Tag Archives: YA

[O] Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris

17 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

This review refers to the Overdrive version of the audiobook of Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris, read by Carrington MacDuffie.

Christian was raised by a troll, but that didn’t stop him from longing after Princess Marigold. They become pen pals by carrier pigeon, and one day, Christian decides to make his fortune and find work at the palace. There, he must save Marigold from her mother’s schemes and prove that he is worthy of her love.

This is a cute story that is pretty funny, although younger listeners may not get all the references to fairy tales and pop culture. MacDuffie’s voice took some getting used to at the beginning, but her performance is funny and draws listeners into the story.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter O.

[Z] Zazoo by Richard Mosher

30 Apr

Zazoo is the name of a Vietnamese girl who was adopted by a French man who brings her back to France to be raised as his granddaughter. It is a poignant story of a girl who is trying to figure out how she belongs in a world where she feels completely French but looks different from everyone else. At the same time, she has to deal with the loneliness of the only family she has ever known struggling with dementia. In trying to learn about his past and hers, she meets a mysterious boy, uncovers horrible truths, and restores relationships torn apart by war.

I expected this book to be about belonging, but I didn’t expect it to be so sad. Dementia is such a devastating illness to those around the person afflicted, and when that person has also been through several wars in the thick of the fighting locally and abroad, it makes it even sadder still. And the fact the this 13-year-old girl is supposed to take care of him on her own seems like an impossible task.

I was really glad for the ending, when she finally gets some support in taking care of the old man she loves so much, and the love story within a love story was a nice way to weave together all the characters. I cried even more with this book than I did with Kira-Kira (this is what I get for choosing books based on the letter they begin with instead of the content), but there are themes of hope and reconciliation throughout the book.

It’s also a great diverse read that I haven’t really heard much about, maybe because it was published before I started following all the book blogs. I didn’t like the hardcover cover design very much, but the paperback cover is beautiful:

Zazoo by Richard Mosher

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter Z. Yay!

[R] The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger’s Apprentice Book 1) by John Flanagan

20 Apr

(#69 on School Library Journal‘s Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results from 2012.)

I had to check this book out twice before I managed to actually read it (since it’s so near the end of the alphabet, I had other priorities), and then I almost didn’t because I wanted to find a non-series book for “R” (I was afraid I would want to read the other books once I read the first one). I was right… I just finished reading the 6th book…

The first book is about Will, an orphan who desperately wants to be in the Battleschool but is too small to be chosen for it. Based on the title of the series, it’s pretty obvious that he will be chosen to be a Ranger’s apprentice, but common people (like Will) are afraid of Rangers. They are mysterious people who are believed to dabble in magic because of their ability to move silently and blend into the background, making them seem like they appear out of nowhere. From what I’ve read so far, their work is part spying, part law enforcement, part military strategy. They’re strong, cunning, and have a strong sense of justice. Kind of like a modern-day superhero with the backing of the government.

The books were fun adventure books with a lot of action and enough character development to keep me interested in how they would work out. The plot twists were pretty predictable, though, and most of the hints were a little too obvious for me. The world-building was also a little obvious (Scotti = Scottish, Celtic = Celtic, “fake foreign language” = French, as far as I can tell, although I don’t know French). Also, while I appreciate the fact that this series was written for the author’s son, I couldn’t decide how I felt about the portrayal of girls in the series.

On the one hand, there are plenty of strong girl characters who are not annoying or helpless, but on the other hand, they were all beautiful and attracted to the main character. There didn’t seem to be a place for unattractive women in this universe unless they were old and motherly (at least not in the books that I’ve read). The other side to this, though, is the fact that the books are basically being told from the point of view of the main character, an adolescent boy (and later young adult). In his eyes, and in the eyes of most of the male characters in the book, women seem to be attractive even if they are not perfectly shaped, which could also be taken to mean that women don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

I might be reading too much into it, but it was the first fantasy series I had read by a male author in a long time, and I think the only series I’ve read by a male author published recently that didn’t take place in some semblance of the modern world (like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series or The Alchemyst by Michael Scott). So it was interesting to read a book that was built completely out of the imagination of a man (albeit there were many references to European nations and cultures, and I’m assuming Nihon in the title of the 10th book refers to Japan).

Despite its faults, I enjoyed reading the series and liked the characters enough to want to keep following their adventures. I think the difference between this series and the Warriors series is that I can actually tell the characters apart (I’m getting too old to try to keep all the cats with similar names separate in my head). I also appreciated that the author used some words that I hadn’t heard before, so I even got to learn some new words (like “tonsorial” for things relating to a barber).

A great book for boys and girls who don’t mind a little romance to go with a lot of fighting. The main character starts off around 15 and is 20 by the sixth book, so it may be hard for younger readers to relate to him, but there’s nothing inappropriate (just a little kissing and hand-holding).

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter R.

[I] The Immortals Quartet by Tamora Pierce

10 Apr

I wasn’t going to use the series name for any of my entries, but I realized on Day 2 that I didn’t have any Tamora Pierce books on my list, and I had already missed “A” for Alanna: The First Adventure, so I had to be creative with how to include her in my list. It worked out that as we were growing up, my sister was the one who collected all the Tamora Pierce books (I had pretty much everything else, including the Patricia C. Wrede books and the Harry Potter series), so they are in her room, not my bookshelf.

Anyway, Tamora Pierce’s Immortals Quartet contains these books:

  • Wild Magic
  • Wolf-Speaker
  • Emperor Mage
  • The Realms of the Gods

And they are actually my favorite quartet of all the Tortall books because Numair is my favorite. (I think I need to add the quartet to my re-read list ;)) I have been waiting for the Numair books to come out for about ten years now! I do like Kel a lot in the Protector of the Small books, but they are harder for me to re-read because there are some pretty intense scenes in Lady Knight (which I think was written during 9/11).

I think Pierce’s writing gets noticeably better after the Song of the Lioness (the first quartet in the series), but overall, I really enjoy her writing style and love her characters. One thing to note is that the world of Tortall is very rich with different countries, and there are many mentions of people of color in the series, although I can’t remember a main character who was not of some version of European descent.

All of Tamora Pierce’s books have strong female main characters who are as good at or better than the boys. At the same time, I think she writes a lot of very realistic struggles that girls go through growing up. I would start girls reading the first series around 4th grade, so they have plenty of time to get through all the books and can mature with the books. I think the later books are closer to YA than middle grade, but I haven’t read the last one or two of the published Tortall books, or after the end of the second series of the Circle of Magic books.

(By the way, a friend of mine in college’s middle name was actually Alanna, after the Lioness in the Tortall books, and she went so far as to bring Tamora Pierce to her residential college while we were there. My sister and I both got a copy of Squire signed that year, but for different events on different coasts!)

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter I. 

Edit 4/26/12: My sister just reminded me that it was Lady Knight, not Squire, that was written during 9/11. 

[C] The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

3 Apr

I loved The Cardturner by Louis Sachar, but I don’t think any of my students (even those who love his other books, like Holes and The Wayside School series) would enjoy reading this book. It’s about a teenager who is supposed to help his rich uncle play bridge so his parents can get his inheritance, and it’s definitely written for an older audience than his other books (School Library Journal says Grade 8+).

I love stories about tournaments and games, and I don’t mind learning about an unfamiliar game from the story, so I thought this book was great. I didn’t know how to play bridge before, but it inspired me to download some bridge apps for my iPhone (of course, you need two people to play, so I never really did get into the game…).

Even though this is supposed to be a YA book, I think it’s a great book for adults who miss reading Sachar’s brand of humor, especially if they like bridge and/or underdog stories. I would only recommend it to teens who don’t mind reading about unfamiliar concepts, as the game and rules can get a little dry. I didn’t like Sachar’s Holes or its sequels as much personally, but if students seem bored by The Cardturner, they may like that better (if they haven’t already read it). Some of my students read Holes over and over, and boys especially seem to enjoy it a lot.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter C.