A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{December 15, 2013}   15 quick reviews

Hi readers! Sorry for the long silence. Life gets in the way sometimes. I’ve been reading a few less novels for the past few months but I have been reading. Since there’s a bit of a back log, here’s a quick run through of what you missed. Enjoy!

fortunatelyFortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Plot: A father goes off to get milk for his children and takes some time to return. He has quite a fantastical tale to tell when he finally gets back. Fortunately he kept a tight hold on the milk the whole time.

Neil Gaiman calls this an apology to fathers for his early story, The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish. I found it funny, clever and fast paced. It’s a quick read and one that would make a great read-aloud. Skottie Young’s hilarious illustrations add the final touch to this wondrously funny romp.

2013 (#59)

Bridge_to_TerabithiaBridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Plot: Jess’ ambition is to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade but when Leslie moves into town, she blows past him and all the other boys. Instead of a rival, he finds a close friend and together they invent a fantastical realm. But even the king and queen of Terabithia are not immune to tragedy.

I continue to work my way through the great classics of children’s literature and this is one I’ve heard mentioned often, especially in connection with tragedy in children’s fiction. This one didn’t excite me too much at first. I liked Leslie, I liked her imagination and her spunk but the story just seemed to be another one about childhood in rural America. It’s a credit to Paterson’s writing that despite that, the tragedy at the end really touched me.

2013 (#58)

walking darkThe Walking Dark by Robin Wasserman

Plot: One day, 5 perfectly normal people kill their neighbours, relatives and friends then kill themselves. Only one of the murders survives and she doesn’t know why she did it. A year later, the same madness seems to be rising in all the people of Oleander. Only five survivors of the first tragedy seem immune and they will have to band together to fight the darkness in their town.

This was my Halloween read this year and it was satisfactorily eerie and gory. It took me a bit to get attached to the characters, there were just too many of them, but Wasserman does a great job developing each of them and their motivations. She shows us the darkest parts of the human psyche and keeps raising the stakes. No one is safe. This is a good YA thriller full of violence and emotional pain which will appeal to horror fans.

Though I have to admit that I preferred her previous novel, The Book of Blood and Shadow.

2013 (#57)

old man's warOld Man’s War by John Scalzi

Plot: In order to defend their colonies, many of the old people of earth sign up to fight in exchange for healthy new bodies. But few have any idea, before they leave earth for the first time, exactly what they have signed up for.

This is a sci-fi classic that I have been meaning to read for a very long time. I had an idea of the plot but I didn’t expect the experience that Scalzi delivered. Exceptional technology, fantastical new bodies, cruel drill sargents and the horrors of war. All that I expected but there is much more. Scalzi’s aliens are truly that, alien, and fascinating, in particular the Consu. And they defy simple prejudice. There is also an interesting mystery involving the fate of the elderly who die before they can be conscripted. All in all, the series is exiting, thought provoking and frequently funny.
There is also a sequel that I may seek out: The Ghost Brigade.

2013 (#56)

liar and spyLiar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

Plot: Money is tight and Georges parents have to sell their beloved home and move into an apartment. His mom is working double shifts at the hospital and he is being bullied at school. But he meets a boy named Safer in his building and gets pulled into his spy game, investigating the mysterious Mr. X who may or may not be a murderer.

Stead’s previous novel, When You Reach Me, really surprised me with its quality and originality so I had been looking forward to this one. Though I didn’t find it quite as good as her previous novel, it was well written and a fresh take on moving, grief and new friendships. While on the surface it is about Georges and his quirky new friend Safer, their spy club and the mysterious Mr. X who lives on their building, there is something much deeper going on. It is about two boys with deep emotional problems, both lying to themselves and others, and coming to terms with their problems.

2013 (#55)

esio trotEsio Trot by Roald Dahl

Plot: Mr Hoppy is in love with his neighbour Mrs Silver but instead of simply asking her out, he launches an elaborate plot to convince her that he has a spell to help her beloved tortoise grow.

This is Dahl at his silly best: playing with language (the spell being a message spoken backward) and hatching ludicrous plots. This is a much happier tale than most of Dahl’s; there are no punished villains or naughty children and everyone, even the tortoises (for whom I did feel a bit bad) have a good ending. And I’ve said it before but Quentin Blake should be the only person to illustrate Dahl novels.

2013 (#54)

middlesexMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Plot: Middlesex follows three generations of the Stephanides family, from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus to the suburbs of Detroit, to explain the peculiar life of Calliope Stephanides, the circumstances and genetic quirks, that led her to grow into a man known as Cal.

This is both a fascinating tale of a person discovering and coming to terms with his/her hermaphrodism and a family epic spanning several generations. Eugenides weaves an engaging and intricate tale that had me turning pages late into the night. I’m still not entirely sold on the first person omniscient narrator – Cal knows things and thoughts he never could have seen or learned and this strained my suspension of disbelief – but his writing is lyrical, his characters complex and real and the drama constant. It is a long novel, and dense, but a pure pleasure to read.

2013 (#53)

To-Kill-a-Mocking-Bird-Harper-LeeTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Plot: Scout’s father, Atticus, is a lawyer and his current defendant – a black man accused of raping a white woman – is causing quite a stir in their little Southern town. Meanwhile Scout and her brother are fascinated by the mystery of their hermit neighbour Boo Radley.

It’s hard not to have some idea of the story of this novel but I had never read it until now. One thing that struck me, knowing that this was about a black man wrongfully accused of a crime, was how long the buildup is, how long until the case is even mentioned. Scout’s age, too was a surprise to me; she is very precocious for her age. Still her innocent gaze is a good lens for the cruelty and hypocrisy around her. But I’m glad I read it. It is a book with much to say about cruelty, prejudice and justice.

2013 (#52)

charlotte's webCharlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Plot: Young Fern grows to love the young pig she raises and names Wilbur. But when Wilbur and his friends discover that he is to be killed and eaten, only the brilliant spider Charlotte can save him.

Like Di Camillo admits in her foreword, I too was worried that this would be a miserable book that ended badly (after all the first line is “Where’s Papa going with that ax?”). And like her, I’m glad I gave it a chance after all these years. Charlotte is a charming and clever little spider (and I’ve always loved spiders) and her plot to save Wilbur is quite ingenious. This is a sweet tale with just a touch of magic and a great deal of hope. All children should read it or have it read to them.I’m not a huge fan of William’s old fashioned art but even I’ll admit that they can be quite cute.

2013 (#51)

divergentDivergent by Veronica Roth

Plot: Tris was raised in the subdued Abnegation compound but she knows in her heart that she doesn’t belong. When her time comes to chose her path, she betrays her family and joins another faction. But as she begins to adapt to her new life, as difficult and brutal as this adaptation is, she discovers a deeper, more insidious betrayal.

The market (and my reading list) had been so saturated by distopian novels since the release of the Hunger Games. I admit that I let this one linger on my pile for longer than it deserved but a friend of mine highly recommended it. Roth does an amazing job of creating a society divided up by values (and to make me enjoy the passion and fearlessness of the Dauntless vicariously), of showing it’s flaws and creating an exciting plot for our heroes to thwart. I liked Tris and Four very much and I can’t wait to read more of their adventures.

The series continues in Insurgent and Allegiant. I’m also looking forward to the movie.

2013 (#50)

georges marvelous medicineGeorge’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl

Plot: George hates being left alone with his grandmother. She is old and grumpy and bosses him around when they are alone together. But George has struck upon a brilliant idea: he shall replace her medicine with a magic medicine of his own creation. He hopes his medicine will cure her of her terrible disposition. He has no idea of what it is actually capable of.

Is it funny that I read this particular Dahl book while I was in a hospital waiting room? 🙂 The book is funny in and of itself, as wicked as any Dahl book with great Quentin Blake illustrations. George truly has a terrible grandmother. She is one of Dahl’s more detestable characters and that’s saying a lot. I don’t feel bad for her at all for the hilariously terrible things that happen to her.

2013 (#49)

tales of mystery and madnessTales of Mystery and Madness by Edgar Allan Poe

Plot: Four of Poe’s best stories – The Black Cat, The Masque of the Red Death, Hop-Frog and The Fall of the House of Usher – slightly abridged for younger readers and beautifully illustrated by Gris Grimly.

I don’t think I need to tell you that Poe’s stories are both wonderful and eerie. As a cat lover, The Black Cat in particular sends chills down my spine. But each of the four stories are well chosen and Grimly’s illustrations strike the perfect balance between cute and horrific. A must for the collection of all fans of classic horror.

2013 (#48)

small persons with wingsSmall Persons with Wings by Ellen Booraem

Plot: When Mellie was 5, her best friend was a small person with wings (never call them fairies!). She was teased for her belief in them all her life. But when her family inherits an inn, she finds that not only are fairies real but that they don’t all have good intentions.

This book was such an unexpected pleasure! I have read a lot of books in my life so it is rare for one to surprise me, but Booraem did it at every turn. Her fairies are very different than you’d expect, quite imperious and rude but you can’t help but be a little charmed by them. Her story is funny and there’s a great twist ending. A great middle grade novel that’s fun for all ages.

2013 (#47)

false princeThe False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Plot: Sage and three other boys are chosen by a nobleman named Conner for their resemblance to the long missing crown prince. The boys are trained in the royal arts and pitted against each other in order to fulfill Conner’s underhanded plot.

This book was much hyped but, for me at least, it didn’t live up to expectations. For one, I hate a first person narration that lies to me. Unreliable narrators are one thing but Sage keeps things from the reader while we are supposedly in his head and this always leaves me feeling betrayed by a book. Meanwhile the politics – ambitious lords and their potential puppet kings – are nothing new but this and the action could appeal to young boys for whom such things still hold surprises but I saw the ending coming a mile away. Is it a bad book? Not at all. But I’ve read it all before and Nielsen’s characters and approach are not enough to make me look past it.

2013 (#46)

coldest girlThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Plot: Tana awakens from a party to find all her friends dead and her ex-boyfriend Aidan infected and a bit of human blood away from becoming a vampire. Worse, she herself may be infected. There is only one way to save those gone cold: lock them up for 88 days until the infection runs its course. She decides to drive herself, Aidan and a mysterious – occasionally crazy – boy to the closest Coldtown where vampires and infected are quarantined. She may not be able to save any of them, she may never be able to get out of Coldtown again but she is determined to try.

This novel is based on a short story of the same title. Black once again delivers an interesting twist on a genre with think we know, great characters and world building and an engaging story. There is also an interesting parallel made between bitten humans trying to avoid turning and drug withdrawal. This is without a doubt one of the best YA vampire takes that I have read.

The novel is a one shot but it is left open ended. Somehow this isn’t unsatisfying in the least.

2013 (#45)


[…] Under the Never Sky isn’t a great novel, it has flaws that made it a struggle for me to finish, but it is a good one and it will appeal to fans of novels like Divergent. […]

[…] story takes place in the Old Man’s War universe but you can understand and enjoy it without having read the previous books. Scalzi does a […]

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