Armchair BEA: Middle Grade

I almost didn’t have time to write this post, since I had an essay due to today, but I’m squeezing it in! I’d like to share some of my favourite books I discovered when I was in grade five, books that I still love rereading today. I wonder today if children still read these? They are classics to me. All of these books I first saw in the Scholastic Book Order – undoubtedly the best part of school! I keep all of these books together on a shelf (along with…), which I call the first best reads shelf.

 Inkheart Trilogy by Cornelia Funke

As a dedicated reader, I was enthralled with Inkheart. I especially loved Eleanor’s library and was heartbroken at what happens to it. I always loved that the books felt grown-up and not at all dumme down. I liked that they dealt with cruel villains who were still humain, and ordinary family conflicts that no one likes to acknowledge. I liked that parts of the stories were told from the adult’s point of view. I loved everything there is to love about a book – the settings, the characters, the prose, the story, the book design. My hardcover trilogy is very precious to me!

Book 1
Book 2
Book 3

Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer

I’m not sure why I decided to read Artemis Fowl because I don’t think I would pick it up today if someone described it to me. But I am so glad I did, because I adore these books. They are so much fun. I thought they were clever and both serious and funny, in just the right amount of each. I loved the twist on fairies, though I would scoff at it now if you described it to me (I generally like my fairies done more traditionally). I love picking up the first book for a quick read whenever I start to feel a bit bored.

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
 
Oh, what is there to say about ASOUE? I loved the prose and the narration style. Lemony Snicket is a fantastic character himself, as are all the others. Count Olaf truly creeps me out in the first book, though I found him more comic as the series went on (I was in tears at the last book, though!). I loved the relationship between the Baudelaires and how smart they were, and how they grew throughout the books. I liked how there was little romance. Of course, I loved the “a word which here means…” convention. My favourite book is The Hostile Hospital. I reread all of the books last year and I thought they were even better than before. I think there’s a lot more to pick up on when you’re older. I have the 13 books stacked vertically on my shelf and I think they look very fine. They were examples of book design done well!

The last book out of these three series was released The Last Guardian (Artemis Fowl #8) in July 2012. I remember taking a solemn moment to consider that, wondering if I should be sad.  I decided not to be, because you can always reread a great book! I’m still on the hunt for books that excite me as much as these ones do. I loved each of the Inkheart and ASOUE books but I found AF decline after the fifth book. I wonder if that’s because I outgrew them? (Though I doubt it – I think the stories got sillier and the romance was out of place. Also I miss the original cover designs D:) But I still love rereading the first three! (The fourth is too sad to be reread often).

What were your favourite books from when you were young? Or, what are your favourite middle grade reads now?

Armchair BEA: Giveaways

I’m very excited for today’s theme. I haven’t hosted a giveaway before (therefore please forgive any faux pas I may commit!) and I think this is a great opportunity to do so. Please visit ArmchairBEA to see other giveaways being hosted today.

I finish my university degree at the end of June. Over the past four years, I’ve acquired many interesting books for courses that I wouldn’t have read otherwise. In the spirit of Armchair BEA and my impending graduation, I thought I would pass on one of these books. I’ve picked five that you can choose from. Each book is very different from the next, but all were read for required courses for my English degree. I hope this shows that not every English major studies just the old classics! Here are the books:

 Title: Kipocihkan
Author: Gregory Scofield
Description: Metis poetry in English and Cree (translated) – “charted in this book is Scofield’s journey out of silence”
Course: Canadian Diasporic Literature

Title: Mother Superior
Author: Saleema Nawaz
Description: Seven short stories and two novellas – “a heady blend of misfits and mothers, of sisters and mysterious others”
Course: Introductory English

Title: German Boy
Author: Wolfgang W.E. Samuel
Description: Memoir, growing up in Germany following the aftermath of WWII – “bring[s] fresh insight to the dark history of Nazi Germany and the horror left in its wake”
Course: Autobiographies of Childhood

Title: All Hallows’ Eve
Author: Charles Williams
Description: Supernatural fiction – “Williams used fiction to explore how people react when the supernatural enters their lives, and how then to find the path of peace”
Course: Literary Communities – The Inklings

Title: The Best American Comics 2011
Editor: Alison Bechdel
Description: American comics anthology
Course: Comics and Graphic Novels for Young People

Now – to enter, just let me know which book you would like to win and why. Note all books are paperback, except the comics anthology (hardcover). I will ship to anywhere. You can gain extra entries for sharing in the comments favourite books that you discovered in school. The giveaway will run until Friday at midnight. A winner will be selected randomly and announced on Saturday. Thanks for participating!

Armchair BEA: Novellas/Short Stories

Novellas

Now that I own an iPad, I’ve been paying more attention to novellas. I like the idea of spending a dollar to easily pick up a quick read by a beloved author. A few weeks ago I reviewed three novellas by some of my favourite authors (Catherynne M. Valente, Rhiannon Paille, and Neal Shusterman) that filled in gaps in their series. I think this is a great use of the novella form. An author can now easily share pieces of a story that might not ever have been published. I saw a tweet where someone dismissed these types of novellas as marketing ploys. While I don’t doubt that they are in part attempts to capitalize on an author’s popularity, I think they can still be valuable stories for the invested reader. I think these three authors I’ve cited, at least, have their reader’s best interests at heart. Valente’s story, for example, was available for free online before it became an eBook. Paille and Shusterman’s stories fill in crucial information that addresses readers who wonder “But what about…”, thus making the main novels in their series more enjoyable. I will definitely keep an eye out for more of these ‘filler’ novellas from authors I enjoy in the future.

Short Stories

I don’t read as many short stories as I would like to. I can think of three collections that I own- Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things and Smoke and Mirrors and Paul Glennon’s The Dodecahedron. I read a collection last year by Theodora Goss (In the Forest of Forgetting) that I enjoyed. What each of these collections have in common is that they tell fantastical stories, providing glimpses into unusual worlds, sharing enough to intrigue the reader while leaving enough questions unanswered to ignite the reader’s imagination. The Dodecahedron stands out because all the stories are interlinked in mind-bending ways (this review on GoodReads explains the connections). I would love to read more collections like these ones, where the stories told make good use of the short story form.

Quick Review: Fun Reads

These books I read for some casual reading – no critical analysis involved!


  • Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty
    • Series: The Colours of Madeleine #2
    • Rating:  ★★★ [ratings guide
    • When the first book in this trilogy came out last year, I was ecstatic to hear it described as Neil Gaiman meets John Green. Moriarty is the only other YA author I adore aside from Green, and Gaiman is one of my favourite authors, so I was excited to see what she would conjure in the fantasy realm. 
    • The first book felt to me like a prologue. The second book still feels the same way, although now I’ve finally realized that searching for the royal family is the whole plot, not just a little side story to be quickly resolved. To me, it feels like something is missing from these books. I can’t get invested in the story. The book feels too long, too drawn out. But if you like Moriarty, and you like fantasy, I think you will still enjoy this book. And if you’re like me, enticed by the idea of Gaiman+Green, do give it a shot!
    • I was a little disappointed at the typical teenager-y behaviour of the teenagers…this may sound like a silly complaint, but when compared to the teens of Moriarty’s other work, the characters in this book felt more stereotypical, less developed. I was disappointed by the bickering between Madeleine and Elliot, and the immaturity of Princess Ko (although her behavior is realistic, given that she’s lost her entire family). I don’t really think the characters are badly or unbelievably written. They’re just not what I’ve come to expect from Moriarty.
    • I love reading about the Kingdom of Cello and exploring its realms. I love how Moriarty handles magic. It feels fresh and exciting and I always wonder how it will factor into the story. The Lake of Spells was one of my favourite parts of the book.
  •  No Way to Treat a First Lady by Christopher Buckley
    • Rating: ★★★½ [ratings guide
    • Not the usual sort of book I pick up while browsing at the library, but I thought “Why not, sounds funny”.
    • Elizabeth MacMann, the titular First Lady, didn’t feel very developed. I felt distanced from her throughout the novel. I actually liked Boyce Baylor quite a bit, I found myself rooting for him!
    • The book was mostly funny and less dark than I expected it to be. I enjoyed reading the court room proceedings. 
    • I like that the reader doesn’t know who killed the President until the end.There was one point, around halfway through, where I thought “Wait, I bet this person did it!” but such thoughts didn’t distract from reading. It’s not like when I watch a crime show, always trying to deduce who did it. 
    • The book wasn’t spectacular but I did find it compelling, funny, and properly pace. This could be a good summer read if you’re interested in political, courtroom humour.

Does anyone have any recommendations of Buckley’s other works, or similar books? I could use a funny read like this now and then!

Armchair BEA: Author Interaction

I have been to a handful of author readings. The two that stand out were both hosted by our only independent bookstore. In 2009, Neil Gaiman invited independent bookstores to host Graveyard Book-themed parties. The winning store would host a signing and reading. I remember the day he announced the winners, he blogged about asking his publishers if he could pick two winners, and they let him. The first store announced was in Georgia, then the second store was announced – here! I have rarely been more shocked or excited. Around 900 people crammed into McNally to hear Neil read and to have their books signed. After the reading, I only had to wait two hours to get Stardust signed. The signing went until 1:00AM. My mom took me, bless her, and she was amazed to find people who were happy to wait that long. She chatted with some girls knitting sweaters while I stood in line. It’s a wonderful experience to be able to personally thank someone for crafting the stories that means so much to you.

I thought that would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However! A couple years after this signing I took a roadtrip to an Amanda Palmer (his wife) concert, and he did a reading before the concert, and signed afterwards as well 🙂 I was still just as excited as the first time, but I was more level-headed when speaking to him. I had him sign Good Omens for my best friend.

I also met Will Ferguson, author of one of my favourite books Hitching Rides With Buddha. This was a much more intimate experience, with around 30 people. He signed my copy as well as a copy of his then-new book Canadian Pie, which I gave to the teacher who introduced me to his writing. Hitching Rides With Buddha tells of his journey hitchhiking across Japan after teaching English through the JET Programme, an experience I will undertake in August.

I don’t engage much in any online author-fan interactions. I read a handful of authors’ Twitter feeds and blogs, but I don’t usually comment. Interacting with authors is not a priority for me (for now, at least). I know a lot of people enjoy this aspect of blogging, and I think it’s great how authors can make themselves so accessible and less mysterious. I do love being able to read about what an author is working on. Perhaps I feel I don’t have much to say to authors, aside from commenting how much I liked their make. Maybe that’s enough. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. How much do you engage with authors, particularly through social media?