Author: David Levithan and Andrea Cremer
Release Date: 5/7/2013
Length: 358 pages
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Source: Review copy from publisher via Edelweiss
Challenge: Feminist Reads Challenge
Stephen was born invisible. Not even his own mother could see him, and he’s never interacted with the outside world. His father sends money, but Stephen is basically alone after his mother’s death. Until one day, unexpectedly, he is seen by his new neighbor. Elizabeth not only sees Stephen, but they become friends…and more. Of course, the fact that Elizabeth can see Stephen when no one else can brings up questions, question Stephen has never had answers for. Until now. Together, they learn of the mysterious world of cursecasters and spellseekers as they embark on the quest to cure Stephen from his curse for good.
Though it doesn’t really affect my overall feelings about Invisibility, this would be a case where I didn’t read the book blurb very well. Based on my previous experience with David Levithan (Every Day and Will Grayson, Will Grayson) and my lack of experience with Andrea Cremer, I thought this would be more contemporary romance-with-a-twist. Nope. Definitely goes in the paranormal romance category. The keywords here would be “cursecaster” and “spellseeker” in the description. Duh, Tara. Anyways, the romance in the novel happens early on and the main conflict is over how to make Stephen un-invisible (aka…visible). I wasn’t expecting that, but it ended up being okay. I was along for the ride. And I have to say, it was a pretty fun ride. I ended up really enjoying the book.
After reading the book, I did some looking into Andrea Cremer. From what I found, it appears that she is notoriously anti-feminist. Her other books must feature weak or stereotypical female characters or something. But I found that very interesting, as I was trying to decide if Invisibility is a feminist novel or not. I appreciated that Elizabeth and Stephen are equals: she’s strong, he’s strong, and both help each other. In a lot of ways, Elizabeth saves Stephen. So I found it very interesting that Cremer’s previous books have been criticized for the opposite. That being said, one criticism of the novel is that neither character felt fully “real.” They both lacked that spark that makes a good character come to life on the page. My guess is that there was just too much going on in the story, between the invisibility, the romance, the paranormal stuff, the action, the dual narration, and the back story to focus on character development.
And the ending! I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending. It wasn’t terrible, and it didn’t ruin the book, but I just…I can’t. I don’t know what to do with it. Is it just me or has it become trendy to end novels in questionable ways? Is it supposed to make us talk about the book more? Beg for a sequel? I’m not sure.
FINAL GRADE: B Overall, Invisibility was an exciting, fast-paced read. If you’d asked me at the 90% mark, I would have given it an A. It loses points for underdeveloped characters and the ending, but don’t let that deter you from giving it a go. Remember, a B is still really good! David Levithan never disappoints. It even earns the LGBT tag for having an awesome gay supporting character (Elizabeth’s brother, who plays a big part in the story…in fact, he’s the best, most developed character in the book). Fans of Levithan’s work will also be pleasantly surprised to see a direct Will Grayson, Will Grayson reference in the story, which was pretty cool.
Required Reading: Required for Levithan fans and fans of the paranormal genre. Also good for anyone looking for a quick read that’s a little different.
Library Recommendation: Appropriate for a middle or high school library. There is some scary violence (the cursecasting stuff is a little frightening) and kissing, but it’s PG-13 at the most. For parents, the main characters specifically state that they are not going to sleep together because they aren’t ready…and they don’t.
Two questions for this book: 1.) If you read the book, did you catch the Will Grayson reference? And 2.) What would you do if you were invisible for day?
Title: The Holders
Author: Julianna Scott
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Release Date: 3/5/2013
Length: 368 pages
Series?: Holders #1
Genre: YA fantasy, paranormal
Source: ARC from author/publisher
[#71 in my 2012 75 book challenge]
Becca must keep a close eye on her ten-year-old brother, Ryland, because he’s different from the other kids. When a recruiter comes from a special boarding school in Ireland with the promise of helping Ryland fine-tune his special abilities, Becca’s not buying it — until she realizes how truly special her brother is. Becca accompanies Ryland to St. Brigid’s, where she learns about powerful abilities, family secrets, and a legend that may turn her life upside down. Along the way she meets the handsome Alex, her charming BFF Chloe, and a whole host of interesting teachers.
The Holders was a pleasant surprise! Fantasy usually isn’t my thing, but I couldn’t put this book down. Comparisons to Harry Potter oversimplify the story and the characters, but it is hard to avoid such comparisons. However, The Holders stands on its own two feet. The budding romance between Becca and Alex plays a huge part in this story (so romance fans, rejoice!) and the supernatural elements are less “magical” than in Harry’s world.
The most surprising part of the whole story was how well Julianna Scott crafts her protagonist. Becca is strong and independent without being annoying or perfect. At eighteen, she’s a little bit older than the average YA protagonist at the start of a series, which means she’s outgrown some of the more obnoxious teen girl behaviors. Becca even acknowledges that she refuses to be fixated on romance or boys over her own goals. Family is more important to Becca than anything, and she’s even a good friend to Chloe throughout the novel. Her constant bitterness toward her father, Jocelyn (yes. that’s his name), was a bit taxing at times. Otherwise, I liked Becca. I think I’ll keep reading when Scott releases the rest of the series so I can see how her character develops.
FINAL GRADE: B Not a top ten book of the year, but close! Any book I read this quickly has to be good. I’d recommend The Holders to fans of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, fantasy, and Twilight. I’d also recommend it to anyone who doesn’t normally like fantasy or paranormal romance. Like Harry Potter, it could either be “gateway fantasy” or fantasy that defies the genre and works on its own. I would feel very comfortable adding this book to a middle or high school library, as the content is PG-13.
How do you feel about fantasy novels? YA fantasy? Love it? Hate it?
This being the last week of the semester, it’s a miracle I’m even reading anything at all. But I am able to sneak in some moments, especially with my beloved audio books. Here’s what I’m reading, albeit in small doses, this week:
You Got to Be Kidding: A Cultural Arsonists Literal Reading of the Bible by Joe Wenke
Adult non-fiction e-book. I’m reading this one before bed. Basically the guy reads the Bible and writes what happens, in comedic form. I’m enjoying his “WTF?” tellings of traditional Bible stories, but it does make me want to read the corresponding passages. When read like this, the Bible does seem to have some weird stories in it.
The Holders by Julianna Scott
YA Fantasy. I’m reading this one at the breakfast table. It’s like Harry Potter/Percy Jackson/X-Men, etc. A boarding school for teens who have recently discovered their powers. I’m particularly interested in the main character’s rejection of female tropes, so I’m hoping this one does some interesting things.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks
YA realistic fiction, graphic novel, e-book. I’m reading this one on my iPad between classes (it’s a graphic novel, so it shouldn’t take too long to finish). How did I just now notice that the authors are named Prudence and Faith? That’s kind of awesome.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Adult classic, e-book/audiobook hybrid via WhisperSync. Reading this for two reasons. 1. I’m determined to read the five classics I challenged myself to read in 2012. This will be #3. and 2. I pledge to read the book before I see the movie, and I want to see the movie.
What are you reading this week? Are you also reading any books in preparation for any of the big book-based movies coming out over the holidays?
Fly On The Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything
by E. Lockhart
Library book from PermaBound
[#62 in my 75 book challenge]
It’s like Kafka’s The Metamorphosis for teenage girls.
Okay, not exactly. But Gretchen Lee, our protagonist, is reading Kafka in her English class at the artsy Manhattan School for Art and Music. Gretchen worries about boys, her increasingly distant BFF, the disapproving critiques from her art teacher, and her parent’s recently-announced divorce. She’s an enigma to her classmates. All Gretchen wants is a boyfriend…and to become a comic-book artist.
Until one morning when she awakens as a fly in the boys locker room.
No explanation is ever given for why Gretchen wakes up as a fly, but she does, and she sees everything. At first she just does the things we would all do — she watches the boys undress, inspects their bodies, and listens in on their conversations. However, she ends up using the experience for some self-actualization as she realizes what really happens behind locker room doors and what insecurities the boys are hiding under their macho exteriors.
Fly on the Wall is a little more obvious about the feminism in parts (there are specific references to Title IX), but more subtle and realistic in others. It’s a book that celebrates the messy awkwardness of being a teenager and the relationships teens build as they navigate the awkwardness.
FINAL GRADE: B+ I love a good E. Lockhart book, and I picked this one because it’s the only one I haven’t read yet. E. Lockhart is my favorite feminist author for teens. I recommend Fly on the Wall to fan of Lockhart’s other works, though this is the weakest of her novels (but still awesome!). Younger teens would enjoy it, but older teens might not take the premise seriously. For English teachers, it would an awesome read paired with Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Be aware that there are lots of descriptions of male genitalia, naked bodies, sex, homosexuality, and violence in the story — though all are done well. Overall, it’s a short read (120 pages?), well written, with a good message.
Where would you want to be if you could be a fly on the wall?
Ready Player One
By Ernest Cline
Library Overdrive E-book
[#51 in my 75 Book Challenge]
In the year 2044, the world sucks. Most people live their lives in OASIS, an entire virtual world where players can do, buy, and play almost anything. When the creator of OASIS, James Halliday, dies, he leaves behind all of his wealth and control of the company to the person who can locate three hidden keys and open three hidden gates with in the virtual world he created. Our hero, Wade Watts, may live a crappy life in an Oklahoma trailer park, but he’s up for the challenge. He just may be the one to finally win Halliday’s challenge, but quickly he realizes he up against more than casual competitors.
Let the games begin.
If you love the 80’s or video games, you’ll love this book. Since Halliday was a child of the 80’s and was completely obsessed with 80’s culture, there are 80’s culture references and video games galore. However, I’m not obsessed with video games or 80’s culture and I STILL loved the story. While Wade is everything I don’t want to be (obsessive, reckless, and reclusive), I still had to root for him through the non-stop action. I loved the world building, both within OASIS and outside of it.
Essentially, this is a classic quest novel, just inside a virtual world. You have your hero (Wade), your hunting group of companions (fellow “gunters” Aech, Art3mis, Shoto, and Daito), the enemy (Sorrento and the Sixers, from a corporation that wants to own OASIS at all costs), and the grail (the final Easter Egg). Add in some techy gadgets, giant robots, teleportation, magical talismans…basically anything goes in this world. The novel is kind of like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, in way, and I think it can be enjoyed by more than just video game enthusiasts.
FINAL GRADE: A I’m on a good book roll this summer. I don’t know if it’s that I have time to really enjoy my books or because I’m just having a lucky streak, but Ready Player One had me ignoring people around me just to find out what happened next. Wow, you guys. I also see why Ready Player One has been recommended as an adult book for teenagers, since the content would definitely appeal to this age group. I would by it for my library for my more mature middle school students, and recommend it to my friends who like fantasy, sci-fi, and dystopian books.
Oh, and the book gets a GLBT tag, but I can’t tell you why. Just trust me that there is an awesome GLBT character and read the book to find out more.
I’d like to give a special shout-out to the bloggers and readers who reviewed and recommended this book, inspiring me to read it. Here are their reviews if you want to know more:
Lucy @ The Reading Date (she reviewed the audio book, narrated by Wil Wheaton)
Stephanie @ Misprinted Pages (she’s also a gamer)
April @ Good Books and Good Wine (she compared it to The Westing Game)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
by JK Rowling
Own/checked out from library
[#43 in my 75 book challenge]
Here we go, here we go again…after finishing Goblet of Fire and not liking it as much as the previous two times I read it, I found that I liked Order of the Phoenix FAR more on the third read. It may have taken me six whole weeks to get through all 23 discs of the audio book in my car (well, actually, I gave up around disc 20 and just read the ending in the print version), but I finished it and LOVED it.
I think I appreciate it more in the context of the story as a whole, rather than as an independent book. When I first read it, it had been two years since I had read the first four novels, and I read those basically in one weekend. It was my first experience with being desperate for the next installment of the story, while also knowing I was painfully in the middle of an epic tale. I like endings, I like resolutions, I like satisfaction! Now that I have read the series multiple times, though, and I am satisfied, I found the developments in this book to be far more interesting. There is a lot going on here, and all of it becomes quite important in the final two novels.
Things that struck me on this read:
- I really hate Dolores Umbridge. Now that I am also a teacher, I recognize that she is completely unqualified to be running a school. I also paid more attention to how the other teachers at Hogwarts obviously felt the same way.
- I like that Harry had a lot of angst. It was tedious the first time I read it (“get over yourself, Harry!”), but now I understand. Plus I think it’s realistic. Let’s be honest, I’d probably behave the same way.
- I wish the DA played a bigger role in the book and the series. I loved them in this book, and my memories had them playing a bigger role than they actually do. I remember thinking the DA was going to be huge in the final battle against Voldemort, but they ended up being mostly background players (important in the battle, but not Harry’s specific story).
- I don’t like Cho Chang. I don’t hate her, but now that I know who Harry ends up with I just wanted him to move along. However, I’m glad that Harry doesn’t marry the first girl he likes/dates/kisses.
- I paid more attention to the prophecy. Voldemort really is a whole special brand of crazy with the way he handled that prophecy business. Did he learn nothing from Greek mythology?
- Fred and George…tsk tsk. I wish they had just finished that last school year. C’mon! They were so close.
- And, once again, Voldemort waits until AFTER exams to hunt down Harry. I like to think it’s because Voldy values education.
So, there you have it. I’ve finished the book I thought would be the most tedious, and I’m ready to start my favorite book in the series, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. I’m quite looking forward to it, but I’ll probably take a break from Harry Potter for several months before considering it. There are just too many books out there to read for the first time!
FINAL GRADE: A This is where Harry Potter really starts to get good. No more games — people are really dying, and Voldemort is back. Must I say more?
Explorer: The Mystery Boxes (Graphic Novel)
Edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Harry N. Abrams
Library copy from Junior Library Guild
[#41 in my 75 book challenge]
I picked up this book from our most recent Junior Library Guild order, intending to just flip through it and see what it was about. I ended up reading the entire thing.
Essentially, this is a graphic novel short story collection all on the same theme: mystery boxes. Each story has a different author/artist and style, but all have an element of fantasy to them. Including lots of unicorns. There are seven stories:
- Under the Floorboards by Emily Carroll – A wax doll comes to life, helping and hindering a girl in her chores.
- Spring Cleaning by Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier – A puzzle box is found in a messy closet, and some wizards are willing to pay a lot of money for it. But why?
- The Keeper’s Treasure by Jason Caffoe – A treasure hunter seeks a treasure inside a labyrinth, and is curious about what is inside the treasure box.
- The Butter Thief by Rad Sechrist – A spirit is stealing butter, so grandma traps the spirit and buries it in the backyard. Her grandmother is curious and investigates the box.
- The Soldier’s Daughter by Stuart Livingston – A girl goes on a quest to avenge her father’s death, but a magical box shows her some truths about life and war.
- Whatzit by Johane Matte – A little alien is put in charge of a a checklist for shipping boxes, but he opens one that makes his job a little harder.
- The Escape Option by Kazu Kibuishi – A boy is sucked into a spaceship box and told of a choice he must make to save the world.
The stories are short and cute, but they also have some interesting depth to them. The artwork is beautiful in some stories and brilliant in others, as there is a nice variety in styles and tones. Some stories feel dark, some epic, and some just fun. My favorite was Spring Cleaning because I enjoy Raina Telgemeier’s art and I liked the fun tone of the story. I also liked the ending to The Escape Option because I didn’t see the twist coming. It’s good when a 15-page story can give me a twist ending, that’s not an easy feat — especially with a graphic novel.
FINAL GRADE: C I give it a C based on my personal taste (it was average), but a B for my library and my students. This is not a book I read for me, but one I read for my kids. Boys and girls alike with appreciate this little collection. They will love it, like they love all graphic novels! But this one will surely stayed checked out more than it’s on my shelf. I also like the potential for using this as a jumping off point for a writing exercise, since each story takes on a common theme, kids could write their own story about a mysterious box. I might even be inspired to do so!
What would your story about a mysterious box be?
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
by JK Rowling
Audiobook from Public Library
[#28 in my 75 Book Challenge]
First off, let me make it clear that this review IS FULL OF SPOILERS! I’m assuming at this point that everyone has already read the books, seen the movies, or has no interest in doing either (and if that’s the case, why are you reading this?). If you don’t want spoilers, don’t read beyond this point.
Seriously. I’m warning you.
Rereading Harry Potter after all the books and movies are done, over, and available on DVD/in paperback is an interesting experience. I’m not tearing through the novels like I did the first time, so it’s going a little slowly. Let it be known that I LOVE HARRY POTTER and I love how Rowling sets up the series. I love the depth and details in every book. I love the characters and the themes.
That being said, some things annoy the crap out of me. And other things I just don’t understand.
Ten Things I Didn’t Like/Don’t Understand About Harry Potter IV
1.) The length. I feel like we could have chopped out about 50-100 pages and still gotten along just fine. I love the fact that Rowling weaves an epic tale, but this novel in particular feels unnecessarily long.
2.) Dobby. And Winky. And all the house elves. I feel like this whole story line was an afterthought.
3.) The length of the tournament. I don’t quite understand why the tournament has to last all year and why there are months between each task. It seems a little over-the-top to have those Dumstrang and Beauxbatons kids hanging around Hogwarts ALL YEAR for three days of actual tournament. Hold it over a week and be done with it. Geeze.
4.) The logistics of the tournament. Did those Durmstrang and Beauxbatons kids spent an entire year having class on their boat and in their carriage? That seems like a waste. How did they go to class? And is that really necessary? Did the whole school come? It doesn’t make much sense.
5.) Voldemort always shows his mean little face in late spring. Just in time for him and Harry to have a showdown at the end of the school year as a climax to the story. If I were Voldy, I’d show up in October and really scare the shit out of everyone. If I were Harry, I’d catch on to Voldy’s little pattern REAL QUICK.
6.) The portkey. If we are using an object as a portkey to take Harry to Voldemort, why do so much work to make that happen (ahem, Barty Crouch Jr, I’m talkin’ to you)? It seems to me that luring Harry into a portkey trap could be accomplished with far less hooplah.
7.) Voldemort’s LOOOONG graveyard speech. Oh, Voldemort. Voldemort, Voldemort, Voldemort. Is the super-long speech in the Graveyard really necessary? I know you think you are awesome and clever for resurrecting yourself and all, but you go in to a very intense amount of detail for a kid you’re about to kill. I understand the need for narrating the full story here, but no villain (no matter how self-centered) would go into all those random details.
8.) Speaking of Voldemort and random details — why did he expect his followers to come find him in the woods in Albania? Come on! That’s like the world’s hardest game of hide ‘n seek. Needle in a haystack, anyone?
9.) Barty Crouch Jr. I felt like I needed a degree in rocket science to understand the Barty Crouch Jr. situation. I mean, I’ve read the book before and all, but I’d forgotten the details. I almost needed to draw a diagram.
10.) The end. The ending wouldn’t end! I read this as an audio book, and there was a whole disc after the Mad Eye Moody = Barty Crouch Jr. plot is revealed. Rita Skeeter, Fred and George’s joke shop, Hermione and Krum all needed to be wrapped up. But after 700+ pages I was tired and didn’t really need all of that falling action. It’s a series, for goodness sake. I’ve still got three to go!
So there you have it. Ten things that annoyed me about this book. Most of all, though, I did love it. I pick up on different things every time I read the series, and I love the complexities Rowling includes…just not the unnecessary stuff. This time around I definitely noticed how dark the writing is in the scenes of Voldemort’s return, and how scary it all really is. Voldemort is a truly creepy bad guy.
FINAL GRADE: B+ It’s Harry Potter, for goodness sake. The series gets an A+, but I can’t say that this book gets an A on its own. But it’s Harry Potter. You should read (or re-read) it. Everyone. Everywhere. Always.
Have you read Harry Potter? Re-read Harry Potter? How did it hold up on the re-read?
The Lightning Thief
by Rick Riordan
Audiobook from audible.com
[#60 in my
52 60 book challenge]
I did not like this book. But middle school kids will (and do) love it. In case you don’t know the story, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There’s little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus.
If Harry Potter were poorly written and about mythology instead of magic, it would be this book. I thought it was extremely derivative of the Harry Potter series, and it didn’t meet the expectations of JK Rowling’s series. This book represents everything I thought that Harry Potter would be when I initially refused to read the series.
Let me take a step back. I know Harry Potter is not original. JK Rowling borrowed almost everything in her novels from other great works, mythology, and literary archetypes. But it works. I wish I could articulate why it works, but I don’t know if I can…and I don’t have the room here to do so. However, I feel that the plethora of kids’ fantasy novels that followed the Harry Potter explosion were trying to ride on Rowling’s coattails. Percy Jackson, whether intentional or not, felt like one of those novels. I should have seen this coming when one of Riordan’s other novels, The Red Pyramid, ended up in my “gave up on” pile.
I’m not the only one who sees far too many Harry Potter similarities — read a couple of the reviews over at Goodreads to see that many of them agree (and they list out the similarities, if you’re interested). To me, this just felt like a middle school novel. The middle school kids like an action-packed story and the fantasy element, and they aren’t going to make too many comparisons or ask too many questions. That’s why I’m giving it two different grades…
Final Grade (for me): D I just don’t like fantasy, and think all of these Newberry-hopefuls are raising my personal bar for kid-lit.
Final Grade (for my students): B The kids will like this. I will keep buying it and recommending it. It is great for a study of mythology and getting kids excited about Ancient Greece, which is in our curriculum. And, of course, it gets them excited about reading!