unRequired Reading Blog

Philip K. Dick and History Unrealized

The late Philip K. Dick's works were one of the strongest influences on science fiction writers in the first decade of the 21st century, including the fields of alternate history and paranoid thrillers.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

This is Week 10 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. Check back each Monday for a new review.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is a page-turning story of star-crossed teenage love with a Southern gothic twist and a side of magic.

In the town of Gatlin, South Carolina, everyone knows everybody's business and nothing exciting ever happens, unless you count the annual re-enactment of a local Civil War battle. Unbeknownst to the residents of Gatlin (at least most residents) beneath the thick Southern accents and Spanish moss lurks a whole other magical world, one of hidden underground libraries, voodoo and deadly family curses.

Lena Duchannes and Ethan Wate bridge the gap between these two worlds - two worlds that were never meant to meet.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver opens during one particularly brutal winter, when the wolves in Mercy Falls, Minnesota are starving. Desperate to eat, they pull an eleven-year-old girl off of her tire swing in her back yard. As they begin to pull at her clothes, she catches the beautiful, golden eyes of one of the wolves and they both connect in an inexplicable way. The golden-eyed wolf saves her life, defending her from the pack.

Fast forward to the present, and that same girl, Grace Brisbane, is now in high school. She has a few good friends at school and a pair of scatterbrained, distracted parents. What particularly grounds her is watching “her wolf” who lives in the forest behind her house. What Grace doesn’t know is that the wolf is named Sam, and he turns human in the warm weather and stays a wolf during the cold.  Sam and Grace’s worlds collide when a local boy is believed to have been killed by the wolves, and the town launches into a full-scale wolf-hunt. The tension is heightened by the fact that each time Sam changes into a wolf it becomes less likely that he will change back into a human. He has to struggle after each change to throw off the wildness, the dreams of howling and blood on his lips.
 

Show Off by Sarah Hines Stephens

I don't care if you are a kid, teen or adult - it feels great to be able to do some impressive tricks for your family and friends at the next backyard barbecue, like blowing a bubble within a bubble or slicing an unpeeled banana. If you want to move beyond mere parlor tricks, you can learn how to identify clouds, ride a boogie board or fold fortune cookies thanks to the super-easy directions in Show Off: How to Do Absolutely Everything One Step at a Time by Sarah Hines Stephens and Bethany Mann.

What makes "Show Off" a fantastic book are the step-by-step picture directions. Since I am a graphic learner, this makes it so much easier for me than trying to decipher a page of text describing how to fold a ninja star. The ingredient lists tend to be very slight, which is a bonus for parents. If you want to learn more about an activity, several of them have longer descriptions in the back under "tell me more." The 224 activities are grouped under the categories of "amaze," "investigate," "create," "explore," "cook," and "move." Most of these are easy to do by yourself if you're at least 10 years old, while others will require adult help.

12 Weeks of Hot Summer Reads: Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve

This is Week 7 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. Check back each Monday for a new review.

Fever Crumb, heroine of Philip Reeve’s Fever Crumb, is a 14 year-old girl with an unusual appearance. First of all, she’s bald. Second, she has two differently-colored eyes – one blue, the other brown. And third, she’s absolutely beautiful. But she doesn’t know that. She has been raised by Dr. Crumb and the Order of Engineers since she was a baby, and they’re not in the habit of telling her that she’s beautiful. Her upbringing has been rather dry and very self-composed, with both emotion and beauty being looked down upon.

Fever lives in London, but it’s not like any London that we know of. London is recovering from being occupied by “the Scriven,” a different species with speckled skin and long lives. The Scriven were overthrowed by the Skinners, and the New Council now rules the land. No one is as hated in London as the Scriven are, for being different and for being harsh rulers.
 
Fever is called out on her first official Engineer assignment, to assist archeologist Kit Solvent on a dig. While traveling to her job, Fever’s eyes attract some unwanted attention, and she is quickly branded “a Patchskin” or Scriven. A renowned Patchskin hunter follows her, determined to find out if she is human or Scriven.  Events occur that lead to rioting in London, even while barbarians are approaching the city to conquer it.

First Light by Rebecca Stead

First Light by Rebecca Stead is a compelling story told by two different narrators. First there is Peter, the only child of two talented scientist parents. His father, a glaciologist, receives a grant to travel to Greenland and study global warming. He takes along Peter and Peter's mother, a molecular biologist, who is writing a book about mitochondrial DNA. Peter, like any normal 7th grader, is excited to leave behind New York City for 6 weeks, but he's worried about his increasingly frequent headaches. Is he going to end up like his mother, whose headaches cause her to simply "check out" for days at a time?

Second, there is Thea, a 14 year-old girl who lives in Gracehope, a community entirely hidden under Greenland's ice. Thea's ancestors fled here a long time ago to escape persecution. Thea has never seen the sun. Her people's population has expanded to the point where resources must be severely rationed and births are limited. Thea feels that her people were meant to return to the surface, but her grandmother, who leads Gracehope, is set against expansion.

Peter and Thea's tales alternate as the plot's tension increases, and they eventually come together in this exciting story that mixes adventure with science and fantasy. Both characters are strong and independent thinkers, trying to make the best decisions with their limited knowledge. The adults in this novel seem strangely paralyzed by the past in many respects, unlike Peter and Thea, who are constantly looking forward to and advocating for the future.

You can read an excerpt from the book here and explore the world of First Light in its own Web site. A similar read is The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. The library owns both the book and audiobook, which our family enjoyed listening to. Recommended for ages 10-14.

12 Weeks of Hot Summer Reads: Nothing by Janne Teller

This is Week 6 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. Check back each Monday for a new review.

What matters to you? What really, really matters in your life?

What if someone told you that nothing in life matters? NOTHING AT ALL.
"It's all a waste of time ... Everything begins only to end. The moment you were born you began to die. That's how it is with everything." What if they kept saying it over and over again and you couldn't make them shut up?

This is exactly what happens to the students in class 7A at Taering School in Janne Teller's novel Nothing.

Finnikin of the Rock

This is Week 5 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. Check back each Monday for a new review.

Finnikin of the Rock, by Melina Marchetta, is a book for readers who don’t mind losing themselves. The land of Skuldenore is not always a pleasant place to be lost – in fact, it is often heartbreakingly dark. But I didn’t mind being lost within it, as long as I was with Finnikin.

Skuldenore is comprised of several countries, such as Osteria, Charyn, and Yutlind. Each country has its own interesting characterization, and there is much that goes into the world-building in this book, which makes it so successful. The country we care most about is Lumatere, Finnikin’s homeland.

Ten years ago, a power-greedy cousin infiltrated Lumatere’s royal castle, slaughtering the king, queen, and princesses. This violence set off another chain of violent events, which ended with the entire country being cursed and sealed off from the rest of the world. Those events are called “the five days of the unspeakable.” The people who escaped during that time roam the other countries, exiled, ignored, and mostly despised. They die from fever, starvation, and at the hands of other countries’ kings. It is not a good time to be Lumateren.

12 Weeks of Hot Summer Reads: After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick

This is Week 4 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. Check back each Monday for a new review. 

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick
Tad Ibsen is a scrawny kid who walks into the classroom on crutches, muttering angrily to himself, with a huge red scar across the side of his head. Why does the teacher seat the new kid next to Jeffrey Alper? “Suddenly I get it,” Jeffrey explains to the reader. “I don’t always catch on so fast, but this time, I put two and two together…I lean over and whisper, ‘Hi, I’m Jeffrey. I had cancer, too.’ He looks at me like I’m a particularly loathsome slice of school-lunch meat loaf and says, ‘Wow, congratulations! What do you want, a medal?’” Of course, they’re best friends from that moment on. 

12 Weeks of Hot Summer Reads: Ashes by Kathryn Lasky

This is Week 3 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. Check back each Monday for a new review.

"Where they burn books, they will end by burning human beings." - Heinrich Heine

This is the opening quote in Ashes, the story of thirteen-year-old Gabrielle Schramm who is living in Berlin in 1932 during the turbulent days of Hitler's rise to power.

Hitler has not yet seized control when the story begins, but there are signs of what's to come. Sightings of Hitler's private army and his personal guard, the "SA" and the "SS," are becoming more frequent, as are attacks on Jewish neighborhoods, businesses and synagogues.

For the most part, Garbrielle is a typical thirteen-year-old girl. She goes to school, talks about movies and movie stars with her best friend Rosa, and occasionally gets in trouble at school for having her nose stuck in a book during math class. Gabrielle is a serious book lover. Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Helen Keller, Mark Twain ... she devours them all. She's already lost two of her treasured books to her math teacher Herr Doktor Berg.