13-yr-old Salamanca retraces with her grandparents the route taken by her mother when suddenly she left Sal and her father, and went to Lewiston, Idaho. Along the way, Sal tells her grandparents the story of moving from Kentucky to Ohio, and of how Phoebe, a new friend, also had a mother leave. The journey west combines with stories of the past to determine the future of Sal’s family.
This novel won the Newbery Award in 1995, and deserves all the praise it has gotten over the years. It is a powerful exploration and celebration of life, loss, new love, and mature love. Creech gives Sal’s voice an aching, coming-of-age truthfulness that should be experienced by everyone, and not just middle readers. If you’ve not done so already, read this book!
In Kolkata, India, 12-yr-old Anand and his sister live with their mother in a tiny, one-room shack, barely scraping by on the combined wages of mother and son. One day, a mysterious old man, Abhaydatta, follows Anand home, and offers him a part in the quest to return a sacred, powerful conch shell to a valley of healers in the Himalayas. Joined by Nisha, an orphaned girl, Anand and Abhaydatta must make their way north, always on guard against the wiles of Surabhanu, former thief of the conch, and powerful sorcerer.
A classic fantasy quest tale with many elements similar to The Lord of the Rings, but with a wonderful Indian setting. Divakaruni’s writing drips with atmosphere, especially when describing native foods and locations. Everyone should hope to fill their lives with children like Anand, and the loving words of guidance and peace shared through this story. I need to look up more novels and poetry by this author!
Horace is the apprentice for Enoch Middleditch, a photographer in 1870s New York City. When hired by the wealthy Von Macht family to photograph them in mourning for their lost daughter, the unscrupulous Middleditch has Horace help him create a fake double-exposure ghost image of the dead daughter within the Von Macht portrait, in order to lure them into continuing to use his services. Soon, however, Horace realizes that more than a scam is at work, for it seems that a real ghost is showing up on his photographic plates.
This tale is equal parts ghost story, mystery, and history. The descriptions of the old photographic techniques are interesting, but it is the interactions between Horace and a servant girl, Pegg, which supply the heart of the story. As the secrets of the Von Macht family are unveiled, and the creepy atmosphere builds, I can see why Avi remains a beloved children’s author.
Thomas wakes in darkness, with no memory of the past, inside an elevator. Soon, he arrives at the Glade, which is surrounded by impossibly-high walls, and is greeted by the inhabitants- other teen boys. He soon learns that outside the Glade is a maze of unknown, deadly purpose, filled at night with horrific creatures known as Grievers. Why are the boys here? How will they ever escape? Who is Thomas?
A decent mysterious object/device/location story is enough to get me to crack most any book. This story has a great one, in the towering form of the stone maze, which changes configuration each night. I also enjoy teen fiction, mostly because writers of it feel free to delve into the most outlandish plots and scenarios. A huge maze filled with amnesiac boys? Why not? Dashner spins a nice dystopian mystery- well enough that this is becoming a movie to be released next year. The characters are believable, and the setting is both cool and creepy. Don’t expect all the answers to life and the universe by the end, however. This is the first in a trilogy. Recommended!
Written from the perspectives of seven different fifth-grade students, this much-beloved novel spans a year of school in the class of Mr. Terupt, a new teacher. Much like a Breakfast Club for the younger set, each of the seven children represents a personality type, and class (and home) events are filtered through each of these types. It’s not a new concept, but it is an effective one. Buyea’s own classroom observances as a teacher inspired personality types and plot points in the story, and it is better for it. The bow tied by the final few pages is a bit too neat for my tastes, but I would be more than happy to share the positive messages and encouragement with a new fifth-grader.
Free verse poetry is used to record the reactions of various students, fellow teachers and community members to the murder of one of the teachers at Tower High School. Eventually, the killer is revealed.
Although the book was written in 1996, the subject of campus killings couldn’t be more relevant. Glenn’s characters are rather stereotypical, but at the least they represent a cross-section of a typical urban high school. No one is perfect, and this point is well made. Particularly interesting is a side-by-side comparison of reactions from twins- opposing views offered in a nearly identical manner. The murderer, however, is a mashup of traits and activities society enjoys associating with violent behavior. I’m surprised tattoos weren’t involved. Overall, an interesting read.
The problem with killer creatures from the sea is that once sharks, octopuses, naughty whales and various cryptozoological meanies have rampaged through the pages of novels, finding fresh species to feature is difficult. Enter author Dave Freedman, and the antagonists of this novel, bloodthirsty rays. As in cousins of Manta and Sting. It seems that Earth’s oceans are being invaded by a virus, GDV-4, and it is triggering all kinds of havoc, including the migration and rapid evolution of a deep-sea ray, the adults of which grow to about a 14-foot wingspan. Wingspan is a well-chosen term, because somewhere about the middle of the book, they are flying through the air like birds, and hunting with teeth the width of forearms. Luckily, there is a team of scientists/adventurers on the path of their migration, attempting to discover the new species, keep their jobs with the millionaire funding their expedition, and survive to tell the tale.
I love beach reads. I’ve read many tales along the lines of this one, and for the most part, I’ve been able to overlook the absurdities, and enjoy the bloody action. Manta rays possibly are my favorite sea creature, as well. Envisioning one madly flapping through the skies is more silly than terrifying, though, and matters aren’t helped much by the writing. Fewer humans and other creatures are killed than the author uses the word literally. At one point, I started counting the number of times, and literally, he used literally three times in the two pages I scanned. After that, it became a game of spot-the-literally, to the point of distraction. In the end, all the chasing came down to a single creature hunting the scientists, and literally, I didn’t care which side won. Recommended for those routinely checking the skies for sea creatures.
The not-so-odd tale of young Odd, and three of the Norse gods in animal form, attempting to win control of Asgard back from a frost giant. Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. No matter how short the fiction, he manages to put distinctive twists and touches on the tale. Knowing this, I was surprised to read this rather straightforward mythological adventure. It’s well-told, but if I didn’t know this was Gaiman, I wouldn’t have realized it. Certainly worth a read, however.
Rose Red is a massive mansion in Seattle, the construction and haunting of which is described in the pages of the diary of Ellen, the young wife of an early 1900s oil baron, John Rimbauer. The site of several disappearances and murders, Rose Red becomes a living entity to Ellen, both welcome and terrifying. The fate of Ellen and her family mirrors the fate of the mansion.
The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer is fiction disguised as a diary, presented as paranormal evidence by a fictitious doctor, Joyce Reardon. Adding to the confusion is the real-world misconception that this novel was written by Steven King. Actually written by Ridley Pearson, this book was created to promote Stephen King’s Rose Red miniseries, which aired two years later. I didn’t find it particularly frightening, or believable as a diary, for that matter. A fair portion of the first half concerns world travel and the start of Ellen’s rocky marriage. Once back at Rose Red, however, the story starts a slow, unsettling burn toward a final confrontation, which is more compelling. This is a better than average tie-in novel, recommended for readers in search of creep rather than gore.
The latest in Cornwell’s Grail Quest series of historical fiction, featuring Thomas of Hookton, an English archer during the Hundred Years’ War. 1356 is the year of the battle of Poitiers- a significant conflict, but also one which is not very well known today. Thomas, leader of the deadly archers known as the Hellequin, also is on a quest for la Malice, the sword believed by many to have been St. Peter’s. Regardless of his belief in such a relic, Thomas must fight his way through hostile France in pursuit of it, battling those he has crossed in the past, as well as new enemies in search of the same.
Bernard Cornwell is one of a handful of authors I will read the latest from, no matter the plot. Those familiar with his Sharpe novels will find much the same character in Thomas of Hookton. Honestly, they are nearly interchangeable. Considering Sharpe is a personal favorite, this similarity isn’t a problem for me. Despite my changing tastes in fiction, my enjoyment of Cornwell’s writing hasn’t waned much over the years. His action is second to none, and attention to details as strong as ever.
Undoubtedly, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ most famous literary creation is Tarzan, John Clayton, Earl Greystoke. As a teenager, I became obsessed with the many adventures of this hero. I collected an entire paperback set, and even reproduced the cover art from one as a pencil project when I was taking art lessons.
This is my first revisiting of the original tale in nearly two decades, and although it’s still a wonderfully pulpy read, my ability to overlook its faults has waned. Racially and sexually, Tarzan’s adventure has its share of swooning women and “noble savages.” Luckily, it also has adventure on a grand scale, and a wonderful sense of humor as balance. This classic is far removed from the various filmed versions attempted over the decades, and worth a look as the origin of an iconic figure.