The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Cover_ravenboys_300Book Series – Richard Gansy III is the scion of a privileged Virginia family, the prep school princeling golden boy with the impossible, magic dream.  Ronan Lynch is rage and sharp edges under a thin veneer of skin, sneering at the world through the window of a muscle car.  Adam Parrish is the impostor in their midst, hiding his accent and his bruises as he works three after-school jobs to pay his own tuition.  And Noah Czerney is… around, usually, if you don’t think about him too hard.

They are the Raven Boys, high school students at prestigious Aglionby Academy, and local girl Blue Sergeant–a passionate activist growing up in a house full of psychic women–hates them all on principle.  Until she meets them, anyway.  Until she gets to know them.  Until she is drawn with them into an impossibly high-stakes mythic quest that will transform them from five teenagers into an unbreakable brotherhood, wielding ancient and unimaginable powers, facing down curses and demons and kings.

I read the first book in the series, The Raven Boys, a little more than a year ago.  While I did find the characterization exceptionally well done, I was ultimately neither disappointed nor inspired.  But I’m so glad that I picked the series up again when the fourth and final book arrived in April (Book 2: The Dream Thieves; Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue; Book 4: The Raven King), because book two hits the ground running and doesn’t let go.  By its later chapters, The Raven Cycle became a reminder for me of what really good fiction feels like: its magical ability to transform the world and make the reader genuinely believe and care about its characters and plot, its potential to be fresh and original and at the same time seem like a story you’ve always known.  I devoured the last book in a day, and feel both bereft and energized now that it’s done.

TL;DR: If you like fantasy fiction even a little, read these books.  And if you like audiobooks even a little, try them that way, because we offer the whole series through both Overdrive and Hoopla, and narrator Will Patton knocks it out of the park.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

player oneBook– In the year 2044, the aptly-named virtual reality game OASIS allows people an immersive experience that diverts them from the shambles that is the world around them.  Teenage Wade Watts has essentially been raised by OASIS–he learned to read from its educational software, goes to school in one of its virtual classrooms, and like many others, seeks to solve the puzzles, or Easter eggs, that are hidden in the game. The first to find the eggs will win OASIS creator James Halliday’s fortune and control of the OASIS. To this aim, puzzle solvers (who call themselves “gunters,” from egg hunters) obsess over every facet of Halliday’s life, especially his video game and pop culture obsessions which should be familiar to anyone who was a nerd in the 1980s. Though Wade does not have as many credits (in-game money) or as much experience as some players, he is the one who stumbles on the first clue of the game and sets off the competition.

Though it certainly helps, you don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of 1980s nerd culture to read this book. At its heart, the book reads like a virtual reality version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. If I had a complaint, it’s that I would have liked to see more world-building of the world outside the OASIS, but the game world is so immersive for both the reader and the characters that it’s not a serious issue. Ready Player One will appeal to fans of young adult dystopias, video games, and science fiction. Also, the audio version is narrated by Wil Wheaton.  Who can resist?

Groot by Jeff Loveness

51jARlMoeUL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_Book: “I am Groot.” Groot, a huge hulking tree and a Guardian of the Galaxy, may be only able to verbalize three words, but he really does have a lot to say. Jeff Loveness’ graphic novel Groot is the story of Groot (duh) and Rocket the Racoon traveling together to Terrian (aka Earth). The two pals’ trip is not going as planned because apparently Groot wanted to take the scenic route. They also run into the problem of no longer having a spaceship. This leads the best friends to literally hitchhike across the galaxy. Much hilarity ensues as the pair encounter different alien species and trials on their journey. The contrast of Groot’s simple nature with Rocket’s impatience and lack of compassion leads great conversations and adventures.

Of the graphic novels that I have read, this one is by far my favorite. The story line is so much fun to read. It gives background knowledge to Groot and his friendship with Rocket. It shows a new side to both of these characters. If you loved the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, then you will love this graphic novel. If you want to try reading graphic novels for the first time, Groot is an excellent place to start. It’s a complete story from beginning to end and the art work is beautiful.

The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone

51-+74IGcjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book- Broke and unemployed Dahlia is pleased if rather confused when a handsome stranger at her roommate’s party offers her a dubious gig– to retrieve his spear (not a real spear, but a spear from fictional Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game Zoth).  Naturally, the promise of a $2000 payout after 12+ months of unemployment is too much to resist. However, nothing ever works out as well as it seems it should. Dahlia is quickly embroiled in at least one potential romantic entanglement, the interpersonal dynamics of her employer’s in-game guild, and, oh yeah, a real-life murder. The real pleasure of The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss is the narrator’s unique voice. Dahlia is steeped in nerd culture and has an acerbic, self-deprecating style that either the reader will love or hate.

This book (which I would not be surprised to see become a series) straddles the line between young adult and new adult and will appeal to fans of both chick lit novels and cozy mysteries. Set in St. Louis, I found that the novel had a surprisingly strong sense of place that I appreciated. My spouse is from St. Louis, and I recognized many of the places and streets mentioned as ones I’ve been to when visiting my in-laws. If you can get behind a novel where the detective wears a Jigglypuff toboggan hat instead of a deerstalker cap, this is the book for you.

Novels In Verse: The Forgotten Genre

Book – The genre of novels in verse often gets swept under the rug, lost in the muddle of YA fiction.  As opposed to the narrative style of most YA novels (words organized in sentences and paragraphs), verse novels tell stories in the form of free verse poetry.  Aside from their unique formatting, novels in verse excel at covering difficult topics and creating emotionally charged stories.


Here are a few examples of novels in verse, in a variety of themes:

Substance Abuse: Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Hopkins challenges taboo subjects such as drug addiction, abuse, sex, and suicide in her novels. In her first verse novel, titled Crank, Hopkins addresses drug addiction through the experiences of the main character, Kristina, otherwise known as Bree. Hopkins bases the story off of her own experience with her daughter’s addiction.  The strength in this novel is the connection the author has to the subject matter.

Historical Fiction: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

This story follows fourteen year old Billie Joe and her experiences during the dust bowl of the Great Depression.  Billie Joe’s narration is a diary of daily life on her family’s farm where she lives with her Daddy and Ma.  Emotionally charged, this story provides insight into the lives of those living through the dust bowl, while the free verse form helps readers connect to the characters more fully.


Other verse novels at the Warrenville Library include: Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas, A Girl Named Mister by Nick Grimes, May B: A Novel by Caroline Starr Rose,
Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham, and Sold by Patricia McCormick

 

The Forgotten: 4 Works of Fiction on Amnesia

From mysteries to romances, every genre has something to offer on amnesia, a most intriguing subject.

The Sci-Fi Drama: The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

Jenna fox has lost a year of her life.  An unknown accident has left her with no memory of anyone or the life she lived before.  Her parents whisk her off to a new home, and refuse to talk about the accident.  As snippets of her memory return, Jenna discovers that her amnesia is only the tip of the iceberg.

The Mystery/Thriller: Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson

Christine wakes up in a hospital with no memory of her life.  Her husband is a complete stranger to her.  Each day starts anew, with no memory of who she is, or the man in bed beside her.  With the recommendation of her doctor, Christiane uses a daily journal to try to uncover her past each day.  Slowly, she  discovers that nothing is really what seems.  It’s 50 First Dates meets the thrilling drive of Gone Girl.

The Romantic Comedy: Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

Lexi Smart wakes up from an accident, with no memory of the past three years.  She can’t recognize the tan, slim, flawless woman in the mirror. Life seems perfect: she’s married to a drop-dead gorgeous man, lives in a million dollar penthouse and is head of the company!  But things start to fall through when Lexi learns just how imperfect her life really is.

 The Tragedy: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Gat, Johnny, Mirren, and Cadence have always been inseparable.  Every Summer their families vacation at Cape Cod.  But then one Summer, tragedy strikes, causing Cadence to slip into an amnesiac state, suffering excruciating migraines, and struggling to put the pieces together to find out what happened.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Book-  Despite living in a small Texas town collectively obsessed with football and the local Miss Clover City beauty pageant, Willowdean Dickson has managed to carve out a niche away from all that, looking to her deceased shut-in aunt Lucy for guidance. This is no mean feat, given that Will’s (or Dumplin’, as her mother calls her) mother is a former Miss Clover City winner and current pageant bigwig. However, the pageant draws Will into its orbit. First her best friend Ellen begins to hang out with pageant hopefuls, creating a distance between herself and Will where none existed before. Then Will enters a secret affair with the laconic Bo, an enigmatic-but-hot fast food coworker whom she’s crushed on for months.

Though Will is a bigger girl, she has up to this point in the story projected confidence. However, Bo’s keeping her a secret, and her niggling suspicion that her mother is ashamed of her, damages her confidence. In a wild bid to prove to herself to herself and to do what her aunt Lucy had always dreamed of doing, she, and a ragtag band of other unlikely candidates, enter the Miss Clover City beauty pageant. What follows is a campy high school coming-of-age experience reminiscent of Hairspray. Perhaps the best, most refreshing thing about Dumplin’ is that, unlike other stories in this vein and much like real life, the fat protagonist is allowed to remain fat; she doesn’t magically lose weight the moment she locates her self-confidence.

Stay by Allie Larkin

stayBook –The perfect novel for romantics and dog-lovers alike!  Stayby Allie Larkin follows Savannah “Van” Leone, a quirky young woman who has been hopelessly in love with her friend Peter since college.  Unfortunately, love has other plans for her–her best friend Janie is marrying her beloved Peter, and Van is forced into the role of maid of honor.  Love has never been so miserable!

Following the excruciating ceremony, Van drowns her broken heart in vodka and a Rin Tin Tin movie marathon, and promptly purchases a German Shepherd puppy online.   She soon finds that her furry friend is not the little puppy she expected, but rather, a GIANT.  As she wrestles with training her new pup, Van starts to mend her broken heart, and finds a new purpose in her life.  Yet just as she begins to open her heart up to someone else, everything comes crashing down.

Full of hysterical moments, a lovable dog, and a cute vet, this is a wonderfully fun, light-hearted read. It’s The Holiday meets Must Love Dogs, cute, funny, with a side of fluff.

 

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

particularBook – Imagine if you could taste someone’s emotions when you bite into a piece of cake, fresh from the oven.  Maybe you’d taste your mother’s happiness at the success of a new recipe, or the local baker’s despair of his broken marriage.  Would it be a gift?  Or a curse?

Aimee Bender’s explores this whimsical idea in her novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.  On her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein is shocked to discover she has a taste for feelings after biting into a slice of cake baked by her mother. In that first bite, her world is shattered when Rose tastes her mother’s sadness and anguish.   Her new-found “gift” sends her reeling from the impact of knowing too much about people’s hidden secrets.  There is no escape from the emotions that assault her.  In this magical coming of age novel, Bender weaves a sorrowful, yet hopeful tale of a young girl caught up in the sentiments of others, trying to find herself among them.

I thought this was a wonderful read, a simple yet fantastical story that is actually quite relatable.  While the element of magic may not be found in our own lives, every family has its hidden secrets, the things we try to bury within ourselves.  This novel allows us to consider what might happen if those secrets were revealed, as well as realize the burden they hold over us.

 

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming, and The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport

Books – With the centennial of WWI upon us and that of the Russian Revolution soon to come, the last imperial family of Russia has been a popular subject recently.  Two important histories were published in 2014.

The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport, a book for adult readers, is an intimate and personal family history that accomplishes the difficult task of making its royal subjects individual and relatable.  As the title suggests, its highlight is the degree to which it addresses with the four Romanov grand duchesses–Olga, Tatiana, Marie and Anastasia–as unique personalities, avoiding the tendency of onlookers (during their lifetimes and since) to lump them together into one unit.  The treatment of the family, its personalities and their actions, is neither sentimental nor condemnatory, providing a detached authorial perspective that allows readers to make up their own minds.

The Family RomanovThe Family Romanov by Candace Fleming, intended for teen audiences and up, distinguishes itself from The Romanov Sisters by the strength of its narrative thread and breadth of its scope.  Rather than limiting itself to the Romanovs, The Family Romanov features a series of “Beyond the Palace Gates” sections that describe broader events in Russia and the world.  Even for older readers who may have some familiarity with the history of the period, this context is a thoughtful addition that enriches the story.  Fleming is also adept at exploiting the inherent tension of her tragic subject to keep readers on edge and eager to continue.  That said, Fleming has much more of an authorial agenda than Rappaport.  Readers of The Family Romanov will emerge with a very clear sense of her opinions and point of view (not necessarily either a good or bad thing).

Both books are well-written, deeply researched and engaging; I would have no hesitation in recommending either one.  If I were forced to choose between them, however, my verdict would come down in favor of The Family Romanov, whether for adult, tween or teen readers.  It is more readable and memorable, and the added background into the lives of everyday Russians and famous historical figures outside the royal family adds an extra layer of depth.