Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gift Ideas for 2008 #1

Bargain Books

The True Meaning of Smek Day by Adam Rex is currently bargain-priced at Amazon for $6.39. In hardcover I might add. This is a gem of a book. It's funny. It's fun. It's sprinkled with illustrations. You can read my review of the book. (My guess is that this would be for 9 or 10+ crowd.)
Here's a snippet from that review, "Gratuity Tucci (Her friends call her "Tip") along with her classmates is given an assignment: they must write an essay--at least five pages long--describing the true meaning of smekday. Smekday? What is Smekday? Smekday, the holiday formerly known as Christmas, was the day when the aliens--the Boov--invaded Earth. Earth became Smekland. Christmas became Smekday. And humans, well, they became the "Noble Savages." The point of the essay--besides the fact that it is being graded for a school assignment--is that the winning selection will become part of a time capsule that will be opened in a hundred years."


The Diary of Ma Yan by Ma Yan. Nonfiction. This one is another bargain book, hardcover, priced $6.99. Appropriate for middle school on up. (10+) My review is here. This one doesn't have much to offer in the laughs department, but it is full of heart and soul. Her story is touching. This is one of many things I had to say about the book, "Ma Yan is a young girl determined to continue her education despite the hardships and struggles that ensue. Knowing that an education is the only thing that could rescue her from a life of poverty, Ma Yan continues her fight to stay in school. Her resilience is inspiring."

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson. Fiction. Older Teens. 15+. Currently bargain-priced at Amazon--in hardcover--for $4.99. I called this one--in my review--"The perfect blend of frustration, sarcasm, and hope."

Feel-Good YA Romance (12+)

Perfect You by Elizabeth Scott. $8.99. My review. "Elizabeth Scott is a master at characters. Both Bloom and Perfect You have weight and substance. Yes, romance is involved in both. But life is always more complicated, more complex than just that. Her writing is for the heart, the mind, and the soul. Life. Love. Friendship. Family. School. Life isn't always beautiful. It isn't always fair. Its full of beginnings and endings. Some times you have to go with the flow."

Bloom by Elizabeth Scott. $8.99. My review. "Lauren isn't a copycat heroine. She has depth. She has personality. One of my favorite things about her? She loves to read. She wants to go to college and major in English. She wants to be a librarian. That is the kind of character I can relate to. Understand. Love. She isn't the perfect girlfriend. The perfect best friend. The perfect daughter. She isn't perfect. She's human. She has strengths, but she has weaknesses as well. It is the very fact that she's so "real" that will make this book memorable."

Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. $8.99. My review. "D.J. different from her peers: she, for the most part, is solely responsible for her parents dairy farm. Shoveling and spreading manure, mowing, baling hay, milking cows, feeding cows, etc. is not on the typical teen's to-do list, no instant messaging, no shopping, no manicures or pedicures. Life is hard and dirty when your constant companions bark and moo...Determined to change her life AND think for herself...she realizes she doesn't want to train others to play football...she wants to play football herself!"

The Off Season. By Catherine Gilbert Murdock. $8.99. My review. "I liked Dairy Queen; I really liked it. But I loved The Off Season. It delves even deeper into the Schwenk family. You get to know even more about the family and how it works--how it functions: her relationship with her parents, her relationship with her brothers. Dairy Queen flirted with the idea of D.J. discovering who she is and what she's worth...but she really and truly gets it in THE OFF SEASON."

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen. $12.91 (hardcover). My review. "I love Sarah Dessen. I do. She has an incredible gift with characters. They're always real. Always developed. Always human. Always flawed. And the style, the language, are equally wonderful. (She has such a gift with words. Her books are just quotable.) While Lock and Key lacks some of the emphasis on romance that her other novels have, there is plenty there to satisfy readers. I wouldn't say it's my favorite Dessen novel--it would be hard to knock The Truth About Forever from that place--I will say it was definitely enjoyable and definitely worth while."

Must Reads

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. (12+) $6.95 (paperback). My review. I've read this one three or four times. And it has very quickly captured my heart and imagination. "Imagine waking up one day to find that everything had changed practically over night. All over the world massive destruction due to one natural disaster after another. And what if there was no way to turn back the clock. To wake up knowing that each day will be worse than the one before. No electricity. No phone service. No gas or oil. Limited food supplies. What is there left to hope for? How would you live your last days? Meet Miranda your personal guide through this terrifying adventure."

The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer. (12+) $11.56 (hardcover). My review. It is the companion novel to Life As We Knew It. "In Life As We Knew It, no matter how bad it got, Miranda, the narrator, could relax a bit. Her mom was there for her and her brothers. Her mom was there to tell her what to do. There to make a plan. There to support her, comfort her, and yes, at times to annoy her. But Alex, Briana, and Julie. These three siblings have to face the unknown alone. It's not that they're completely alone, the dead and the gone introduces the element of faith and community in the midst of disaster, but without parental guidance, support, and love. Imagine being that age when the world starts to crumble. When the volcanoes and epidemics start. To know that the world will never be the same again. To know that if humanity is to survive this at all, it will be only a few, only the strongest, only the bravest. There is no safe place anymore. There is no reassurance, no promise of a better day, a brighter day. Now imagine being the caregiver of not one but two younger sisters. Sisters who'd fall apart without you. Sisters who are depending on you, trusting in you to provide for them, to protect them. Alex bears a heavy burden. Not only is he fighting for his own survival, he's fighting for the lives of his sisters."

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. $9.59. My review. "The Book Thief may just be the hardest book I've ever tried to review. It is beautiful. Though it can be ugly. It is intense. It is powerful. It is memorable. The first thing you should know about The Book Thief? It is narrated by Death. This is fitting in many ways since the setting is Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Death is the narrator, and he never lets you forget it. But there are many players--many characters--in the story that Death is relating to his audience all these years later. One of them is a girl, Liesel, and is known by Death as 'the book thief.' These thefts provide some structure to the text. (The structure is one of the odd things about the Book Thief. It isn't chronological. Death doesn't tell a story traditionally. He has his own way of jazzing it up, arranging it so it suits his needs and purposes.) The language, the style, is unique. I think it is written in such a way that you either really love it or you really don't. (It's written in such a way that you could almost open it to any page, and find a sentence or two or a whole paragraph that you want to just lift out and let resonate with you for a time.)"

Hook'em on A Series

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. My review. (8+)"THE LIGHTNING THIEF is a surprisingly funny and charming YA novel. The basic premise of the book is that the gods and goddesses of Greek (and Roman) mythology are true. The gods and goddesses are alive and flourishing. They are still doing battle. They are still wreaking havoc on the world. They don’t reign on Mt. Olympus anymore in Greece. No, they now reside in the United States. The gods and goddesses are still coupling with humans and having offspring. These “half-bloods” have some extraordinary power. Percy Jackson is our hero. He doesn’t know it at the beginning of the novel, but by the end he not only knows but he is officially recognized as one of Poseidon’s sons. Old stories, myths, and “mythical” creatures come to life in this hilarious novel. With chapter titles like “I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher” “A God Buys Us Cheeseburgers” and “We Take a Zebra to Vegas.” Percy and his friends embark on one crazy (and dangerous adventure) after another. The narrative style is fabulously funny and clever. This book actually inspired me to pick up my old copy of Edith Hamilton's MYTHOLOGY."

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud. $8.99. My review. (10+) "THE AMULET is the story of a young magician's apprentice, Nathaniel (aka John Mandrake), and the powerful and dangerous djinni he summons, Bartimaeus. Set in an alternative-world, modern-day London, the reader becomes enchanted by a world (or country) ruled by magicians....With the summoning of Bartimaeus, the adventures of a lifetime begin for our young hero. As the story unfolds, the reader learns of the djinni's mission (Nathaniel's commands), Nathaniel's motivations and intentions, and the dangerous, unforeseen consequences of one's actions. Along the way, Bartimaeus will entertain you with his witty footnotes or asides...and Nathaniel will charm you with his vulnerability and generally likeable character. It's a predictible story...boy accidentally uncovers an evil plot and must almost single-handedly save the day and the world...but it's done in such a WONDERFUL way...that you end up hooked almost from the very beginning."

The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy Tale Detectives. By Michael Buckley. $5.95. (8+) My review. "Sabrina and Daphne are young sisters with a legacy or heritage about to catch up with them."

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. (All three books $15.63) (13+) My review. "Uglies is a fast-paced novel taking a typical YA topic--self esteem, conformity, and the perception of beauty--and treating it in a new and ultimately satisfying way by speculating about where current values of beauty and perfection might lead us as a society if taken to the extreme. By setting Uglies in the future instead of a contemporary high school, Westerfeld is able to provide reflection and commentary on a serious topic in a new and original way."

Midnighters: The Secret Hour by Scott Westerfeld. $8.99. (13+) My review. "Meet the Midnighters, the teens who happen to have been born exactly between 12:00 and 12:01 AM. For they have the power to witness and act in the twenty-fifth hour of each day."

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. $11.99. (12+) My review. "TWILIGHT is a great YA novel that successfully captures the "heart" of a teenage girl experiencing the dramas of daily high school life (and family life) and the dark and dangerous world of vampires."


© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

3 comments:

Chris 1:22 PM  

Laurie Halse Anderson is in town reading from and signing Chains today :( The sad face is because I have to work while she's there. And she's at my favorite local bookshop! Wah...

Michelle 3:53 PM  

Oooh.. I've read all of your Hook em on a series books except The Lightning Thief, that sounds good!

YNL 4:29 PM  

Lighting Thief is SO good that my 7 year old demanded that we read Mary Pope Osborne's Tales from the Odyssey next.

These are all great choices, Becky!

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I'm always happy to hear from you! To help fight spam, comment moderation has been set up for posts older than two days. Feel free to ask me questions or ask for recommendations!

Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
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