Monday, November 30, 2015

Recommended Books for Older Readers, November 2015

Recommended Books for Older Readers, November 2015
by Susan Stephenson,

Earlier in the year, I revealed my plan to bring you reviews of books I would recommend for older readers. “Older readers” means you will find book here for kids 10-12 and/or Books for Teens. Below those books, you’ll find BOOKS for ADULTS.

Books for 10+

Counting by 7s is a chapter book, written by Holly Goldberg Sloan. It’s published by Scholastic in Australia and PenguinRandomHouse in the USA. It’s classified as YA in my library and middle grade by the publisher. I think it’s somewhere between the two. I can imagine voracious 11 and 12 year-old readers devouring it, but I honestly think young teens will enjoy it too. I adored the main character, Willow, an extremely intelligent and quirky twelve-year-old. When Willow’s parents die, she learns to cope with the help of other realistic and well-drawn characters. There are many moments of humour, as well as drama, and I have no hesitation in recommending Counting by 7s to readers 10+ who want realistic fiction with characters they can care about.

Magisterium: The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare is a chapter book I would recommend to children 10+ who enjoy exciting fantasy. It’s published by Random House in Australia (2015) and Scholastic in USA (2015).

From the publisher:

The Alkahest - a copper gauntlet capable of separating certain magicians from their magic - has been stolen. And in their search to discover the culprit, Call and his friends awaken the attention of some very dangerous foes - and get closer to an even more dangerous truth.

As the mysteries of the Magisterium deepen and widen, bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare take readers on an extraordinary journey through one boy's conflict -and a whole world's fate.

The story continues the tale begun in The Iron Trial. (My review here.) This time, Callum has more problems to solve. He suspects he may be an evil overlord. That in fact he is possessed by an evil mage and murderer. He also thinks his father is trying to kill him. Luckily he can rely on some help from his friends Aaron (a Makar who can control Chaos magic ) and Tamara, another young mage who attends the Magisterium, and his faithful hound, Havoc (aka a Chaos-ridden wolf) Add the annoying Jasper deWinter to the mix and sparks are guaranteed!

Clare and Black continue to produce the goods in this second book of the Magesterium series. While I did find the first part of the novel a little slow, I quickly changed my mind once Call made it back to the Magesterium. The authentic young teen voice and wry humour will definitely appeal to kids who will understand Call’s dilemma about his own morality, and chortle over his list dividing his actions into those of a normal kid or those of an Evil Overlord. The well-built world of present day USA mixed with magical beings like Elementals and zombie-like Chaos-ridden people makes The Copper Gauntlet at the same time believable and terrifying, a heady mix!

The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone, published by Simon and Schuster (2015) is a chapter book I think would make an exciting read for kids who are 10+.

From the publisher:

Twelve-year-old Molly Pecksniff wakes one night in the middle of the forest, lured there by a recurring nightmare - the one with the drums and the rattles and the masks. The Dreamsnatcher is waiting. He has already taken her dreams and now he wants her life. Because Moll is more important than she knows… The Oracle Bones foretold that she and Gryff, a wildcat that has always been by her side, are the only ones who can fight back against the Dreamsnatcher's dark magic. Suddenly everything is at stake, and Moll is drawn into a world full of secrets, magic and adventure.

I loved the details of the world Elphinstone created - Romany gypsy lore and culture is woven with an intriguing plot and exotic and fascinating characters: a strong heroine, scary villains with dead eyes, foes who become friends, wild cats, horses and a pet worm called Porridge the Second, all compete for the reader’s enjoyment. The tension is real and believable, the problems are tricky, and kids will be riveted by Moll’s adventures.

Fuzzy Mud : I really enjoyed Holes by the same author so was keen to take a look at his recent chapter book. I wasn’t disappointed. Fuzzy Mud was written by Louis Sachar, and published by Bloomsbury (2015). RRP: $Au 19.99  My green fluoro hardback edition comes partially covered with a notice: “WARNING CONTAMINATION ZONE”, almost daring young readers to open it.

From the publisher:

If you go down to the woods today ... Well, every child knows NOT to, don't they?
Tamaya is on a scholarship to the prestigious Woodridge Academy and every day she and seventh-grader Marshall walk to school together. They never go through the woods. And when they arrive at school they stop talking to each other – because Marshall can't be seen to be friends with a little kid like Tamaya. Especially not with Chad around. Chad-the-bully, who makes Marshall's life utterly miserable. But today, hoping to avoid Chad, Marshall and Tamaya decide to go through the woods ... And what is waiting there for them is strange, sinister and entirely unexpected.

No way could I start reading Fuzzy Mud and put it aside. I gobbled up all 180 pages in one sitting, frequently having to remind myself to breathe. The characters are all people that kids will recognise; the tension is almost unrelenting, but there are some feel-good moments toward the end that come as a great relief. Sachar is an excellent writer who has the balance of horror and not-horror exactly right. Fuzzy Mud is definitely one to recommend to kids who are brave enough to take it though!

Paper Towns is a YA novel by John Green, published by Harper Collins.  I loved The Fault in our Stars, which I reviewed in Recommended Books for Older Readers, June 2015, and very much enjoyed this novel for teens too. It’s about eighteen-year-old Quentin, Q to his friends, who lives next door to the enigmatic but adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman. Q has loved Margo from afar for years - she is one of the cool kids, while Q is a nerd. One night, Margo appears at his window and persuades Q to accompany her on a night of revenge. The next day, Margo has disappeared and it’s up to Q and his friends to try to find her via some cryptic clues she has left.

Because there’s now a film of the book, I believe teens will be interested in Paper Towns, even if they don’t know Green’s other books. I predict they will love the humour, the authentic dialogue and characters, and enjoy the puzzle solving Q embarks upon. I hope they will also appreciate the way Green puts us inside his character’s heads, and makes their world totally real for us so we are caught up in the fictive dream.


I wanted to clearly delineate this section so you will immediately realise the books below are not written for children. Children’s (and teen’s books) can be found above.

Dressing the Naked Hand is a non-fiction book about puppetry, written for adults but teens would also appreciate it. It’s subtitled The World’s Greatest Guide to Making, Staging, and Performing with Puppets, was created by Amy White, Mark H. Pulman and Dallin Blankenship .and published by Familius LLC (USA) and Exisle Publishing in Australia (2015).

From the publisher:

With tons of color photographs and over 2 hours of hilarious instructional videos, Dressing the Naked Hand is the perfect how-to book for all levels of puppetry skill, from beginners to master artisans. With instructions on making hand puppets, turning stuffed animals into puppets, building mechanical puppets, finding accessories, performing, inventing voices, building stages, and more, this is the most comprehensive book of its kind. And with jokes and puppet humor throughout, it’s not just a handbook—it’s a joy to read!

I have always loved puppets for what they offer children, with creative thinking, bringing literature to life, performance, characterisation, and sheer unmitigated FUN just the start. I have also made my own puppets, but never been very happy with the results. Why didn’t I have access to this brilliant book (and videos)??? It starts with easier projects, then goes on to more complicated ones. Directions are not only clear and comprehensive, they’re entertaining. Full colour photos feature puppets who make wry comments about the projects too. Even the not-crafty-at-all (like me) can simply convert a stuffed toy into a puppet with some scissors and a hot glue gun - wow! Add in tips on stagecraft, scenery, voice and templates for puppets and you really do have a comprehensive and entertaining resource.

If you know a teacher, librarian or student with an interest in puppets, Dressing the Naked Hand would make a wonderful gift. Community and high school libraries will definitely find it an attractive resource and should snap it up.

A Time to Run is a novel for adults, written by J.M.Peace and was published in 2015 by Pan Macmillan Australia.  RRP: $29.99

From the publisher:

The hunt is on
A madman is kidnapping women to hunt them for sport.
Detective Janine Postlewaite leads the investigation into the disappearance of Samantha Willis, determined not to let another innocent die on her watch.
The killer's newest prey isn't like the others. Sammi is a cop. And she refuses to be his victim.

While it’s crime fiction, A Time to Run feels very true-to-life. When you discover the author is also a serving police officer in South East Queensland, you begin to understand the authenticity. Peace pulls us into the world of a serial killer, his victim, and the police trying to find her. I don’t enjoy horror as a genre, and though I was horrified by some of the action, I found it a compelling read but not too overwhelming. I especially enjoyed being inside the head of Sammi, the young victim, who’s strength and bravery, yet terror and despair were totally believable.

Big Little Lies is a novel by Liane Moriarty, published by Pan Macmillan in Australia and Penguin RandomHouse in USA.

From the publisher:

Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal.
A murder…A tragic accident…Or just parents behaving badly? What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.
Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny, biting, and passionate; she remembers everything and forgives no one. Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare but she is paying a price for the illusion of perfection. New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for a nanny. She comes with a mysterious past and a sadness beyond her years. These three women are at different crossroads, but they will all wind up in the same shocking place.
Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

Moriarty is now an author whose books for adults I MUST read. Previously I have read and very much enjoyed The Hypnotist’s Love Story, What Alice Forgot, and The Husband’s Secret.

In Big Little Lies, all the reasons I love Moriarty’s books are immediately evident: compelling story, multiple points of view yet no reader confusion, wry observations on our society, lots of humour and drama. The story starts with a shocking event at a trivia night and teases out the lives of several people brought together because their kids attend the same primary school. It explores the power struggles in people’s various relationships. I found myself chuckling one moment and forgetting to breathe the next.

Big Little Lies is also one of those books with book club notes at back, so I suppose it must be what I would think of as a literary read. Don’t let that put you off. I didn’t notice the elegance of the writing at first read, because I was completely and immediately caught up in the story. If you are in a Book Club, I think Big Little Lies has huge appeal.

I desperately want to read Moriarty’s Three Wishes and The Last Anniversary but am trying to save them for the holidays. Dilemma! (Update: Oops, I just read Three Wishes. Loved it too!)

On Wednesday I’ll bring you my Bookish Christmas Gift Suggestions for Kids, 2015. I have really exciting and diverse books, apps, and puzzles to share that have kept me busy over the last few months. Tried, tested and with many Feathers of Approval!

You might also like to take a peek at Recommended Books for Older Readers, June 2015.

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