Childrens book reviews by StorySnoops, judge a book by more than its cover, serving fresh scoops of new books for you every day
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Archive for December, 2012

The Best of 2012 – Part 2

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

The yearly wrap-up!

It is always interesting to look back on the year in books, and see what stands out as having been noteworthy. This year my choices were easy to make – my top 5 jumped out at me from the list. Here they are, in no particular order.

Way back in January of 2012, I wrote a blog about this book, about how much I enjoyed it. The Disenchantments revolves around one turquoise VW bus, three teenage girl band members, one teen boy best friend, and a week-long tour, and it all amounts to… one hell of a story. Reminiscent of another time – late sixties, early seventies perhaps – possibly due to the music the characters love, possibly due to their alternative parents, possibly due to the very nature of the funky towns they stop in. I loved this book for the journey, the forks in the road, the music, art and the extraordinary friendships.

The Edumacation of Jay Baker was a really pleasant surprise. This book was so refreshing and funny, and I laughed out loud numerous times. Jay is a fantastic main character–he is sarcastic, smart, and full of incredibly spot-on one-liners. The humor in this book is extremely intelligent, the story a wild ride, and the pop culture references are epic. I love a stand-out character, and Jay was definitely that. One of his teachers is also an exceptional character, and the verbal sparring that takes place between the two is fantastic.

Every Day was fascinating and thought provoking and I even chose it for my book club to read in October. Main character “A” (not specified female nor male) is without his own life, identity, and body. He experiences the lives and feelings of others, but every day is different. There are valuable insights and perspectives to be gained from experiencing the innermost thoughts and feelings of very diverse people. This is a truly unique and extremely well-written concept story, leaving the reader with much to discuss or ponder. As usual, David Levithan does not disappoint.

Young adult books are usually the ones that end up being my favorites, but this little middle grade gem warmed my heart and I could not leave it off this list. Main character Mo LoBeau makes Three Times Lucky the memorable story that it is. She is spunky, honest, resourceful, courageous, and endearing. An excellent role model, Mo is utterly unafraid to speak her mind, a fierce protector of her loved ones and a strong willed proponent of justice. This is a murder mystery, and a suspenseful read as well as a funny and charming one. Teachers, take note, this is a great classroom read aloud choice.

I needed tissues for this one – The Story of Us definitely caused me to shed a tear or two.  There is so much to this story: family drama, friendship issues, a love story, a break up, and all of the feelings of a teen girl with big decisions to make in the summer after high school graduation. Family and change are at the heart of this well-written, witty and heartwarming story. Cricket is another unforgettable character, and this was my favorite summer beach read.

Here’s to the great reads of 2012, and I look forward to what 2013 has to offer! Happy New Year!

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

The Best of 2012 — Part 1

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

With 2013 just around the corner (already?!?), it’s time to reflect back on another year of reading and select our favorite books. The funny thing about my picks for 2012 is that three of them are sequels to my favorites from 2011. The recipe for success? One strong female character, lots of action, and a dash of romance.

The follow-up to Divergent, Insurgent continues the story of Tris, who lives in a future Chicago where society has been divided into factions in order to extinguish undesirable human traits that lead to a world at war. But on the day of Tris’ initiation into her chosen faction, a coup results in the very thing the establishment of the factions tried to prevent. Tris is a richly complex character who must now decide where her loyalties lie while grappling with unrelenting guilt and grief–emotions that affect both her choices and her relationships. Unlike most in her society, Tris makes use of the lessons that each faction has to offer, rather than focusing on only one faction’s philosophy. If you haven’t read Divergent, I strongly recommend starting there.

Sure to please fans of The Hunger Games, Outpost is the second installment in a post-apocolyptic dystopian trilogy. After spending her entire life training to be a huntress down in the tunnels of the enclave, Deuce is having trouble adjusting to life as a regular girl in the topside town of Salvation. Here, Deuce isn’t considered grown, as she was in the enclave, and life consists of going to school and doing chores with her foster mother. Deuce doesn’t quite know how to fit in and she longs not to waste her true purpose: to defend the community. As she did in the first book, Enclave, Deuce continues to question the authority and intentions of the community’s leaders as well as the expectation that she must conform to traditional gender roles. This series is also best read in order.

Picking up where Blood Red Road left off, Rebel Heart is another engrossing read that will be enjoyed by fans of dystopian fiction as well as those that are new to the genre. It continues the story of Saba, an imperfect but capable and strong-willed female character who will do whatever it takes to find her true love, Jack. Unconcerned with placating others, the eighteen-year-old Saba uses her wits and determination to overcome even the most insurmountable of obstacles. Packed with action and danger, the Dustlands series is also about friendship and love–both romantic and familial. Saba’s irrepressible desire to find Jack tests the boundaries of her family’s loyalty and exposes her own shortcomings. Once again, this book will have more meaning when read after its predecessor.

Bitterblue is an immensely readable and compelling sequel to Graceling and it’s companion book Fire, featuring another strong and likable female character. Eighteen-year-old Bitterblue is queen of Monsea. It isn’t easy for her to lead a kingdom that is recovering from the thirty-five-year reign of her father Leck, a sadistic maniac with the ability to alter people’s perceptions of reality. Stuck in her castle tower signing papers all day, she can’t help but feel removed from the kingdom she is supposed to rule. So Bitterblue begins to sneak out of the castle at night–anonymously–to intermingle with her subjects so that she can learn about their lives and become a more effective queen. On the streets of the city, she discovers that her kingdom is not as peaceful as her closest advisors have led her to believe after she befriends a group of people trying to expose the truth about what happened during Leck’s reign and set things right. When her friends become the target of those who intend to silence the truth, Bitterblue decides that she cannot rest until she understands exactly what Leck did that left her kingdom so damaged. Only then can she help her kingdom heal from the truth of those atrocities. While it is not necessary to read Graceling or Fire first, readers who do will have a greater appreciation of Bitterblue‘s characters and storyline.

2012 was an excellent year for strong female characters. I’m looking forward to following some of their stories in 2013, and hopefully meeting a few more.

Happy reading and Happy New Year!

-Jen, StorySnoop

A new holiday tradition

Monday, December 24th, 2012

I read a column in my local paper several days ago that has stuck with me long after the paper hit the recycling bin–which is significant because in this crazy week of final Christmas preparation, I have the attention span of a caffeinated gnat :-) When things get hectic, I try to remind myself to stop and take the time to be “in the moment” and remember what the holiday is truly about–family, tradition and the simple act of giving (and hopefully along the way providing the kids with special memories that will last longer than the latest electronic gadget). The column that I read resonated because it cut through the frantic, manic and frenzied whatever of that day, and reminded me that a “back to basics” approach to special holiday traditions might just be the best one.

Syndicated advice columnist Amy Dickinson has partnered with the Family Reading Partnership to promote a lovely tradition called “A Book on Every Bed”. She came up with the idea after reading an interview with historian David McCullough, in which he described how every Christmas morning during his childhood, he and his siblings awoke to find that Santa had left a wrapped book at the foot of their beds. What an “aha!” moment for me when I read that! The timeless gift of reading, given to children first and foremost in that quiet moment before the start of the big day, before the gifts under the tree, before the stockings–what could be simpler and more precious and personal?

I usually give my kids a book or two for Christmas, but they have a tendency to get a bit lost in the madness of the morning. They aren’t the “glamour gifts”, but they are the one gift that we give every single year (along with Christmas jammies!). The books reflect where each child is that year, and what their interests are at the time. I don’t expect that my kids will remember every book I ever gifted them, but I do want them to remember the gift of reading. When they look back at our Christmas’s together or when somebody asks what our family traditions are, I hope they remember books as part of what we have always done in this house. “A Book on Every Bed” stuck me as a wonderful and memorable way to celebrate the tradition of reading, and I’m jumping on the bandwagon this very year. On Christmas morning my kids will probably wake up and think Santa had too much egg nog and left the gifts in the wrong place, but I think when they see those books on their beds again next year, they will start to look forward to their very first gift of the day. I know I will. It’s never too late to start a new tradition, right?

Merry Christmas and Happy Reading!

-Eden, StorySnoop

In Memorium

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

As parents, and as human beings, we are deeply saddened by the senseless tragedy that occurred in Connecticut last Friday. Our hearts go out to the victims and their loved ones, the survivors, the first responders, and the entire community of Newtown. It is, without question, one of the most devastating events in recent history. Across the country this past week, parents have hugged their children a little tighter, appreciated the guardians of their safety a little more. Today, we honor those that were lost. And for those of you who want to do something to help, we’ve provided addresses for the brave first responders and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary, in case you’d like to send some kind words their way.

Newtown Police Department

3 Main Street

Newtown, CT 06470

Connecticut State Police

Public Information Office

1111 Country Club Road

Middletown, CT 06457

Sandy Hook Vol. Fire and Rescue

PO Box 783

18-20 Riverside Road

Sandy Hook, CT 06482

Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corp.

77 Main Street

Newtown, CT 06470

Sandy Hook Elementary School

12 Dickenson Drive

Sandy Hook, CT 06482

It’s the most wonderful time of the year (for a family read aloud)

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

It may be the most wonderful time of the year but, truth be told, it can also be a wee bit stressful. After the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is over — the last holiday recital attended, the last card mailed, and the last present wrapped — you can finally breathe a sigh of relief. And that’s just when your kids will no doubt be looking at you, wondering what they should do. One of my most crafty solutions to the age-old problem of the holiday lull is, shockingly enough, a great read. I like to take advantage of mandatory family time and choose a book that will entertain everyone, adults included. My all-time favorite family read-aloud is, of course, Harry Potter.  But since I’m the only one in my family who is willing to start all over with Book One, I have to let it go.

If you are looking for a read aloud for your own family during the holidays, here is a list of StorySnoops favorites. They include books from various genres — from fantasy to realistic fiction — so there should be something for everyone. Choose one or two and take advantage of the quiet moments, even if they are few. Maybe even start a new tradition. Reading aloud to my family during the holidays is an activity I will always treasure.

A World Without Heroes

Happy Holiday Reading!

-Jen, StorySnoop

My YA Shopping List for the Entire Family

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Yep, pretty much everyone is completely immersed in their holiday shopping by now, and if you aren’t, well…get on it!  I’m deep into the shopping fray, and this week I’m looking forward to making my favorite purchases of the year. The vast majority of my extended family loves to read, and as such, books are a pretty safe gift choice for the people I spend the holidays with. I will be buying several this year–no different from years past except for the fact that I will have to drive a little farther to do it (ahem…still waiting for the rich tech titan to open an independent book store in my town…).

Anyway, 2012 has been a good year in YA lit for me. When my friends ask me if I enjoy reading for StorySnoops, what they are really saying is, “don’t you miss reading grown up books?”. I can honestly say that no, I don’t miss it (that much). I’m sure some I would have really enjoyed some of the books I hear my friends talking about, but I am finding some real gems in the YA genres too, and I am excited to share them with the people on my gift list this year (granted, a couple of these people are the folks for whom the books were intended, but not everyone).

Pretty sure my kids don’t hang out on this blog, so it is safe to say here what I intend to buy them for Christmas :-)

For my reluctant reader middle school son who always asks me which books I would recommend (even though he then completely disregards pretty much every suggestion I make), I need a no-brainer, sure-thing, go-to quick read that he will finish before he even has time to think about it. What could be better than Diary of a Wimpy Kid #7? There is a new release this holiday season, and it will for sure be under our tree.  

On the other end of the spectrum, I have a high school daughter who is a voracious reader, and reads most of what I suggest, when she has time outside of her assigned school reading. She enjoys many different genres, but her particular favorite is dystopian, for which I have a little hankering myself. So my choice for her is easy–my favorite dystopian read of the year, Under the Never Sky. This book will appeal to fans of sci-fi, dystopian, and romance–what more could you ask for? It’s a page-turner extraordinaire, and the best news for anyone who reads it in December is that the sequel, Through the Ever Night, is due out in early January!

For my mother, who loves an intelligent, well-crafted mystery as much as I do, there is no question–I’m going with Code Name Verity. This remarkable piece of smart historical fiction is one with an ending that will make you want to go back and read it again, just to figure out if you could have “seen it coming”. Based on the ages of the main characters (early 20′s) this one blurs the line between adult fiction and YA fiction, so if you want a book for someone who perhaps would be better off not knowing they are reading YA, this one is your pick!

For my husband with ride-ranging literary tastes, I am debating between two books (or maybe he’ll just get both). He and I have both loved Harlan Coban for years (along with fellow StorySnoop Tiffany), and needless to say, I was giddy when I found out Mr. Coban was starting a YA series based on a young relative of one of his recurring adult characters, Myron Bolitar. Tiffany drew the long straw and reviewed Shelter, so maybe this can do double-duty as a gift for my husband and for me :-) The other one I’m considering for him is more cerebral, but I have no doubt he will love it. He’s a true fan of the written word and the over-riding themes of an all-time favorite, The Book Thief, are the power of words and the power of reading. It is a must-read for anyone who loves literature simply for the beauty of the craft.

All told, the gift of reading is one of my favorites! Anything book-related on your shopping list this year?

Happy Holidays!

-Eden, StorySnoop

In the spirit of Holiday gift giving…

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

In my humble opinion, there is no better gift than that of a book. Especially one that you know will be loved and treasured. My friend and fellow Snoop, Shannon, and I have been doing a holiday book gift exchange with our kids every Christmas for years and years. Each year we go out to breakfast to celebrate the holidays and the kids exchange gifts, always books. Now some of our children are not really children anymore – in fact, the oldest are leaving their nests really, really soon! – and the books have definitely matured over the years, but I guarantee you they are not too old for this special tradition.

Some of the best gifts I have ever given or received have been books. We Snoops always choose and blog about our favorite books at the end of the calendar year. The year before last, my favorite Christmas gift was a set of my own copies of my five favorite books of the year. They are prized possessions and I always smile when I see them sitting on my shelf – not only because I love the books so much, but because it was such a thoughtful gift.

Why not start a book gift exchange tradition of your own? Either amongst friends, family, or kids? Or, let us know what your favorite book is to give as a gift. What is the best book you have either given or received? Tis the gift giving season, and don’t forget that a great read is always a fantastic gift.

Happy reading!

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

Holiday book help found here!

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

The shopping season is upon us, and let’s admit it, even the most prepared shopper can use a little bit of help sometimes :-) We’ve already posted our Holiday Gift Guide, which includes many of our favorites from this year. But there are so many books to choose from. Maybe you are looking for an award-winner, or something named on a “Best of 2012″ list by a major book review publication–or how about those few books that fit into all three of those categories? Here are a few other sources that may provide just the inspiration you need to choose a book gift for a young reader in your life.

These immensely readable books have all been School Library Journal Best Books of the Year.

Love a good mystery? The books have either been nominated for, or won the Edgar Award for kids and young adults.

The Schneider Family Book Award is given to books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience.

Kirkus Reviews has just added their favorite children’s books for 2012 to this list.

Perhaps you’d like a book for a tween reader featuring families worth reading about.

These YALSA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults may not be 2012 releases, but they’ve got wide appeal!

How about a book for a teen guy who is a reluctant reader?

The William C. Morris Award winners and finalists are all celebrated first-time authors.

If you know a budding young chef, here are great books with a cooking theme for teens and tweens.

Celebrate baseball! Books about either playing or simply loving the game.

And after all that shopping, here’s a little something for you too: books for teens that will appeal to adults :-)

Happy Holidays!

-The Snoops