Saturday, July 20, 2013

Summer Reading: A List

My summer reading list has been a mix of new, newish, and old. I can't imagine that Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid require any more reviews than they've already had (but they were on my reading list, compiled with the help of a second grader). I've been trying to work on bringing myself current with lit for younger kids – you may have noticed that I heavily favored mythology/fairytale-based YA lit. So the idea is to (at least occasionally) break out of that mold.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

The intertwined stories of a spy and an Air Transport Auxiliary service member who become friends. After parachuting into France, Verity is caught by the local Gestapo and must bargain for her life. This is her story, and the story of her friendship with the pilot who brought her to France.

So very, very, very good and I am afraid to say more than that. Read this book.

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

The story of an orphaned boy looking for a home in the racially divided town of Two Mills, Pennsylvania. I wanted to make a point of including this book on this list because I never read it when I was younger, because everyone knew that it was a sports book because it was by Jerry Spinelli who wrote books about sports, which were for boys. But it's also about home and family and reading and race and How Legends Are Born. It is, in short, worth recommending to just about everyone, regardless of whether or not it is "their kind" of book.

Katya's World by Jonathan Howard

Katya was raised on the Earth colony of Russalka, a distant, storm-tossed waterworld. People live deep beneath the ocean's stormy waves and live off the ocean's resources. Katya is much more interested in her first submarine voyage as a member of the crew. It's supposed to be a routine run until their boat is commandeered to transport a political prisoner.

Political intrigue and a strong female lead? Yes please! Both sides are cast in shades of grey. There is no unnecessary love triangle and there's enough action to satisfy just about anyone. Highly recommended.

The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler

I wanted to like this book. Kessler builds an interesting world in which Emily, who has never been allowed in the water, is finally allowed to take swimming lessons ... and discovers that she's a mermaid. She goes looking for her father and in the process discovers a whole world beneath the sea. Told from a first person perspective, Kessler has the voice of a twelve-year-old down perfectly. Unfortunately, that's where the book loses me. I wish I could enjoy that tone or at least ignore it, but I just can't get into this book.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

This book is fighting tooth and nail to be my favorite book of the summer. Instead of diving back into Euro-centric stories, Wilson deftly weaves together Arabic mythology (djinn! Empty Quarter! 1001 Nights!), modern technology, and the events of the Arab Spring into this absolutely brilliant tale. When Alif, a young Arab hacker, falls in love with Intisar, he wants to believe that their relationship has a future. But she is promised to another. As a keepsake, though, she sends him a book: The Thousand and One Days. And Alif's world shifts. When he finds himself pursued by the shah's security forces, Alif seeks allies who may not be quite human. The magic in this book is sneaky. Alif might just be going crazy or becoming dehydrated. Or maybe djinn still walk the world.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Lucero-Elisa, a princess, has been chosen by god to perform a task. When she was born, a Godstone was implanted in her navel, signifying her selection by a higher power. When she is married off, it is because her husband, Alejandro de Vega, needs her to be a savior. His country is in turmoil and war looms on the horizon. Elisa is not sure she's ready to save anyone – but she may not get a choice.

This is not a perfect book. There's some sort of almost romance and the book equivalent of a training montage (Elisa goes into it fat and comes out fit and ready to defend her country). But the politics and the young princess finding her feet and the religious schisms are all fascinatingly believable. It's a strong debut novel and I'm looking forward to picking up The Crown of Embers, next in the series. Two notes: the main character is pretty clearly Hispanic (but in a very nonchalant way) and the religion in question seems to be an alternate universe take on Christianity. The former is great; the latter may be problematic for some readers.

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