Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘book reviews

It’s that time of year again! Below are the highlights of my 2015 reading year. The idea to include covers comes from Head Full of Books. Several of my selection questions originate from The Story Siren. Please note each book includes a link to my review and the teaser I originally wrote for it.

books_2016

  1. Most liked novel I read?
    Christy by Catherine Marshall: In 1967, the year I was born, Catherine Marshall wrote the novel Christy based on the life of her mother. Since first being introduced to the book by my dad, I have appreciated the fictionalized biography of Leonora Whitaker for its perfect blend of both doubt and faith. This summer, as part of my devotional time, I picked Christy up for a reread. Immediately, I fell back in love with it again, as only one can with the best spiritual classics.
  1. Least liked novel I read?
    Camp Utopia by Jenny Ruden: The older I get, the more likely I am to stop reading a book with little appeal. Camp Utopia by Jenny Ruden fits that description for me. Despite its compassionate portrayal of an overweight teen trying to lose weight, other aspects of the book failed to work for me. The plot has contrivances, the characters don’t act nice, and the book is overly long.
  1. Best picture book?
    Imani’s Moon by Janay Brown-WoodImani’s Moon by Janay Brown-Wood is an inspiring, sweet, and fantastical tale of a Masai girl who is determined to reach the moon. The watercolor and graphite illustrations in this picture book are equally moving, vibrant, and delightful to behold.
  1. Best intermediate book?
    Candymakers by Wendy Mass: Candy. Friendship. Betrayal. It’s taken me a year to finally read The Candymakers by Wendy Mass, but it was well worth the wait. I love the oodles of descriptions about candy, the tantalizing foreshadowing about all the twists that will happen, and the complexity of the four main characters.
  1. Best young adult book?
    Anne Frank Diary of a Young Girl: Throughout the ages, countless diaries have been written and some have even been published. Why is The Diary of Anne Frank so special? An obvious reason is the historical events it recounts. Biographers also tend to refer to Anne’s extraordinary writing ability and to her indefatigable spirit through even the most horrific of circumstances.  On a more personal level, I appreciate how candid Anne is about her adolescent experiences. I have also used her diary as a learning tool with my students.
  1. Best nonfiction book?
    Quiet Power by Susan Cain: After I started seeing graphics online like the below, I began to think about how I had years ago tried to turn myself into an extrovert. As I matured, I began to realize that there are certain parts of one’s personality which are almost impossible to change. The graphics even made me wonder if I should have simply been embracing my introversion. Hence, my interest in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
  1. Best Advanced Reader Copy?
    Mom Made Us Write This Journal in the Summer by Ali Maier: Part of the fun of reviewing Advanced Reader Copies is having the opportunity to read books by authors whom I may not have otherwise discovered. Such is the case withMom Made Us Write This in the Summer by Ali Maier. This he-said, she-said journal-style book by 10-year-old twins appeals both in the writing and in the design.
  1. Best award-winner?
    London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd: A young boy with Aspergers. A mystery. An English author. These descriptors all might seem as I’m talking about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Instead I’ve just finished reading The London Eye Mystery, a book that Siobhan Dowd delayed publishing due to Haddon’s book bursting on the scene. Her book is as well-written and thought-provoking as the rest of her titles, as well as simply being a fun romp.
  1. Best classic that I read this year?
    Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: Set in the future when books outlawed and even thinking is discouraged, Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is the story of a fireman who is troubled because is job is not to put out fires but to start them. The winner of many literary awards,Farenheit 451 is an established dystopian classic. In this post, rather than present a literary analysis, I’ll focus on how Bradbury came to write this short masterpiece and two main themes it covers.
  1. Best popular book?
    We Were Liars by Susan LockhartWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart has one of the most unusual plots in recent teen fiction. It is full of twists that will keep you guessing until the final revelation. The characters aren’t exactly the most typical either. The Sinclairs are not ever needy or ever wrong, but some of them are liars. The question is whether the story about a wealthy family and their hidden past works.
  1. Best cultural book?
    Shannen and the Dream for a School by Janet Wilson: “I would tell the children not to be afraid, to follow their dreams. I would tell them to never give up hope. Get up, pick up your books, and go to school (just not in portables).” These passionate words were spoken by Shannen Koostachin, a fourteen-year-old activist from the Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario. Janet Wilson so compellingly recounts Shannen’s story in Shannen and the Dream for a School that not only do I develop a tremendous appreciation for Shannen, but I also become a believer in her dream for safe and comfortable schools for all First Nations young people.
  1. Best regional book?
    All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriott: James Herriot is a master storyteller. Today I’m reviewing the 20th anniversary edition of his book All Creatures Great and Small, which is subtitled “the warm and joyful memoirs of an animal doctor”. In this first memoir of several, Herriot shares how he became a veterinarian assistant and all the adventures this occupation entails. His stories are funny, gritty, riveting, eye-opening, and a host of other positive adjectives. I’ve enjoyed reading Herriot’s memoir this week, as much I did when I first discovered it as a young person.
  1. Best special interests book?
    Rain Reign by Ann MartinRain Reign by Ann Martin is one of my favorite reads this year. I love the plot, the character, the style, and everything about it. It well deserves critical acclaim.
  1. Best animal book?
    Man Who Talked to Dogs by Melinda RothThe Man Who Talks to Dogs by Melinda Roth will make you mad—in a good way. It’ll stir you to compassion and hopefully action, as you read the story of Randy Grim and his fight to save America’s abandoned dogs. Roth’s book also shows fine journalism. It is well-researched, well-written, and contains a lot of information not just about Grim but about a national problem.
  1. Best series you read?
    Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Mayer: This past summer, my sister shared with me the latest book she had read:Cinder by Marissa Meyer. When handing her library copy to me, she told me, “It’s not a romance.” She went on to explain that Cinder is based on the fairy tale of Cinderella, except it’s set in the future when Cinderella is a cyborg.
  1. Best book that was outside of your comfort zone?
    Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris: In the religious world, I’ve often felt like a misfit. Sometimes that has bothered me less than others. Whenever I do start to feel angst, I search for books written by other Christians who have also wrestled with their faith. This past year, when questions started once again to plague me, I checked the religious shelves of our local bookstores and libraries. Among them, I discovered Amazing Grace A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris.
  1. Book which most surprised me?
    Shelter Dogs by Peg Kehret: As part of my preparation for a writing club I’ll soon teach about rescue animals, I’ve been reading some of the pet books I’ve collected over the years, and am delighted to have foundShelter Dogs by Peg Kehret. This brief book of just over one hundred pages contains eight true stories mostly about dogs that came from The Humane Society in Washington State where Kehret has long volunteered. Shelter Dogs was an inspiring and educational read that I felt sorry to have end.
  1. Book which most disappointed me?
    Wonder O The Wind by Phillip Keller: Author of one of my favorite devotionals, Phillip Keller was a bestselling Christian author. As part of a desire to know more about him, this week I read his two memoirs: Wonder O the Wind and Thank You Father. Although I learned a lot about him, I was also largely disappointed. For this reason, my review is a little longer than normal.
  1. Book I can’t believe I waited to read?
    Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averillcat acquaintance of mine recommended Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill to me. She and her children find it their favorite book about cats. After realizing that Averill was the author of the I Can Read picture book The Fire Cat, I bought a copy of Jenny and the Cat Club for myself and another cat friend. Since then, I have come to adore this series of stories about a cute black kitty and hope you will too.
  1. Best book I reread?
    Everything I Need to Know About Being a Girl…. by Jennifer O’ConnellEverything I Needed to Know About Being A Girl I Learned from Judy Blume by Jennifer O’Connell brought back a lot of memories for me. First, because it referenced books by one of my all-time favorite authors. Second, because I related to many of the contributing authors’ experiences.
  1. Best new author? Andrew Clements

As in previous years, there are many wonderful I read books which I didn’t include on this list. I encourage you to check over my reviews from the past year to find other books which you might equally enjoy. There are also books featured which could have fit into several categories, not just the one where I put it.

What surprised me most as I tried picking my selections is how few young adult books and best-selling books I have read this year. It’s been an interesting reading year, one wherein I have read a lot of older and well-established books.

Your Turn! What books for young people were your favorite reads from 2015?

It’s that time of year again! Below are the highlights of my 2014 reading year. The idea to include covers comes from Head Full of Books. Several of my selection questions originate from The Story Siren. This year, I’ve also tweaked my format. Each book now includes a link to my review and the teaser I originally wrote for it.

Books_2015

  1. Most liked novel I read?
    Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr: When The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr became available at our local library, it became my top pick to read during National Novel Writing Month. Since that time, I have purchased my own copy and it has become my turn-to book whenever I’m in the midst of an intense writing project.
  1. Least liked novel I read?
    Since You Asked by Maureen Goo: Confession time. I’m forty-something, which means that what I like may not coincide with what teens like. Since You Asked by Maureen Goo had high potential because it’s about a teen writer and books about writers generally resonate me. However, the clichés and stereotypes, the snarky attitude, and the abundance of slang and cursing ultimately turned me off. Adolescent girls will however probably enjoy the rebellious Holly and the romantic twists that develop throughout her last year in high school.
  1. Best picture book?
    As Fast as Words Could Fly by Maureen Tuck: Tales which are written as tributes to a family member or a friend are always special, whether or not they are of excellent quality. As Fast As Words Could Fly by Pamela Tuck is based on the memories of her father. What’s more, it has a strong plot, positive characters, and an inspiring message. That makes it a top-notch picture book.
  1. Best intermediate book?
    Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight: This past year I rediscovered Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight. In doing so, I realized it held even more depth to it than my childhood reading of it had revealed. For example, this beloved classic dog story is set in a different time and place than those with whom I am familiar. Even the main character of Lassie is a more complex dog than I remembered, in that she at times like humans wavers between fear and love.
  1. Best young adult book?
    Solace of the Road by Siobhan DowdSolace of the Road is the second novel I’ve read by Irish author, Siobhan Dowd. In telling the story of a foster kid, Dowd in many way ways treads on familiar ground. At the same time, Dowd has incorporated enough twists to make this a memorable story. She has also created an original character, for whom we deeply feel.
  1. Best nonfiction book?
    Grieving the Death of a Pet by Betty Carmack: Years ago, I bought Grieving the Death of a Pet by Betty Carmack because the topic interested me. When I recently lost my cat of eight years, I picked it up again to once again find comfort in it. The first few weeks after Lucy’s death, the personal stories of owners who had also suffered loss filled me with such uncontrollable grief that I had to put the book back on my shelf. Only several months after death have I finally been able to read Grieving the Death of a Pet in its entirety.
  1. Best Advanced Reader Copy?
    Seeing Red by Kathryn ErskineSeeing Red by Kathryn Erskine is deserving of multiple literary awards. It’s that good. There are books that I add to my wish list. There are others that I eagerly recommend to others. This is the first book since I began my book review blog, over two years ago, that makes me think AWARD. For that reason, I’m not going to tell you what I liked and disliked about it. I’m just going to tell you what Seeing Red is about, so I can entice you to read it.
  1. Best award-winner?
    Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip HooseMoonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose is not just your ordinary nonfiction book. It’s not even your average book about birds or endangered animals. Rather it’s on multiple lists of the best books of 2012, which is where I first encountered it. Moonbird is also the recipient of The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal Honor, which is why I first decided to read it. It has even won several awards for best science book.
  1. Best classic?
    Ozma of Oz by Frank Baum: After reading Ozma of Oz by Frank Baum years ago in fifth grade, I knew that I wanted all of the Oz books. What appealed to me about that particular title? To be honest, I don’t know if I have an answer. Sometimes a novel simply captures one’s imagination in such a way that a story becomes memorable and unforgettable. For me, Ozma of Oz happens to be one of those books.
  1. Best popular book?
    Paper Towns by John Green: Hilarious, sad, and deep. The first half of Paper Towns by John Green is so funny that I didn’t care if there was more to the story than two twelfth-grade students invoking revenge on their peers. The second half, wherein Quentin spends more his waking hours searching for a missing classmate, still amazingly caused me to chuckle but also led me to reflect. You see, Margo may or may not be who everyone thought she was, which is one reason it’s so difficult for Quentin and his friends to find her. And the more they clues they unearth, the more they start to also realize truths about themselves and how they look at the world.
  1. Best cultural book?
    Gaby Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes: Cute! Fun! Sweet! Inspiring! All these adjectives describe Gaby, Lost and Found, by Angela Cervantes, about a girl who wants to rescue animals but soon finds herself in need of a permanent home. Gaby, her friends, and even the adult guardians in her life make for a realistic and endearing cast. Through the suspenseful plot, readers will learn about shelters and immigration, besides being entertained.
  1. Best regional book?
    Have You Seen Mary?/The Tale of Jacob Swift: From Jeff Kurrus comes two glorious photo-fiction books for animal lovers of all ages. Have You Seen Mary? is about one sandhill crane’s faithful search for his mate. The Tale of Jacob Swift is about the struggles of a fox family to raise their sons in the harsh but beautiful grasslands. Younger readers will enjoy both the adventurous plots and the spectacular images, while older readers will treasure the coffee-style format and the universal themes.
  1. Best special interests book?
    Mine for Keeps by Jean LittleMine for Keeps by Jean Little is a long-time favorite book of mine. Little so perfectly captures the emotions of her characters that all readers will relate to them, whether they’re the intended audience of elementary-school children or forty-something-year-old adults like me. Mine for Keeps, along with Little’s other stories about young people with disabilities, remains among the best fiction out there on the topic. As an additional perk, Little’s books are set in Canada.
  1. Best animal book?
    Mutts Shelter Stories by Patrick McDonnell: Late December of last year I walked into Barnes & Noble with no intention of buying any books and walked out with Mutts Shelter Stories by Patrick McDonnell. I’m a sucker for stories about animals, especially those found at shelters. Granted, this is a straightforward story about animals in needing a home, but it’s also a highly-visual mix of comic strips and photos. And, in the end, it’s an emotive tearjerker that works.
  1. Best series?
    Legend by Marie Lu: Reading the last word of the last book of a great series wrenches at the heart of every book lover. Today I sadly turned the last page of the Legend trilogy by Marie Lu.
  1. Best book that was outside of your comfort zone?
    Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall: An expression that comes to mind about Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall is that “the whole is greater than the sum of all its parts”. The main storylines to this verse novel are the immigration of a Mexican family to America and the death of a parent. Thematically, the story is also about family, friendship, and identity. All of these parts interconnect to make an emotional experience that will have long-lasting impact.
  1. Book which most surprised me?
    The Pye Books by Eleonor Estes: Eleanor Estes is well-recognized for writing memorable family stories, among them the Pye stories. With Ginger Pye and Pinky Pye, Estes adds pets and mysteries to the mix. Although her unhurried style may not appeal to all, I’ve come to treasure these innocent stories of a close-knit family in a small town.
  1. Book which most disappointed me?
    Snub Club by Diane Christiansen: When her son was diagnosed with autism, Diane Mayer Christiansen drew upon her own childhood experiences with dyslexia to become his best advocate. Finding that there are too few children’s books that feature main characters with special needs, she decided that it was up to her to help fill that void. Christiansen’s heart is certainly in the right place with The SNUB Club and I wish I could recommend it. Sadly, it has too many flaws.
  1. Book I can’t believe I waited to read?
    Eleanor and Park by Rainbow RowellEleanor and Park has become one of my favorite teen romances. It breaks stereotypes, depicts realistic situations and characters, and doesn’t shy away from the darker sides of life. In other words, this is neither a fluffy romance nor an overwrought tragedy. It’s as real as they come. Eleanor and Park is a poignant love story.
  1. Best book you reread?
    Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret: When I decided in December to review favorite books, I tried to choose ones that were lesser known. And yet I’ve picked the book that launched Judy Blume’s career: Are You There God? It’s Margaret. You see, among all of her books, it’s the book one that had the greatest impact on me.
  1. Best new author to me? John Green/Siobhan Dowd

As in previous years, there are many wonderful I read books which I didn’t include on this list. I encourage you to check over my reviews from the past year to find other books which you might equally enjoy. There are also books featured which could have fit into several categories, not just the one where I put it.

Your Turn! What books for young people were your favorite reads from 2014?

It’s that time of year again! Here’s my year in review, with most of my selection questions originating from The Story Siren. It’s been a good reading year for me and I felt tempted to add runner-ups, due to all the books I enjoyed and fondly remembered as I compiled this list.

1. Best novel you read?

 The Lucy Variations by Sarah Zarr
By one of my favorite authors, I read this young adult novel as a treat to myself with no intention to review, but liked it so much I posted about it as a Current Read. Most of us struggle with what it means to have a gift and how to enjoy it instead of being stifled by it. The Lucy Variations is an elegant exploration of this universal theme.

2. Worst novel you read?

 Nobody Knows by Shelley Tanaka
Set in Japan, the book is based on a movie of a real incident. The movie is better, in that it made me feel empathy for the abandoned children and also admiration for how much they endured. The book just made me feel sick.

3. Best nonfiction book you read?

Outcasts United by Warren St. John
Sports stories aren’t my normal reading fare, but I loved this book. Author Warren St. John superbly draws on his journalistic skills to create unbiased portrayal of one season in the life of a team of refugee children. Moreover, St. John  didn’t just interview the participants in this story but became part of their lives. He then used his intimate knowledge of this close-knit group to write a fast-pace story full of soccer action, town drama, and quiet moments.

4. Best picture book?

Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein
I liked its circular style, positive message, and tribute to cultures around the world.Through the actions of multiple characters, Stein teaches that if you smile, you might have a ripple effect across your neighborhood, town, or maybe even the world. By taking readers on a whimsical trip around the world, Stein also created a captivating impression of our global community. Fans will grow up wanting to meet people from different cultures and travel to diverse areas such as Mexico, England, and Israel. All because Amelia smiled!

5. Best intermediate book?

Crystal City Lights by Holly Moulder
A fictional story about a German-American family who were placed in an internment camp during World World II, some situations are on the lighter side and might bear you think of Nancy Drew or Hardy Boy adventures. Others are more serious, such as the animosity of the different groups which have been interned together or from some German fraction who hate the United States for its unjust act of imprisoning them. Crystal City Lights impressed me with how historically-based it was, while also being an entertaining tale.

6. Best young adult book?

Freeze Frame by Heidi Ayarbe
It’s disturbing that this young adult novel is about a tragedy caused by the main character. Furthermore, for the bulk of the book we don’t even know if the death was deliberate. Yet we come to care for Kyle, because we’re constantly in his head. That Ayarbe is able to pull off such a story is impressive.

7. Best book that was outside of your comfort zone?

Scorpions by Walter Dean Myers
I recommend any books by Walter Dean Myers. He writes about kids in trouble. His format is often experimental. Author of over fifty books for young people and winner of the Coretta Scott King Award for African-American authors five times, every reader of books for young people should make themselves acquainted with his works. In January 2012, Myers replaced Katherine Paterson as the Library of Congress’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a two-year position created to raise national awareness of the importance of lifelong literacy and education.

8. Best classic that you reread this year?

The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Pippi does whatever she desires, whenever she wants, which is a reason her character caused controversy when first introduced and to this day appears on lists of female anti-heroes. Yet there’s no reason to worry she’ll corrupt anyone, for Pippi’s heart is always in the right place.

9. Best cultural or regional book?

 The Glass Collector by Anna Perera
The Glass Collector will pull you into a new world, leave you wanting to know more about the actual Zabbeleen, and give you plenty to think about. For example, under what situations would you steal? And should you escape to a safer and wealthier place, if it means leaving home, family, and community? While The Glass Collector is far from being a flawless book, it IS an absorbing book–which is plenty for me to recommend it.

10. Best special interests book?

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
A realistic portrayal of a foster kid, inspired by Paterson’s own experience of being a foster mom, The Great Gilly Hopkins strikes all the right emotional chords. Underneath all the bravado and attitude, there’s a girl who wants to be liked, but no family has kept Gilly long enough for Gilly to consider it worth her time to unpack her suitcase at each new place. Unfortunately, just because Gilly has a heart that doesn’t mean Gilly is easy to like. Quite the opposite! Gilly is a porcupine with her quills always bared. In this anti-hero tale, Gilly is the brat whom we grow to love.

11. Best series you read?

Skinjacker Trilogy by Neal Shusterman
The Chocolate Ogre, Allie the Outcast, Mary Hightower, and The McGill. These are some of the unusual characters that populate Neal Shusterman’s famed Skinjacker Trilogy. I discovered the series just in time to have them signed by Shusterman at the Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival 2013The trilogy is an exploration of life, death, and what might lie in between.

12. Most surprising book you read?

 Fangbone by Michael Rex
After two years of trying out graphic novels and other non-traditional formats, one of them has made my Best Of…. List! The Birthday Party of Dread by Michael Rex has a basic premise that is outrageously weird, which is that the barbarians who defeated the wicked wizard Venomous Drool have cut him into pieces. Ever since, the wizard’s followers have been collecting those parts with the hopes that they can restore him to power. At the point of our story, they’re missing only one piece: the wizard’s big toe. The toe is under the protection of our barbarian hero, Fangbone…. The Birthday Party of Dread is as funny, wacky, and creative as that plot idea.

13. Most disappointing book you read?

Fighting for Dontae by Mike Castan
Author Mike Castan’s heart is in the right place with Fighting for Dontae, which he dedicates from “one-at-risk student to another”. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend it because of its stereotypes. There is better Latino literature out there for young people, as well as more complex books about gang life and about special education students. At least, I hope there is.

14. Book I can’t believe I waited to read?

 Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer
The publisher Zest specializes in books for young adults, my favorites of which are their true stories. Even so, I had my copy of Little Fish for months before a virtual tour pushed me into reading it. Told through real-life journals, collages, lists, and drawings, this coming-of-age story illustrates the transformation of an 18-year-old girl from a small-town teenager into an independent city-dwelling college student. It inspired me on so many levels, one way of which I described in A Letter to My College-Bound Sister.

15. Book that didn’t get enough press?

The Windfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson
Picked up on a whim while attending a concert, Windfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson is a fun epic tale with lots of adventures, quirky characters, and a unique setting. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness was nominated for and North or Be Eaten went on to win the Christy award, thus recognizing Peterson as a Christian writer of literary excellence. My hope, however, is that this rip-roaring fantasy series will also find an audience in the general market.

 16. New favorite author of the year?

Matthew Quick of Silver Linings Playbook fame has also written three books for young people. Two of them I have read already and the third is on my wish list to read:

  • Boy 21
  • Sort of Like a Rock Star
  • Forgive Me Leonard Peacock

All the work Quick has published and all the work that he is contracted to publish is about mental health in one way or another. And that’s intentional. For which I admire him.

Your Turn!

  • Which of the categories should I keep?
  • Which should I delete?
  • Which choices do you agree with?
  • What would you have picked in 2013?

I read Earth Angel by E. Van Lowe about a year ago, with the intention of reviewing it here at Allison’s Book Bag. Somehow time got away from me and I never managed to review it, not even as part of my Current Reads Meme. Having chosen to highlight sequels this month, I reread Earth Angel, which is the follow-up to Boyfriend from Hell. Both are part of the paranormal romantic Fallen Angels Saga. I’m delighted to finally report that Earth Angel is as funny and endearing as its predecessor.

What makes Earth Angel stand up to a second reading? Foremost, it teems with positive relationships. Megan and her mom are close enough to have cherished routines. For example, on Saturdays they make supper together, watch movies, and talk about relationship. Then there’s Megan’s best friend, Maudrina. When the popular crowd suddenly starts liking Megan, not only does Megan continue to hang out with Maudrina, she even invites her to the cool-kid parties. As for the popular crowd, they’re not so bad either, which is a refreshing break from the stereotype. For example, when Megan is suspended one of the girls actually takes on the responsibility of bringing her homework. True, the act might not be completely altruistic, because Ashley wants to find out if Megan plans to squeal on the popular crowd for their participation in Explosion Day. Yet there is at least one scene in which Ashley and her clan are called upon to show courage if they intend to stay friends with Megan, and they bravely come through for her. Apart from all the positive relationships, Megan herself is also a positive role model. She’s smart enough to be in the math club, but also has normal teenage interests. While she might have super human powers, she never uses them for any reason but love. She’s all-round good American kid.

Why would anyone want to read a book full of so much sugar and spice? Well, Megan’s life is not exactly without woe. First, there’s the fact she’s a nerd, which makes her part of the “lower lives” at school. Second, as part of finally gaining acceptance into the popular crowd, Megan ditches school and ends up getting suspended. Third, Megan’s rebellion invokes wrath from her mom and threatens to rip apart their solid relationship. So far, this sounds like pretty typical teenage fare. Nonetheless, because of how normal and nice Megan is, all these everyday trials do make for an interesting read. So then to top of all her troubles, consider that Megan’s boyfriend is a fallen angel, who lost his place in heaven because he dared to love a mortal. Oh, and that Guy ends up getting kidnapped. To save her sweetheart, Megan will need to hand a powerful book of spells over to Beelzebub. Despite the references to heaven, hell, and angels, there is no effort here to tell a religious story. This is pure fantasy. Earth Angel is a light but impossible-to-put-down read.

Paranormal novels abound in today’s market. Many of them have the same ingredients as Earth Angel: positive relationships and role models, routine teenage drama, and of course supernatural beings. I’m convinced what makes Earth Angel so special is Lowe’s effective infusion of humor. There’s a scene halfway though Earth Angel in which Megan learns that her boyfriend was previously betrothed, which leaves her convinced she is drowning in grief: “My lungs were slowly filling with water, and I knew if I inhaled one more time I would surely die. So I stood where I was, holding onto my last precious breath….” Guy knows she’s being overly dramatic, as do we as readers, and even Megan eventually admits it. The whole scene is a delicious exaggeration that both made me hurt for Megan, yet also smile at her silliness. Whether or not you’re into paranormal young adult romances, the Fallen Angels Saga is charming enough to make it on your list of books to read.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

It’s that time of year again! Here’s my year in review, with most of my questions originating from The Story Siren. Although I tried to keep the list short, over the year other ideas for categories have occurred to me and been added.

1. Best novel you read?

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd
Written by Siobhan Dowd, an author who died too young. Dowd and Bog Child were named winners of the 2008 Carnegie Medal in Literature, an award that recognizes the year’s best children’s book published in the United Kingdom.

2. Worst novel you read?

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
I really tried to like Hex Hall. Honest! I even read the sequel, but didn’t care for the whole Sophie is a witch, then demon twist.

3. Best nonfiction book you read?

Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves by E. Kristen Anderson and Miranda Kenneally (Editors)
What I liked best is that the letters were compiled from authors of all walks. One author was a geek, another a cheerleader, another a loser, another a rich kid. None of those differences mattered in the long run. They all struggled to grow up and find themselves. Some of them have overcome the scars of rejection, while others to this day face insecurities.

4. Best picture book?

I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll
My reading club and I read this delightful picture book, as part of our reading of Golden Sower nominees in 2011-2012. It won second place or honorable mention.

5. Best intermediate book?

Fish by Gregory Mone
I discovered this seafaring adventure in my search for books suitable for boys. There are pirates and treasure hunts galore! Need I say more?

6. Best young adult book?

Good Enough by Paula Yoo
Ever feel as if the quiet and smart kids are under-represented in books? Or at least, they’re not portrayed in a positive enough light? Good Enough is about a hilarious debut novel about Patti, a Korean-American girl struggling to live up to her immigrant parents’ expectations. Patti is also an overachiever who longs to stand out while also fitting in, a conflict to which I well relate.

7. Best book that was outside of your comfort zone?

Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac
Aside from a few classics such as Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor, I have sadly ignored books by authors outside of my North American Caucasian middle-class culture. Thanks to an Intercultural Communication course, my reading horizons have started to expand.

8. Best classic that you reread this year?

The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander
Rediscover this old classic set about Taran, an Assistant Pig-Keeper who dreams of being a grand hero. Prydain is a magical land, but its geography, culture, and names are based on ancient Wales. My favorite remains the third, wherein Taran searches for his family and finds hard truths about himself. I reread it multiple times as a teenager, when seeking for my own identity.

9. Best cultural or regional book?

Emily of New Moon trilogy by Lucy Maud Montgomery
In many ways, Emily is the opposite of the beloved Anne of Green Gables. Yet its in those differences that I most relate to Emily. We’re both introverted, serious, passionate, and moody creatures who aspire to write.

10. Best special interests book?

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
After contacting Katryn Erskine for an interview, I discovered she had traveled to my home province of Newfoundland. Since that time, we have exchanged emails and photos. Mockingbird is about a girl with Aspergers and draws on Erskine’s own experiences with her daughter. She’s also written The Absolute Value of Mike, which is about a boy with a learning disability. I read both because of being a resource teacher. I love Erskine’s books, but am equally tickled that we  share some common passions.

11. Best series you read?

The Dark Divine by Bree Despain
On a whim, I entered a draw for this trilogy by Bree Despain because the author was Christian but writing fantasy. Despain gives a fresh twist on the worn-out werewolf lore, while imparting important truths about faith.

12. Most surprising book you read?

Heart of a Samurai by Margie Preux
Winner of the 2011 Newbery, Heart of a Samurai, is set in 1841 when Japan’s borders remain closed to all Western nations. Fourteen-year-old Manjiro is curious and eager to learn everything he can about the American culture, where he finds himself after being rescued at sea. With his hard-won knowledge of the West, Manjiro later finds himself in the unique position of being able to persuade the emperor to ease open the boundaries around Japan.

13. Most disappointing book you read?

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson.
Pretty much all of the multicultural books which I read for younger readers I enjoyed. I wish the same could be said for the picture books. Too often, whether they were fictional tales such as The Other Side or biographies of heroes, I found them preachy and issue-driven.

14. Book I can’t believe I waited to read?

The Witch Family by Eleonor Estes
Ever wonder what you could dream up if only you would allow yourself to imagine? Maybe you check out this fanciful children’s book about two girls who dream up a bad witch and a host of adventures for her.

15. Book that didn’t get enough press?

Paka Mdogo trilogy by H.S. Toshack
An animal adventure from South Africa, which has been compared to Watership Down by Richard Adams. This trilogy should be a classic!

16. Best book I didn’t review?

Anything by Sara Zarr! In looking for novels about characters who don’t fit the norm, I came across Sara Zarr’s books. You can find my one reference to her books in my round-up of adoption books. How to Save a Life is about how the path of two girls intertwine, while one is grieving the loss of her dad and the other is searching for an adoptive mom for her unborn child.

Your Turn!

  • Which of the categories should I keep? Which should I delete?
  • Which choices do you agree with? What would you have picked in 2012?

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