Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer

artemis fowl

Eoin Colfer’s young adult series starring Irish boy-genius Artemis Fowl is a fantastic summer read.  Actually, the series would make a great read any time of the year, but if you’ve got bored teens or pre-teens at home this summer, these books are sure to keep them entertained, and they’re appealing to both boys and girls.  They’ve been so popular in the store as a matter of fact, that I just had to dig in and see what the buzz was all about.

The first book in the series, titled simply Artemis Fowl introduces young Artemis, who is only twelve, but who is hatching a nefarious plan to extort a large amount of money to fund a search effort for his father.  Artemis senior disappeared in the Arctic during one of his own planned exploits and it is up to Artemis junior to find him and to restore the family’s reputation and fortune.  Artemis’ plan involves stealing an ancient book, which holds the coded secrets to the fairy world and to ransom a fairy for gold.  Denizens of the fairy world live underground, are highly technologically advanced and have managed to keep themselves a secret from humans… at least until Artemis finds out about them. 

Throughout the series Artemis slowly finds himself befriending some of the fairies including Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit, Foaly, a centaur whose technological genius rivals Artemis’ own and Mulch Diggums, a kleptomaniac dwarf with some rather interesting (and disgusting) talents.  Each book presents a new threat against which the heroes must fight in order to save the unsuspecting human world.

The books have a great balance between the high-techno-Mission Impossible-type of spy fun and ancient fairy magic and mythology.  They are immensely humorous and sarcastic but also have a great deal of heart.  The storytelling is fantastic with surprises and twists and each book ties into the previous one seamlessly.  As added fun the author has included secret codes on the covers and along the bottom of the pages of text for readers to crack.

There are currently six books in the series uncluding Artemis Fowl, The Arctic Incident, The Eternity Code, The Opal Deception, The Lost Colony and the newest one which will be available in paperback on August 11, 2009, The Time Paradox.  And even though these books were written for young adults, I really enjoyed them.  They’re quick, funny entertaining reads and I’m keeping my eye out for the rumored feature film that is supposed to be in the works.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

A_Long_Way_Gone

A Long Way Gone is Ishmael Beah’s autobiographical retelling of his experiences as a child soldier in war-torn Sierra Leone in the mid-1990s.  As a child Ishmael lived a relatively happy and normal life with his family in Mogbwemo, a small west African village.  He attended school and was an excellent student.  He enjoyed American rap music and would choreograph dances and performances to the music of his favorite artists with his older brother and friends.  They played sports, hunted birds with slingshots, went to the movies in nearby Mattru Jong and watched curiously as refugees passed through with tales of war that seemed exaggerated at the time.

When Ishmael was twelve the rebel army (RUF) attacked Mattru Jong and surrounding villages.  Ishmael, his brother and their small group of friends escaped capture and traveled on foot looking for food and survivors.  Eventually, after spending a year on the run in the wilderness and without finding his family, Ishmael was picked up by the government army, given a gun and trained as a soldier.  After two years of fighting, at the age of fifteen, he was removed by UNICEF and taken to a rehabilitation center to begin the process of healing, detoxification and self-forgiveness.

The way the book is written is interesting:  Ishmael writes in first person while describing the time period that he was a refugee, and also the time in the rehabilitation center.  However, while writing about the two-year period that he was a soldier, he writes in a series of flashbacks and memories.  I wonder if he chose to write this way because he prefers to keep that time more distant from himself or because it really is harder for him to remember (the army kept their soldiers high on amphetamines and brown-brown, a mix of cocaine and gunpowder).  Whatever the reason, I appreciated it because some of his acts were so atrocious that the distance is necessary to see this person as someone who has been rehabilitated.  The reader is still made completely aware of the depth of horror, without it becoming gratuitously violent.  I’m really amazed that someone could go through what he did and then re-learn how to have a reverence for human life again…is that a trait of humanity in general, of the culture, of youth or of the individual?

Ishmael never found any surviving members of his immediate family.  In 1998 he escaped Sierra Leone and moved to the United States to live with a foster family.  He graduated from Oberlin College in 2004 and is a speaker and activist dedicated to helping former child soldiers reintegrate into society and improve their lives.

A Long Way Gone is one of those books that everyone should read.  It should be added to high school and college history classes that cover recent events (I’m sure some teachers and professors already require it) and it may even be a useful resource for psychology courses covering child psychology.  I highly recommend this book for all adults and teenagers.  The descriptions, details and metaphors are unique and emotionally stimulating.  This is an important story told by an honest and gifted narrator who has roots in a culture of storytellers.

Published in: on May 27, 2009 at 5:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Fantastic book. 

A quick synopsis:  Junior is a Spokane Indian living on a reservation in Washington state.  He’s poor, but so is everyone else on the reservation.  Even though he shows potential with his cartoon drawings he has accepted the fact that, like the rest of the kids there, he’ll never go to college and will end up living on the reservation, dealing with poverty and alcoholism for the rest of his life.  After getting a wake-up call from a teacher that he accidentally hit in the face with a book, Junior decides he’s going to enroll in an all-white high school off the reservation, twenty-two miles away.  His parents are happy, but the rest of the reservation views him as a traitor.  Junior finds himself living two lives — part-time Indian, part-time white kid. 

So many young adult books are aimed at girls, but this National Book Award Winner is a great one for guys.  It deals with tough coming-of-age issues like friendship, respect, bullying, love, grief and trying to fit in while staying true to yourself.  It doesn’t get weighed down or take itself too seriously, though.  The author, Sherman Alexie, manages to sneak in important life lessons amidst the humor and compelling frankness.  Junior’s cartoons (done by Ellen Forney) pepper the book with delicious wit.  Reading this book is a great experience.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll learn a whole mess of important lessons without even realizing it.

Published in: on October 1, 2008 at 8:57 pm  Comments (2)  
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Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

“In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn, color your hair, watch a third of a hockey game.  In nineteen minutes, you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold laundry for a family of five…In nineteen minutes, you can order a pizza and get it delivered.  You can read a story to a child or have your oil changed.  You can walk a mile.  You can sew a hem.  In nineteen minutes, you can stop the world, or you can just jump off it.  In nineteen minutes you can get revenge.”

When this book was recommended to me, I wasn’t sure if I was going to read it or not.  The only synopsis I was given was that it was about a school shooting, so I knew it wasn’t going to be one of those “feel-good” books.  But I read it anyway, and I was right…definitely a severe lack of warm fuzzies.  There were other emotions involved in reading it, though — frustration, anger, some blinking back of tears — and for that reason I cannot honestly say that I enjoyed the book, although I do feel comfortable saying that it’s a good book.

If there’s a message to be taken from Nineteen Minutes, I think it’s that in tragedies of this nature, the net of blame is far-cast.  In varying degrees the parents, friends, teachers and fellow students of the shooter have a hand in his disfunction.  The characters in this book spend a lot of time blaming themselves and each other and I think Picoult hopes to make people aware of the effects that their actions have on others.  In a way the book is a big ol’ BE NICE TO EACH OTHER lesson.  It’s unfortunate that the subject matter is so relevant, but this may be a book that is important for both teenagers and adults to read and talk about.

I was unfamiliar with Jodi Picoult before reading this novel, and in terms of her writing, I think this was possibly the most seamless book I’ve ever read.  This is remarkable because the book follows about ten different characters simultaneously during a time period that spans eighteen years, and which is not presented chronologically.  Sound confusing?  I know, you’d think it would be, but somehow it flows very easily.  I never felt like I was at a good point to put the book down.  For this reason I think I’ll have to look up another of her novels…maybe she’s got one about sunshine and flowers.

Published in: on September 24, 2008 at 3:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Inheritance Cycle: Brisingr by Christopher Paolini

Ayup, the Inheritance Trilogy has become the Inheritance Cycle…Christopher Paolini decided to split Brisingr into two separate volumes!  You can see him talk about it here :  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuI3psxQ-cc

Book 3, Brisingr, will be available for purchase on September 20, 2008.  Remarkably, Paolini wrote most of Eragon when he was just fifteen years old.  The book was published when he was only nineteen and the second volume was written and published just a couple years later.  As one might expect, Eragon occasionally belies the author’s youth by utilizing a handful of “high fantasy” cliches.  (Of course, my criticism is served with a heavy dallop of both humility and sheepishness, having yet to write my own multi-volume fantasy epic….)  The story, however, transcends any writing immaturity and by the middle of Eragon, I was hooked.  As a follow-up, Eldest continues the engrossing storyline and Paolini’s writing is as good or better than his fantasy genre’s peers.

The series tells the story of Eragon, a farmer boy who lives with his uncle and cousin outside of the small village Carvahall.  The violent and treacherous King Galbatorix rules the Empire with an oppresive iron fist.  The Varden, a secretive rebel group are gathering strength to make their move against the King.  During this time of political unrest Eragon finds a mysterious stone while hunting in the nearby mountains.  Realizing that it is something special, he takes it home where he quickly realizes the stone is actually a dragon egg as the baby dragon hatches and bonds with Eragon, making him the first new Dragon Rider in many years.  This surprising twist of fate forces Eragon to flee from Carvahall as the King’s agents come looking for him.  Under the tutelage of wise and secretive Brom and the protection of his dragon, Saphira, Eragon soon realizes that he is destined for a path that he never could have imagined, influenced by elves, dwarves, heroes, magic and werecats (had to mention the werecats, they’re my favorite).

The books in the Inheritance Cycle are rich with the history and culture of Paolini’s realm, Alagaesia, but not burdensome, making it a great series for both young readers and veteran fantasy lovers alike.

Published in: on September 17, 2008 at 5:22 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Dangerous Book for Boys and The Daring Book for Girls

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 Okay, these books are just plain FUN (for boys and girls of all ages).

The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden was published in the UK in June 2006 and was an immediate success.  It is a guidebook covering about 80 topics including making a go-cart, basic first aid, making secret inks, coin tricks and how to play chess.  Also included are famous quotes, battles, sports statistics and answers to basic science questions that every boy should know.

Not long after, Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz wrote a similar volume for girls entitled The Daring Book for Girls.  The girls’ version includes instructions on friendship bracelets, making a willow whistle, how to paddle a canoe and negotiating a salary.  It also includes information about influential females throughout history and addresses basic math, science and grammar questions.

Some reviewers have criticized these books for encouraging dangerous activities (for example, there’s a section devoted to hunting and cooking a rabbit in the boys’ book and instructions on making a lemon-powered clock in the girls’ book) but others praise them for countering the “Playstation Culture.”  Grown-up boys and girls will enjoy these books just as much as the younger ones by reminding them of things from their own childhoods.  They are pretty good refreshers on grammar and history, too.

The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray

In the late 1800s, Gemma Doyle is a 16 year old English girl who has lived with her family in India all her life. She longs to go to school near London where she can participate in the glamour and revelry associated with her coming of age in society. Although her parents have always insisted in keeping Gemma away from London culture, a terrible twist of fate finds Gemma enrolled in Spence Acadamy, an English school for girls.

As Gemma settles in and begins making friends, she discovers there is a secret history to Spence involving a mystical and powerful Order of women. Gemma also soon realizes that she has powers of her own which she cannot completely control. Gemma struggles to understand them and to uncover the mysteries of the past involving Spence, the Order and her mother.

The story in the Gemma Doyle trilogy is imaginative and captivating, but what I really enjoyed, and what I feel the real strength of these books are, is the detail in which the author, Libba Bray, illustrates Victorian London society and the role women play within it. The second book especially, which takes place during Christmastime in London, is so rich with Victorian culture that it’s easy to get swept up into the thrill of holiday balls, shopping, teas, hopeful debutantes and courting propriety. Woven throughout is Bray’s macabre mystery, a dollop of romance and a strong feminist message: Gemma struggles with the societal expectation that she fashion herself into a suitable wife as well as the pull of the independent, dangerous nature of the women of the Order.

The Gemma Doyle Trilogy:

A Great and Terrible Beauty

Rebel Angels

The Sweet Far Thing

The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer

The Twilight Series

The Twilight Series

If you’ve been living under a rock the past couple months you may have missed the excitement surrounding the release of Breaking Dawn, the fourth (and final) book in Stephenie Meyer’s popular vampire romance series.  Though perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on you if you are out of the loop; I actually came a little late to the party myself, having discovered the Twilight saga only a few months back, before the final installment was released.  I devoured the first three books and thankfully only had to wait a short time to read the conclusion.

The series is extremely popular among females (ages about 12-112) though I’ve heard a number of guys who begrudgingly admit to being hooked.  My husband, a football-watching, beer-drinking, bare-handed-spider-killing manly man, subtly asked me last night when I was going to bring the third volume home for him to read.  There is something universally appealing about the series, and if you haven’t read them yet, I envy you the pleasure of sinking your teeth into Stephenie Meyer’s fantastic story.

The first book in the series, Twilight, introduces our heroine, Bella Swan, an emotionally mature high school junior, who has decided to move from Phoenix to the small town of Forks, Washington to live with her father for her last two years of school.  Shortly after starting at Forks High, she takes notice of the Cullen family, five attractive and aloof teens who are members of the local doctor’s adoptive household.  In particular, Edward Cullen intrigues Bella after his bizarre and frightening reaction to her in a class they share.  Bella resents his seemingly misplaced dislike towards her until he saves her life in supernatural fashion.  Things get complicated as the two realize there are significant feelings between them that cannot be ignored, despite the danger inherent in such an unusual relationship.

On the surface, the series may seem like another teen romance story.  In fact, the books are full of exciting and unpredictable plot twists and surprises.  The characters, including Bella, her father, the Cullens and Jacob Black (who is fully fleshed out in the second book, New Moon) are all fantastically developed and interesting.  Meyer has a knack for gently molding her characters so that you can’t help but feel what she hopes you’ll feel towards them, and in that way the books are very emotionally engaging.  There are often multiple storylines developing simultaneously and by the final book all conflicts come to a head in an exciting finale.

Breaking Dawn is the crowning glory of the series.  I remember wondering in anticipation what choices the characters would make in the final installment and fully expecting to be disappointed in some way.  Instead I was actually PROUD of Meyer for her commitment to the story.  She did not let her readers or her characters down and I had a great sense of satisfaction when I closed the book in the wee hours of the morning.

Oh, and the movie Twilight is coming out in November…exciting!!

The Twilight Saga:

Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn

Published in: on August 24, 2008 at 3:42 pm  Comments (1)  
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