sequel is another hundred pages, but for readers who like fantasy, adventure, and a girl dominating in a male world, this is a good choice.

4 stars.