Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

cover image from LibraryThing
I am a bit ashamed to admit that I have never read this book.

Whew - now the secret is out.

I have guiltily created a whole list of books that librarians and educators regularly talk about that I haven't read. It is honestly a bit embarrassing - and one of my most guarded secrets!!

Well, I decided it's time to start reading some of these oft mentioned books so I can do more than stupidly nod when someone mentions them in conversation.

Lord of the Flies is the first book that I tackled.  And I really liked it!!!  I understand both why it appeals to teachers and the readers.  It has everything a great YA book needs - kids, a new world and no adults!!!

There were shades of Hatchet here.  I wondered if Gary Paulsen flashed to this at any point...hmmmm....

But, what appealed to me the very most was the constant interior battle.  Each of the boys had to decide over and over again whether to give in to their secrets or to hang on to what they had been taught. The cost was terrible - but it's an epic battle. One that teens come face to face with more than we realize, I think.

So  - my first secret stash of novels was a hit...will the next also be a hit??? Stay tuned!

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

cover image by LibraryThing
The world of the Eleventh Plague is a long way from my comfortable office and this blog.  Life has become something completely different.  China and the United States went to war over some hikers in the wrong place at the wrong time. We bombed China and they retaliated with a virus that wiped out the population of the US and maybe Canada and Mexico.  As the cover shows, the United States is now a rusting hulk of what we were.

But, families still exist.  There is still a need for warmth, food, shelter and...

This is the world that Steve lives in - has always lived in.  He was born after P11 (the Eleventh Plague) hit. His life is that of a salvager roaming the Eastern part of US with his grandfather and father.  As the book begins, they are burying Grandpa.  Although Grandpa is dead, his voice and his presence looms large over Steve and his dad.  Grandpa believed that the only way to survive was to stay away from everyone, believe no one and keep moving.  Steve has only known this philosophy. There is no warm fuzzy connection with others - the only way someone would help you is for a price.

Then Steve and his dad have a run in with a pair of slavers and everything that Steve has ever known is turned on it's head. When his dad is injured in a fall and is befriended by Marcus and Jackson and taken to Settler's Landing - the voice of grandpa is challenged by real friendship.  Steve sees the inside of a house for the first time, learns what a school is and what others are willing to give up for a friend.

Although this book is another in the long line of "the world is a horrible place and only teenagers get it" genre. I really liked this one. It felt a bit different. The problems were all personal - there was not a secret agenda or a mysterious technical problem to solve. Instead - it was all about a young boy and the baggage created by a past image of the world and the issues of facing new experiences.  There is a little love interest - a bully - some explosions and death.  I liked it!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Heist Society by Ally Carter

cover image by LibraryThing
Not my favorite.

This book moves along like a movie script - scene by scene.  That works in a movie as you watch the characters and you learn about them by seeing them interact and grow.  I don't think it works as well as a book.  I constantly felt like I was missing something.  There were back stories and forshadowing and it was really hard to keep it all on target.

The basic story is about Katarina Bishop, a regular old boarding student.  Yet - as the story begins she is in the process of getting expelled from school for putting the headmaster's car on top of the fountain in the middle of campus.

But she didn't do it.

The school is her attempt at leaving her crime family and becoming a normal teenager.  And it quickly ends as she is framed for a great prank that her friend Hale actually carried out to get her out of school and back with her family.

Turns out her art heisting dad is being accused of a crime he didn't commit by a madman who will stop at nothing to get his paintings back.

Then the madman contacts Ally and makes a deal with her to let her get the paintings back to save her dad.


A ruthless criminal known around the world by his reputation of killing and mayhem is willing to make a deal with a 15 year old girl.


Oh yeah and she just happens to have a millionaire for a best friend/boy friend.

See the problems?

This may be a hit with the middle school crowd - but I really didn't like it.  Too predictable and too movie like and too...well just too much!

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

cover image by LibraryThing
I loved the earlier books in this series  - Graceling and Fire and this is the final book.

It begins after the end of Graceling - after the evil King Leck is killed and his little daughter Bitterblue is ready to rule the kingdom of Monsea.  The reader was left with a happy feeling -all is well.

But as Bitterblue begins you begin to realize that life did not move along as happily as we readers expected.  Instead, Bitterblue is the too busy princess trapped behind a mountain of paperwork as her kingdom slowly disintegrates around her without her even knowing it is happening.

And she is bored enough to try something a bit drastic, so she begins to sneak out of the castle at night, disguised as a common spy.

And she makes friends.

And she grows up.

What she discovers is a whole bunch of secrets and facades and a coverup that just doesn't end.

The book is about her discovering why things aren't as they seem and what she can do about it.  Sound a little bit like growing up???

I read the other two books several years ago - and in typical Beth fashion I just devoured them and can't remember most of the details.  So, it made it a little harder to completely understand all of this book. On the other hand it was more in line with the story  - since this was to have taken place 10 years after the end of Graceling.

A couple of my favorite parts...

I really liked Bitterblue. After the mind control of her graced father - she was a breath of fresh air.  But, I liked the memories of her mother even more. She was a woman doomed from the very beginning - yet filled with secrets.  In a great twist...Bitterblue discovers a code embroidered into the sheets and pillowcases her mother incessantly labored over. A code that was a diary telling of the atrocities of her husband and her inability to defend them.

My very favorite part though was Bitterblue's penchant for math. As her father worked to take over her mind her mother would remind her to practice difficult math problems in her mind. This practice calmed her and focused her and allowed her to defend herself from her father's devious attempts. It made me wonder if that might be helpful for some of us when our emotions and fears begin to take over.  To occupy your mind with the logics and patterned rules of math could calm and focus in a very interesting way...something to think about.

Finally - to continue to control the people of Monsea, the royal advisors have taken away learning from the subjects. Printing books and teaching one another to read is forbidden and an offense that means imprisonment.  Talk about oppression.  In our freedom we take that for granted - but the book plays out what happens when the people don't know.  Very interesting.  It is one of the threads that Bitterblue discovers - and most kids won't really get.  But, adds so much!

I would recommend this book.