More Reading in 2014

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, A: The story (in case you haven’t already heard) is about a teenager who must fight for her life in an annual state-run competition called the Hunger Games. The competition is brutal, as there can be only one survivor out of the 24 contenders, and it’s particularly cruel, having been invented as part of a system for repressing the populace. The story is fast-paced, set in a dystopian future, features a strong heroine, and it’s actually readable. Wow. What more could one ask for in YA fiction? I decided to keep this one for my library.
  2. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, A-: Hugo is a 12-year-old orphan who lives in a Paris train station circa 1930. His uncle, who is missing, once took care of the station’s clocks. Hugo now winds and repairs them in his place, with no one the wiser, and he steals food to get by. But when he gets caught stealing some parts to fix a mechanical man, events unfold that threaten his secret existence. This book is sort of a short historical novel, sort of a picture book, and sort of like a silent movie. Whatever it is, I like it. But I have to say, though, that the visual aspect, which I enjoyed so much in Wonderstruck, did not seem quite as critical to the story. So I thought the book was bulkier than was necessary. Still, very good overall and recommended. Favorite quote from the book:

    I like to imagine that the world is one big machine. You know, machines never have any extra parts. They have the exact number and type of parts they need. So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.

  3. Jinx by Sage Blackwood, A: This is the story about a boy named Jinx. After being abandoned in a dangerous, magical forest, he is lucky enough to find a new home with a wizard, but he doesn’t know how much he can trust his new guardian. This book came so close to being great! I wish the author had focused on the relationship between Jinx and the adults in his life, issues of trust, etc. Instead, she added a Ron and Hermione (i.e., a couple of friends) to a story that didn’t need them. IMHO the two extra characters just dragged the story out and forced the need for a sequel. But I still liked the book a lot and might buy a copy someday.
  4. The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle, A-: A journalist, a big-game hunter, and two scientists set out to find a mysterious South American plateau where dinosaurs still roam. There are no places left on the earth where this kind of exploration could occur, but it’s such an exciting idea that you can forget about the realities of our age for a while. I decided to keep this one for my library.
  5. Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier, B+: In this story, a teenage girl is forced to go live with a grandmother whom she believes to be a dangerous witch. She runs away but soon finds herself in danger form another quarter. Books about magic and teenagers are a dime a dozen these days, but this story introduced some interesting consequences for using magic, as well as reasons why magic users might choose to prey on one another. It also took place partly in Australia, which made it more interesting. I liked it just enough that I might read the sequel.
  6. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, A-: When his grandfather is killed in a strange attack, a teenage boy travels to Wales to find out the truth about his grandfather’s youth and the orphanage where he supposedly lived. This book was really, really good…until it wasn’t. I loved the beginning and the middle, but the end was rushed and the loose ends of the story were not tied up. It went from being (in my estimation) an awesome stand-alone book to a so-so lead-in for a series. It was a huge disappointment. But most of it was good, which is why it still gets an A-.
  7. My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari, B: This is a well-handled but unremarkable story about a girl whose mother is romantically involved with another woman. It takes place at the time when same-sex marriages had just been made legal in Vermont.
  8. Out of Circulation by Miranda James, B-: When an unpleasant socialite is killed at a library fund-raising event, everyone in attendance is a suspect. I picked this book up because I like to think that I like cozy mysteries. But while the genre is great in theory, the writing is usually NOT great. This book is a typical example. The main character is a librarian who part-times as a sleuth with the help of his Maine coon cat. The librarian is almost never at the library. The cat just eats and makes noises and periodically uses the litter box (why did I need to know about that?). But it’s innocuous and easy to read, and it has a cat in it. Those things counted in its favor and kept its grade above a C.
  9. Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle, B: In this story, an astronaut travels to a planet that is dominated by three species of apes: chimpanzees (the scientists), orangutans (the politicians), and the gorillas (the military). I thought it would be fun to read the book that the Planet of the Apes movies were based on. In particular, I was thinking of the original Heston version. But this turns out to be one of the rare cases where the book is actually not as good as the movie. The thing is, the twist at the end of the movie is what makes the whole thing both believable and emotionally compelling. The twist in the book is similar, but it doesn’t make much sense. Also, the way that the ape society (with its three species) functions is interesting but not fully explored. Not recommended.
  10. The Poison Belt by Arthur Conan Doyle, B: In this story, Professor Challenger (one of the main characters from The Lost World) realizes that the Earth is orbiting through a “poison belt” of space that will taint the air and kill everyone. The professor comes up with a plan to oxygenate one of his rooms so that he, his wife, and friends can live just a little longer. But Doyle seemingly couldn’t imagine disaster on such a large scale and didn’t know where to take the story. He had not (as I have) seen dozens of disaster films. Too bad for him and for the story. I wouldn’t keep it except that my edition is part of the same physical book as The Lost World.
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