Title: The Time Machine
Author: HG Wells
Publisher: Trout Lake Media
First Published: 1895
Length: 4 hours, 10 minutes
The Time Machine is a sci-fi novel from 1895. It’s the story of the Time Traveller describing his trip to the future. He travels to the year 802,701AD, where he meets two group of creatures: the Eloi and the Morlocks. The Eloi are small creatures who live above ground in crumbling buildings. They are kind of lazy and dumb, but happy. He befriends a particular Eloi female named Weena. However, after learning that his time machine has been stolen, he discovers another group, the Morlocks. These creatures live below ground in tunnels and they are definitely sinister. The Time Traveller must get his machine back so he take Weena back home with him, but they end up getting attacked by Morlocks.
I first read this book in the sixth grade. While I could certainly map the plot and compare/contrast the Eloi and the Morlocks, I don’t think I really “got” the story. For example, I didn’t realize that this story essentially coined the word “time machine” and the idea of time travel using an object as a vehicle. I also had no concept of how the Eloi/Morlock creatures represented class struggle. The delicate, yet useless, class of creatures living above ground and the underground creatures who run the machinery beneath the surface. Now it’s a little more obvious what Wells was trying to say. My sixth grade brain had no context for that information. I just remember the Worlocks being really scary.
And is it just me, or is the “story within a story” conceit big in the these older books? My most recent classic was Frankenstein, which was a story within a story within a story. Here the narrator is just a dude listening to the time traveller recount his time spent in the future. However, at the end it totally makes sense why Wells did this. In fact, I found the ending the most oddly creepy part of the whole novel. I did not remember it at all.
FINAL GRADE: C Maybe it’s because I’d read the book before, but I found it lacking. It was only four hours long as an audiobook, and it took a long time before the Time Traveller even started telling his story. The actual time traveling, Eloi/Morlock part of the novel was relative short. I wanted more adventure, more action. But I recognize that this is a trail-blazing story, and my thirst for those elements comes from all the subsequent works that added them. It’s definitely worth a read as key work of science fiction, if nothing else.
Assigned Reading: Assigned to all fans of science fiction, Doctor Who, and anyone looking for a quick classic.
Library Recommendation: Put it in a middle or high school library. You can probably find a relatively cheap edition. It’s not for every kid, but it’s a classic and it should be there. Also consider buying one of the graphic novel adaptations of the story, as I’m sure that format would appeal to kids.
What was the first time travel book you ever read?
Title: Life After Theft
Author: Aprilynne Pike
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: 4/30/2013
Length: 352 pages
Genre: YA Paranormal
Source: ARC from Publisher
Let me just start by saying this book is not what I thought it would be. I received by copy unsolicited from HarperTeen when they sent me The Elite. I had asked for any other books that might have interesting views on gender, and this is what came. I probably would have not picked this book up on my own. In the end, though, I’m glad HarperTeen sent me something a little out of my comfort zone!
Life After Theft is a modern retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel. I’ve not read The Scarlet Pimpernel, but now I kind of want to! Surprisingly, the story is told from the point of view of Jeff, a middle-class kid whose family has just come into some money and moved to Santa Monica. On Jeff’s first day, he meets Kimberlee. Kimberlee is dead. She’s a ghost. A ghost with a kleptomaniac past, and a cave full of stolen goods to prove it. In order to move on, Kimberlee enlists Jeff to help her return all of the goods to their owners. It’s a massive task, and the two do not get along, but someone has to do it. You see, Jeff is the only person who can see Kimberlee.
What I liked about the story was that the relationships between Jeff and Kimberlee was’t predictable. Like, it wasn’t romantic. AT ALL. And I was so happy about that. I did not need to see Jeff falling for a ghost because my brain can’t handle that much. Luckily Jeff gets to fall for the pretty-girl-with-a-secret-past character and all is well. No love triangles. I also liked the parents in the book. They were pretty cool. They even had a frank, honest discussion with their son about sex. Though this story is a paranormal book (because of that whole “ghost” business), it does read more like contemporary.
FINAL GRADE: B- Not my favorite book, but it was certainly a good read. There’s a little hint of mystery throughout the novel about how Jeff and Kimberlee’s situation is going to end. How will they get all that stuff back? Will they get caught? What will happen to Kimberlee? I’m not a huge contemporary fan, so I’m probably not the intended audience for this book. But it definitely had sweet moments. And HarperTeen was right — this book did have some interesting things relating to gender. In particular, the male protagonist in a contemporary book with a heavy romance element. So the big question is: are male teens also an audience for the book? I’m not sure.
Required Reading: Required for fans of contemporary YA, ghosts, and the 80′s movie Say Anything (“in your eyeeees…”).
Library Recommendation: Buy it for your high school or middle school library. There are sexy-times in the story. And drinking.
Have you read The Scarlet Pimpernel? Does this book sound anything at all like that story?
Author: Erin Bowman
Publisher: Harper Teen,
Publication Date: 4/16/2013
Length: 352 pages
Series?: Taken #1
Genre: YA dystopian
Source: ARC from Edelweiss
Challenge: Debut author challenge
None of the men in Claysoot make it past eighteen. Without fail, on their eighteenth birthdays, all men disappear in a flash of light and sound and shaking ground. Poof. Gone. Never to be seen again. They call it the Heist. Gray Weathersby is mentally preparing for his own Heist, but then he discovers a secret (there’s always a secret, right?) that might lead him to the truth about the Heists, about Claysoot, and about the wall surrounding their quiet society.
Now here’s a book that does something a little different. I’ve been reading a lot of YA dystopian trilogies, and they seem to follow a pattern for how the plot will unfold over the three books. I thought I knew what the plot arc might be with this one, but Bowman actually surprised me when she messed with that. She doesn’t draw things out. Which I’m glad for, because I was prepared for a really boring middle section. NOPE. What I thought would happen at the end happened early on. The story went an awesomely different direction, while still holding on to the key mysteries presented at the beginning. The pacing, in that sense, is spot on (at least for me. I like action). However, it also felt like a lot was going on throughout the novel. By the end of the novel, I felt like I’d already read a trilogy. Or at least the first two books. I’d like that, because it was different and surprising, but also felt strangely disconnected from the story.
Also, I do have a little beef with authors who have characters withhold their secrets for justalittlelonger than necessary. For example, when a character says something like, “I will reveal the truth to you, but not today. Get some dinner and clean up and go to bed, and I’ll explain it all to you tomorrow.” Really? Why? Who does that in real life? It’s just a manipulation of the plot to keep readers waiting, but I find it lazy. I’m also a wee bit tired of the love triangle thing. Oh, the sweet girl-next door that the main character grew up with versus the kick-ass, passionate girl the main character just met. YAWN. We all know who the main character always ends up with.
FINAL GRADE: C This is a good book. Really. As a dystopian fan, I enjoyed it simply for the world-building and figuring-out-the-mystery elements. The flaws listed above knocked from a B to a C, since I just can’t give it the same grades I gave to books like The Madman’s Daughter, Wonder, and The Holders (all earned a B). Dystopian is my “I don’t care if it’s not actually that good, Imma read it anyway!” genre, so that’s why I’m glad I read the book. It’s also why I might continue the series.
Required Reading: Required for dystopian fans.
Library Recommendations: I would buy it for a middle or high school library. Either audience would appreciate it. Be aware of frank references to sex…in this world, men must have regularly scheduled sex from an early age to ensure survival of the society since they are all heisted at eighteen. If I remember right, it is wrapped up in euphemisms that keep the focus on the society rather than the sex. There are also scenes of violence and death.
How do you feel about reading less-than-stellar books in your favorite genres?
Title: Pivot Point
Author: Kasie West
Publication Date: 2/12/2013
Series?: Pivot Point #1
Genre: YA Paranormal
Source: Review copy from Edelweiss
Addison Coleman has a useful ability: when faced with a choice, she can peer into the future and see both outcomes. In fact, she essentially lives through both choices before she makes her decision. So when her parents announce their divorce and her father asks who she wants to live with, Addison performs a search to determine her choice. Stay on The Compound with the other paranormals and her BFF, or move to Dallas with her father to live among “the norms?” Each path holds both romance and danger, but one thing is for sure: Addison’s choice isn’t going to be easy.
I struggled through this book. At the beginning, I didn’t really like Addie. I didn’t like her best friend, Laila, or her love interest on The Compound, Duke. After the initial excitement of embarking on the six-week search to determine Addie’s choice, I had a really hard time making it through the middle of the book. The true conflict of the story didn’t present itself well for a loooooong time. Until that point, this felt like a love triangle-y, slightly angsty drama novel. Yawn.
So what DID I like? What saved this book? Well, I did like the Norm love interest, Trevor. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a kid in a sling, but Trevor brought out the less annoying version of Addie Coleman. I also enjoyed the glimpse at the powers everyone on The Compound have: mind erasing, telekinesis, mass manipulators, mood controllers, lie detectors, persuasive. It’s like X-Men, but with brain powers. Brain powers are so much more interesting and sneaky! Which brings me to what saved this book: THE ENDING. No, not in a “thank god this book ended” kind of way, but in a “holy crap, now I can’t stop reading, this just got good!” kind of way. Once I realized what was going to make Addie’s decision difficult (beyond swoon-y boys) and where Kasie West was going with this, I was powering through those last 50 pages.
FINAL GRADE: C+ I feel like this grade represents the difficulty of the first 3/4 of the book, but the redeeming qualities of the ending. The premise is certainly intriguing. I’m not really a fan of paranormal books or romance, so I’m probably not the intended audience for the story. I’m trying to push myself by reading some of the less paranormal-y paranormal books. Will I read the rest of the series? Probably not…though I might inspect the blurb when it comes out to see if West takes this in an interesting direction.
Required reading: You should read this if you are doing the Debut Author Challenge, since Kasie West is a debut author. Also required for fans of paranormal books and romance.
Library recommendation: You can feel comfortable buying the book for both a middle school and a high school library. I think it’s geared toward high school, but there’s nothing too mature in the story.
If you could have any mental superpower, what would you pick? How would you use it? Or would you rather stay a “norm?”
Title: What The Spell?
Author: Brittany Geragotelis
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: 1/29/2013
Length: 288 pages/9 hours, 41 minutes
Series?: Life’s a Witch #1
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Format: Digital Audiobook
Source: Review copy from publisher
Challenge: Debut Author Challenge
This is going to be one of those books that is hard to write a review for, because I respect what the author is doing, but it just isn’t for me.
The story: On Brooklyn’s sixteenth birthday, her parents finally unlock her powers as a witch. Brooklyn, who has felt invisible her whole life, immediately embarks on the quest to make herself more popular. She alters her appearance, weasels her way into “The Elite” at school, and even tried to work her magic in romantic relationships. However, membership in The Elite comes with many tests, and some kids are starting to question how Brooklyn is able to do everything they ask. If she’s not careful, The Elite might figure her out — risking more than her popularity in the process.
If you are a twelve year old girl, you will love this book. Seriously. It’s one of those YA books that’s actually written for ACTUAL YA’s — not just YA-loving grown-ups and smart kids. This is book candy, wish-fulfillment, teen-tastic, drama-luscious, completely unrealistic in-every-way fun. I can see if falling into the hands of kids who do not usually enjoy reading. It’s like a WB/ABC Family show in a book. Basically, it’s a lot like Sabrina The Teenage Witch, and y’all know we loved that stuff in middle school.
However, as an adult I found it very hard to read and very unrealistic. I didn’t like Brooklyn throughout the entire story and found her extremely frustrating and shallow. I couldn’t relate to her at all. The concept of The Elite annoyed me, too — it perpetuates the stereotype that the popular group is like a club, with strict membership, perks, and assigned tasks non-members wishing to join. That is not how that works! In reality, popular groups in high schools are far less strictly defined and probably even harder to get into. It’s not as simple as “complete these tasks three, and a member for life ye shall be” (I made that up, that is not in the book).
Also, as a teacher, I found Brooklyn’s relationship with her guidance counselor/adult mentor strange. I can’t not mention this. The woman gets all offended when Brooklyn can’t help her at a charity event, which bothered me as an educator. The woman is supposed to be a guidance counselor, a professional, who would understand this type of behavior in a high school kid. I understand her speech about “I’m disappointed in you” and “you let me down,” but this guidance counselor seems to think of Brooklyn as a colleague rather than a sixteen year old girl. It’s weird.
FINAL GRADE: C As someone who has already made it through high school alive, this book was not for me. But as a librarian/teacher who knows that some kids just need light, fluffy books, I can see the value of the novel. We do need more books that are less literary for our kids who read as an escape. So I respect what Brittany Geragotelis is doing here, but I will politely pass on the rest of the series.
Required Reading: Required for all fans of witches in novels, fluffy pre-teen books, and drama-licious high school stories. Required for pre-teen reluctant readers.
Library Recommendations: Buy it for your middle school library, it will get checked out. Content warnings include witchcraft, kissing, mention of sex, drinking, and a lot of unkind behavior.
What “fluffy” books did you enjoy as a middle/high school student that you would probably not like now?
Title: The Panem Companion
Author: V. Arrow
Publisher/Year: Smart Pop, 2012
Source: Review copy from NetGalley
If you’ve read The Girl Who Was On Fire, then you have a pretty good idea of what this book is. The Panem Companion is a series of essays on the popular Hunger Games series. While The Girl Who Was On Fire was a collection written by various YA authors on different topics, The Panem Companion is written by a single author. V. Arrow dives in to explore the depths of Suzanne Collins’ world, analyzing everything from the geography of Panem to gender roles in the series. There’s even a very detailed etymology of every name from the series at the end.
The major flaw of this book is that I feel it tries to work an in-depth analysis around very little substance. Some of the essays felt a little forced, almost like student essays. The book gives very little information on certain topics for good reason — the topics are mentioned in passing, and aren’t crucial to the plot. To write a whole book analyzing these points means making a lot of assumptions and over analyzing a lot of minor plot points.
That being said…it’s also fun. I’ll take the over analyzing with a grain of tasty, tasty salt. The point of this book is to think critically about the series, to ponder some of the hidden points of the plot. To read between Suzanne Collins’ lines (whoa. that sounds like a pick up line). Some of the chapters are better than others, so this would be best enjoyed by reading the sections that interest you. I think any reader could find some of Arrow’s points quite interesting. It may even inspire a re-read of the series.
FINAL GRADE: C Not a life-changer, but definitely a neat read. It does have some flaws. And I did have to force myself to keep reading in some of the less interesting chapters. However, I love what Smart Pop is doing with these types of books that take a deeper look at some of my favorite series (next up is a book about Ender’s Game!).
Required reading: Required for fans of The Hunger Games or The Girl Who Was On Fire. Also required for any teacher who uses The Hunger Games in the classroom — you will probably find some essays/info in here that will help in teaching various aspects of the novel.
Library Recommendations: A definitely buy for both middle school and high school libraries, since kids will definitely want to check this out. Even if they don’t read it like an adult might, they will enjoy the map of Panem. Consider buying a copy for your professional collection if any teachers use the novel in the classroom.
Do you enjoy reading books about books?
Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Publisher/Year: Blackstone Audio, 2007 (Original: 1925)
Length: 4 hrs and 53 mins
Format: Audio Book
Source: Purchased from Audible
[#72 in my 2012 75 book challenge]
In case you haven’t heard, this classic novel about the Jazz Age is being made into a movie staring Leonard DiCaprio. The movie comes out in May, so I got a head start and re-read the novel in anticipation of seeing it later this year.
The Great Gatsy is the Jazz-Age tale of a bunch of crazy people living in an Egg.
Or at least that’s my one sentence summary.
Seriously, though, our protagonist, Nick Carraway, moves next door to this dude named Gatsby in West Egg (Long Island-ish). Gatsby lives in this fancy-pants new money house, totally playing up his mysteriosity while still having parties every weekend. Nick also hangs around with Daisy and Tom Buchanan, and everyone knows that ole Tom is cheating on Daisy with this lady named Muriel. These folks all live in the East Egg with the old money. Gatsby, the eternal social climber, wants nothing more than to be old money…and to get in Daisy’s pants. Infidelity ensues. Then a lot of people drive their cars around, a tragedy occurs, and the shit hits the fan. Cue curtain.
AND IT’S ALL A METAPHOR.
I get it, you guys, I do. In high school I read this book and I was fascinated by the Jazz Age, the social climbing, the affairs, and the dead people. I could relate to the story more than anything else we were reading that year (except 1984, my favorite book ever), so I decidedly enjoyed it. Round two? Not so much, even though I understand the layers a little bit better. I see the commentary on the American Dream and wealth, the metaphor with the damn green light and the colors. I don’t get it all, which is where I miss having a class to discuss it all with, but I get it enough.
FINAL GRADE: C I didn’t love it, but I’m glad I read it. Reading books as an adult that I read in my childhood is always a fascinating experience, and I don’t think I’m the only person who looks upon this novel differently now that I’m out in the real world. However, I also know some folks who adore this book and will praise it until the cows come home. I guess you have to decide that for yourself — at only 180 pages, you can read it pretty quickly and get back to me on what you think.
Assigned Reading: Read it if you love the Jazz Age, literary fiction, classics, or metaphors. Or if you want to see the movie. It’s really one of those novels that everyone should read, since it’s always being talked about. Maybe that’s what leads to the disappointment?
Recommendations: Librarians, you can buy it for the middle school library, but it’s definitely a must-have for the high school library (do I even have to tell you that?).
Did you have to read The Great Gatsby in high school? Have you read it since? Does it hold up to your test of time?
The ABC Murders
by Agatha Christie
Purchased from the Nook Store
[#68 in my 75 book challenge]
Finishing Gretchen McNeil’s Ten inspired me to read another Agatha Christie novel, since I was in the mood for murder and mystery. The ABC Murders is a Hercule Poirot mystery about a serial killer who is murdering people in alphabetical order across England. The first murder, though preceded by a warning note sent to M. Poirot himself, appears to be domestic violence. The second, a coincidence. By the third murder, the police finally understand with Poirot has seen all along — the murders are the work of calculating sociopath with some serious inferiority issues. The race is on to pin-point the killer and prevent future attacks.
The ABC Murders was different from the other Christie novels I’ve read (Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Three Blind Mice and Other Stories, and And Then There Were None) because they didn’t follow the classic Closed Circle of Suspects mystery trope. It wasn’t all, “One of us in this room…IS A MURDERER!” but more like, “Someone is killing people randomly. Let’s catch him!” Hercule Poirot does do interviews of everyone connected to the victims, in traditional Agatha Christie style, but the story just wasn’t what I was expecting.
FINAL GRADE: C This was not my favorite Christie novel, even though it came highly recommended from various “Best of Christie” lists. However, Christie is ALWAYS worth reading. She’s the mystery queen for a reason. Her reveals are always steller, and I’m never able to guess “whodunnit” before I’m told (though I pretty much suspect every single character in the story at some point). If you love mysteries, you’ll enjoy this novel. It would also be appropriate for middle and high school students if they can tackle Christie’s prose — which they should be able to do, though Christie writes like a 1930′s British lady.
Which Christie novel should I read next? Is there another mystery author whose novels I should try?
I was on Goodreads, looking at the page for Gretchen McNeil’s Ten, which I reviewed earlier this week, and I found an amazing little video.
I know I already said the book was only so-so, due to my love of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (the book this book is based on), but this video made me rethink things.
Mostly that A.) I do think anyone who hasn’t read the Christie novel will enjoy Ten and 2.) the book would make a pretty awesome teen slasher flick. Hey Hollywood — take note. Make this sucker into a movie (and pay me a finder’s fee).
If you’ve read Ten or if you haven’t, check the video out either way:
Did this remind you of The Ring? Does it make you want to read the book?
by Gretchen McNeil
Balzer and Brey
Purchased from the Nook Store
[#65 in my 75 book challenge]
Ten is the story of ten teens trapped on a island with a killer, slowly being murdered one-by-one. McNeil packages the story like a teen slasher flick in a YA horror novel: unlikable characters, one-dimensional characters, cut off communication, a crazy rainstorm, and a continuously growing body count.
If the plot sounds familiar, you’ve probably read Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, the classic novel the book is based on. I just read Christie’s novel earlier this year (check out my review). McNeil takes the Christie story and updates it with some modern twists. In the process, she also updates the plot in a few key places…which didn’t sit well with me. Christie’s ending is classic, but the ending to Ten fell flat for me. I could handle the obnoxious teen speak and the awful characters (I hated them all), but I seriously thought it would all be redeemed by the end.
I flew through this book, expecting something great. It was hard to concentrate on the story when I was already aware of how it was “supposed” to end, and what the possible red herrings would be. As I was reading, I thought McNeil was either brilliant (think Scream-like meta-slasher fun, poking fun at horror cliches) or that she was writing a very stereotypical, poorly written book. It all hinged on the ending, when her brilliance would be revealed. It wasn’t. The book is exactly what it appears as you read it. My expectations might have been a tad high, I guess.
FINAL GRADE: C Fans of Christie will be disappointed. I would imagine that anyone would hasn’t read And Then There Were None might actually find the story okay, which is why teens will probably love it. Ten would be a good addition to a middle or high school horror collection, and would probably see high circulation. Teachers and librarians could even use the story as a gateway read to Christie’s novel. I think it would be very interesting to see both novels read in a book club or classroom! Reading Ten got me in the spirit to read more Agatha Christie (I just started The ABC Murders), because nobody else can do it quite like she can! The bar has been set high.
What did you think of Ten? Have you read Christie’s And Then There Were None or any of her other books?