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Posts Tagged ‘young adult’

Every year I like to do a round-up of the best books of the year. Since I don’t always read freshly published books, this isn’t technically a “best books OF 2016”; it’s a “my favorites that I READ in 2016.” However, that being said, many of them are pretty new. So let’s get started.

I read a lot of fiction and YA and this year it really showed. Only one of my favorite books that I got around to reading was nonfiction. So let’s start with that category, since it’s so small.

Nonfiction

the-geneThe Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. The author’s book about cancer a few years back, The Emperor of All Maladies, was excellent, and this book about the history of genetics, the code that informs all life, was just as informative and interesting. It takes readers on the odyssey of piecing together information about the human gene and genome since the early days, ending with the research and work that is happening now, in the decade after the completion of the sequencing of the human genome. The most recent research was news to me, and I found it fascinating and at times alarming. As Mukherjee posits about what we now know, “What will we do with this information?”

Fiction

Britt-Marie Was Here, by Fredrik Backman. An older woman who really, REALLY likes to have everything just so finds out her husband has cheated on her and goes out in search of work. She can only find a temporary position in a tiny town that’s on the verge of essentially closing up shop. She slowly gets pulled into the lives of the people who live there and finds herself truly “getting a life.” The book is gently humorous, tender and at times sad. It’s entertaining and sweet. There are too many wonderful metaphors for me to have kept track of, and I loved each one of them. I ended up taking my time reading the book because my life was busy, but I was able to savor it more that way, which was a bonus. A lovely book.

every-heart-a-doorwayEvery Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire. Children have been known to slip through hidden doorways into other fantastical worlds. And some return to their everyday lives, for various reasons. Some do not long to get back to those worlds; others do. The latter consider those fantastical worlds their true homes and miss them terribly, always looking for that secret door to open again. Of course no one, including their parents, understands or believes their stories. But someone actually does believe their stories — and understands their longing to be “home.” Eleanor West runs a boarding school that caters to these children and teens, that tries to help them figure out how to move forward in a life that may never have them seeing that door again.

I cannot express just how truly unique this book felt. I’ve never read anything like it. The premise is clever but then the feel, the world, the execution of it all… just amazing. I felt transported.

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, by Alan Bradley. This is the 8th Flavia de Luce mystery novel, and if you haven’t read any of the previous ones, go and start from the beginning. Now. And any year that has a new novel, most likely, it’s going to be on my best-of. These stories are technically murder mysteries but are more about their tween/teen heroine than anything else. She is curious, precocious, a lover of chemistry, an annoyed youngest sister and proud sleuth. This go-round wasn’t the most “mysterious” of all the mysteries; I saw much of it coming from a mile away. But, again, since it’s more about time spent with Flavia and her charms, and chuckling a good deal, that’s almost neither here nor there. I’ll keep reading as long as Alan Bradley keeps writing.

Uprooted, by Naomi Novik. In the valley near the Wood where Agnieszka lives, the Dragon, a powerful wizard who lives in a tower, takes one girl from the villages to serve him, then lets her go, every 10 years. The girls who will be 17 in that year fear the possibility of being chosen, and their families dread it. Agnieszka (and everyone else) is sure her beautiful best friend Kasia will be chosen, so they are all taken aback when at the last moment, Agnieszka is selected instead. She herself is completely unprepared and is devastated when the cool, detached wizard takes her, and then, inexplicably, starts trying to teach her how to do simple spells. It turns out she, as opposed to the other girls, who were just taken to be servants, has potential as a witch, and she and the Dragon must find a way to keep the evil power of the nearby (and encroaching) Wood at bay. The story is complex and rich in detail and atmosphere. It’s essentially a Polish fairy tale set in the 1500s, where magic is real. I was caught up in it but the reading was slow going. I didn’t just breeze through it. But that turned out to be a blessing by the end, which was hugely satisfying and led me to want to just sit quietly within the story and appreciate it for all it contained. Just lovely.

Young adult

Lady Midnight (The Dark Artifices, book 1), by Cassandra Clare. The Shadowhunters, humans with angel blood who fight demons, return in another series by Cassandra Clare. Those who have loved her other series (set in New York and Victorian London) featuring the defenders of humankind (or “mundanes,” as Shadowhunters call humans) will no doubt want to read this new one, set this time in current-day Los Angeles. I did love being back in the Shadowhunter world but I had a few quibbles. One, there wasn’t quite as much humor in this book as there was in City of Bones and other initial entries in the Mortal Instruments series. Two, these are teenagers. They admittedly have a great deal of responsibility, much more than the average human teen. But in these series, and in this new book particularly, they pretty much go about their business without much adult guidance and restraint. That’s kind of a plot point, but it leads to a lot of stuff happening that parents should know about if their teen is reading this new book/series. Not the best of Clare’s work, but I do love the world.

lady-janeMy Lady Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this book. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, romantic and just a rollicking fun time. Plus, it turns a tragic romantic tale from history into a happy ending, that of Lady Jane Grey, the nine-day queen of England, and her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, who were beheaded after Queen Mary took over as monarch and after the Protestant rebellion of Thomas Wyatt the Younger. What’s not to love?

The Love That Split the World, by Emily Henry. This is one of those rarer books about which I don’t want to share very much. Discovering the story and what’s happening is one of the joys of reading this book. It unspools just a bit at a time, revealing at last the bittersweet and devastating truth. It’s beautiful and heart-rending and just cool in its exploration of the reason behind the strange things the main character is experiencing. The end grabbed me and shook me and left me a bit emotionally exhausted.

The Skylighter (The Keepers’ Chronicles, book 2), by Becky Wallace. This is a sequel to a fine book, and it’s just a duo, rather than a trilogy. There’s a world of magic and royalty and intrigue, with a few dashes of romance. The story follows several threads from various perspectives and pulls them all together at the end. I enjoyed this second as much as the first (The Storyspinner) and am still impressed with the skill of the writer.

These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. An intergalactic war hero and a young heiress controlled closely by her father are stranded together on an alien planet. They hope for rescue, but as time goes on it seems less and less likely. The two have to figure out how to get along and how to work together. How to stay alive. Strange things start happening, particularly to Lilac, and the mystery of why the Icarus crashed becomes compounded by the mysteries of an empty but terraformed planet and strange visions and “whispers.” It’s part romance and part sci-fi mystery. About two-thirds of the way in, the action and mystery ratcheted up and I was compelled to just keep reading because it was so interesting. I really enjoyed the story.

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According to Goodreads, I read 51 books this year, a total of 18,639 pages. There were just a few more that I didn’t enter onto the site, but that pretty well sums it up. Thanks to that site, I end up not having to plow through many stinkers, so I did enjoy almost all of the books I read. A few stand out, however. Here are my 10 faves from this year of reading.

Young Adult

illusionsIllusions of Fate, by Kiersten White: This was practically perfect. I borrowed it from the library but then had to buy it because I loved it so much. Kiersten White has created a world not unlike ours, set in a time much like that of the early 20th century, but has imbued its nobility with magical powers only they know about and use. Her heroine is smart and courageous and all too human, and though she is “just an ordinary girl,” she is a force to be reckoned with. That’s what makes her — and the book — so great. I just lost myself in the setting, the characters and their interactions with each other, and the story. I absolutely adored this book. Bonus: it’s clean. I rated it Mild on Rated Reads.

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley: This middle-grade book is about faith, magic and hope. It’s about opening your eyes to the possibilities. It’s about family, love and dedication. It’s sweet, poignant, delightful. It’s written for children, sure, but adults will be charmed as well. It’s one of those books everyone should get to read and keep on a bookshelf at home. And since it’s for younger readers, it’s clean. I rated it None on Rated Reads.

The Storyspinner, by Becky Wallace: This book with a strong female heroine is an engaging tale of danger, cunning, political intrigue, magic and a few touches of romance. The plot and writing are excellent, seeming to have come from a more seasoned writer, and once I got into the story, I could hardly put it down. It’s clean; I rated it Mild on Rated Reads.

weight of feathersThe Weight of Feathers, by Anna-Marie McLemore: The prose in this Romeo-and-Juliet tale set in the Central Valley of California that swings between two carnival families is just so, so lovely, and the writing is so masterful it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel. It’s gotten some hype, and it actually lives up to it. I rated it Moderate on Rated Reads.

Challenger Deep, by Neal Shusterman: This book is one of those Important Novels people should read to gain a bit of empathy, understanding and awareness about mental illness, particularly in teens. It could have foundered in less skilled hands, but Shusterman has the chops to make this brilliant. He writes in an author’s note at the end that his own son “journeyed to the deep” and with his help, he’s “tried to capture what that descent was like.” He also points out the reality that helping people who are dealing with mental illness “is not an exact science, but it’s all we have – and it gets better every day as we learn more about the brain, and the mind, and as we develop better, more targeted medication.” I rated it Mild on Rated Reads.

Fiction

lake houseThe Lake House, by Kate Morton: Yes, I adore Kate Morton’s books. This one did not disappoint. Morton is a master at crafting these kinds of novels: long and richly detailed stories of family secrets that span generations and decades, that have long-reaching consequences. As I reluctantly and slowly closed the back cover, I was overcome by that sadly delicious, mixed feeling of completion that means a book has brought me much gratification as I’ve taken it all in but regret that the experience is over and can’t be duplicated. And it’s clean reading: I rated it Mild on Rated Reads.

Us, by David Nicholls: The book is practically perfect: it examines so beautifully a longtime marriage between two very different people, the highs and lows and in-betweens, without resorting to cheap plays for readers’ sympathies. Even serious matters that could, in the wrong hands, be maudlin are deftly and lightly handled. Nicholls’ previous book, One Day, was a good one, but it did resort to a big bang of a twist that could be seen as a nasty trick by the writer. Here, however, the story plays out naturally and is balanced wonderfully. There are laugh-out-loud moments that gave me no choice but to read them aloud to whoever was near and descriptive passages that made me in awe of Nicholls’ cleverness. I can’t say enough about how well written this book is. It’s not clean reading, though: I rated it High for strong language on Rated Reads.

Nonfiction

body of truthBody of Truth, by Harriet Brown: I have not yet posted a review of this on Rated Reads, but it’s coming soon. I’m also hoping to write a nice in-depth analysis on here in coming days. It’s that important. Brown shares what she’s learned in a decade of examining research on weight, obesity, eating disorders, etc., as well as from interviewing hundreds of women and scientists. The reality is this: our society is completely obsessed with weight. And though the media and doctors tend to go on certain “truths” as givens, those are not necessarily true or even based on solid research. Weight is a very complex matter, and we still know far too little about how best to regulate it. We certainly know far too little about how to help people lose weight and keep it off “for good.”

A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: Husband-and-wife writing team Kristof and WuDunn explore ways that we can all make a difference by donating our time, talents or resources to help others in this world. Even a little helps. They share inspiring stories and then tell readers specifically how to make our money or time really count. I was galvanized by this terrific book. It’s simply inspiring, but it’s also practical and addresses concerns and problems with charities even as it shares solid advice on how to tailor your giving to your own interests and capacities. I rated it Mild on Rated Reads.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, by Caitlin Doughty: If you are a fan of Mary Roach’s fascinating book on what happens to our bodies after death, Stiff, you are likely to appreciate Caitlin Doughty’s book focusing mostly on the aspect of cremation. While the book is informative and curiosity-slaking while also liberally sprinkled with dry wit and gallows humor, it’s also a reminder that Americans today are far removed from death. And this is much of Doughty’s point: after spending about a year working at a crematorium in Oakland, California, she then decided to pursue the career and attend mortuary school. The experiences served to incite in her a passion for helping people in our culture reacquaint themselves with death. Rather than fearing aging and death and dead bodies and shoving all we find distasteful off onto professionals who work behind a screen, we would be better served mentally and emotionally if we had more to do with the whole process. I rated it High for language on Rated Reads.

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I like to read a variety of genres and subgenres, from adult fiction and nonfiction to young adult and some middle-grade books, but I thought I typically tended to skew more toward fiction. This year, however, the books that have really spoken to me and stuck with me have been more often nonfiction. I’m not sure if that speaks to the quality of the nonfiction I’ve read or to some disappointment I’ve had in fiction I’d thought would be better this year. So I’ll start with the nonfiction books I’ve found compelling in 2014:

  1. The Good Spy, by Kai Bird: This story about Robert Ames, a CIA agent in the ’60s and ’70s who spent his career in the Middle East, had me absolutely fascinated; it was challenging reading, to be sure, that required real focus so I could absorb all the pertinent details about places, people, and politics. But it kept my interest and left me feeling well informed about the big picture, better educated. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the complex history of the divisions in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land area and its immediate environs, and all the repercussions of each action taken by locals and world governments.
  2. EichmannEichmann Before Jerusalem, by Bettina Stangneth: This fine book that will likely change the whole conversation not just about Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann but about future research into Nazi Germany and its continued relevance. As with The Good Spy, this book is not a quick and easy read; it is a work of scholarship that is comprehensive and thoroughly researched and the conclusions of which are meticulously documented and explained. But it is well worth the time and effort to tackle: anyone who has ever been acquainted with Hannah Arendt’s characterization of Eichmann during his trial in Jerusalem (he made Arendt conclude that “evil” often exhibits itself as “banal”) must read this more accurate examination of the mass murderer.
  3. On Immunity, by Eula Biss: Biss examines the issue of people choosing not to vaccinate, not primarily to persuade “anti-vaxxers” to change their minds, but to show how our culture has fostered this dangerous movement. And the result is a fascinating, informative, and thought-provoking look at parenting in 21st-century America. Not only is On Immunity a quick primer on the history of vaccination and the current attitudes about it, it is an interesting examination of a new kind of class inequality. Regardless of one’s attitudes about vaccination, this book should spur some good discussion about attitudes in our modern society and our responsibility to each other.
  4. Invisible HistoryThe Invisible History of the Human Race, by Christine Kenneally: This book is just as much about genealogy and its popularity and history as it is about how DNA relates to it. The author sets up how DNA comes into the picture by exploring the interest in and history of family history research, of cultures, of eugenics, of how people look at race (for one thing), and then adds in the puzzle piece of DNA. Her writing style and approach are engrossing and interesting, and I found myself dog-earing a lot of passages that spoke to me in various ways.

Now, on to a few works of fiction that particularly pleased me. First, this year brought the conclusions to a few good series, including Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments, Neal Shusterman’s Unwind, and Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy. I enjoyed all three but I think I was most satisfied with UnDivided, the fourth and last book in the Unwind dystology. I wrote earlier this year that I was disappointed in Harkness’ failure to share certain vital information that was pertinent to the whole series in the final book, The Book of Life. Are we supposed to accept that she made us expect a conclusion and did not provide it for us? I didn’t think so. And while I was mostly satisfied with The City of Heavenly Fire, I didn’t think it was as great as earlier books in the series (let’s face it: the first three books were great, and the next three after what seemed like a “conclusion” weren’t quite up to Clare’s previous standards). So an official mention of Shusterman’s achievement comes first in my fiction list (which is going to just include young adult fiction, so I admit I’m mixing genres, which seems fitting now that YA fiction is being read just as much by adults as teens):

  1. UndividedUnDivided, by Neal Shusterman: A conclusion to a series that’s been as thought-provoking as it’s been action-packed. It fit perfectly with the rest of the books and did not let me down. I loved how he wrapped things up. So cool. Just read the series about a future in which the U.S. has settled on a “compromise” between pro-lifers and pro-choicers by not allowing abortion but by allowing parents to “unwind” their teenagers if they cause problems (or for any other reason): their bodies are dismantled and every part is donated to others.
  2. Love and Other Foreign Words, by Erin McCahan: I loved this author’s first YA romance, I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, and this second made me just as happy. This book’s heroine is only 15 and quite precocious for her age in some ways because she is so ridiculously bright. Josie attends high school for half the day in her town of Bexley, Ohio, but starts the day with classes at a nearby college. She especially enjoys languages and how they are used by their respective groups. She is precise in her approach to the use of words. This love of precision (oh, how I love her for that!) causes her difficulties, though, when it comes to “love.” Love and Other Foreign Words is funny, real, vibrant, clever and utterly charming, and a bonus is that it has at its heart a girl who is deeply loved and nurtured by her parents and older sisters and who loves them back; the family is intact and very happy. Refreshing!
  3. The Casquette Girls, by Alys Arden: I reviewed this one for the San Francisco Book Review without knowing much or expecting much of it and was quite pleasantly surprised. Yes, this is YA, and yes, it’s paranormal, but it’s pretty cool. It’s an engaging story that’s rich in historical detail and has a richly developed setting. Readers who love magic and the supernatural will particularly eat up this well-written novel about supernatural creatures causing problems in post-Katrina New Orleans.

And there you have it: some wonderfully researched, intelligent, absorbing, informative nonfiction reads, and a few fun fiction picks that just happen to be written for young adults. Apparently, the “adult” fiction titles disappointed me a bit this year. Let’s hope for better in 2015.

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So it’s time to jump on that bandwagon and share what I enjoyed the most in 2013. Of course, since I didn’t read all the new and hyped books of the year, I can only include my opinions on what I did read, but I think it’s a pretty good list nonetheless. So let’s get right to it:

The best

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein. A friend who really knows her YA/middle-grade stuff loved this, so I thought I’d check it out for myself and my 11-year-old. I got it from the library, handed it over to my young book-devourer, then enjoyed it after she did. It’s everything you’d want from a book for young readers: fun, clever, kind of adventurous, and highly imaginative. It made me and my daughter both wish there was a real library as amazing as the one imagined by Grabenstein. Every town needs a Mr. Lemoncello with deep pockets and a desire to give back to the community via a well-appointed library.

Just One YearJust One Year, the follow-up to Just One Day, by Gayle Forman. Forman can do no wrong when it comes to young adult/new adult books. They are utterly real and honest, with characters who are just as real. The stories are moving and touching without cheaply playing on heartstrings. This latest pair of books focus first on the young woman who falls for a guy during a trip to Europe and the one day they have together, then the guy. We get each of their perspectives and see how they come together initially, but, more importantly, how they grow individually so they could stay together.

Mortal Fire, by Elizabeth Knox. Knox proved she has solid writing talent with this first new book since her YA “duet” of Dreamhunter and Dreamquake. I can’t recommend her enough. The stories are mysterious and fascinating while delivering big on setting. Like Forman’s books, there is poignancy and sweetness without overdoing it. I gobbled them up. I wrote a whole post about Knox.

Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes. This British book was actually published earlier but hit it big this year through word of mouth in the U.S. — and rightly so. It’s a sweet story of two unlikely people falling for each other: a formerly successful businessman-turned-quadriplegic and the woman who’s hired to care for him and lift his spirits. It really tugs on the heartstrings and makes you think. Get a box of Kleenex ready.

Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion. Here’s another that sparked lots of word of mouth, months before it was published. I was forced to wait to read it closer to its pub date, and let me say it was worth the wait. This was another story of unlikely love, this time between a man with Asperger’s and a girl who is definitely not the type of woman he’d expected to fall for. Clever, sweet, funny, insightful. I laughed, I read cute segments out loud to my daughter. When I feels the need to read passages out loud to family members, you know it’s good. Only drawback: a couple dozen f-words.

The Firebird, by Susanna Kearsley. I ran across the gothic-y The Shadowy Horses on my library’s e-book website and gave it a try. Definitely enjoyed it. Then when I saw this new book would be following one character from that book later in life, I felt I must read it as well. After being caught up in the two parallel stories in this newest book for a very enjoyable 500 pages or so, I wished there was more. Luckily, Kearsley has plenty of other books for me to enjoy in the same genre, and I got extra-lucky a few days ago to get some e-copies for a special $1.99 on Amazon. Life is good. If you like clean gothic tales, Kearsley is a must-read. And read a bit more about her and other fave authors on this post.

Now for some nonfiction:

The World’s Strongest Librarian, by Josh Hanagarne. I laughed, I was fascinated, I learned. This memoir took me inside the head and life of a really cool and smart guy who happens to wrestle with Tourette syndrome. It was so interesting and entertaining that I introduced it to my book club, and it made for a great discussion. Read more on my post about it.

Catastrophic Care, by David Goldhill. I already wrote a long post about this book on our health care system and what we deem to be “health insurance,” but what should be more precisely termed “health coverage.” In short, this book is what I think EVERYONE should read when talking about health care in the United States and the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. It might take a little concentration for some readers, but this is another I read out loud from a bunch and dog-eared and underlined a ton. Just a must-read.

The most disappointing:

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. I have seen this on a number of “best-of” lists this past couple of weeks and still am stymied as to why that is. I sometimes think that editors and critics jump on bandwagons just because everyone else seems to think the book “should be” good. I thought the premise of this book was fascinating but that its execution wasn’t so hot. It just didn’t seem to “mean” anything. If everyone supposedly loved it because the premise was great but thought they were the only ones who didn’t “get” the bigger meaning and didn’t want to admit it, I wouldn’t be surprised. If you’d like to read more about my disappointment with this book, look at my original post.

Bellman and BlackBellman and Black, by Diane Setterfield. Dang it, this was so disappointing. I guess it was almost inevitable. I count her first book, The Thirteenth Tale, as probably my favorite gothic book. So that’s a lot to have to live up to. But this second book just didn’t deliver any big twists or messages. It kind of just went along, told its story, and said goodbye. Ah, well. Maybe she can write a third somewhere down the road and redeem herself just a bit.

There you have it, folks. I’m eager to see what 2014 brings in the way of great new books. Happy reading.

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It’s no secret I love to read. I am in awe of the amazing imagination of so many writers. But some books aren’t just imaginative in and of themselves; some actually stimulate and feed imaginative thought. For some reason, I’ve found these books tend to be ones aimed at middle readers (maybe it’s because that was a time in my life I felt most free to explore and imagine: now that might be another topic to consider). A couple of cases in point:

Chasing VermeerAnything by Blue Balliett. Reading her books is like attending a class for gifted students. I can say this because I myself had the privilege of going to special “gifted and talented” classes when I was in my middle-school years, and they were fun and fascinating and inspired us to think “outside the box.” I LOVED them. Balliett’s books feature protagonists who either attend a special school that focuses on inspiring kids to think differently while learning (in Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, and The Calder Game) or whose parents inspire them to imagine and think creatively (Hold Fast). She introduces all kinds of fun and interesting concepts to young readers, many of whom might not have had the opportunity to attend these kinds of enrichment classes. Her writing truly gets those brain juices flowing and makes all of the topics come alive, whether it’s art or architecture or the rhythms of poetry or the things you can do with pentominoes. She uses puzzles and riddles and hidden messages and makes readers do a little work, though it’s too fun to really think of it as such. Reading these books makes me feel like a kid again, set loose in a gifted-classroom setting.

The other book that gave me that same wonderful feeling is one a friend reviewed for my website, Rated Reads. As soon as I read the review of Chris Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, I knew I had to get a copy from my city library, first for my 11-year-old to read, and then for me to escape into.

LemoncelloThis one centered around the amazing resource that is a library, and it incorporated similar mind-expanding elements: riddles, puzzles, mysteries and clues to piece together. It featured the most amazing library that any kid (or kid at heart) could pretty much just live in, if given the opportunity. Just reading about the cool gadgets and state-of-the-art electronics incorporated into this fictional library made me almost drool with jealousy for the kids in the book who got to use it. And it features a rich, eccentric game-manufacturing benefactor who makes it all possible, á la Willy Wonka. Only this is better — as much as I love chocolate, this library sounds far more like a dream come true to me. Games, prizes, and a night spent locked in an amazing library? Yes, yes!

If you want to reawaken the creative kid in yourself, read these books. If you want to do so for your child, hand the book over to him or her.

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I admit I enjoyed reading the Twilight books. No, they’re not great literature or written with great skill. But they were a lovely escape, and I had fun. There. But I’ll give this to Stephenie Meyer: she has a great imagination and is truly a good storyteller (this comes even from her own mouth: she’s said she’s more a storyteller than she is a writer). She is also a fine judge of other books. Five summers ago on her website, she recommended the now ridiculously popular The Hunger Games. I went out and read it and found it fascinating, thought-provoking and gripping. Most everyone else seemed to agree.

But she also not too much later recommended a fine “duet” of books by Elizabeth Knox called Dreamhunter and Dreamquake. I went out and got those at the library and found myself utterly transported. The books had such an interesting premise: in a slightly different world than ours back in the early 1900s, an area appears which only certain people can enter. Those people can go in to this area, lie down and sleep, and “catch” dreams, which they can then essentially “broadcast” to a sleeping audience in a dream theater. Interesting idea in itself. But what became even more fascinating was the mystery of why the Place came to be in the first place, and if it has some kind of purpose. By the time the whole reason behind the Place is revealed at the end of the duet, after two wonderfully rich and complex books that were a little dreamlike themselves, I was absolutely blown away. It’s so satisfying as a reader to see bits of a mystery come together magically and then just be solved. But this also had such a powerful poignancy to it that I felt my heart seize up a bit. And the setting and tone, the whole feel of the books, was superb. Original, so real, so powerful.

Mortal FireSo I was thrilled to find out a couple of months ago that a new novel was coming from this superlative author, Mortal Fire. I let myself dip into the waters of this new book and its setting and feel, relishing the opportunity to visit Knox’s world again (this book is actually set in the same general place as the other two but 50 years later, and it’s mostly unconnected with the plot of those books, so it’s not necessary to read them first). But as I continued reading and the plot thickened, I found myself gobbling it, not able to put it down. I just rushed headlong to the end, and it was just as satisfying. What a fascinating premise! What a cool way of weaving the threads of story together and making it all make sense at the end! And the setting: again, just so vivid. I came inside (after sitting outside alone reading for two hours) just babbling about how much I loved the book. And a few days later, I still feel the rush of the thrill of discovery and the power of how it all hit me, not just in how it sent my mind spinning, but how it struck me smack in my chest.

What’s interesting to me is that all these books were recommended by Stephenie Meyer, but I haven’t heard a peep about Knox’s from other readers, whereas The Hunger Games became pretty much ubiquitous, not quite annoyingly so. Sometimes I wonder why these outstanding books don’t get more attention. (I think this is also the case with Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising. I am always surprised at just how many of my well-read friends have never even heard of this series, let alone read the five books, either when they came out when I/we was/were young or now.)

At any rate, Elizabeth Knox, you are amazing. I don’t lavish praise on many authors, but you have joined the elite list of authors who really impress me. I hope more discerning readers discover your books.

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Clockwork PrincessSo I just finished reading Clockwork Princess, the conclusion to the three-book series The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare. These books could easily be read by someone who hasn’t read Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series, or they could be savored by those of us who already have developed a taste for the deliciously entertaining world of Shadowhunters.

The brief story: in 1878 New York, a teenage girl is orphaned, and her brother invites her to join him in London. On arriving there, she is taken by women who essentially imprison her in their house and insist that she has special powers. They spend weeks training her to shape-change, and she is astonished to learn that she actually CAN turn into other people. Luckily, she is rescued by a dashing young man named Will, and Tessa is introduced to the world of Shadowhunters, people who are charged with protecting humans from the world of demons and other “Downworlders.” As it turns out, the “Dark Sisters” were only tools in the hands of the Magister, who has very scary and nefarious plans to destroy Shadowhunters. Tessa, as well as an army of mechanized creatures, are the main components of those plans.

Clare gets to have fun in this series continuing to explore the world of Shadowhunters, but she also gets to add in components of steampunk, via the clockwork-angel necklace that Tessa wears and the clockwork creatures the Magister has created. The other ingredients that work so well for her in the Mortal Instruments are all there: teens charged with safeguarding humanity and using lots of cool weapons to kill ugly and dangerous demons; intense love affairs and some good makeout scenes; secrets and curses that throw wrenches into those love affairs and make the characters dark and brooding but tender underneath; lots of action and fight scenes; mystery and intrigue; and even some great snark, cleverness and humor. When I first started this series, the pattern was so similar to the other books that I thought it was too much of a copycat. But I enjoyed the story and the characters so much that I couldn’t help but just throw myself into it anyway.

City of Lost SoulsNow that I’ve finished (and having read all five of the existing books in the Mortal Instruments), I find myself much more satisfied with how The Infernal Devices played out and concluded. When I finished the fifth book in the MI, City of Lost Souls, I was pretty annoyed with Clare. She simply got off the rails with the story and let it spin out of her control, like a wild dog in desperate need of obedience school. With the ID, she used a lot of her familiar elements but still crafted a story that is nicely paced and tamed. She tied up the series very satisfyingly and restrained herself. In fact, I felt completely happy with all of it, and I was teary-eyed with how the characters’ story lines were concluded. And having enjoyed City of Bones and the next few books in the Mortal Instruments, it was fun to tie together the characters from both series and see how they are related. When you get to know and love characters, it’s always wonderful to learn more about them.

I’d highly recommend the Infernal Devices series, and if you want to read City of Bones and its sequels, you might want to limit yourself to the first three or four books. But we’ll see. I’m hoping Clare can bring it all together and do it right in what I hope will be the real conclusion to the Mortal Instruments, which apparently will come in September 2014 and be titled City of Heavenly Fire. Next question is: how will the “City of Bones” movie be? So far, I approve of the casting. I just hope that the movie captures the humor of the books and not just the action and sizzling love stories. If it misses the humor, it will be a tragedy (which I do fear is a possibility: look at Harry Potter — those books had so much cleverness and wit that seemed to be largely missing from the movie adaptations).

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