It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme started by Book Journey. The folks over at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers have given it a children’s/YA spin. I thought it would be a fun way to recap last week’s reading and give a sneak peek of my TBR pile.
Last Week’s Books:
Well, I finally finished the audiobook of Daniel Kraus’ Scowler. It is the best psychological horror I have read in a long while, especially given that it is a YA book. Nineteen-year-old Ry Burke lives on a dying Iowa farm with his mother and very younger sister. His entire life has been shaped by a horrific experience at age ten, when he confronted his abusive father and was then hunted by him one cold winter night with only his toys Mr. Furrington, Jesus Christ, and Scowler to help him survive. These toys take on a life of their own, talking to Ry and giving him advice–and they don’t stop after Ry is rescued and “safe.” Although his father was imprisoned and Ry received extensive counseling, the memories of Marvin Burke still haunt Ry on a daily basis. When a meteor shower damages both the prison holding Marvin and the Burke farm, the family is “reunited” for one terrible day and night, and Ry’s “toys” come back again as well.
This book is extremely unnerving and also contains a healthy amount of gore, and so I would recommend it sparingly to older teens and even adults. Not everyone is accustomed to reading such things and would be able to handle it, I think. That said, for those who are, Kraus is a master storyteller whose prose remains beautiful while recounting the most disturbing things.
And I can’t forget to mention that Kirby Heyborne’s performance of the book is extraordinary, as it was for Rotters. Both won the Odyssey Award and both literally gave me goosebumps at times. I think Scowler was made even more terrifying by the fact that I am living in central Illinois, and I started this audiobook in October, before the time change, but after harvest, so I found myself driving through dark, desolate farmland on my way to work. Waaaaaaay to close to the setting of the book . . . .
I finally signed up for Edelweiss, and among the first digital ARCs I was approved for is Donna Jo Napoli’s Hidden. It is a companion to her novel Hush: An Irish Princess’ Tale and will be published on 12/30/14. That book is based on Melkorka, a heroine from the Icelandic sagas Landnamabok and Laxdoela. Napoli invented a younger sister, Brigid, for her, and Hidden is Brigid’s story. However, Napoli turned to another legend for this book–that of the first Norse female pirate, Alfhilde, although it is a legend fraught with many inconsistencies and variations so the author had much creative license.
When Brigid was only eight years old, she and her older sister, Melkorka, Irish princesses, were fleeing Melkorka’s undesirable marriage proposal when they were attacked and stolen by Russian slavers. When the opportunity presents itself, Brigid jumps overboard the slave ship, but her older sister does not follow. Freezing and hungry, Brigid is taken in by a Norse family albeit one that thinks she is an elfin child. Brigid stays mute until she learns the language and is eventually named Alfhilde by them. Although she grows to love the people with whom she lives, Alfhilde is always working toward the day she can strike out on her own and find her sister. An unwanted suitor, among other things, causes her to flee that fanily, and she eventually finds a home with a royal family in another Norse town. Facing an undesirable arranged marriage, herself, Alfhilde is hidden in a tower surrounded by a pit of snakes and that man, among several others, risks his life for her hand. Eventually, Alf, a young man with whom she experienced “insta-love,” outwits the tower, but Alfhilde runs away from him before their wedding, as she must find Melkorka before settling down. This is where the pirate part comes in, as Alfhilde steals a ship, and several female servants and slaves join her as a crew. The lady pirates attack slave ships and slavers to set their captives free. Near the book’s end, she is reunited with Alf, and the two find Melkorka in Iceland, where she is a concubine and mother to a young boy. She refuses to be rescued from that life until her son comes of age. And Brigid/Alfhilde decides to settle with Alf on Norse land rather than go home to Ireland as she aspired to the entire book.
That’s a lot of plot. And that’s what the book felt like–a lot of plot. Napoli also masterfully communicated the various settings by weaving them naturally into the story, as she usually does. However, Brigid/Alfhilde seemed to travel from one problem to the next to the next, never fully committing herself to any people or places because Melkorka needed rescuing and she wanted to get back to her family. So the last part of the book not only felt hurried, but was a let-down. Melkorka will not escape with the sister who struggled so long and hard to get to her, and, worse yet, Brigid accepts it pretty readily. Her decision to forsake Ireland is not very well explained, leaving the reader asking, “What was all this for, then?”
Moving onto informational texts, I found How Do You Burp in Space? to be an engaging and enlightening read. Susan E. Goodman gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges and triumphs of astronauts as they adjust to life in space. Goodman invites them to imagine themselves along for the ride and speculates (with great background knowledge and research) about what lies in store for when space travel becomes a common event for lay people. In addition, this book includes the text features for which teachers and librarians are looking. Great addition to my middle school library.
This week I also read and reviewed some updated titles in Mike Venezia’s Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series; however, my review is reserved for publication by Library Media Connection.
The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan is another stellar example of an informational text. A 2014 Sibert Honor book, it chronicles the life of a unique, driven individual who created exquisite art on his own terms. The book’s meticulous research shines through every step of the way, and readers will not soon forget its biographical subject. The photographs, both of the pottery and its creator, are stunning and abundant, and they definitely augment the text, so the book’s format is a winner, too.
I am reviewing The Ultimate Book about Me by Richard Platt for Library Media Connection.
My 12-year-old son will explode if I don’t read Blackout by Mira Grant before the end of the year. He keeps reminding me that I have promised that I will “read it next” about five times. He is right.
I will be dipping into e.e. cummings’ Complete Poems all month, as it is my final Random Read of the year.