My Favorite Books of 2011, Part III

And the goodness of favorite books continues into a Part III!

The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan. Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. 2011. Book 3 in The Demon’s Lexicon Series. Book One: The Demon’s Lexicon; Book Two: The Demon’s Covenant. Reading anything after this point is spoilers for the rest of the series. Personal copy. My review. “First things first; yes, this is a series, and yes, these books are best read in order. At this point, please check my prior reviews (links above) for The Demon’s Lexicon and The Demon’s Covenant. The bigger question, with this being the last book in the series, is — is it worth it? Should a reader invest their time in reading this series? The answer, I’m happy to say, is “yes.” Those of you who were waiting because you want to read a series all at once will be richly rewarded with this intricate examination of magic, power, politics, choice, family, and love.”

Carter’s Big Break by Brent Crawford. Hyperion. 2010. Brilliance Audiobook. 2011. Narrated by Nick Podehl. Reviewed from audiobook from Brilliance. My review.Carter, Carter, Carter. As with the first book, I listened to the audiobook narrated by the brilliant Nick Podehl. Podehl does such a terrific job of channeling Carter that I sometimes thought I was carpooling to work as the book played. He captures Carter’s attitude, his bravado, his sweetness, and his general, inevitable tendency to be a total dumbass. Just as important, Podehl had me laughing so hard I was crying. Carter is — well, he’s a teenage boy. He sometimes talks before he thinks. Acts before he thinks. He is often clueless. But, underneath the friendly insults with his friends and his fumbling romance with Abby, he is a good, sweet boy (who would hate me saying so).”

The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska by Colleen Mondor. Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. My review. Disclosure: I am a friend of the author. “The myth of Alaska looms behind the story, and it’s a big myth, so Mondor wisely only looks at the myth as it applies to one area: flying. The myth is why some went to Alaska, why they went there to fly, and why the stayed. “It was the place where pilots were needed, where they mattered.” Myths are stories, and for Mondor and her pilots, the story matters. Why did a pilot, a friend, crash? What does “pilot error” mean? “Because he was lucky, he thought he was good.” True of pilots, but also true of anyone, and also true of how we choose to interpret our lives. How are our stories told and retold?”

The Returning by Christine Hinwood. Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher from ALA conference. My review. “How to explain this book? How to get you to read it, because, yes, I want you to. How to convey how much I love this book, and this writing, even though it was not easy. In truth, when I began I felt a bit cold towards it. I wasn’t sure when or where I was, just a place that was vaguely pre-Industrial and with some names vaguely familiar (Cam, Graceful) and others not at all (Pin, Edord, Vivrain.) . . .   And then, it all just — clicked. Part of it had to do with realizing that I had to stop putting expectations on this book, about what it would or would not be, and just let it enfold me. Just let myself sink into Cam’s world without worrying about who was a main character and who wasn’t, and whether this world was European or Asian or something else. And I realized that what The Returning was about, was not Cam, or Pin, or Graceful, but was about war, and the impact of war on regular people and regular lives. The people who stay in the same village, well, as Cam’s mother wisely says, “there’ve always been taxes, new Lord or old.” Their losses are in the generation of men that did not come home; Cam alone returned. For others, those displaced, like young Diido, the loss is of home and comfort and security. There are families like Graceful’s that now have opportunities they would not have had before.”

White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick. Roaring Brook Press. 2011. Review copy from publisher. My review. “The story: lonely, angry Rebecca. Smart, manipulative Ferelith. An odd, uneven friendship. Ferelith is brilliant but her interactions with people are distant. As she says early on, “I continued my education in a more important way, through the observation of everyone around me, because nothing is more important to learn in life than the interaction of a human being with another human being.” Her view of life is unique and she is drawn to the dark. “I think I was waiting, though I didn’t know what I was waiting for.” Ferelith creates situations to draw Rebecca into her petty thieving, trespassing, and explorations and Rebecca is only half-aware of Ferelith’s manipulations. . . . That is the story: unequal friendships, buried secrets, madness, blood, and the questions. Is there a God? Is there life after death? A Heaven or Hell? Angels or devils? . . . White Crow scared the hell out of me. But why? Not because of the horrors of the past. Rather, it’s because Ferelith so smoothly manipulates Rebecca, putting her in danger that is physical, emotional, and mental, playing on Rebecca’s trust and need and loneliness.”

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic. 2011. Review from ARC from publisher. My review. “Killer horses. There are some reader who just need to know “killer horses.” I am not one of those people. Sorry, but I was never one of those girls who went through a horse phase. So, in other words, for me, Stiefvater had to work for it to make me fall for The Scorpio Races, and fall I did. What made me fall: the setting of Thisby. A small, isolated island except for the tourists who come for the Scorpio races and come to buy horses. The world where capaill uisce are real, and iron and bells and salt and circles can help tame them. A world where water horses kill and people view it as tragic and sad, but not unexpected. Thisby and the capaill uisce are from Stiefvater’s imagination (though based on the myths and stories of man-eating water horses), and so, too, is the time. It’s a world of cars but no Internet. It’s familiar, but slanted. Thisby is so real that midway through I began to wonder, half seriously, if I could visit. . . . Killer horses. No, “killer horses” was not enough to make me fall for this book, but as I read Stiefvater’s writing, as I saw the damage inflicted, as I read about the races, as I huddled with Puck and her younger brother in a flimsy lean-to while water horses came closer and closer — well, I fell for them, in the end.”

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel. Simon & Schuster. 2011. Brilliance Audio. 2011. Narrated by Luke Daniels. Review copies from publisher. My review. “This Dark Endeavor delves into just what motivated young Frankenstein. Victor has a twin brother, Konrad, older by a few minutes, but those moments are enough to make Konrad the golden child, the one everyone loves, the one who gets everything easily: the better student, the better fencer, the one all the servants love. The one their cousin Elizabeth loves. Victor’s feelings towards his brother are conflicted. He loves Konrad, is devoted to him, but is also jealous of all Konrad has and all Konrad is. When Konrad falls ill, Victor resolves to be the one to save him. It’s as much about saving Konrad as proving himself worthy; proving that he, Victor, is just as good — if not better — than his brother.”

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group. 2011. My review. “The first chapters have some stunning sentences that, in a handful of words, shows the horrors that Lina will be living through: “They took me in my nightgown.” “It was the last time I would look into a real mirror for more than a decade.” “Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.””

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, illustrated by Maira Kalman. Little, Brown. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. My teaser. My review. “This is Min’s story, her long, glorious, honest letter to Ed about how and why they got together, and fell in love, despite — or maybe because of — being so different. Ed, a jock, popular; Min, who loves old films and coffee with friends. Min sends a box of objects to Ed; and I love that Min does this, that she is the girl who holds onto these items and then sends them Ed and I wonder — will Ed read the letter? Will he go through the box and match the things to the letter, remember as she remembers? Or will the box go into the closet, under the stairs, in the trash?”

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. Atheneum Books for Younger Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. 2011. Library copy. My review. “Cullen’s younger brother, Gabriel, disappears. It becomes a story of the loss of Gabriel, the search for him, but is also the story of how Cullen’s life goes on, because that is what happens. It is not just that the clocks don’t stop; it is that life is not so uncluttered that all else fades away and disappears along with the lost one. This is the first reason I love this book: Cullen’s life is full and messy and complicated. His reactions, his parents, are jagged and not linear.”

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