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Book Recommendations

The voters have spoken! More people voted for me to talk about books I’ve read lately than any other topic, so here goes!

I have a policy about not listing books by people I know as Top Ten books at the end of the year. That policy becomes harder to maintain the more authors I get to know. On the one hand, I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings by listing some, but not all the books by people I know. On the other hand, if I did not know a particular author whose book I loved, I would go ahead and enthuse about it, so why should I punish readers by staying silent?

I will continue to omit books by people I know from my year-end Top Ten lists, but I am forging ahead (with some trepidation) to recommend a few today. Good luck to us all! The only thing I can hope is that authors who know me and get offended will in turn refuse to mention MY book on their blog, when it comes out. Heh.

1) THE DEMON’S LEXICON, by Sarah Rees Brennan, is about two demon-fighting brothers in England who are forced to move from town to town with their half-crazed mother, who stole a powerful charm from an evil magician many years before.

I really don’t want to say too much about this book, because it’s best savored without knowing a lot of details beforehand. I will say that it blew my mind. In fact, it won’t leave my mind, which is why I had to break my books-by-authors-I-know rule! It’s dark, yet it has comedic moments. It’s Harry Potter-esque fantasy, but with a more grown-up feel to it. I’m so glad I have a first edition of this book … someday I’m going to get Sarah’s autograph on it.

2) THE SECRETS OF TRUTH AND BEAUTY, by Megan Frazer, just came out this week! It’s about a girl who was a beauty pageant winner as a child, but who has not been little or adorable in a long time. Megan actually got the spark of inspiration for this book from the movie “Little Miss Sunshine.” As anyone who has seen the movie knows, families are complicated; this book explores what family really means – sometimes it’s people you’re related to, sometimes it’s people who love you for who you really are.

3) TORCHED, by April Henry, is a fast-paced thriller about a teen girl forced to go undercover in an Earth First-type environmental group. Not only is there (are there?) love and lies and bombs, but it's set in Portland!

Let’s call this next section A Tale of Two Books:

4) I finally found time to read the 2009 Printz Award winner – JELLICOE ROAD, by Melina Marchetta.

Librarians are professional readers. So if a bunch of them get together and declare a book to be the BEST Young Adult novel they’ve read, you can be sure that book will be worth your time. Here’s what the Printz Committee had to say about JELLICOE ROAD:

“This roller coaster ride of a novel grabs you from the first sentence and doesn’t let go. You may not be sure where the ride will take you, but every detail—from the complexities of the dual narrative to the pangs of first love—is pitch perfect.”

As an author, I consider myself kind of a professional reader, too. In my efforts to craft compelling prose, I spend a lot of time pondering things like plot, pacing, dialogue, and emotion.

But most readers are not professional readers. They want to be grabbed from the first sentence - yes, JELLICOE ROAD does that – and taken on some kind of journey, whether it’s bumpy and dark, twisty and tree-filled, or full of surprises popping up around every corner. They do not want to be blindfolded and stuffed in the trunk, able to hear only bits and pieces of conversation from your characters … and yes, JELLICOE ROAD does that, too.

When I reached page 100 and still didn’t know where I was going, let alone who was in the car, I almost put the book down. But I’m a professional reader, and the book is a Printz Award winner … it’s almost my duty to read it. So I kept going, and yes, the details are “pitch perfect.”

But I wonder how many people put the book down when they couldn’t figure out who all those MANY characters were (The Brigadier? The boy in the tree?) … and why “hostages” were being taken … and what the story in italics had to do with the rest of the narrative. I can’t help thinking a few simple edits would have clarified some of those details, and kept readers from giving up on the book.

Please don’t take this as an admonition not to read the book – it’s really wonderful, but you must be committed to it in order to achieve your reward. In an attempt to provide the kind of synopsis that would have helped me when I was just starting the book, here’s part of what School Library Journal had to say:

“Grade 8 Up—For years, three factions—Townies, Cadets (city kids doing a six-week outdoor education program), and Jellicoe School students—have engaged in teen war games in the Australian countryside, defending territorial borders, negotiating for assets, and even taking hostages. Taylor Markham, a 17-year-old who was abandoned years ago by her mother, takes on leadership of the boarding school's six Houses. Plagued with doubts about being boss, she's not sure she can handle her Cadet counterpart, Jonah Griggs, whom she met several years before while running away to find her mother. When Hannah, a sort of house mother who has taken Taylor under her wing, disappears, Taylor puzzles over the book manuscript the woman left behind.”

5) I was lucky enough to read an ARC of CATCHING FIRE, the second book in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series.

This book is almost the polar opposite of the previous one. When you buckle up for this ride, the car accelerates steadily, until you’re starting to feel a little nervous, and you want to ask the driver to slow down … but it’s too late, the car has taken a sharp turn off the paved road and is screaming downhill, careening around corners, making you want to shut your eyes and whimper.

I loved it, even though I couldn’t sleep after I finished it … and then when I did, I had nightmares.

That was fun!

But I still want to do a meme, write some flash fiction, and host Tim Gunn at my blog again someday soon.

Stay tuned ...



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Jul. 12th, 2009 12:39 am (UTC)
Jellicoe Road totally disproves that adage that a book has to be clear and compelling and hook readers from the beginning. Every review I have read of this book says it takes at least 100 pages to get into. Which makes me wonder whether, if written by a debut author, it would ever have gotten published. Granted, by the time it DOES grab you, it's very compelling and beautifully done, and I am still thinking about it. Plus, there are scenes that just grab your heart out of your throat (the cat in the river scene, for me). But yeah... I couldn't believe how *confused* I felt during the first several chapters. Perhaps it's a good thing it won an award, because that will encourage people to stick with it.
Jul. 12th, 2009 12:41 am (UTC)
I agree with everything you said, and I'm POSITIVE an editor who not have had the patience to stick with it, had it been written by an unpublished author.
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Jul. 12th, 2009 01:33 am (UTC)
I like "different" in books, too.

I don't like willfully difficult.
Jul. 12th, 2009 01:12 am (UTC)
Oh, you MUST go here and read the discussion about Jellicoe Road on Sarah Miller's blog.


You are not alone. ;-D
Jul. 12th, 2009 01:33 am (UTC)
That was awesome. I'll have to point Sarah this direction.

I'm glad you made it through!
Jul. 12th, 2009 02:22 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I thought it was interesting that you said so many of the same things I did. ;-D It would NOT have been that hard for the editor to ask the author to add a little line here or there, or mere words even, that would help clarify things a bit better. Way too many characters, way too much cryptic, period. The only reason I kept going was what you also said, like it's our *duty* read the award winning books. Love that. The second half of the book was great though. But will teens get through the muddled first half? I know I wouldn't have.

You know, if I'd read the SLJ review, it would have helped. I'm glad you posted it because just reading that clarifies the main characters and thrust of the story. They should tag that onto the front of the book for readers. Ha!
Jul. 12th, 2009 03:23 pm (UTC)
I noticed that you and I were pointing out the same things. :-) And yes, even one line before each of the italicized passages, like, "Excerpt from Hannah's book," or something, would have helped.

I tweeted about the book last week, while I was struggling with it, and several people (readers, authors, booksellers!) commented that they had given up on it. It's too bad, because Marchetta is a talented writer ... but she needed a firm editor to keep her from falling off that fine line between and mystery and confusion.
Jul. 12th, 2009 04:06 am (UTC)

Oh. Also? Nice reviews. I'm envious of your Catching Fire possession. It can't come out soon enough for M and me.
Jul. 12th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
I was lucky enough to be part of an ARC circle for the book.

And Tim will be back, so until then, CARRY ON.

Jul. 12th, 2009 05:47 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the book recs! Just came home with a copy of DEMON'S LEXICON!
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Jul. 13th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
I agree completely about Jellicoe Road...an amazing read, but I'm glad I knew about the difficult first chapters. If I hadn't known, I think I would still have pushed on just because the writing is so wonderful. But I definitely would've started losing patience. Once everything becomes clear, though, oh! What a book. Entirely deserving of the Printz.

I've put the other titles on my list (must get to A Children's Place soon to stock up!) And--like everyone else!--I cannot wait to read Catching Fire.
Jul. 13th, 2009 04:20 pm (UTC)
GREAT post! I read my copy of Catching Fire on the plane ride home yesterday -- man, it's good!
Jul. 15th, 2009 03:18 am (UTC)
Ooh, that just might be the synopsis that will finally get me off my butt and reading "Jellicoe Road." I've found that the Printz books are usually hit-or-miss with me--with hits much more often than misses. But that is a fantastic, fantastic list of good reads. I'm excited to pick up any of those books!
Jul. 16th, 2009 02:23 pm (UTC)
My 13 year old read JELLICOE ROAD before I did, and she told me it was really confusing but sooo worth it. And I agree.

I was proud of her for sticking with it. She's a good, fast reader, so I wasn't entirely surprised, but I was still proud.
Jul. 17th, 2009 01:30 pm (UTC)
I'm proud of her, too.

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