Tag Archives: Wonder

My Top Reads of 2013 (Children’s and YA)

And so, as promised, here are a few of the books (in the categories of ‘Children’s Literature’ and ‘YA Literature’), read over the past year, which made enough of an impression on me to stick in my memory. As with my previous list, they’re not all books published in the last twelve months, for reasons pecuniary and otherwise, but maybe some of them will be new to you anyway.

Image: mychildbook.com

Image: mychildbook.com

Favourite Reads of 2013

I read R.J. Palacio’s Wonder in one sitting, like taking a long drink of water on a hot day. The story of a young boy named August who has a facial deformity – and, crucially, of his sister Olivia (or ‘Via’) who struggles to cope with her feelings surrounding August’s condition, and the way people treat him as a result – it’s a beautiful little book. Some critics have called it ‘maudlin’ and ‘over-the-top,’ and, to a certain extent, it is, but I loved it anyway. I loved August, and his wonderful voice, and I really loved the way we hear from Olivia, too, and how she deals with her own feelings of jealousy (because August is ‘the special child’), as well as her overprotective tendencies and her absolute devotion to her brother. Some of the characters, particularly the adults, are a little one-dimensional in this story, but that’s not even important. This book is not about adults – it’s about one little boy, doing the best he can with what he has. Its catchphrase, ‘Always be Kinder than Necessary,’ is something I particularly remember from my experience of reading it.

I finally managed to read Frances Hardinge’s Verdigris Deep this year, too. In contrast to her other novels, this one is set in a contemporary setting, and tells the story of Ryan, Chelle and Josh who, when stuck for money to pay for the bus home one night, steal some old coins from an abandoned wishing well. From that moment on, their lives begin to change. Strange events start happening, and – in a brilliantly creepy piece of ‘body horror’, white bumps start to erupt on Ryan’s hands, which turn out to be more than just a skin infection. Then, Ryan begins to have visions of a woman who tries to speak through a torrent of water gushing out of her mouth, and he understands enough to know that this is the Well Witch, and by stealing her coins the youngsters are now bound to do her will. Ryan and Chelle try to break the spell and release themselves from the Witch’s bonds, but Josh seems to enjoy the new-found power that granting the Well Witch’s wishes gives him, and breaking him out of it is not so easy… An utterly brilliant book, ‘Verdigris Deep’ is a quick read by comparison with Frances Hardinge’s other work, which tends to be set in fantastical times and places with huge amounts of world-building. That doesn’t mean I loved it any less than her other books – on the contrary, it has become my second favourite, behind ‘A Face Like Glass.’

Image: franceshardinge.com

Image: franceshardinge.com

All Fall Down and Ways to Live Forever are novels by Sally Nicholls, and they couldn’t be more different – well, besides the fact that they both deal with death, that is. ‘All Fall Down’ is set in England during the time of the Black Death, and tells the story of Isabel and her family, who live in a small village called Ingleforn. They are peasant farmers, but seem happy – Isabel is part of a loving family, and her future has already been mapped out for her. She will marry Robin, her childhood friend, and they will raise their family the same way her parents have raised her, and so on forevermore.

Then, the pestilence comes, and everything changes.

This story isn’t so much about ‘suspense’, because anyone who knows anything about the Plague will understand what’s going to happen. It’s more a story about family, bonds between people, the sheer human tragedy of the death toll during 1348-9, and one teenage girl’s indomitable will to survive.

Ways to Live Forever is the story of Sam, who is an eleven-year-old cancer patient. He is inquisitive and wants to know everything he can – and there’s so much he wants to do before his time comes to die. He makes a list, and then his doctor tells him he has much less time left than he thought… This book made me cry in great shuddering sobs, but it’s still one of my favourite reads this year. Sam made a little nest in my heart, and he’ll never leave. I loved it, but it’s a challenging read if you’re emotional. Fair warning.

Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines was finally read by me this year. How did I leave this one so long? Heck knows. Anyway, we’re in a world where cities move on huge tracks, trundling across the land devouring one another when they can, and the principle of Municipal Darwinism rules all – the town which moves the fastest lives the longest. One of New London’s chief Historians, Thaddeus Valentine – a man seen as a hero by most everybody – is the victim of an attempted assassination by a young girl with a hideous scar running across her face. Valentine is saved at the last moment by the heroic actions of a young Historian, Tom Natsworthy, but when Tom he sees the young would-be assassin, the passion and hate in her eyes intrigue him. When she flings herself off the moving city, presumably to her death, Tom follows her. What follows is a story of intrigue, conspiracy, airships, battle, resurrected corpses used as unbeatable soldiers, heroism and sacrifice which stands with the very best SF, let alone SF aimed at young adult readers. It’s an amazing book, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of the series.

Image: bookzone4boys.blogspot.com

Image: bookzone4boys.blogspot.com

The novels of David Walliams were a present last Christmas, and I devoured them with great glee. The Boy in the Dress, Gangsta Granny, Billionaire Boy and Mr Stink have lots of things in common, including compelling and lovable protagonists, several recurring characters, a focus on family and love, and not making snap judgements about people based on their appearance, and to top all that off they’re well written and extremely funny. I haven’t yet read Walliams’ new books, Ratburger or The Demon Dentist, but I plan to. If you’re looking for a gift for a child from about 7 or 8, or you just want to laugh your socks off (and cry a little, too), you can’t go wrong with these.

Image: ashclassbookblog.blogspot.com

Image: ashclassbookblog.blogspot.com

A few runners up:

I also read The Fault in Our Stars, along with the rest of the world, and I wept (like everyone else), but it wasn’t one of my favourite books this year, for a lot of reasons; I read The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket and enjoyed it right up to the end, which I felt was a disappointment; I finished Veronica Roth’s YA series which began with Divergent and was left a little underwhelmed by the conclusion (in Allegiant, the third book in the series.) ‘Allegiant’ is unnecessarily long, I thought, and the double-narration style is difficult to follow because the voices sound exactly the same.

So, there you have it. My list of favourite reads, as of today. Hopefully I’ve given you some gift ideas, or even some reading ideas, or maybe I’ve bored your socks off. Either way, happy Tuesday!

It Has Been a Long, Long Time…

So.

This past weekend – which, for my husband and I, comprised Sunday and yesterday as he was working on Saturday – we pretty much had an internet blackout (besides my brief blog yesterday), and we read. He read a book which he loved – ‘The Forever War’, by Joe Haldeman, and I read three books, all of which were utterly unputdownable. My brain feels like it spent the weekend immersed in double cream; this morning, my head is spinning like a drunkard, high on dreams.

It has been a long, long time since I sat up late into the night, desperately needing to finish a book, wiping away tears with one hand and frantically turning the pages of a story with the other. Last night, that’s exactly what happened. Last night, I was reading ‘The Book Thief’, by Markus Zusak.

If you haven’t read it already, then I strongly recommend you drop whatever you’re doing (it couldn’t possibly be as important as reading this book), and get your hands on a copy, and read it. I’ll even allow you to download it to your e-reader, if you must, though I’d much prefer you had it in the flesh, as an object of beauty in your hand. If you have read it, then I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Image: tumblr.com

Image: tumblr.com

I can’t even… there’s no way I can even talk about it yet, because it’s too present in my head. Do you know what I mean? I’m still living in the book. I’m living in the basement of Himmel Street 33, huddled under the dust-sheets, waiting. My brain’s too full to process the brilliance of this novel, but as soon as I am able I will write about it, and I will – I hope – convince you, if I haven’t already, that books have the power to change the world.

The other books I read this weekend were ‘ACID’, by Emma Pass, and ‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio. Here are their lovely jackets – and, in case of ‘Wonder’, a little slogan which pretty much sums up the book:

Image: nosegraze.com

Image: nosegraze.com

Image: blog.waterstones.com

Image: blog.waterstones.com

I fully enjoyed both of these books, too, and I’d heartily recommend them both. Reviews will follow in the next few weeks, once my brain has had time to let the stories settle.

This morning, I’m almost painfully aware of how extremely lucky I am to be literate, interested in books and able to appreciate stories. Honestly, I truly believe books increase my soul. Every time I read a book I love, I gain another layer, like an oyster gilding a piece of grit into a beautiful pearl. Every book I read makes me better. I can’t express to you how much I love that.

It may not have escaped your notice that I also read quite quickly. In two and a half days I managed to read three books, two of which are quite long. (Actually, technically, I read three and a half books, because I was halfway through another story, which I also managed to finish over this weekend. But we won’t count that.) I remarked over the weekend that reading, for me, sometimes feels like I’m just inserting the book straight into my brain; it’s like watching a DVD, almost. I read so fast sometimes that I wish I could retrain myself, or re-learn the art of reading from first principles, perhaps. I wish I could read more slowly, particularly when it comes to a book as beautifully worded as ‘The Book Thief’; sometimes, I really feel like I’m missing out. I don’t skim – I do read every single word – but sometimes I feel I don’t leave them to sit in my brain long enough to really absorb the full goodness. When it comes to words, I’m definitely a wolfer, not a gourmet. ‘The Book Thief’ has some of the most beautiful phrases I’ve ever read, and it is packed full of brain-jolting images, which caught my soul and made it pause, contemplating. But the pauses would have been better if they’d been a bit longer.

I feel a slower reader would have taken even more than I did from a book as rich as ‘The Book Thief’. A slower reader could have allowed the story and the writing to seep into their bones even more powerfully than I was able to. I’ll have to read the book again (not that this will be any burden) to get the full and proper effect. Sometimes, I find myself consciously trying to read slowly – making myself savour every sentence – but it rarely works for long. My natural pace catches up with me, and I race off again like a greyhound after a hare. I wonder sometimes if this happens to me due to my personal combination of curiosity and impatience – I couldn’t have slept last night without knowing what happened at the end of ‘The Book Thief’, of course. I had to know what happened to Liesel and her family; I had to know what happened to Max. I had to know who survived. There would have been no point in trying to go to sleep before I’d reached the end, and I knew that.

I’ve been reading now for a long, long time. My parents encouraged me to read from such a young age that I was cramming in whole books before most kids have stopped drooling on themselves, and I’ve always been grateful for this. It means I’ve put in a lot of reading practice, but in this case I’m not sure practice makes perfect. Practice makes me go faster, but that’s not always the best way to experience a story.

Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned here? If so, what did you think? Also, do you tend to read slowly or quickly, and do you have any tips on how to change your ‘reading style’?

Happy Tuesday. And I’m not joking about ‘The Book Thief’. Seriously. Get a copy today.