Archive for the ‘Richard Peck’ Category

I admit it. I have a thing for scratchy old farm women who are hard on the outside, soft on the insideTendingToGrace and full of solutions to life’s problems. That’s why I like Richard Peck’s A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way to Chicago. And that’s also why I like Tending to Grace by Kimberly Newton Fusco. Grandma Dowdel and Agatha Thornhill are birds of a feather, scruffy old hags with hearts of gold.

When city-bred fifteen year old Cornelia is thrust upon her country Aunt Agatha because her mother is running off to Las Vegas with her boyfriend, C-c-c-cornelia’s world is torn apart. She is sure her mother will be coming back soon, even though the signs point elsewhere. Because of her stutter, Cornelia tries to be invisible. Agatha won’t hear of it. She’s a ‘stand up for yourself’ type of person.

Fusco’s writing is so expressive, from the beginning, comparing Cornelia’s life to a clothesline, through to the end, as both Cornelia and Agatha learn things about the other. Tending to Grace has mountains and frog races and fiddleheads and fun. It’s a feel good book, so feel good and read it.

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For a while, I thought I’d be hard pressed to come up with a 2011 Top 10 list for YA books. It was only in the past two weeks that I heaved a sigh of relief. Late reads solidified my list. So, here goes:

Topping my list at Number 1 is You Are My Only by Beth Kephart. I commented that, “As always, Kephart chooses her words with care, and while the language is not as ‘ethereal’ as in some of her recent books, her images and descriptions and wording remain essential in understanding the characters and surroundings.  There are secrets that need to be unearthed and things to ponder.  There are relationships that you are jealous you are not a part of and those you are glad you have not experienced.  You can read You Are My Only quickly and enjoy the story or you can read it slowly and savor every word and nuance and description.  Either way, you must read Beth Kephart’s latest addition to Young Adult literature.”

Night Circus by Erin Morganstern may or may not be considered a YA book, but I’m sure it will appeal to teens, so it comes in at number 2. It takes place in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Night Circus is dream-like.  Celia and Marco are unwilling pawns in a competition between two magicians, one that will last years, if not decades.  The competition’s only rule: there are no rules and neither player knows what to do and how a winner is determined. Erin Morgenstern has written a dream-like book similar to the dream state of the book’s Circus of Dreams.  It’s indescribable.  A must read.

Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet, a late comer to my 2011 reading, lands the number 3 slot.  Peet masterfully merges two stories, the first about England during WW II and and the second about the Cuban Missile Crisis into a book you can’t put down. His language, his sarcasm, his observations, his stories keep you reading way past bedtime.

Any Top 10 without a Brian Selznick book is lacking, so I must include Wonderstruck. Ben lives in Gunflint, Minnesota in 1977.  Rose is a lonely deaf child, living in Hoboken, NJ, overlooking the Hudson River, in 1927. Similar to Mal Peet, how these two stories, taking place 50 years apart, converge is one of the wonders of Wonderstruck.    There are more, such as the fact that Ben’s story is primarily written while Rose’s story is presented entirely in illustrations.  Selznick’s illustrations entice the viewer to scrutinize every line, every object, every picture, they are just so amazing. While you’re at it, reread The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I’m sure you’ll find something new in each drawing.

You know how much I love Joan Bauer and Close to Famous was as good the second tiem around as it was the first time. Number 5 on the list, it’s got great characters, a good story, and luscious sounding baked goods. It teaches you how to overcome adversity.

Coming in at nubmer 6 and 7 are Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver and Widsom’s Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, two wonderful fairy tales with amazing characters, wonderful writing and absorbing stories. Liesl and Po is geared more for upper elementary or lower middle school while Wisdom’s Kiss is for slightly older audiences.

Eona: The Last Dragoneye by Alison Goodman is an action adventure with roots in Chinese astrology. The sequel to Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, it is action packed. This will attract boys and girls since there are  protagonists of both sexes. It is a marvelous way to introduce teens to the 12 astrological signs.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine got great reviews and rightly so. Twleve year old Caitlin has to deal with the death of her mother from cancer two years earlier and the recent middle school shooting death of her older brother Devon.  It’s a lot to contend with even if you don’t have Asperger’s.  While her father understands her, he must deal with his grief, and is unable to translate that to Caitlin.  It was Devon who really understood her and explained the world to her.  Caitlin’s special nature comes through loud and clear; her drawing ability, her affinity for dictionaries and the meanings of words, the comfort she feels when she puts her head under the couch cushions to feel closer to those people who sat on it.  Erskine doesn’t downplay the socialization difficulties Asperger children have because of their unique nature.  What you come away with after reading Mockingbird is a real sense of who Caitlin is–she is a real person and you want to get to know her, to be her friend.  There is a love and warmth that emanates from Erskine’s writing…you get the feeling she really loves Caitlin, not an emotion you often get when reading a book.   I had picked up Mockingbird back in mid-September and put it down within a chapter.  I guess I wasn’t ready for the book.  This time, I read the book in one day; that’s how much I liked it.  Mockingbird is a book for all age groups.  It is beautifully written, tender and informative as well.  It is worthy of its award (not something I can say about every award winner).

Forgotten by Cat Patrick was an unexpected find. Each night at precisely 4:33 am, while sixteen-year-old London Lane is asleep, her memory of that day is erased. In the morning, all she can “remember” are events from her future. London is used to relying on reminder notes and a trusted friend to get through the day, but things get complicated when a new boy at school enters the picture. Luke Henry is not someone you’d easily forget, yet try as she might, London can’t find him in her memories of things to come. When London starts experiencing disturbing flashbacks, or flash-forwards, as the case may be, she realizes it’s time to learn about the past she keeps forgetting-before it destroys her future.

I hope you pick up a few of these books and enjoy them as much as I did.

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Richard Peck’s Secrets at Sea was reviewed in The New York Times Book Review this weekend, so I thought I’d add my two cents.

I wish I could recreate for you Richard Peck’s autograph on my copy of A Long Way From Chicago.  The flourishes, the curlicues, the expansiveness of it are indications of how he talks and how he writes.  There’s an imagination, an imagery, a use of words that few authors achieve in a lifetime and he does it time and again.  Maybe his mantra of “If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader” really holds true.  Whatever it is, he certainly has the talent.  And Secrets at Sea will enchant you.

The ‘upstairs Cranstons’ need to find a husband for older daughter, Olive. They’ve exhausted all the possibilities in the New York vicinity and have decided to try their luck abroad. They are off on a trans-Atlantic voyage to see what England has to offer.

The ‘downstairs Cranstons’, the mice residing in the lower levels, are frantic.  What is to become of them if the Upstairs Cranstons desert them for foreign lands?  Helena, the older sister to Louise, Beatrice and Lamont, decides to seek counsel from old, wise Aunt Fannie Fenimore, who lives in the mansion next door. Aunt Fannie looks into her crystal ball and describes Helena’s two futures:  the one that chooses her and the one that she chooses. The one that chooses Helena does not look promising, but the one that she can choose is even more frightening because in that crystal ball is the image of a huge ocean liner…and you should know that mice and water are not friends.

And this is how Helena finds herself on an ocean liner bound for England and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – “60 years upon the greatest throne in human history”. You will meet a marvelous cast of characters, both human and rodent.  And, most importantly, you will learn why, without the aid of our mice, we humans would be in one great big mess.

Secrets at Sea is a wonderful voyage for your imagination.

At the suggestion of the same New York Times Book Review issue and several other library journals, I have Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver on my night table.  Oliver, author of Before I Fall (which I really liked) and Delerium (which I haven’t read because dystopia just isn’t my thing, but which got great reviews), has ventured into the world of middle grade fiction and Liesl & Po is getting raves.

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