Last summer, I read nothing but the Game of Thrones series…and I LOVED IT. This summer, I set out to read another long, engrossing fantasy series, but, alas, t’was not to be (reasons below). Instead, I read an interesting mix of Young Adult, Middle Grade, and Adult books. Some were good. Some were bad. Juicy details to follow.
Recommended to me by a student, PENDRAGON hooked me with the believable, humorous voice of Bobby Pendragon, even though! He does! Use a lot! Of exclamation points!!! I am always hooked by an unlikely hero finding his/her inner strength, so I liked that story line of an 8th grade jock finding the courage to accept his identity as a hero in a fantasy land. Less engaging: the third-person narrative of his best friend. I did enjoy this book from beginning to end, but I didn’t continue to the second book because it didn’t have that “crossover appeal” we hear about all the time in publishing. In other words, it didn’t have that second layer to engage adult readers – this was 100% middle school kid, 100% of the time. Which is exactly why, even though I didn’t continue with the series, I’m going to buy the first few books for my classroom bookshelf. I think some of my students will enjoy this.
This retelling of JANE EYRE made me so angry, I initially considered writing a whole blog post about how much I disliked the book. But that feels like bad author juju, so instead, here are my bad feelings, in a nutshell: JANE EYRE features a strong, smart heroine who challenges social norms and refuses to be pinned down by a man, even though she loves him. JANE features a soggy, weak narrator who falls in love with a rich rock star and wanders around like a waif when things aren’t going well for her. Po’, po’ Jane. Gag. If you’re into indulgent romance novels, enjoy. If you’re into good literature, just read the original.
I read something you can’t read, nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah! The rights to WILDLIFE were just sold in the United States, so it’s not available for purchase in the old U.S. of A. It will be soon, though, and when it is, you should absolutely pick up your copy. The cover and blurb made me wary – teenage girls? kissing popular boys? at summer camp? – so not my kind of read. But once I started reading, I knew WILDLIFE was a good find – such real characters, unconventional, beautiful prose, and a great sense of humor all temper the darker aspects of the book. It was simultaneously a light and heavy read. I’d bring it to the beach, but I’d also bring it to a book discussion. And that’s my kind of book.
Online reviews for this book frequently use the word “enchanting,” and I can’t think of a better way to describe it. It’s a contemporary book with just a dash of magic (much like the Amore family’s Sunday evening meals). Readers journey through several generations of the Amore family – all of whom you’ll love – to uncover a secret that will either save or destroy the main character. I found myself struggling to get a grip on the main character, Eleanor, but her personality seems less important than her place in the family’s history, and the drifting quality of the narrative enriches that magical feel for a charming, sweet read. BONUS: Suzanne Palmieri will be in NJ for a book signing on September 13! Who’s coming with me?
Engrossing Fantasy Read, Take 2! The good: an interesting cast of characters, an intriguing fantasy world with a unique form of magic, and a barren, exotic setting. The bad: after a while, the characters became predictable, and it was clear the author wasn’t going to take them beyond their stereotypes. They remained flat – even the main character, whom I never really loved, or believed she was who other characters said she was. And the writing felt lazy – each character must have rolled his/her eyes 20 times. I was still interested in the plot, but since I wasn’t enjoying the ride, I put Book 1 down and read the Wikipedia synopsis for Books 2 and 3. Bad me! Bad!
THE MAGICIANS – Lev Grossman – Adult
Engrossing Fantasy Read, Take 3! This one did the trick, but it was no beach read. THE MAGICIANS touts itself as literary fantasy – a natural step up for fantasy-loving adults – and it sometimes feels a little too proud of its Ivy League status. I imagine it will border on pretentious for some. But, just like I love Vampire Weekend despite their lyrics about champagne, golf, and the Kennedy family, I loved Quentin, the jaded Ivy League-bound teenager who can pass any test in the world but just can’t seem to be happy. Grossman’s prose had me doing that swoony, sighing thing I do – if someone was nearby, I was going to read them a slice, and if someone wasn’t nearby, I was going going to sob about how I’d never write so well. But, more importantly, for a summer read, this was both a beautiful piece of escapism and an interesting piece of commentary on escapism. How meta. Again – a book I can read for pleasure and for the thinks. Doesn’t get better than that.
IMPOSTER – Susanne Winnacker – YA
If you’re a current or future student of mine, get ready for me to “sell” you this book, because the whole time I was reading it, I kept thinking, My students are going to LOVE this! It’s a fast-paced whodunnit with a supernatural twist – “variations,” or genetic tweaks. The main character’s variation is that she can become any person she sees. In this case, she has to solve a girl’s murder by becoming the dead girl (convincing the family she made a miraculous recovery). I especially enjoyed the exploration of the psychological effects on the main character, a sort of orphan who, through her assignment, gets to experience familial love.
NEXT UP: The sequel to THE LAST POLICEMAN, COUNTDOWN CITY. THE LAST POLICEMAN was my favorite book of 2012, so I’m a little disappointed I missed the release of COUNTDOWN CITY. Here’s hoping it lives up to the original.
Thoughts? Questions? Recommendations?