The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

Book Info
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
©2006 Atria Books, New York, NY
ISBN 978-0743298858

Plot Summary
Books have always been important to 12-year-old David, but as he mourns the death of his mother, they have mostly become his only company. His father soon remarries and moves David to the country to live with his new step mom, where he is given a room filled with books. David is angry that his mother was replaced so easily by this new woman and the baby on the way, but becomes distracted by his books whispering to him and strange figures in his room. One day while he is in the garden, he sees a German bomber falling towards the garden and with few options, jumps through a crack in the garden wall. At once, he is transported to a bizarre world with all kinds of creatures and monsters, complete with an eccentric King. David must find the King and his mysterious “Book of Lost Things” in order to finally get back home.

Reader’s Annotation
As he mourns his mother’s death, 12 year-old David finds comfort in books. But when he is thrust into a magical fantasy world where fairy tales are more like reality, he must embark on an odyssey to find the King and his “Book of Lost Things” to finally get home.

Critical Evaluation
Connolly does an impressive job of weaving fairy tale and major life issues such as death, grief and recovery in this story of a young boy dealing with the loss of his mother. Through escapism, a young boy copes with the death of his mother and grows emotionally and mentally while struggling to find his way through a strange, violent and dangerous world. In the beginning the book seems like many other children’s books, but as the story progresses it evolves into a very adult dark fantasy. Connolly takes classic fairy tales and puts his own complex, and sometimes dark and twisted, spins on them. These fairy tales are spun into the back story of the larger plot at play. This concept of reinterpretation is not a new model, but Connolly does a good job of fitting it into his story and reinventing with his own unique touch.

Information about the Author
John Connolly was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1968 and has, at various points in his life, worked as a journalist, a barman, a local government official, a waiter and a dogsbody at Harrods department store in London. He studied English in Trinity College, Dublin and journalism at Dublin City University, subsequently spending five years working as a freelance journalist for The Irish Times newspaper, to which he continues to contribute.

His first novel, Every Dead Thing, was published in 1999, and introduced the character of Charlie Parker, a former policeman hunting the killer of his wife and daughter. Dark Hollow followed in 2000. The third Parker novel, The Killing Kind, was published in 2001, with The White Road following in 2002. In 2003, John published his fifth novel—and first stand-alone book—Bad Men. In 2004, Nocturnes, a collection of novellas and short stories, was added to the list, and 2005 marked the publication of the fifth Charlie Parker novel, The Black Angel. John’s seventh novel, The Book of Lost Things, a story about fairy stories and the power that books have to shape our world and our imaginations, was published in September 2006, followed by the next Parker novel, The Unquiet, in 2007, The Reapers, in 2008 The Lovers, in 2009, and The Whisperers, the ninth Charlie Parker novel, in 2010.

John Connolly is based in Dublin but divides his time between his native city and the United States, where each of his novels has been set.

Visit the author’s website.

Genre
Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Curriculum Ties
English, History

Booktalking Ideas
Discuss escapism, and aside from books, what are some examples of other modes of escape?

Discuss David’s evolution throughout the book.

Reading Level/ Interest Age
12+

Challenge Issues
N/A

Why Included?
A friend recommended this book and it sounded like something I would enjoy reading and something that would be interesting for older teens.

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Book Info
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
©2008 Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY
ISBN 978-0060530921

Plot Summary
When Bod was a toddler, his entire family was murdered. Being too young to understand what happened, Bod crawled out of his crib and wound up in the graveyard near his house. It was then that he became the only living resident of the graveyard, to be raised by the ghosts, werewolves, and other occupants of the cemetery. When he is 14, it is discovered that the murderer is looking to find Bod and finish off the family he had set out to obliterate so many years before. Bod must use his courage, strength and the skills he’s learned from his ghostly teachers to face the terrors of both the living and the dead.

Reader’s Annotation
Orphaned as a toddler, Bod’s childhood was less than conventional, being raised as the only living resident of a cemetery by the ghosts, werewolves and other graveyard occupants. Now 14, Bod learns that the man who murdered his entire family wants to finish the job. Bod must use his courage, strength and the skills he’s learned from his ghostly teachers to face the terrors of both the living and the dead.

Critical Evaluation
Mostly specializing in adult literature and a love for the macabre, Gaiman has only taken a few forays into children’s and young adult literature. The Graveyard Book is one of his more recent contributions and probably the most well executed. The book is a dark coming of age tale of an orphaned boy who is raised by ghosts and other inhabitants of a cemetery. Through Bod’s somewhat morbid tale is a story that is rich in power and profundity with underlying lessons to be gleaned. I thoroughly enjoyed The Graveyard Book and found Gaiman’s writing to be impeccable. He combines the perfect mix of fantasy and magic, with vivid descriptions and valuable lessons and morals to be learned.

Information about the Author
Neil Gaiman is an English author, though he now calls the United States home. As a child, he was a voracious reader which paved the way to a career in writing. In his early 20s, he pursued journalism by conducting interviews and writing book reviews as a means of taking steps towards eventually getting published. His first published books were a couple of biographies before journeying into the world of comics and graphic novels. Starting in the early 90’s Gaiman began writing more novels and prose for adults, children and young adults.

Gaiman currently resides in Minnesota in close proximity to his first wife and their three children. Gaiman recently married Amanda Palmer of the punk cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls, and is also well known for his ongoing friendship with singer/songwriter Tori Amos, who has mentioned him in a number of songs, and been written into a few of his stories. Gaiman is also very active and interactive with his fans through the mediums of Twitter and his blog.

Visit the author’s website.

Genre
Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Curriculum Ties
N/A

Booktalking Ideas
Discuss Bod’s graveyard family. Is it as unconventional as it may seem?

Reading Level/ Interest Age
10+

Challenge Issues

  • Violence
  • Murder

Defense options

  • Be aware of your library’s collection development policy.
  • Be familiar with the material in question, and the context of the questionable content.
  • Assert the principles of the ALA Library Bill of Rights, and standards of intellectual freedom.
  • Consult online book reviews, and others who have read the book.

Why Included?
It is a magical and exceptional story that everyone should read. This was another book that I couldn’t imagine not including in the blog project.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

Book Info
The Host by Stephenie Meyer
© 2008 Little Brown and Co., New York, NY
ISBN 978-0316036917

Plot Summary
The Earth has been invaded by a parasitic species of alien that invade their human hosts, taking over their mind and body control, but leaving the physical form intact. The alien species call themselves souls and think they are doing humans and the Earth a favor by respecting the planet’s resources and living in peace as humans without wars or conflict. Small bands of non-hosted humans still exist, but must live discretely in hiding.

Melanie Stryder was given to a soul known as “Wanderer,” for her travels and lives lived on other planets as other species, but Melanie refuses to fade away. Melanie and Wanderer initially fight for control of the body, but eventually learn to coexist and even work together. Wanderer develops love for the people that Melanie loves, and together they set out to be reunited with them once again.

Reader’s Annotation
Parasitic aliens invade the Earth and take over the minds and bodies of humans, but some humans don’t give up so easily. Human Melanie Stryder becomes the host of the alien Wanderer, and while they are enemies at first they learn to work together to find the ones they love.

Critical Evaluation
Many complain about the literary value of Meyer’s writing, but after reading Twilight and now The Host, I can safely say that I was able to overlook any literary shortcomings and focus on her story telling. She does have the tendency to overuse certain descriptions, and if it’s one thing that stands out to me in writing, it’s repetition. Characters were often “pressing their lips into a firm line,” and while this is a good and vivid description, after the twelfth time it just becomes redundant and annoying to the reader. The book kept a fairly consistent and reasonable pace, though it might be interpreted as getting overly dramatic at times. Overall, I felt this book possessed a strong and unique concept and the storyline and was sufficiently different from the author’s other major work, the Twilight series.

Information about the Author
Stephenie Meyer was born in Hartford, Connecticut, to Stephen and Candy Morgan. She grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, with five siblings: Seth, Emily, Jacob, Paul, and Heidi. She attended Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. She then attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where she received a B.A. in English in 1997. Meyer met her husband Christiaan, nicknamed “Pancho”, when she was growing up in Arizona, and married him in 1994 when they both were 21. Together they have three sons: Gabe, Seth, and Eli. Christiaan Meyer, formerly an auditor, has now retired to take care of the children.

Meyer is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; she has stated that she is strait-laced about her beliefs and does not drink alcohol or smoke. Meyer had never written even a short story before Twilight and had considered going to law school because she felt she had no chance of becoming a writer; she later noted that the birth of her oldest son Gabe changed her mind, saying, “Once I had Gabe, I just wanted to be his mom.” Before becoming an author, Meyer’s only professional work was as a receptionist in a property company.

Meyer currently lives in Cave Creek, Arizona, and also owns a home on Marrowstone Island, Washington.

Visit the author’s website.

Genre
Science Fiction, Fantasy

Curriculum Ties
N/A

Booktalking Ideas
The Souls invade the Earth thinking they are doing it a favor and making it a better place. Discuss your thoughts on this concept.

Wanderer learns to understand and love humans and can’t justify living if it means a human mind has to die, but the humans keep her alive in another body anyway. How do you think she will fare in this situation?

Reading Level/ Interest Age
14+

Challenge Issues
N/A

Why Included?
As a popular young adult author, it didn’t feel right to not include Stephenie Meyer, however I did not want to simply include her most famous work. I have read and enjoyed Twilight, but was curious to see what else she was capable of.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Book Info
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
©2008 Scholastic, New York, NY
ISBN 978-00439023481

Plot Summary
Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12 with her mother and 12 year old sister Prim. The 12 districts make up the country of Panem, ruled by a powerful totalitarian government called the Capitol. Every year, the Capitol holds an event called the Hunger Games to remind the districts of its power. For these games, one young boy and girl from each district are chosen by a lottery to participate in the games and fight to the death, where only one can be victorious. When Prim’s name is drawn for participation in the Hunger Games, Katniss valiantly steps in to take her place. She must use her clever mind and strong skills in hunting to stay alive and hopefully defeat the 23 other participants. Follow Katniss on this brave and brutal journey to see if she can make it out alive and hopefully outsmart the cruel Capitol in the process.

Reader’s Annotation
It’s time again for the Hunger Games in the country of Panem, but when 12-year-old sister Prim is chosen to participate, her older sister Katniss steps in to take her place. Can Katniss survive this brutal death race?

Critical Evaluation
Suzanne Collins beautifully crafted a unique and incredibly thought provoking story. This corrupt future government and its sick ability to allow children to fight to the death is both shocking, and like an accident you can’t help but take a peek at. The violence is at time graphic, with teens essentially murdering their peers, but within the context of the games they have no choice. As pawns in the game, many participants become vicious, heartless beasts with little to no humanity left within them, but even with all the violence, the main character Katniss remains admirable in her struggle to survive. She doesn’t want to kill anyone, yet she doesn’t want to die herself and Collins clearly articulates how she manages to maintain clear and valiant morals throughout the violence and desperation she experiences in the games.

Information about the Author
Suzanne Collins started her career as a writer in 1991, but for children’s television shows. She contributed to a number of Nickelodeon 1990’s television favorites such as the emmy-nominated Clarissa Explains it All and The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. While working on a show for Kids’ WB, Collins met children’s author James Proimos who served as her inspiration to break into the world of children’s literature. In 2003, her first book was published which became just the first book in The Underland Chronicles series, acting as an urban take on the pastoral classic Alice in Wonderland.

In 2008, Collins took a foray into young adult literature with the release of the first book in her trilogy, The Hunger Games. The series has become an overwhelming success, skyrocketing her fame and recognition as an author.

In her personal life, Collins holds an MFA in dramatic writing from NYU, and currently lives in Connecticut with her husband, two children and two adopted feral cats.

Visit the author’s website.

Genre
Fantasy, Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic

Curriculum Ties
N/A

Booktalking Ideas
Discuss the kind of tribute you would be if you had been selected for the Hunger Games.

Discuss the relationship between Peeta and Katniss and how it evolved throughout the book.

Reading Level/ Interest Age
15+

Challenge Issues

  • Graphic Violence

Defense options

  • Be aware of your library’s collection development policy.
  • Be familiar with the material in question, and the context of the questionable content.
  • Assert the principles of the ALA Library Bill of Rights, and standards of intellectual freedom.
  • Consult online book reviews, and others who have read the book.
    • The book does feature graphic violence, but it is integral to the larger story at play. Be able to understand and support its relevance.

Why Included?
The Hunger Games is one of the hottest books on the market right now, with a movie in the works. I had to see what all the hype was about, and I was not disappointed.

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Book Info
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
©2009 Simon & Schuster, New York, NY
ISBN 978-1416984481

Plot Summary
Since the death of his parents, Will Henry has worked as the assistant to Dr. Pelinore Warthrop. Dr. Warthrop is not a doctor of the medical sense, but a doctor of monstrumology – the study of monsters. While Will’s job is mostly that of a gofer, running errands and being at the doctor’s beck and call, he has been witness to monstrosities he never imagined could exist in real life. Late one night, a man arrives at their door with a particularly frightening find, which just may be the most dangerous that they have encountered to date. This event launches Will into the beginning of his career and undertakings as a junior monstrumologist.

Reader’s Annotation
The first book in a new horror series by Rick Yancey, The Monstrumologist follows the orphaned Will Henry on his terrifying adventures as the assistant to Pelinore Warthrop, a doctor of monstrumology – the study of monsters. Join them as the encounter the things nightmares are made of, that will surely make your skin crawl.

Critical Evaluation
Yancey developed an intriguing premise with The Monstrumologist and tells the story with no holds barred against the gruesome and horrific. The sheer blood and gore present in this book would make it unsuitable for most younger readers, and even a good many older teen and adult readers. One colleague mentioned that this book wound up being too scary for them and that they couldn’t even finish reading it, which set the stage for my need to experience this book myself. Yancey did not disappoint, telling a brilliant tale while making my skin crawl and my blood curdle. At over 400 pages, the book is a slightly challenging read and it certainly can be very dry at times, but I would tell any potential reader to stick with it and they won’t be disappointed.

Information about the Author
Since he was quite young, Rick knew he wanted to be a writer. After earning a degree in English from Roosevelt University in Chicago, Rick returned to his native Florida to pursue a career in the arts. While teaching part time and dabbling in the theater, he decided to take a job with the Internal Revenue Service, where he served as a revenue officer for over ten years. He continued to pursue his lifelong dream of being a full-time writer, however, finally leaving the IRS in 2004 upon the publication of his critically acclaimed memoir, Confessions of a Tax Collector. To date he has published six novels in addition to his memoir. Confessions of a Tax Collector, was  named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the five best books on taxes ever written.  His Alfred Kropp trilogy for young adults has been published in seventeen countries and was nominated for the prestigious Carnegie Medal, as well as garnering numerous awards since its inception in 2005. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed Teddy Ruzak mystery series for adults. In the fall of 2009, Simon & Schuster will launch his newest YA series, The Monstrumologist.

Rick is the proud father of three sons. He lives in Florida with his wife, Sandy.

Visit the author’s website.

Genre
Fantasy, Horror, Dark Fantasy

Curriculum Ties
N/A

Booktalking Ideas
Describe the kind of monster you might want to battle as a monstrumologist. (draw a picture)

Reading Level/ Interest Age
15+

Challenge Issues

  • Gruesome violence

Defense options

  • Be aware of your library’s collection development policy.
  • Be familiar with the material in question, and the context of the questionable content.
  • Assert the principles of the ALA Library Bill of Rights, and standards of intellectual freedom.
  • Consult online book reviews, and others who have read the book.

Why Included?
I wanted to include some horror, and this seemed like a great up and coming horror series. I can’t wait for more to be released.

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

Book Info
Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
© 2009 Greenwillow Books, New York, NY
ISBN 978-0061730214

Plot Summary
Ai Ling is a seventeen year old woman in the Chinese kingdom of Xia. In a culture where male children are prized, Ai Ling is somewhat of a disgrace as an unwed woman when most others her age are already arranged into marriage and have birthed children. She is the daughter of a couple who actually married for love, was educated by her father, and has developed some unique skills as she matured, such as the ability to essentially read the thoughts of others.

Ai Ling’s father is called to the Palace of Fragrant Dreams and leaves her with a special and potentially powerful jade pendant and the reminder of her singularity. He assures her that he will be away no longer than two months, but when he doesn’t return and she begins to sense that something evil is after her that is both frightening and incomprehensible, she decides to embark on a journey to the Palace to find him. It will take all of her strength, courage, will and powers she has yet to develop, along with the help of friends she will meet along the way to succeed in order to find her father and defeat the terrifying evil.

Reader’s Annotation
Ai Ling’s father is long overdue from his journey, and she senses that something incredibly evil is at play. She must embark on a journey to save him, utilizing every ounce of strength, courage and willpower, along with some special powers she wasn’t even aware that she possessed, in order to defeat the evil and bring him home safely.

Critical Evaluation
Most of the controversy surrounding Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix had nothing to do with her book’s content or writing style, but rather the cover. Featuring a picture of the story’s main character dressed in a pink Chinese styled dress, the book was not stocked by the major chain Borders and carried only in very limited supply by Barnes and Noble. In April 2010, the book was rereleased in paperback with a brand new, but whitewashed cover to appeal to a wider audience. On the inside, the book tells beautifully crafted fantasy story. Pon delved into her Asian heritage and combined it with her love of fantasy to craft creative mythology and a fantastical adventure. Currently dominated by the likes of vampires and werewolves, Pon brings a somewhat unique addition to the fantasy young adult fiction shelves.

Information about the Author
Cindy Pon was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and her family immigrated to California in 1980, settling in the suburbs of Los Angeles. She began writing stories before she was officially declared English proficient. She received her bachelor’s from the University of California, San Diego, and also earned a master’s from New York University.

The author is a student of Chinese brush painting, and her love for the art is reflected in her storytelling. Cindy Pon lives with her husband and two small children in San Diego, CA.

Visit the author’s website.

Genre
Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Curriculum Ties
History

Booktalking Ideas
Silver Phoenix is set in a fictional past China, but much of the aspects of the culture are drawn from history. Discuss some of the differences between Eastern and Western cultures.

Reading Level/ Interest Age
15+

Challenge Issues

  • Sexuality
  • Violence
  • Magic
  • Paranormal/Demons

Defense options

  • Be aware of your library’s collection development policy.
  • Be familiar with the material in question, and the context of the questionable content.
  • Assert the principles of the ALA Library Bill of Rights, and standards of intellectual freedom.
  • Consult online book reviews, and others who have read the book.
    • It is a fantasy novel, which often feature elements of paranormal, magic, violence and demons. Compare challenges and defenses for this novel to others like it for ideas.
    • The Eastern culture featured in the book is much different from Western themes, specifically regarding its treatment of women. Ensure that challengers are aware of these cultural differences in order to see how they fit into the story.

Why Included?
Cindy Pon is yet another local San Diego author I was introduced to through my library, and I have been eager to support the local San Diego talent and do my part to help get the word out about their great works.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Book Info
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
©1999 Harper Teen, New York, NY
ISBN 978-0061689246

Plot Summary
Stardust is the story of a young man named Tristran Thorn who lives in the village of Wall. The town is named after the high stone wall on the edge of town that acts as the border between the known world and the realm of Faerie, with only one small and heavily guarded gap in the wall. Tristran falls in love with the beautiful Victoria Forester and to prove his love and win her heart, he ventures through the gap in the wall to bring her a falling star and embarks on the most exciting adventure of his life to eventually lead him to his Heart’s Desire.

Reader’s Annotation
In an attempt to prove his love for the beautiful Victoria Forestor, Tristran Thorn literally chases after a falling star. His quest takes him to the realm of Faerie, and ends up being the most exciting adventure of his life.

Critical Evaluation
Stardust was written as a sort of fairy tale for adults. Gaiman includes aspects of violence and sex that can sometimes be quite graphic and surely would not be found in your typical children’s fairytale, yet still maintains elements of fantastical whimsy. Though I saw the movie prior to reading the book and found them to be very different despite sharing basic plot elements and characters, I still found the book to be a rather enjoyable read. That said, it might not appeal as well to those who are not already fans of Gaiman’s work. Some also may argue that the book tries to be too adult, but I felt that Gaiman was justified in his writing and created a beautiful work of art.

Information about the Author
Neil Gaiman is an English author, though he now calls the United States home. As a child, he was a voracious reader which paved the way to a career in writing. In his early 20s, he pursued journalism by conducting interviews and writing book reviews as a means of taking steps towards eventually getting published. His first published books were a couple of biographies before journeying into the world of comics and graphic novels. Starting in the early 90’s Gaiman began writing more novels and prose for adults, children and young adults.

Gaiman currently resides in Minnesota in close proximity to his first wife and their three children. Gaiman recently married Amanda Palmer of the punk cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls, and is also well known for his ongoing friendship with singer/songwriter Tori Amos, who has mentioned him in a number of songs, and been written into a few of his stories. Gaiman is also very active and interactive with his fans through the mediums of Twitter and his blog.

Visit the author’s website.

Genre
Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Dark Fantasy

Curriculum Ties
N/A

Booktalking Ideas
Compare and contrast the movie and book.

Discuss Tristran’s character development throughout the story.

Reading Level/ Interest Age
15+

Challenge Issues

  • Sexuality
  • Violence

Defense options

  • Be aware of your library’s collection development policy.
  • Be familiar with the material in question, and the context of the questionable content.
  • Assert the principles of the ALA Library Bill of Rights, and standards of intellectual freedom.
  • Consult online book reviews, and others who have read the book.

Why Included?
I had seen the movie adaptation of this book and had read and enjoyed other books by Gaiman and decided to use this project as an excuse to finally read another one of his lauded and loved works.

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