The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Great science fiction even for those, like me, who aren’t big sci-fi fans. Clones, drugs, eejits, pollution, drug lords, orphans, body part farming and transplanting…what more do you need to make a great story!
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
This book is not at the top of my list of favorite books, but for a mystery reader, this is a great choice.
Braff, Joshua. The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2004. 259 pp. ISBN 1-56512-420-0 $22.95 A/YA
You don’t need to be Jewish or to have grown up in the late 70’s / early 80’s to appreciate this coming-of-age tale by New Jersey Braff. Jacob Green, the middle boy child in a kosher family, has a verbally abusive narcissistic father who is more like a fifth child than a dad, throwing temper tantrums over his son’s learning disability.
I finished listening to Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim last week and since then I have been missing David Sedaris. It felt like he was keeping me company on my commute and I cherished every moment we had together! I gave the tapes to a coworker who has confessed the same feelings…in fact, she told me today she anticipated the loss and ordered the audio online! At times I found myself choked up and teary eyed by a bittersweet story or some poignant tale of heart ache … and many, many times I found myself belly laughing, again teary eyed but for a different reason. I just absolutely love David Sedaris and even though he is amazing & funny to read I highly recommend you give this a listen…nothing rivals it! And if you can read/listen to nothing else do not miss the last chapter, Nuit of the Living Dead, …just try and stay focused on the road while you’re driving & laughing!
I tried to fill the void with another book on tape and recently started Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Running Out of Time. Unfortunately, tape 2 broke on me! Luckily, I have amazing access to a public library and got a copy of the book which I finished this morning… very quick read, it’s a fast-paced, suspenseful, adventure! And I have to say, I think I preferred reading it on my own which I vaguely remember happening with another Haddix book. Audio publishers should really take more care with narration. It is amazing to me the spectrum you experience and the real difference in quality you can hear and that doesn’t mean aural quality but the actually tone and expression and overall feel of the narrator. Anyway, Running Out of Time got some press recently for it’s similarity to M. Night Shyamalan’s movie. the Village ( the book was published first). I saw The Village before reading the book and I have to say overall it is pretty different BUT the basic premise is so similar and so unique (not your usual plot device here) that it is very suspicious!
I really love Haddix’s work and have yet to be disappointed. I find her characters strong and intriguing and the plots always very suspenseful and as I said above, unique … her story ideas are never run-of-the-mill! In this story a 13 year old girl, Jessie, discovers her 1840 village is actually a living history tourist attraction and she must be the one to save her friends and family from a diphtheria epidemic. So not only is she dealing with a huge lie, she also has to adapt to the 20th century, AND save the lives of all these people…including her own! This is why when the tape broke I had to get the book…there was no way I could wait for the replacement!
Bruchac, Joseph illus. by Sally Wren Comport. The Dark Pond. Harper Collins, 2004. ISBN 978-0060529956 160 pp. $
In the mood for a frightening read? Well, just go for it. Joseph Bruchac’s new scary story, The Dark Pond is a creepy, freaky tale of a huge sea serpent type monster that lurks in the dark waters of a pond near Armie’s boarding school. Armie is half Shawnee Indian and half Armenian and he is sent to boarding school because his parents are both busy lawyers in Washington, D.C. this school is so much better than all the others he has attended because it emphasizes a connection to the outdoors and nature. This suits Armie, he has always felt connected to the living earth. Birds are attracted to him and he carries treats for them. Other animals just naturally want to be near him.
Despite his tough guy appearance, he actually makes some friends at the new school, which is a new thing for him. So, things are going smoothly at his new school until he spots the Dark Pond and feels drawn to that dark place. It calls to him and he knows there is something lurking there, something evil and dangerous. He reads and thinks on all the Shawnee tales he’s learned over the years, something he does when he has a problem or feels scared. No matter how he tries to fight it, he can’t keep away from the Dark Pond.
The suspense in this novel is awesome, as is the character development. Bruchac is a master storyteller, weaving the traditional Native American Tale into the life of a modern day boy hero. Don’t forget to read Bruchac’s Skeleton Man as well. Another great book for this time of year!
Colfer, Eoin. The Supernaturalists. Hyperion, 2004 (reprint). ISBN 978-0786851485 265 pp. $16.95
I just want to agree with everything that April said about Eoin Colfer’s The Supernaturalists.
Morgan, Robert. Gap Creek: The Story of a Marriage. Highbridge Audio, 2021 (reissue). ISBN 979-8200922529 11 hours, 3 minutes. $41.99
Books on CD: I’ve recently gotten the bug. Robert Morgan’s Gap Creek (read by Kate Forbes) was amazing. Southern fiction has always been one of my favorite genres and this one is at the top of my list. Julie’s only seventeen when she and Hank get married, but in life experience, she’s much older. She’s already witnessed her younger brother and father’s deaths. She’s worked the fields like a man, chopping wood, slaughtering animals and plowing and planting fields. Julie Harmon works like no person you have ever known. After her marriage to Hank, they move from their mountain home to Gap Creek to live with old Mr. Pendergast. He gives them a place to live in return for Julie doing the chores and cooking around the house.
Despite their free place to live, Julie and Hank face a year of terrible tragedy: fire, flood, hunger, being tricked and robbed, death, in-law troubles, unemployment, and finding the rhythm of this new relationship. Julie faces every trial with courage and honesty and gets through things by diving into her work. Finding chestnuts, laundry, canning, keeping a garden, cleaning the house, sewing, and slaughtering animals. It doesn’t matter the work, Julie puts herself into it completely and lets the work soothe her fears, sadness, anger, and loneliness. This is a beautiful work of fiction based loosely on the author’s great grandparents who came from the Appalachian Mountains.
Colfer, Eoin. The Supernaturalists. Hyperion, 2004 (reprint). ISBN 978-0786851485 265 pp. $16.95
Since I was at amazon.com I decided to look and see what people are saying about Eoin Colfer’s The Supernaturalists. I observed that the grown ups like Artemis Fowl better and the kids just love it … why am I not surprised? I think adults have trouble “moving on”. I think we should be more like children and read books on an individual basis…and I know, I need to follow my own advice! But I am a huge Colfer fan and love booktalking these books to any kid who will listen but especially those reluctant readers (most often, boys) and I want people to give this new book a chance!
One of the things I love about Colfer is how he combines technology with the supernatural & folklore. In his latest novel a dystopian future is controlled by a giant satellite…. and a group of kids are desperately and selflessly fighting parasites that prey on the wounded. I loved all the sci-fi aspects of this book… the insane power of the satellite, the complicated but not lethal weapons of the future, the rotating apartment building … yeah, we all love Artemis Fowl but these are the kinds of things that young boys want to read about… sorry, all you grown ups! And despite what the others say, I like the characters and I like that Colfer includes strong females in his books … and he does it effortlessly… they aren’t tokens, they belong here. Oh, and prepare yourself for a sequel… this one is primed!
Hooper, Mary. At the Sign of the Sugared Plum. Bloomsbury, 2003. ISBN 978-1582348490 pp. $
Mary Hooper’s At the Sign of the Sugared Plum takes the reader back in time to daily life in London, England, just as the Great Plague is taking hold of the city. The story follows Hannah and her sister Sarah, who run a candy, or sweetmeats, shop in London. The girls work hard making and selling their delicate, flowered candy treats. The church bells throughout the city start to ring fairly regularly as the plague penetrates the parishes of the city and those lost are mourned. Weekly, the death tolls are published and they steadily increase until they are as high as 8,000 per week taken by the plague.
Luckily, they befriend a local apothecary and his assistant Tom, who give them ideas on how to protect themselves from the disease. Hannah and Sarah see their candy sales plummet as more and more of their wealthy customers move to the countryside, away from the plague. Smart entrepreneurs, the girls start using ingredients believed to protect people from the plague and sell their goods as plague preventatives.
I like this book because it really describes the daily life of a working person in London in the 1660s. It demonstrates, through wonderful characterization, how common people learned about the plague and how they felt about it. It was horrible to see the carts of dead bodies driven through the city and the mass graves and the families put under house arrest when one person in the family has died from the plague. One of the hardest things for Sarah and Hannah to bear is when their cat, Mew, disappears because pets are being killed by the thousands for fear that they are spreading the deadly disease.