Tag Archives: fiction

When superlatives are not enough…

the-philosophers-flight-9781476778150_lgThis book.  This book.  This book.

I don’t even know where to begin.  I brought The Philosopher’s Flight  home thinking my son might like it, because it’s kind of alternative history, kind of fantasy (not usually his thing, but it will work if it’s on the edge of sci-fi), and kind of different.  He likes that.  A day later, he announced that he loved it and that I needed to read it, too.  He’s a teenager, so if he likes something enough to suggest it to me, I try to read it and soon.  It’s really an honor when someone tells you about a book they love, and when it’s your teenager — who probably thinks you’re an idiot about half the time and doesn’t detach from the devices as often as you’d like — it’s worth taking the time to make some kind of connection, right?

The Philosopher’s Flight is a coming-of-age story set in an alternative early twentieth century.  Women empirical philosophers dominate human flight and sigilry—which is not exactly like signaling or casting spells, but can be used for transporting humans, creating smoke shields and other things, healing and more.  Robert has grown up with a mother and sisters who can do all of this, and he wants to fight for his dream of becoming a rescue and evacuation specialist.  There are all kinds of other things going on – a group of zealots who hate the women who do this, factional fighting within the women philosophers, war, love.  You know.  All the usual stuff.

I can’t shut up about this book.  I’ve told at least ten people about it already, including a few who I know don’t like reading things outside of their usual very limited boxes.  Oh well.  This is one to take a chance on, because it is just SO fun.  I can’t be friends with you anymore if you hate it.  Well, actually, I can.  But I’d be bummed you didn’t like it, because it’s just THAT good.

Also, the author is from our neighboring state of Wisconsin–Wauwatosa to be exact.  Having spent a delightful afternoon at a ‘Tosa city pool/biergarten some summers ago, I have an extra fondness for it, and I’ll be looking for the next one, Tom Miller.  Don’t make us wait too long.

The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

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Bucket lists and burdens

trail meikaMore than one book for kids and teens has taken a bucket list and spun a story.  Sometimes, as in The Trail, a character is finishing a list they’ve started with someone else, someone who is no longer around to finish it with them.  The dramatic results are enough to make you wonder if bucket lists are such a great idea.

Toby is working through the final thing on a list, to hike part of the Appalachian Trail.  If you think it’s a spectacularly bad idea for a 12 year old to do this on his own without telling anyone he’s doing it – well, you’re right.  He’s carrying a lot of sadness and anger with him, but fortunately, he’s got some money, a little experience, a few smarts, and some people on the trails who will help him, too.

Figuring out where he’s going from one moment to the next is less about using a compass and more about who he is and who he’s going to become, but for kids who liked Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, this might be a nice follow-up.

The Trail by Meika Hashimoto

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Intensity can be illuminating

I’m sure Dr. K doesn’t remember this, some thirty years on, but while discussing personal essays in class one day, he talked about the intensity of living and how when you are young, you feel things so powerfully that the feelings consume you in a way that they never will again.  I remember thinking that I hoped I never lost that intensity about life and what was important to me, but, of course, I did, since to operate in the adult world successfully, you kind of have to calm down, plow through, and let things go sometimes.  And thank goodness, really, because living with that level of feeling is exhausting if you try to do it all the time.  Most of us just can’t maintain that.

The main characters in Turtles All the Way Down and The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily are dealing with that intensity, plus the added challenges of being on the spectrum, ADD or OCD.  The anxiety is high here, made worse by the feeling that so much is new and uncharted and frightening, even though the characters know themselves and their challenges exceedingly well.  In fact, what is so illuminating and wonderful (although difficult at times) is how clearly their feelings and thoughts speak out to us readers in ways we can relate to and empathize with, even if we are not on the spectrum, ADD or OCD ourselves.

Love Letters struck me as a sweeter young love story, partly because the ending ties the characters together in a more positive way, but both are windows into the paths we walk when we are young, the opportunities we take and leave behind, and the mistakes we make while we are trying to move forward.

The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily by Laura Creedle

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

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A grim beginning, some art, some angels, a car chase or two…

 

theroadtoeveraftercover2Sometimes I don’t know why I pick books up.  Maybe I saw something about it online?  Maybe a co-worker added it my stack thinking I’d like it?  Maybe someone, somewhere mentioned it?  Maybe I liked the cover?

Sometimes books just call out to you, I guess.  The cover reminds me a bit of Moon Over Manifest, an excellent book by Clare Vanderpool which won the Newbery some years ago, although The Road to Ever After has a boy facing away and headed down a road with a dog, while Moon has a girl coming towards you on a train track.  It doesn’t suggest a grim dystopian beginning, the magic of a young artist, or anything resembling a walk with Death, but it drew me in, so let’s see where it goes, right?

It’s a quirky kind of a book, but a wonderful one.  Davy David, the unacknowledged angel artist of brooms and twigs, is on his own in a grim sort of town with some unpleasant and unkind adults.  The library, his sanctuary, is going to be closed, and he’s at loose ends until Miss Flint announces that she needs to drive him somewhere – he doesn’t know how to drive – so that she can die.  She might look old and feeble, but she’s smart and has enough of a spark to lead him on a minor crime spree on the way to the shore and her planned death.

It’s not your average middle grade read, but that might just be the reason to pick it up.

The Road to Ever After by Moira Young with illustrations by Hannah George

 

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Bears and libraries and funny little men

snow roseRe-imagining fairy tales can be a tricky business.  Some authors go for the updated, girl power versions.  Some go for the laughs.  Others reach back closer to the originals – more brooding, dark, even scary.

I guess this one does a little of all of that, although it’s more magical and serious than wacky or dark.  Rose and Snow are definitely girls with minds of their own.  Their father’s missing and their mother’s struggling, so they wander off to all corners of a mysterious forest, discovering a library of things and stories, an underground house, a boy who raises mushrooms, and a funny little man who’s really kind of awful, demanding, and mean.

It’s not a race to the end.  Things happen, and characters dip in and out of the story, but I never felt like I was being rushed or that the action was all there just to keep things ripping along.  That might actually be one of the things I liked about it, though, since it gave me time to think about which fairy tales were being woven together instead of being smacked in the face with it.

In the end, Rose and Snow triumph, the funny little man is ruined by his greed, and Father returns.  A happy ending, yes, but it felt more like a deserved happy ending than a story twisted to create one.  Nicely done.

Snow and Rose by Emily Winfield Martin

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Good guys, bad guys, gray areas

renegades552 pages.  Sigh.

There is a whole lot of this book to like, I guess.

By the last third, you pretty much know you’re going to be reading a sequel a year from now.  There are just too many unexplored tunnels to snoop down and unanswered questions to wrap it all up in one book, even one that is 552 pages long.

The average teen super-reader can probably power through this in a few days.  There’s so much happening, some seriously conflicted characters, and loads of action.  And superheroes.  The villains might not be so bad. Some of the good guys are kind of jerks.  There’s a lot to work with here.

The writing is pitched perfectly – sometimes little jokes and sly remarks pop up, sometimes characters get dinged for taking themselves too seriously, sometimes it’s dark, sometimes silly.  Marissa Meyer manages to keep this monster of a story hurtling along, maintaining your interest, creating new things to wonder about.  It’s almost cinematic (and would make a great movie), although you might have to make a few of them to be able to cover it all.

552 pages.  Sigh.  Maybe I’ve been reading too many picture books and middle grade novels, but working this one into an already busy life takes some serious commitment in time and focus.  I hope the right readers find it.

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

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Uni-sensors, FARTs, and Mr. X

incredible magicWow. Just wow.

Julian is special, but in so many ways that you don’t really even want to label them individually, because it might just make the greatness of who he is a little less.  His older sister Pookie is an angry teenage drama queen.  His moms have issues of their own.  And then there’s Mr. X, a neighbor who’s lost his wife and turns out to be special and mysterious in his own ways.

Julian is in the middle of all of them and on the outside all at once.  He loves science, space, and astronomers.  He wants to get a dog and name it Sirius after the Dog Star.  He wants to help his sister, his moms, and Mr. X, but he goes about it in ways that might be unexpected, funny, or slightly dangerous.

There’s a lot to like about this book—Julian’s funny and somewhat combative conversations with Mr. X, his “Facts and Random Thoughts,” also known as FARTS, Pookie’s fascination with Matt Damon and her biological father, the whole crazy family they are…

Just wow.

The Incredible Magic of Being by Katherine Erskine

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So many stories, so many mysteries–yippee!

ghosts ofIt’s almost always a wonderful thing to meet up with favorite characters again.  In this case, we’re back at Greenglass House at the beginning of another holiday season with Milo and his family, and eventually, with his ghost friend, Meddy, and some other folks, too.

Where to start on all the cool things in this book?  Milo and Meddy are soon back to their excellent role-playing game, because a mysterious group of characters (from a mysterious place) show up just as some old friends and thieves arrive, so things start happening.  There are smugglers and people pretending to be something they aren’t, some strange injuries and missing items, and just a whole lot of coffee and hot chocolate drinking.

There are a lot of characters and stories to unravel, and at times, I found it hard to keep everyone straight, but that didn’t really dim my enjoyment of the book as much as slow me down a little to figure things out.  It’s 452 pages long in print form, so you have plenty of time to figure out the relationships, the lies, and eventually, the truth.

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford

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Stars and rainbows and gun violence

stars beneathI was at work  when I learned about the latest mass shooting.  We heard again that “this kind of thing doesn’t happen around here.”  Clearly, it does happen around here, more and more often.  And it’s been happening around here for a while.  We’re not really even surprised by it.

I’d been reading The Stars Beneath Our Feet for a few days, and while it’s set in New York — which might seem far away to anyone knowing where I live – it’s not far away at all.  I recognize these kids, having worked in a program similar to the one described in the book, just out here in good ol’ Iowa.  They’d lost family members to gun violence and drugs, and some lived every day with traumatic pain, not seeing any way to get out of it all.  Some of my favorite kids could be Lolly and Vega and Big Rose.

I wish they had all known Lolly and this book.  It might have given us one more way to talk about the really awful choices in front of them, things adults all want them to avoid and resist, but which, like Harp and Gully, just kept landing in the middle of the sidewalk in front of them, unavoidable.  My own Lolly, much loved by his family and friends, didn’t make the same choices and will most likely be incarcerated for many years, missing his kids’ birthdays and everything else.  His decisions will ripple out to affect even more people.  The pain just spreads.

After finishing the book, it struck me that these tragedies — mass shootings or gun violence in our neighborhoods – they’re not so far away from any of us, whether we’re in the suburbs or the city or a small town.  We act like one thing is different from another, but maybe it isn’t.  And as a country, we don’t do anything about either, no matter how many lives are ruined and wasted on it all.

This should probably have filled me with sadness and hopelessness, but it didn’t.  Lolly’s story, you see, is like a rainbow of Legos reaching out to us across that pain.  (I like the image, although I know it’s a little silly on paper.)  It needs to be read by all kids, whether they sound and look like Lolly or not.  Kids in small town and urban Iowa may look or sound different, but they live their own stories with strikingly similar challenges.

Can a book change the world or a life?  It can.  This one just might.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

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Steampunk with Mad King Ludwig… where have you been all my life?

castle in the stars

Parents are always doing weird stuff, aren’t they?  Like flying their balloons up into the atmosphere to try to find some weird holy-grail-like thing called aether.

So you lose one parent.  Time passes.  Your dad tries to keep you from tagging along on his trip to follow up the mystery of your mom’s final trip log.  Um, no.  You must jump on that train and head for Bavaria, meet up with Mad King Ludwig in one of his awesome castles, help your dad build a steampunky ship to search for more aether, and then, oh, sure, also reveal a traitor to the king.  And this is just book one.  Book two had better get here fast.

Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869, book one by Alex Alice

 

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