I’ve been reading a lot. I call it research. I have to know what’s going on in my field, right? This gives me an excuse to work through my huge stack of former library books I bought at the book sale, plus a bunch of current library books. Sweet research, how I love thee. However, I’m much to lazy to do a full review of all of them, so I’m doing a stack of mini-reviews.
“Wild Boy” by Thomas Fall
Genre: Historical fiction set in the U.S. during the 1870s
One sentence synopsis: Roberto, half-Mexican, half-Native American tries to figure out where he fits in between cultures on the southern Texas border while lusting after catching the killer mustang stallion Diablo.
This reader’s take: Killer wild horse, angry American soldiers, angry Comanche warriors, and a boy with a lot of grit, what’s not to love? Who cares if it was published back inn 1965? The 1800s haven’t changed any and this one reads easy and well.
Bottom line: major win for the action adventure reader with a few things to actually think about tossed in
“What the Birds See” by Sonya Hartnett
Genre: YA literary, although no young adults are involved, this one should’a been sold as an adult book
One sentence synopsis: Nine-year-old Adrian is a neglected child with a depressed girl for one friend and a sell-out for another, who spirals deeper and deeper into wanting someone to need him until *gasp* all ends in tragedy.
This reader’s take: Someone wanted to be poetic and very very literary by writing the most stupidly depressing book imaginable. The dead bird on the cover should have warned me. The flap talking about kidnapped and dead children should have warned me. I stupidly read it. I still I want my wasted hours refunded.
Bottom line: Major fail, can we re-institute book burning for this one?
“The View from Saturday” by E.L. Konigsburg
Genre: MG literary
One sentence synopsis: The tale of four sixth graders, their teacher, and the complex human relationships behind their unprecedented rise to win the Academic Bowl in New York State against eight graders.
This reader’s take: This is what a literary kid’s book should be like. Humor, pathos, inner and outer struggles, all five POV characters (that’s right five, who says MG can only have one?) are full of depth and give us a new view of the situation.
Bottom line: Major win, which it did… the Newberry award. Obviously those people have some sense.
“Shiva’s Fire” by Susanne Fisher Staples
Genre: MG/YA fantasy
One sentence synopsis: Parvati has always been different, surrounded by omens that make her rural Indian village people regard her with suspicion and awe, but her true gift and calling lies in dancing.
This reader’s take: The fantasy elements are very subtle, so much so I couldn’t tell if we were dealing with just people’s beliefs or real magic at first. The Indian setting and Hindu religion are so well woven in, it feels as if it could be just a cultural book until it unfolds farther. Very lovely.
Bottom line: Not this author’s best (that won a Newberry) but certainly well worth reading.
“Storm Rising” by Marilyn Singer
Genre: YA paranormal romance
One sentence synopsis: Storm meets the alluring but troubling Jocelyn who seems to want to collect him as one of her “strays”, something he uselessly resists a while before caving.
This reader’s take: In my state they’d call this relationship statutory rape and emotionally abusive. It’s Twilight in reverse, as stalker girl with magic powers wins her man… er… boy.
Bottom Line: Major fail, where’s the brain bleach?
“Spotting the Leopard” by Anna Myers
Genre: MG novel
One sentence synopsis: H.J. is wrapped up in his sister’s battle with her parent trying to go to college, his uncle’s marital and business problems, and most of all “Lucky” a leopard who escapes his miserable existence in zoo captivity and everyone is trying to hunt down.
This reader’s take: The leopard dies, need I say more? Honestly, I’ve had it up to here with “Old Yeller” stories about noble but doomed animals and the poor saps who love them. Not to mention it’s trying the literary thing really hard and failing. If we must have this sort of book, stick to “Old Yeller”, nothing new here.
Bottom line: Yawn, but not worth book burning or target practice or anything.
“Flight of the White Wolf” by Mel Ellis
Genre: YA novel
One sentence synopsis: When Russ’s pet wolf accidentally kills a prize dog and runs off, everyone is out to shoot it, and Russ has to try to help the wolf escape to national park where he can fend for himself.
This reader’s take: Sort of like “Hatchet” meets “Call of the Wild”, and well done too. This is what an animal story should be like. While the fact that Russ’s parents hardly blink at him leading a wolf past posses of armed and angry men and skipping half a year of school while doing it is a bit far fetched, it did nothing to ruin a fine action/wilderness survival novel with a very appealing wolf character.
Bottom line: another great action adventure book that even makes you think now and then
“The Forgotten Beasts of Eld” by Patricia A. McKillip
Genre: YA fantasy
One sentence synopsis: Emotionless wizard Sybel is brought into politics when a stranger dumps the future heir of the local realm on her doorstep, and Sybel ventures first into love and then into hate, discovering both what it means to feel and who she is in the process.
This reader’s take: Someone put a sticker on the spine that said “fairy tale” which was exactly what this was, especially in narrative tone. After I adjusted to it and accepted it as a classic fairy tale, I had a good time. While the MC can be annoying in places the forgotten beasts of he title more than made up for it by being very cool.
Bottom line: Well worth a read if you like classic fairy tales or fantasy.
“The Storyteller’s Daughter” by Cameron Dokey
Genre: YA fantasy
One sentence synopsis: Shahrazad, socially outcaste daughter of the Grand Vizier fights to break the curse put on the sultan by his executed and traitorous wife without getting beheaded by him.
This reader’s take: I was skeptical… another Shahrazad retelling, and it starts really grandiosely and navel-gazing as well, but after the pathetic prologue it turned out decent. While it mostly tosses out the actual Arabian Nights tale, it has a well developed world-building, magic, and internal logic. Most importantly the stories interwoven by Shahrazad are always relevant to the plot and characters and keep the flavor of the original Arabian tales while being entirely new.
Bottom Line: Isn’t going to win any awards, but definitely readable enough for a YA fairytale retelling.
“The Crystal Garden” by Vicki Grove
Genre: MG novel
One sentence synopsis: Eliza is forced to move to a hick town when her mother follower her loser boyfriend there and struggles to chose between the sweet but geeky girl next door and the popular girls in junior high who seem to be inviting her to join them.
This reader’s take: Put every cliche possible together, and while well written, this one tended to make me yawn. Gosh, a small town is a nice place to live? Wow, geeks can be good and faithful friends? Oh my, the popular girls are just using her? I’m shocked. Maybe it’ll be new to the 12 year-olds, but all the cliches killed me by the end of it despite well-developed characters.
Bottom Line: If your kid is into these books about outcast girl vs popular girls, go ahead and hand it to her, it’s decently well-written, but there’s nothing new here.