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

NPR’s List of 100 Best Teen Novels is Out!

NPR Books is known for their “Top 100” lists, which tally votes (from listeners like you!) for the most beloved titles in a given category. This summer, it’s all about the young adult books—click here to check out the list of the 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels!

We were stoked to see a lot of our favorites on the list, including a few we’ve raved about on this very blog:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; Scholastic

Megan says: Collins’ characters are incredibly compelling, and she knows how to layer on the action like nobody’s business. If you haven’t read these yet, DO IT NOW. You won’t regret the decision. Just be warned that you may not be able to sleep until you’ve torn through all three novels.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green; Dutton Books (Penguin)

Amanda says: Hazel and Augustus meet in the most unusual place — a cancer support group. Though the setting alone may lead a reader to believe the story will be heavy and depressing, it’s anything but. Filled with sarcasm and hysterical wit, you’ll be both laughing and crying through the entire book. Sometimes both at the same time!

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen; Speak (Penguin)

Maryam says: Auden is a serious student who as a kid did not have time for riding a bike because she was too busy studying and sitting in on literary discussions at the dinner table. Due to her parents’ constant arguing when she was a child, she learned to stay up all night, which only gave her more time to study.  Now,  the summer before she starts college, she goes to visit her father, step-mother, and newborn step-sister, and her entire life turns around.  In her late night wanderings she meets Eli, who helps her on her “quest” (as he phrases it) to do everything she missed out on as a kid.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith; St. Martin’s (Macmillan)

Megan says: Set in the 1930s, when England, like [protagonist] Cassandra, was teetering on the brink of the modern age, this is one of the most satisfying titles I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. Cassandra’s narration is frank, witty, and utterly hilarious. This is one of those books you’ll want to read over and over. Cracking open that cover is like seeing an old friend!

If I Stay by Gayle Forman; Speak (Penguin)

Megan says: The gentle, unassuming writing style of If I Stay lends itself beautifully to the telling of this haunting and hopeful story. As author Gayle Forman weaves together past and present narratives, she creates a lovely, memorable tale that will thoroughly engage teen readers.

Chaos Walking Series by Patrick Ness; Candlewick (Random House)

Maryam says: Todd is a boy who has grown-up his whole life in New World (think of Earth 2.0). To the settlers’ surprise, when they landed on New World, they could suddenly hear everyone’s thoughts, nothing is secret. When Todd is told that he needs to leave his town before his next birthday, trouble arises; after all, how can you keep thoughts secret when everyone can hear them?

This is a mere sampling of the books on NPR’s list that we absolutely love! Drop by the store to check out more of the 100 Best Teen Novels!

Any books you think should have been included on the 100 Best list? Post a comment! You can also see the full list of 235 finalists here.

New in Paperback: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente

I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this remarkable novel until now. It’s absolutely brilliant. Along with Breadcrumbs and A Monster Calls, it was one of my favorite books of 2011—and now one of my favorite books of all time! Everyone else here at HFB seems to agree, because it made our Newbery shortlist in January.

Here’s a big statement: everyone should read this book. Everyone. Even adults. Especially adults.

When a young, plucky girl named September is spirited away from her home in Omaha by the jovial Green Wind, she’s in for the adventure of a lifetime. Drawn into Fairyland, September is confronted with an epic quest: to unseat the cruel Marquess, the childlike tyrant who holds Fairyland in her tight grasp. Joined by A-Through-L, a library-oriented dragon, and Saturday, a quiet, loyal Marid child, September attempts to right the wrongs done in the kingdom.

Catherynne M. Valente’s imagination is magnificent, and her storytelling is breathtaking. September’s tale is given such incredible depth that it belongs in the hands of readers of all ages. This is a tale about growing up, becoming brave, and embracing the truth, even if it’s dangerous. This is a tale about friendship, creativity, and sacrifice. Anyone who has loved the rich, dark, classic works by greats like C.S. Lewis, J.M. Barrie, or Lewis Carroll will be utterly entranced by The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland.

I obviously can’t recommend this book enough! Read it immediately. (Pretty please with a cherry on top.)

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, illus. by Ana Juan; Square Fish (Macmillan); 6.99; Ages 10-adult

Our Newbery Shortlist

Booksellers and librarians all over the country are on pins and needles, waiting with anticipation for the Newbery and Caldecott announcements on January 23! The staff here at Hooray for Books is no different. We’ve read a a lot of books over the past year, and we’ve agreed on our top picks for the Newbery. Check out our favorites!

With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (Macmillan); Ages 10-13

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu; Walden Pond Press (HarperCollins Childrens); Ages 10+

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente; Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan); Ages 10-13

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai; HarperCollins; Ages 8-12

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt; Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); Ages 10+

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illus. by Jim Kay; Walker & Company (Macmillan); Ages 12+

There you have it, folks! Stop by the store any time to check out these great titles.

Miss Megan’s Favorites of 2011

Each of us here at Hooray for Books has our favorites that we’ve fallen in love with throughout the year. Today, Miss Megan shares the books that became her favorites over the past 12 months.

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness; Candlewick Press, $16.99, ages 12+

Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt; Clarion Books, $16.99, ages 10+

Chime, by Frannie Billingsley; Dial Books, $17.99, ages 14+

I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen; Chronicle Books, $15.99, ages 3+

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu; Walden Pond Press, $16.99, ages 10+

Everybody Sees the Ants, by A.S. King; Little Brown Books for Young Readers, $17.99, ages 14+

If you would like us to reserve  a copy of any of these titles, call us at 703-548-4092 or come on in! We would love to show you more of our favorite books!

Miss Megan’s Guide to Dystopian Fiction

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that the latest trend sweeping the teen/young adult section is dystopia. Bye, vampires! Happy trails, werewolves! So, as we enter the holiday shopping season, I thought I’d give you my quick and dirty run down of the genre, as well as my top picks.

According to trusty Merriam-Webster, dystopia is “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.” It is, essentially, the “anti-utopia,” a world where civilization has run amok, and things are, generally, pretty bleak. Why on earth would I want to read about that, you ask? Because it is the perfect environment for plucky, brave, intelligent protagonists to rise from the ashes, that’s why! And take heart, grownups–this genre tends to accommodate adult readers quite well, thanks to the political and philosophical implications of the setting. But enough teacher-talk. Let’s get down to business…

The One That Started It All (Sort Of): Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press)

Let’s go through our dystopian checklist. Iron-fisted dictatorship? Check. Brutal, warlike society designed to squelch any thought of rebellion? Check. Resourceful, loyal heroine? Love triangle? Trilogy? Check, check, check. Sure, dystopian novels like Brave New World and 1984 have been required reading in high schools for years. They’ve appeared in children’s lit, too (see The Giver). But we have Suzanne Collins to thank for their explosion onto the pop culture scene like never before. And even with a rabid fan base and a movie adaptation on the way, allow me to say: these books are excellent. Awesome, even. Collins’ characters are incredibly compelling, and she knows how to layer on the action like nobody’s business. If you haven’t read these yet, DO IT NOW. You won’t regret the decision. Just be warned that you may not be able to sleep until you’ve torn through all three novels.

The Kinder, Gentler Introduction to the Genre: Matched by Ally Condie (Penguin Books)

Not drawn to epic, expansive scenes of battle, blood, and gore? No need to miss out on the dystopian genre! This is the book I recommend for younger readers who want to check out Hunger Games but probably aren’t quite ready, or those who just aren’t sure about the violence. In the Society, marriage matches are made scientifically. The process is streamlined, and Cassia hasn’t once heard of a mistake being made. But at her own matching ceremony, she sees two boys on the screen that is to reveal her future husband. Confused, Cassia embarks on a quest to discover exactly what happened in her case, and discovers more deeply hidden secrets than she could have imagined. Matched focuses heavily on the societal/political implications of dystopia and for the most part keeps away from scenes of intense violence, while gently developing the various character relationships. Watch out for book two, Crossed, which will be out November 1st.

The One That Gets You Right Into the Action: Divergent by Veronica Roth (HarperCollins)

I’ll admit, my expectations weren’t high for this one. It was, I thought with disdain, a debut novel. Everyone wants a piece of the dystopian pie, but can anyone really expect a hit on the first try? The answer, in Veronica Roth’s case, is a resounding yes. After reading Divergent (another one that cost me sleep, I was that breathlessly glued to the page), I was ready for a slice of humble pie. Roth’s story is gripping and unique, and I couldn’t wait to see where it went next. Set in future Chicago, society is divided into factions based on various essential character traits. Upon turning 16, teens go through a series of diagnostic tests to determine which faction they are best suited for. Typically, this is a simple, logical process, but for Beatrice it is anything but. Instead of fitting neatly into one faction, she is suited equally for more than one, a trait that makes her “divergent” and possibly dangerous to the methodical system that has been established. I loved that Roth didn’t waste time with exposition–we as readers are thrown right in with Beatrice as she struggles to figure out her situation, and we can only hang on and enjoy every moment of the exhilarating, heartpounding ride! Book two (it’s a trilogy) is set to be released in May 2012, and I, for one, can’t wait.

The Thoughtful, Dreamy Romance: Wither by Lauren DeStefano (Simon & Schuster)

Let’s slow things down a bit and take a breath. As gung-ho as I am about the guerilla warfare and subversive rebellion of dystopia, all that combat can be taxing. Apparently Lauren DeStefano agreed with me. Don’t be fooled, though, there’s plenty of action here. But it’s punctuated nicely by gentle scenes of character development. Set in a world where disease claims all females by the age of 20 and all males by 21, Rhine knows she doesn’t have long. But when she is kidnapped and forced into a polygamist marriage (the gentry’s desperate attempt to continue their bloodlines), she is determined to spend what time she has left formulating a plan for escape. What she doesn’t expect, though, is to find friendship, sisterhood, and even love inside the walls of her palatial prison. The uniqueness of the plot intrigued me, and I was most definitely not disappointed in the choices the author made. DeStefano’s characters are engaging and unexpectedly sympathetic–relationships between the three sister wives are especially compelling. There are moments of frantic speed, but for the most part the tone of this novel is dreamlike, which makes it a welcome departure from some of the more stark offerings of the genre. Like every other book on this list, it’s the first in a trilogy–the second installment will be available in February 2012.

My New Favorite That You Absolutely, Positively Must Read: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Candlewick Press)

I’ll shout this from the mountaintops: I LOVE THIS BOOK! My fellow bookseller Amanda always recommends it, so I thought I’d see what all the fuss was about. Boy, was I rewarded for my effort! I could only wonder how long I had survived without experiencing the brilliance of this title. And guess what? For the first time on this list, we have a male protagonist (don’t worry, ladies, there’s a prominent female here, too). Todd Hewitt has only ever known the presence of Noise. It is all around him–coming from the men of his village, from his own head, even from his dog, Manchee. It expresses the hidden thoughts and emotions of every man and animal in Prentisstown. But when Todd finds a void in the midst of the Noise, he stumbles upon a being he has never before encountered–a girl. Suddenly, his world is thrown upside down, and he is forced to flee his home in hopes of finding refuge from those who are determined to capture both him and Viola, his mysterious new companion. Please know: this description only scratches the surface of how excellent this book truly is! Ness expertly examines the difficult choices that must be made when the lines between good and evil are confusingly blurred. Yes, you guessed it, this is a trilogy, and, no, you won’t be able to quit until you’ve read all three books. Which I emphatically encourage you to do as soon as humanly possible!

There’s a lot more to this genre, but these are the stand-outs in my mind. I’m an unapologetic fan of dystopian novels, so I’m always on the lookout for the next winning title. Stop by our front desk and ask for our latest favorites–we’re always thrilled to talk books!

Happy reading,

Miss Megan G.