Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tasty Literary Treats

The Seattle Weekly's Voracious blog had a post on the five top foods in children's lit. Now this is my kind of debate. I was very pleased to see their inclusion of turkish delight from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Though I'm not a fan of the sticky candy in real life, in the book, Lewis makes turkish delight sound like the most tempting of treats (and to poor WWII-rationed Edmund, it probably was).

Talking about food in books isn't unique to our televised cooking competitions/food-blog obsessed age. In Little Women, Jo and Meg March talked about how it's impossible to read Charles Dickens without having a snack in hand. I found the same thing to be true with The Boxcar Children, which had a way of making even simple bread and milk sound like ambrosia. Reading Harriet the Spy made me long to try a chocolate egg cream (though I had no clue what one actually was). The occasional treats in the Little House girls' stockings made what had to have been a very ancient orange sound amazing.

And finally, there's Harry Potter. The Weekly's list called out butterbeer, but that delightful sounding tipple is just the tip of the food iceberg in Potterworld. I'd estimate fully a quarter of the books are devoted to descriptions of banquets, candy, and/or birthday cake. Is it any wonder that they're some of my favorite rereads? One of the most painful secondhand experiences I've ever had is going with a friend who hadn't eaten to a Harry Potter movie. By the time we hit the second banquet scene, he was whimpering in his chair. I don't want to know the kind of crimes he would have committed for a chocolate frog.

So tell me dear readers, what children's literary taste sensations am I missing?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

You know how if someone has a particularly lovely or compelling speaking voice the old adage is you'd happily listen to him or her read the phone book? Well that's how I feel about Sherman Alexie's authorial voice. It's awesome and I will read whatever he wants to write for as long as he wants to write it.

That being said,
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian feels like the book I've been waiting for him to write since I first picked up Reservation Blues in high school. A semi-autobiographical tale of Arnold “Junior” Spirit, a high school freshman growing up on the Spokane Reservation, TATDOAPTI is at once hilarious and heartbreaking.

Near the beginning of the book, Junior makes the unpopular decision to leave his reservation high school to attend the all-white Reardon High School. What prompts this decision is when he realizes that he will be using the exact same geometry book his mother did in high school. As a veteran of a high school where textbooks often looked like they'd survived the Great Flood, I could sympathize. However, leaving the reservation for school just isn't done and by challenging the status quo, Junior finds himself at odds with his best friend Rowdy and the unwilling focal point of a lot of attention both at home and at Reardon.

Alexie does a masterful job balancing the hopeful (Junior's progress in school and making friends, however unlikely) with the tragic (the body count in this novel is higher than many murder mysteries). He doesn't shy away from the bleakness of the future for many of Junior's family and friends, but he also shows the love present in almost every Spirit family scene.

Junior is the kind of hero you don’t even realize is one until the end of the story. By focusing on his broken brain, general nerdiness, and lack of appeal to the opposite sex, Alexie camouflages the fact that Junior is also willing to walk miles in the blistering sun or freezing cold, face down the majority of the reservation, and, perhaps most intimidating, enter an entirely new high school as a complete outsider in order to get a better education.

Writing a YA novel right now seems to be the thing to do amongst well-regarded novelists. Jane Smiley, Cory Doctorow, John Grisham, and Neil Gaiman are just some of the names flooding the market. With such an influx it's always hard not wonder if their agent suggested they write a YA book because 1) they're hot right now and 2) they're shorter. Thus I approach most of their offerings with a healthy degree of skepticism. However, I don't care if Sherman Alexie thinks YA is the scratch lotto ticket of the literary world. Whatever prompted it resulted in his best book to date - and one I would recommend to any reader I know.

YA is right for Alexie and Alexie is right for YA. His voice - funny and furious - is a much-needed addition to the high school lit oeuvre.

The Wakefield Twins are back

Sweet Valley Confidential - the long awaited follow up to the endless Sweet Valley High series - is finally looking like something more than an urban legend. I've been hearing vague rumors about an adult novel that would feature everyone's favorite lavaliere-wearing, perfect size 6 sisters for years, but had given up hope of it ever getting published. But now, if you visit this website, you can sign up and get an email with a link the first chapter. It looks like the full novel will be published next March.

I know what you're dying to know what the first chapter is holds. And clearly I read it within fifteen minutes of realizing it was available. I won't go in to details, but suffice it to say that the writing hasn't improved, the twins are NOT both living perfect lives in Sweet Valley, and Bruce Patman gets a shoutout. If you read the original series (which I think may have been a requirement for girls growing up in the 80s), it is definitely worth checking out.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Elizabeth's Bookshelf

I've been in a bit of a reading slump (gasp!) lately what with moving to a new apartment and lots of oh-so-lovely overtime at work, so I apologize for my lack of posting. Now that I have a bit more free time, however, my bookshelf selection has expanded. Here are a few of the books I'm currently reading:

Heidi W. Durrow's The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

Durrow's debut novel begins with a mysterious family tragedy. The only survivor is--you guessed it--the girl who fell from the sky, Rachel. As the daughter of a white Danish mother and black G.I. father, Rachel's exploration of her racial identity is compounded by her broken family. Durrow's prose is excellent; deliberate and evocative. Durrow doesn't shy away from hard truths about what it means to be biracial in America or having to deal with difficult family dynamics. My only disappointment was that while The Girl Who Fell From the Sky starts off strongly, the narrative loses some of its drive towards the end. However, I would still recommend this title, and I'm looking forward to more of Ms. Durrow's writing.

Check out Heidi Durrow's excellent blog, Light-skinned-ed Girl.

The Best American Series: The Best American Comics 2009

When I realized that this installment of the Best American Series was edited by Charles Burns, I immediately ordered it. Charles Burns is one of my favorite graphic novelists (if you haven't read Black Hole do so immediately) and I was excited to see which established and up-and-coming graphic novelists were showcased in Comics 2009. So far there's an excellent story by Adrian Tomine and a sweetly sad brother-sister tale by Laura Park. The Best American Series rarely disappoints, so I'm eager to continue reading.

**To build off Kerry's previous post, David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is amazing. I'm more of a fan of his inventive rather than traditional narrative; Cloud Atlas is one of my favorite novels while it took me a while to get through Black Swan Green, so I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be as engrossed by the traditional narrative of Jacob de Zoet. I should never have doubted you, David Mitchell! Jacob de Zoet might be Mitchell's best novel yet. Add your name to the crazy-long library queues now.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Book news!

Two of BookMates' favorite authors, David Mitchell and Melina Marchetta, have new books coming out!

1) David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet has actually just arrived on shelves and there are only 55 people ahead of me in the library queue. So I should have it in hand by the end of the summer, right? Read faster Seattle!

Mitchell never writes the same book twice - each new novel seems to spring from an entirely different genre. This one looks like another leap - a historical novel set in 19th Century Japan. I'm excited because my favorite of his books, Black Swan Green, was also a more traditional narrative structure. The simplicity of form allowed the strength of his writing to shine and I'm hoping his new work will be similar in that regard. But I've also been avoiding reading much about this one, so who knows? Zombies could arrive on page 19 - and with Mitchell in control, I'd probably learn to like it.

2) I've just realized that Melina Marchetta's The Piper's Son is out in Australia now, but not the U.S until next year (I think. I hope. It can't really take longer than a year to publish it in the U.S. right?). I can't wait this one because it's looks to be a sequel of sorts to Saving Francesca, my second favorite of her books (after Jellicoe Road, clearly). Marchetta's most recent book, Finnikin of the Rock, was a bit of a disappointment. I made it through to the end, but have zero desire to pick it up again, so her return to contemporary Australia from Fantasyland is a welcome one.

So those are my currently most anticipated books. Are there any other books coming out this summer that we should add to our To Be Read piles? Mine is currently looking somewhat manageable and that makes me nervous!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The River

I first came across Mary Jane Beaufrand's The River in an author interview on The YA YA YAs. Teen mystery set in the Cascades with a heroine compared to Veronica Mars? Sign me up.

Veronica Severance has moved from Portland to rural Oregon with her celebrity chef mom and her burned-out former public defender father. The hows and whys of her move unfold slowly through the story, but she makes it clear from the beginning she isn't happy about the change. She's taken a while to settle in, but she has hit it off with one of the children in her isolated area, Karen Armstrong. Despite the significant age gap (Veronica babysits for Karen), they've become friends. Her discovery of Karen's body kicks off the action and the rest of the novel centers on Ronnie slowly trying to unravel the chain of events that led to Karen's death.

The River has a lot of potential to be awesome. Its isolated setting in rural Oregon, along the Santiam River, is unusual. Its cast of characters aren't cookie cutter and as a reader you're allowed to slowly get to know them. Speaking of cookies, reading about the food cooked by our heroine's mother drove me a bit crazy (in good way) as I wanted to eat everything she made. But all of this didn't quite add up to a book I wanted to press upon the next person I met.

Here's the thing. If your publisher compares your novel to Veronica Mars and you actually name your heroine Veronica, she better be pretty kick ass. And Ronnie is just...okay. She's the kind of character who figures out a clue and then, literally, runs off into obvious danger without alerting any of the many friendly authority figures dotting the landscape. Veronica Mars may have done the same, but she'd have taken Backup, a taser, and done a bit of recon. I know it's not fair to compare the two, but I I kept wishing Ronnie had a little more zip to her personality and her narration.

I feel pretty torn on how to rate The River. On the one hand, Beauford does an excellent job of grounding the story in a very specific place. Her writing is clear and vivid. You can feel the rural Northwest setting - with the overcast skies and running cold water. And she creates some characters I'd like to know better. Buuuut the action feels slow, Ronnie herself is kind of boring, and I never really bought the romance that develops near the end of the novel.

So I'd say, read if you like Northwest-set novels and/or mysteries, skip it if any of the problems I just outlined sound like deal breakers. That goes for everyone BUT Elizabeth, who should read it so we can dissect whether or not I'm being overly critical of poor Ronnie.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Romance Novel Love! We Will Not Be Ashamed.

Kerry and I were having dinner recently (the B&O cafe has some super delicious desserts, by the way) and during our usual "what are you reading?" update, we both sheepishly confessed that the books on our bedside tables were primarily romance novels. We justified the romance novels by asserting that sometimes you just want to read something entertaining and light.

But then I got to thinking--why should we even feel we have to justify reading romance novels? We shouldn't be ashamed of our love of the romance genre! Sure, romance novels generally are pretty fluffy and light, but they often empower women. There is a growing trend in the romance novel industry for strong, intelligent female heroines. The average reader can easily avoid such gems as The Spanish Billionaire's Pregnant Wife (thanks for that, Harlequin) and instead select well-written, humorous, and entertaining titles from some of the best in the genre. Two of my favorite authors are:

Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Ms. Phillips, or SEP, writes contemporary romance and is known for her lovable characters. If the heroes and heroines tend to be larger than life (SEP specializes in sports stars) their emotions are down-to-earth and obviously imbued with great thought. Plus, her books are almost always hilarious. The crème de la crème of the romance genre, SEP is not to be missed.


This Heart of Mine

Julia Quinn

Julia Quinn is a frothier version of Georgette Heyer. If you've gone through all of Heyer's works and are in Regency-romance withdrawal, Quinn is your woman. Quinn's books lend a mondern slant to the antics of the ton and are extremely accessible and entertaining. I never miss any of her new releases and her novels are guaranteed to grant highly enjoyable reading.


Romancing Mister Bridgerton

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Genre-Defying Joe Hill

Joe Hill's Horns

I have a confession to make: I secretly think people who talk about how bad Stephen King's writing is are being snobby. Another confession: I can be unbearably snobby about books. Final, obvious confession: I can occasionally be a hypocrite.

Stephen King has written some pretty bad novels: Needful Things, Desperation, that awful one about aliens that infest people's intestines and whose title I am too lazy to look up...but the man has also written some amazing books: The Stand and The Shining, for example. It can be argued that Stephen King revolutionized the horror genre. He also seems like a genuinely good guy and never fails to write flattering reviews for new authors.

"Wait a minute," you're thinking; "This Horns book wasn't even written by Stephen King. Why is Elizabeth babbling on about him?" Aha, savvy reader! Stephen King is Joe Hill's father. Joe Hill has decided to follow in his father's literary footsteps, and, in my opinion, both complements and improves upon his father's work.

Hill's first work, 20th Century Ghosts, a collection of short stories, and his first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, both debuted to critical acclaim. Horns was similarly lauded and may be Hill's best work yet:

"Hill has emerged as one of America's finest horror writers....That empathy with the Devil — taking a despicable character and slowly bringing us around to his side — is the sort of thing Hill does best. It's also what's missing from so much of the girl-meets-vampire gruel that dominates the genre these days." Time Magazine

Horns is the tale of Iggie Perrish, who wakes up one morning with a terrible hangover and horns sprouting from his temples. He had spent the night before visiting his murdered girlfriend Merrin's memorial and vaguely recollects doing "terrible things," so the horns don't come as much of a surprise. Iggie assumes that they are a hallucination brought on by the year of rage and grief he's experienced after Merrin's brutal death and the blame his small town has mistakenly placed upon him as her murderer. The horns, however, are something else entirely: a conduit to people's innermost and often inappropriate desires...and the key to solving Merrin's murder.

A story of redemption, revenge, love, and a surprising take on what makes a man a devil and a devil a man, Horns is a genre-defying novel not to missed.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Kerry's BookShelf, Part the First

I'll kick off my inaugural BookShelf post with a pan and a recommendation. I know these are supposed to be our "currently reading" posts, but I'm playing catch up, so I'm going with the first two books I dug off my floor that don't feel quite right for standalone reviews. I was going to include my latest guilty pleasure series, but I've decided they're getting a post all of their own (plus they're buried somewhere under a pile of clothes), so I will include just the tiniest of shout outs.

Book 1:

Soulless. This book pained me. The premise sounded quite promising - Victorian lady born without a soul uses her unique condition to deal with otherwordly complications accompanied by an umbrella and healthy dose of snark. I heard good buzz in the blogosphere and the cover was kind of cool (I hereby confess, I totally judge books by their covers), so I picked it up at the bookstore. Then I started it. And realized I'd rather be watching The Cutting Edge 4: Fire and Ice (surprisingly good by the way). Or watching paint dry. Or reading anything else.

Short story? The prose felt jerky and strained. That may have been a deliberate authorial choice, but I found the word choice jarring, the dialogue unnatural, and the heroine's perspective offputting. Reading it felt like wearing an ostensibly cute shirt that turns out to be a size too small and made of itchy material. So I stuck it back on the shelf and have since tried to pawn it off on Elizabeth no less than three times. So far no dice, but I'm sure this post will convince her she needs to at least try it.

Book 2:

Let the Great World Spin. This was a book club choice and it reminds me why I do adore my book club. The deadline makes me finish books I might otherwise dawdle over and the discussion makes me think about them more seriously than I would on my own. And Let the Great World Spin is a book that rewards serious thinking (and, you know, finishing it).

Set in New York in the 1970s, it tells a story of interlacing characters, all set against a tightrope walker's journey from one tower of the World Trade Center to the other. Impossible to read without thinking about what happens 20 or so years later and McCann doesn't shy away from the emotional implications of that image of the towers.

The best way I found to describing it to friends was a "humanist Cloud Atlas", but that's more a comment on the structure of the novel. The story itself is really is a hymn to New York in all of its glorious, and sometimes painful, complications. My favorite section, the second chapter, packed enough of a punch that I found myself crying on the bus when reading it. Which may sound like an odd reason for an enthusiastic recommendation, but if you can bring me to tears on the way to bowling, you are doing something very right.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

When You Reach Me

My sincere apologies for the long blog silence. I've been busy and my laptop has been...well distracted would be one word. The others would all be spelled with asterisks. It spent some quality time thinking it was 1969 and then decided to only allow me to type with the right-hand part of the keyboard. Fun times! But now (knocking firmly on wood), it seems to be in much better spirits and I'm determined to be a much better blogger. So enough technology woes, let's get back to books.

Since my last post, When You Reach Me finally reached me. I know, horrible joke. I really can't help myself. However I hope my sense of humor (or lack thereof) doesn't deter you from picking up this delightful book.

Elizabeth has already posted a more full review, but I had to add my two cents. First of all, bravo to the Newbery committee for picking this book. It's super and winning the Newbery Medal means more people will read it and (I assume, Elizabeth can confirm) more libraries will stock it. And this feels like the kind of book you should stumble over in a library and finish in one go on a summer afternoon.

It's an overt homage to Madeline L'Engle's classic A Wrinkle in Time, but it also reminds me of many children's books set in New York in the 1960s: The Young Unicorns, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and Harriet the Spy.

In fact, heroine Miranda reminds me a bit of Louise Fitzhugh's immortal (I accidentally typed immoral first and that works too) Harriet Welsch, as she struggles to navigate friendships, family, and school, while caught up in her own particular mysteries. But while Harriet's mysteries were largely self-created, Miranda's come in the form of mysterious notes from an unknown sender.

I don't want to say too much about the plot, as its slow reveal is part of this book's charm, but its complexity is a sign of Rebecca Stead's respect for her readers. She introduces challenging concepts, both academic and emotional, and trusts readers to keep up with Miranda as she works to unravel them. This trust, more than the overt mentions of A Wrinkle in Time in the text, is what makes When You Reach Me a true heir to L'Engle's beloved books and such a pleasure to read.

And finally, given my own long-running obsession with Jeopardy!, how could I not love a book in which a major sub-plot is centered around Miranda's mother's shot at appearing on The $20,000 Pyramid? Game show geeks unite!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Elizabeth's BookShelf Take One

Kerry and I recently realized that so many of the books we read never make it into our illustrious blog reviews. As our reviews generally feature books we either absolutely love or loathe, we have come up with a new blog entry: the "BookShelf." The "BookShelf" will list books we're currently reading--good, bad, and boring--which may not have otherwise made into BookMates. Let us know what you think of it!

Titles that are on my metaphorical BookShelf: (they're really strewn about my apartment in absolutely no order. My cat Chicklets is actually chewing on one right now. Thanks, cat.)

Possessed by Kate Cann

I picked up this title because I read somewhere that Kate Cann's young adult mystery-horror novel was gripping and entertaining. It's about a teenage girl who escapes the stifling environment of the British projects to work in a countryside manor, where she discovers evidence of black magic in the supposedly ideal hamlet surrounding the manor.

British countryside? Manors? Black magic? I'm a sucker for books like this. Unfortunately Cann's writing is, well, not good. I skipped the entire middle section of the novel and still wasn't remotely surprised by the ending. Stick with The Perilous Gard for British manor-magic tales.

Numbers by Rachel Ward

Coincidentally, this young adult novel is also set in Great Britain, but with a much more original premise than Cann's Possessed. Fifteen-year old Jem has the unique ability to sense some one's date of death when she looks them in eye. This obviously has some serious downfalls, one of which is the isolation that Jem imposes upon herself to keep from caring about others. Soon Jem is caught up as an innocent bystander in a terrorist plot she can't stop, and is on the run from the law with her friend Spider. While this part of the novel is pretty ridiculous, Ward's depiction of the foster care system and the projects is affecting and the most interesting part of the novel. An entertaining read.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

I've just gotten into reading mysteries, and picked up Bradley's novel because it recently won the CWA Debut Dagger Award. So far it has fabulously lived up to the award. In fact, there's a definite possibility that I may write a post about this title in the future so I will keep this short: Flavia de Luce is an eleven-year-old girl living in her family's stately British home in 1950 (I really didn't mean to make this post British-themed). Flavia is also brilliant, a dedicated chemist with a special interest: poison. Thus when she discovers a dead body in the garden, she's pretty excited. Was the dead man poisoned? Why is his body in their cucumber patch? What does her reclusive father know about all this? Flavia makes it her mission to get to the bottom of the matter, and Flavia's mission is very entertaining indeed.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Oscar Wao Fan Club

This post is probably unnecessary given that Junot Diaz won the Pulitzer for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but I loved, loved, loved this novel. The narrative is incredibly engaging and Diaz captures the classic American immigrant tale in an inventive light. And then, of course, there's Oscar Wao himself. Oscar is a overweight, lovelorn nerd whom it's impossible not to empathize with. Diaz peppers his tale with uber-nerdy references which solidified my own nerd-ness as I understood about 92 percent of them. (Robotech? Akira? Octavia Butler? I spent my early teens watching Robotech on a continuous circuit. In my defense it was one of the only programs shown in English--I was in Japan at the time--but still. So nerdy.)

If you haven't already picked this title up, do so soon. As Kerry mentioned over coffee recently, Oscar Wao is so well written that you don't care what really happens plot-wise as long as you can keep reading Diaz's amazing prose. I haven't enjoyed reading a book this much in quite a while. Obviously it won the Pulitzer for a reason. If I could say this in Elvish, Oscar Wao-style, I would: Read on!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Guess what comes out tomorrow?

Connie Willis's new book Blackout! I have been waiting for years for this book. Yay!

I went to see Willis read at the fabulous Hugo House almost two ago and she read a section from this book (then titled All Clear) - set during the Blitz. I was hooked and couldn't wait to buy it. Except, in the Q & A, she mentioned that she wasn't quite done yet. Well, I could wait.

But then, about a year later, I went to hear her speak again. She read from Blackout and disclosed that it STILL wasn't done. Despair followed. So you can imagine how exciting tomorrow will be.

So what's all the hoopla about? Well, Willis has won pretty much every award out there - Hugo, Nebula, you name it, she has one. My personal favorite of her books is To Say Nothing of the Dog: Or How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last, which, like most of Willis's books, defies easy description. The short summary would be a time-traveling comedy of manners set primarily in Victorian England. Right. It's great! I promise!

What's not great is the fact that Blackout was so long it's being published in two sections, first Blackout and then All Clear six months from now. I guess my wait isn't quite over yet.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

For those of you who take more than a passing interest in political science and history...

I am going to recommend...a middle grade novel. That's right. Not even Young Adult. And you are going to love it.

That's because Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief is smart, tricky, and fun. It kicks of a series that only gets better as it goes along. As it does, Whalen Turner weaves in serious questions around diplomacy, leadership, and ethics. And it's so good. So good! However, before I get ahead of myself, let's talk about The Thief.

The story of Gen, a thief stuck in a king's prison, who gets taken out and then on the journey of a lifetime, seems simple enough. It's a road story of a band of unlikely companions (um all human, no hobbits) on a mission of political significance to the middle of nowhere. I know I'm not giving very helpful details. I just can't. So much of the joy of this book is letting the story unfold.

But I can say it's incredibly clever and grounded in a somewhat fictional historical and political reality that leads to much of the action in the next two books (I say "somewhat fictional" because while the setting is very reminiscent of Renaissance Greece, there's different geographical names, gods, and political landscape).

I've mentioned the next two books in the series, The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia. Do not read anything about these two books before starting The Thief. Jacket copy is not your friend. Just read the three books in order. You'll notice I'm not even linking to the next books in the series, so you won't be tempted.

In March, the long-awaited fourth installment in the series, A Conspiracy of Kings, comes out. I actually have the date marked in my planner and will probably be camped outside Elliot Bay Books on March 23rd, waiting for my copy. As March weather in Seattle is pretty much the most depressing thing ever, I could use company. And I'm quite sure, once you've read these three books, I'll have some.

Is Elizabeth Psychic?

I don't know. Maybe it's some sort of secret librarian hotline thing.

All I know is, two weeks ago, Elizabeth posted on the many wonders of When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

This week, When You Reach Me won the Newbery Medal.

Needless to say, my very own copy is winging its way to my house as I type.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

So You Think You're Too Good For Children's Books...

Believe me, you're not. And to those of you who adore children's books, I apologize. As a librarian I met so many adults who refused to read children's books, which is super silly because children's literature is just as good as adult literature.

My latest favorite novel was, as you may have guessed, written for children. Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me is a coming of age novel and an homage to Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. (If you haven't read A Wrinkle in Time, I am appalled. Read it immediately.) Set in New York in the late 1970s, When You Reach Me perfectly captures that horribly awkward and amazing time of life when childhood is left behind but still within reach.

After twelve-year-old Miranda's best friend Sal gets punched on the way home from school one day, nothing is the same. New friendships are made, there's a mystery to solve, and a game show to prepare for. When You Reach Me is one of those novels that is fascinating to read yet frustrating to review because describing the plot in detail would ruin the mystery. I probably shouldn't have even mentioned A Wrinkle in Time. Stead's prose is excellent and I actually had to reread some of the scientific passages, which illustrates for you children's literature doubters out there that books meant for children can indeed be intellectually stimulating.

Please read this book. As soon as I finished it, I immediately turned to the first page and began reading it again. This is a rare reaction for me, as I have a pretty short attention span, and thus high praise indeed. Once You Reach Me has the makings of a classic and shouldn't be missed.

Plus it has a pretty nifty cover.

Other Children's Books That Are Fabulous and Should be Read Immediately:

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
A mouse saves a beautiful princess from the clutches of an very unpleasant rat. The moral of the story? Everyone has feelings--complicated, confused feelings, and within us all there is the possibility for good and bad, and redemption. The drawings are also adorable, and, you know, it did win the Newbery in 2004.

The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One
by Rick Riordan
Riordan's Percy Jackson series is so popular that a motion picture is coming out soon, so please read the book before the movie comes out. Not that the movie will be bad--in fact the trailer indicates it might actually be good--but I hate seeing a movie before reading the book it's based on. It ruins all my ideas of who the characters are. Anyway, The Lightning Thief is about Percy's realization that he is half god and half human: a hero. Before you can say "Zeus" he's off to hero camp, battling monsters, and discovering who his Olympian father is. Completely addicting.