Miss Megan’s Five Star Favorites, Part III

Believe it or not, I read grownup books on occasion. Not as often as I would like, but still, I try to add a “big kid” title to my list every now and again. These are a selection of my favorites, the ones I’ve given the coveted five star rating on Goodreads.

The Death of Bees by Lisa O’DonnellHarperCollins; 25.99; Ages 16-adult

Opening line: “Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.”

For fans of: The Cement Garden; The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Pure by Julianna BaggottHachette; 9.99; Ages 14-adult

Opening line: “There was a low droning overhead a week or so after the Detonations; time was hard to track. The skies were buckling with dark banks of blackened cloud, the air thick with ash and dust.”

For fans of: The Hunger Games; Divergent

Room by Emma DonoghueLittle Brown; 14.99; Ages 16-adult

Opening line: “Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra.”

For fans of: Living Dead Girl; Angela’s Ashes

Atonement by Ian McEwanAnchor Books; 15.00; Ages 16-adult

Opening line: “The play—for which Briony had designed the posters, programmes and tickets, constructed the sales booth out of a folding screen tipped on its side, and lined the collection box in red crepe paper—was written by her in a two-day tempest of composition, causing her to miss a breakfast and a lunch.”

For fans of: Skeletons at the Feast; Never Let Me Go

Jane Eyre by Charlotte BrontePenguin; 7.99; Ages 14-adult

Opening line: “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”

For fans of: Great Expectations; Persuasion

Give us a call or shoot us an email if you want to put any of these titles on hold! (703) 548-4092 or info@hooray4books.com

Read on, readers!

Miss Megan

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Hot Off the Press: Spindlers by Lauren Oliver

I love magical realism. I love when a story starts in our world and then somehow (usually through a portal of some kind) transitions to a fantasy setting. Last year was prime time for fantastic middle (and upper) grade books of this genre. As any reader of this blog will know, we’re crazy about Breadcrumbs, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairylandand A Monster Calls, all of which hit shelves last fall. And, if Lauren Oliver’s Spindlers is any indication, this year’s shaping up to be equally great.

Oliver just keeps getting better and better. I enjoyed her debut novel Before I Fall, and her YA Delirium series is a big hit with fans of dystopian lit. But it wasn’t until Liesl & Po, her foray into middle grade fiction, that we saw what she can really do. She’s a tremendously gifted storyteller who knows how to craft characters with emotional depth that radiates from the page. 

In The Spindlers, young Liza is the only person to see the truth: her little brother Patrick’s soul has been stolen by Spindlers, the hideous spider-like creatures from the hidden world beneath her parent’s basement. Armed only with a broom, Liza sets off on what she thinks is a quest to save her brother. But as she adventures on, it soon becomes clear that if Patrick’s soul is lost, her own will be forfeit as well.

I tore through this book in a matter of hours. It’s not that the reading level is low, or that Oliver skimped on action or plot. In fact, the opposite is true—this story flows absolutely beautifully. The arc feels complete, the adventure is fully developed, but there are no gratuitous plot lines and absolutely no opportunity for boredom. It’s a fully satisfying tale that will suck you in and then let you go at precisely the right moment. And even though I read The Spindlers in an afternoon, I spent the rest of the day still entrenched in that world—which is one of the highest compliments I can give to an author.

Just when I think I can’t be more of a Lauren Oliver fan, she releases something new, and I fall in love all over again. I may have a serious author crush going here.

Read on, readers!

—Miss Megan

The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver, illus. by Iacopo Bruno and Lauren Oliver; HarperCollins; 16.99; Ages 9-12

Darkbeast by Morgan Keyes

Keara’s twelfth nameday is fast approaching and according to the law in the land of Duodecia, she is required to kill her darkbeast, a raven named Caw. Like all other darkbeasts, Caw has been bound to his owner since she was a baby and has absorbed all the negative emotions she has felt throughout her childhood. Whenever she exhibits a dark feeling such as fear or jealousy, she is sent to Caw, who takes it away. He also helps her see why manifesting these emotions in a negative way is undesirable. Most children look forward to the day they be rid of their darkbeast, but Keara is different. She loves Caw and cannot imagine killing him, but allowing a darkbeast to live beyond your twelfth nameday is a punishable offense in Duodecia.

Another complication in the story is that during the week leading up to her nameday, a troupe of actors called the Travelers visit Keara’s town. She finds herself drawn to their fantastic revels, stories about the land’s twelve gods performed on stage, and dreams of a life on the road with the group. Keara is faced with many decisions: Should she kill Caw as she is expected to? Should she join the Travelers and leave behind the only life she has ever known? Turning twelve is not easy!

When I read the description of Darkbeast, I immediately thought of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. Keyes’ darkbeasts sounded suspiciously similar to Pullman’s daemons, and I worried that the story would be an unsatisfying facsimile of the acclaimed trilogy. But much to my delight, Darkbeast tells a unique and compelling story. It is quite fast-paced and Keyes effectively uses cliffhangers to push readers to read “just one more chapter!” Don’t be fooled by the rather childish cover art, which initially made me think the book was for younger readers. Darkbeast is for ages 10 and up and covers complex concepts such as personal belief systems, emotions, and breaking from social norms.

Morgan Keyes will be at Hooray for Books on Friday, September 7, 2012 from 6:30-7:30 pm. Come by and meet the author of this thoroughly entertaining read!

~Kristen

Darkbeast by Morgan Keyes; Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster); Ages 10-12

A Sibling Story: Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli

Jake and Lily are twins. Every year on their birthday they have a dream. The same dream. But this year things have changed. Jake and Lily aren’t the best friends they used to be. Jake’s pulling away, spending time with a gang of bicycle-riding, mischief-making guys from the neighborhood. Lily’s left in the dust, moping and wishing she were included.

But Jake and Lily have been given a journal, and even with all their disagreements, they’re still writing back and forth. And maybe, just maybe, telling their story will show them a way back to friendship.

You know Jerry Spinelli for his numerous books, like Newbery medal winner Maniac Magee and Newbery honor book Wringer. He’s also the author of StargirlI Can Be Anything! (perfect for grads), and Milkweed (my personal Spinelli favorite). As you can see, he knows his stuff.

This is a sweet story for any child with a sibling. It’s a delightful tale about growing up (just a little), keeping hold of the joys of childhood, and, ultimately, staying true to yourself. Hand this one to your reader who’s devouring chapter books–it’s the perfect pre-summer read!

Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli; HarperCollins; 15.99; Ages 8-10

Mother’s Day Gift Suggestion: A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle

This book is the perfect read for mothers and daughters. I’m buying it for my mom as a Mother’s Day gift. (I hope she’s not reading this blog.)

Told from four different perspectives, this is a charming generational tale that is ultimately deeply moving and powerful. Young Mary O’Hara’s granny is in the hospital. Just when Mary and her mother are sure they can’t handle the grim situation anymore, a mysterious woman appears, full of friendliness, comfort, and what seems to be very specific knowledge about Granny. Gradually, Mary, her mother, and her grandmother realize that the woman isn’t a stranger at all: she’s Tansey, Granny’s mother who died years and years ago.

In one night, the three women and the girl revisit their family’s past and embrace their present. Together they visit the old farm where it all began, and, along the way, their individual stories are told.

I couldn’t put this lovely story down. If the above synopsis sounds vaguely like a road trip story you’ve read before, think again. Roddy Doyle’s little novel is a sweet, gentle story that never goes over the top with melodrama. It’s truthful without being harsh, nostalgic without being sappy, and humorous without trying too hard. And it’s just the right length. It’s been a long time since I’ve said that about a book, and it feels good! It’s easily read in an afternoon, and it still has the perfect emotional impact. Well done, Mr. Doyle!

I love this book. I think my mom will, too.

A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle; Amulet Books (Abrams); 16.95; Ages 9+

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker

We at Hooray for Books love Sara Pennypacker and her awesome Clementine books! Clementine’s a sassy, good-hearted heroine we can all get behind. So when the advanced reader’s copy of Pennypacker’s newest book, Summer of the Gypsy Mothsarrived, I swiped it right away.

It’s wonderful in ways I didn’t expect. Pennypacker’s signature humor and charm are here, but there’s great emotional depth, too. It’s the perfect read for the child who’s graduated from Clementine-level reading and is ready for the next step. And what a delightful step it is!

Stella is content to live with her great-aunt Louise on Cape Cod, at least until her mother gets her act together and comes back. It’s Angel, Great Aunt Louise’s foster daughter, that Stella can’t stand. But when the unthinkable happens, Stella and Angel must find a way to work together in order to stay afloat. That means opening Louise’s summer cottages and running the business all on their own. As the two girls work through the struggles and triumphs of the summer, they learn that they are more alike than they thought. Together, they are bonded by a dark secret, and gradually Angel’s aloofness changes to a sort of sisterhood.

At the end of the day, this is a novel about family, the family we are born into and the family we choose. Stella’s a sweet, lonely girl who just wants a place to belong, and (without giving away too much), in the end she’s rewarded with an unexpected but happy ending.

Gary Schmidt (Okay for Now) says it better than I: “Beneath the comedy and the suspense and the horror and the wit of this remarkable read lies the deepest secret of all: that we can learn to love each other.”

Read this great novel. Your heart will thank you.

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker; Balzer & Bray/Harperteen (HarperCollins); 15.99; Ages 9-12

Simply Adorable: Itsy-Bitsy Baby Mouse by Michelle Meadows

The cover of this new picture book is eye catching all on its own: an itsy, bitsy baby mouse (as promised) stares up at the giant words of the title. This dash of whimsy is continued throughout the book with bright pastel graphics that mimic the wild race of our rodent protagonist. Hilarious rhyming text is laced seamlessly into the adventure, making this a near perfect read aloud.

Did you hear that? A near perfect read aloud!

Itsy, bitsy baby mouse is lost. He scurries across the vast wasteland of the living room (narrowly escaping the dangerous claws of a monstrous house cat!), desperately searching for his own little door. At the very last moment, when all seems to be lost, two friendly faces appear, ready to calm his frazzled nerves. Mama and Papa Mouse gently soothe their little one and put him to bed.

It’s a simple enough story, and Silver Spring-based author Michelle Meadows (Pilot Pups, Hibernation Station) doesn’t muddle things with over-embellishment. Her rhyming text propels the story forward with charm and humor. Illustrator Matthew Cordell (Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie) develops a similar aesthetic in his artwork, striking just the right balance between silliness and restraint.

I can’t imagine a child (or grownup!) who could resist this delightful little story! Stop by the store today and share it with your little one!

Itsy-Bitsy Baby Mouse by Michelle Meadows, illus. by Matthew Cordell; Simon & Schuster; 15.99; Ages 2-6