Tag Archives: honors:VOYA Top Forty Books

Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl review

Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl by Daniel Pinkwater; Illustrated by Calef Brown

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010. 978-0-547-22324-7

Synopsis: Big Audrey is a cat-whiskered girl from another dimension that works in a flying saucer bookshop in Poughkeepsie, New York. She makes friends with a man named Professor Tag, a teacher at Vassar who goes crazy once a year. While visiting him in the loony bin, she meets Molly, a telepath, and the two become friends. While on a walk, the three happen across a stone barn whose proprietor makes the best apple fritters in the universe for the aliens that land their flying saucers behind the barn. Curious, Big Audrey and Molly decide to investigate the UFOs and their connection to another cat-whiskered girl who bears a strong resemblance to Audrey.

Why I picked it up: The title caught my eye while I was browsing through lists of science fiction books for middle schoolers.

Why I finished it: Pinkwater is a very clever and humorous writer. The reader is quickly brought up to speed on Audrey’s background and why she is in Poughkeepsie in a matter of paragraphs and then plunged into the story. Audrey herself is a charming narrator, both matter of fact and sarcastic when it comes to describing the world, the people around her, and her mixed emotions about the existence of another cat-whiskered girl like herself. Situations, characters, and settings dance on the border or ridiculousness and absurdity, but merely the fact that Pinkwater is dealing with alternate universes makes it fantastic, unusual, and believable.  The mystery part of the plot is equally engaging and though the book is rather thick, the chapters are short and move quickly. The ending is somewhat of a cliffhanger, though since this book is the sequel to two others, I have a feeling there will be more adventures to be had in the mysterious Poughkeepsie.

Other related materials: The Yggyssey: How Iggy Wondered What Happened to All the Ghosts, Found Out Where They Went, and Went There by David Pinkwater; The Neddiad: How Neddie Took the Train, Went to Hollywood, and Saved Civilization by David Pinkwater; Lizard Music by David Pinkwater; The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by David Pinkwater; Irving & Muktuk: Two Bad Bears by David Pinkwater; Once Upon a Blue Moose by David Pinkwater; The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente; Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier; The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch; The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger; The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman

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Never Trust a Dead Man review

Never Trust a Dead Man by Vivian Vande Velde

Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999. 9780152018993

Synopsis: Selwyn Roweson has just been accused of murdering his rival and fellow villager Farold and as punishment for his crime, has been trapped in the burial caves with Farold’s corpse. He is rescued by the witch Elswyth and makes a bargain with her to bring Farold back from the afterlife in order to help him prove his innocence. Unfortunately for Selwyn, Farold is just as annoying dead as he was alive, and it is going to take all of his restraint to keep from killing Farold for real.

Why I picked it up: I read and enjoyed Heir Apparent and wanted to read more of Vande Velde’s writing.

Why I finished it: The book jacket explains the book as a “mystery-horror-comedy” and the description pretty much fits perfectly. Vande Velde is a very prolific and decorated author, having won numerous Edgar Awards for her books. The writing is simple and engaging, and the characters are well-painted. The plot is well-paced and the mystery keeps the reader interested up until Selwyn is able to figure out the puzzle that surrounds Farold’s death. Vande Velde’s sense of humor is a little strange, but not off-putting or offensive, and aptly mixes slapstick with puns throughout the book. The story starts out running and doesn’t stop, but while I found the end satisfying, it was much slower and left me with the feeling that things might have been tied up a little too neatly.

Other related materials: Smart Dog by Vivian Vande Velde; Ghost of a Hanged Man by Vivian Vande Velde; A Coming Evil by Vivian Vande Velde; Curses, Inc. and Other Stories by Vivian Vande Velde; Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird by Vivian Vande Velde; Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde; Dragon’s Bait by Vivian Vande Velde; User Unfriendly by Vivian Vande Velde; A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde; A Hidden Magic by Vivian Vande Velde; Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde; Death Cloud by Andre Lane; Savvy by Ingrid Law; A Matter of Magic by Patricia Wrede; Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley

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Story of a Girl: A Novel review

Story of a Girl: A Novel by Sara Zarr

Little Brown, 2007. 978-0-316-01453-3

Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Deanna was caught by her father having sex with her brother’s friend Tommy in the back of a car and three years later, Deanna is still trying to figure out what happened. Her father will barely look at her, her mother wants to believe that everything will magically be okay, her brother and his girlfriend have to deal with being teenage parents, Tommy leers at her when he sees her, and she is batting conflicting feelings for her friend Jason. Having sex with a then high school senior has marked Deanna as a whore and a slut (among other things), but doesn’t want that one event to define who she is or who she wants to become. Her only outlet is a journal in which she writes a story of a girl on the waves, whose situation mirrors her own.

Why I picked it up: It was featured in a blog post talking about books with characters in situations that place them outside the “artificial world where parents work for unnamed people at unnamed jobs yet either receive masses of money, or conversely can’t get jobs at all”.

Why I finished it: The story is fast-paced and draws the reader in within the first few pages which describes the night that Deanna was caught by her father in the back of Tommy’s car. As a narrator, Deanna is easy to relate to, even if we are not in her same shoes: struggling with a sense of identity after making what turns out to be a life-altering mistake seems to be the over-arching theme throughout the book. This is something that not only Deanna is struggling with, but her brother as well, who is living in their parents basement with his girlfriend and their baby daughter. The interpersonal and familial relationships are artfully shown as both the cause and effect for Deanna’s actions as she goes through her summer trying to find a way to deal with if not completely erase this image that has been created of her by her peers and her parents. I found the climactic episode with Jason to be a little bit predictable, and the story dramatically slows at the end as the summer draws to a close, making it harder to stay focused. However, the book is realistic in its portrayal of socioeconomic situations and consequences for one’s actions, which I found eye-opening and refreshing in a literary world where things often need to have a neat ending in order to be satisfying – but it is definitely more for older teens.

Other related materials: Hate List: A Novel by Jennifer Brown; Before I Die by Jenny Downham; Snitch by Allison van Diepen; Sweethearts by Sara Zarr; Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers; Season of Ice by Diane les Bequets; Manstealing for Fat Girls by Michelle Embree; Funny How Things Change by Mellisa Wyatt; Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt; Forever… by Judy Blume

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Bone Volume 1: Out From Boneville review

Bone, Volume 1: Out From Boneville by Jeff Smith

Graphix, 2005. 978-0-439-70623-0

Synopsis: Cousins Phoney Bone, Smiley Bone, and Fone Bone are run out of their home in Boneville and after wandering in a mountainous desert become separated from each other. Fone Bone finds his way into a mysterious valley whose inhabitants include a red dragon, a race of Hairy Men, a family of possums, and a woman who races cows and her granddaughter, Thorn. Fone Bone, with the help of Thorn, looks for his lost cousins so that the three can begin their journey back to Boneville.

Why I picked it up: Another title recommended by my classmates and featured briefly in the Manga Pro Superstar Workshop book.

Why I finished it: Smith manages to artfully combine mystery, adventure, and humor into his tale about leaving home and then finding your way back again. The simplistic black and white comics are fun and inviting, reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes strips (which are equally funny). I could identify with Fone Bone and his frustration at his cousins coupled with the wonderment of discovering new places he never knew existed. This first volume in a nine volume series sets the reader in the middle of lands unfamiliar, unveils the plot, and creates characters that will no doubt become more interesting to follow as one proceeds through the books. It’s a charming, imaginative, thought-provoking, and laugh-out-loud funny look at how we perceive the world.

Other related materials: Bone, Volume 2: The Great Cow Race by Jeff Smith; Bone, Volume 3: Eyes of the Storm by Jeff Smith; Bone, Volume 4: The Dragonslayer by Jeff Smith; Bone, Volume 5: Rock Jaw, Master of the Eastern Border by Jeff Smith; Bone, Volume 6: Old Man’s Cave by Jeff Smith; Bone, Volume 7: Ghost Circles by Jeff Smith; Bone, Volume 8: Treasure Hunters by Jeff Smith; Bone, Volume 9: Crown of Thorns by Jeff Smith; Bone, Prequel: Rose by Jeff Smith; Bone: Tall Tales by Jeff Smith and Tom Sniegoski; Bone: Quest for the Spark Books 1 & 2 by Jeff Smith and Tom Sniegoski; The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi; Knights of the Lunch Table books by Frank Cammuso; The Adventures of Daniel Boom AKA Loud Boy books by D.J. Steinberg and Brian Smith; Missile Mouse books by Jake Parker; The Sisters Grimm books by Michael Buckley and Peter Ferguson; The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone review

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Arthur A. Levine Books, 1998. 978-0-590-35340-3

Reasons for ban/challenge: Anti-family, occult/Satanism, religious viewpoint, violence

Synopsis: Harry Potter knows there is something different about him, but living with an aunt, uncle, and cousin who despise anything abnormal certainly makes believing it harder. Then, he receives a mysterious letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and without a second thought, is taken into a world where everybody knows his name and regards him as a hero – but he doesn’t know why. Turns out an evil wizard killed his parents and he was the only one to survive, making him more special than he ever thought. Harry meets Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger at Hogwarts, and after saving Hermione from a Mountain Troll, the three forge a friendship that Harry had only dreamed about. The three also uncover a mystery within the Hogwarts walls and it will take each of their own distinct abilities to solve the puzzle and save the school.

Why I picked it up: I had finished reading the third book (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and thought it would be good to go back and read the series from the beginning.

Why I finished it: Fantasy literature had been laying dormant for a long time when Rowling came to the scene with her story about a boy wizard pieced together from notes written on coffee shop napkins and airplane sick bags. Harry hung about in bookstores, unassuming at first, and then suddenly exploded as readers of all ages discovered the wizarding world. The writing is simple, but the world it creates is fantastic, unique, and imaginative in a way that many writers still hope to achieve. Though the book’s primary focus is in the wizard world, the values of friendship and love are what drive the story. It also doesn’t hurt that Harry and his pals have a knack for getting in trouble and finding themselves at the center of conspiracies that threaten their lives and their world. While the reader’s world is not so perilous, they are drawn into this place where magic happens, where there are games centered around flying on a broomstick, where one can transform from cat to woman, where there are jelly beans of every flavor that promise to delight and disgust at the same time, where unicorns and centaurs are part of the natural wildlife. What makes it the most fun to read over and over again is that there is something new to be drawn from the text each time, some new clue to discover, which as the series goes on, add up to the climactic end. Harry originally got on the map by drawing in readers of any age, both avid and reluctant, and will no doubt continue to be discovered by future generations eager to know the Boy Who Lived.

Other related materials: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (movie); Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling; Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan; The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan; Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor;  The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens; Knightley Academy by Violet Haberdasher; Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins; Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks; The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart;  The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima; Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage; Inkheart by Cornelia Funke


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