Archive for the ‘the girl’s reviews’ Category

The Girl (age 13) wanted to share her favorites out of the books she read this year.  She has been very busy with school this year, and much of the last few months have been spent preparing for the high school placement test she took at the beginning of December and writing various essays for high school and scholarship applications.  While she hasn’t had much time to post reviews here, she has been busy reading.  When things ease up a bit, she hopes to launch her own blog, so you might see some of these books reviewed there in the (hopefully) near future.  She’s been getting the blog ready, and I’ll let you all know when it’s been launched.

The Girl’s Top 10 Books Read in 2013


Divergent by Veronica Roth

The Girl says:  “I read this in one day and thought it was amazing.  The world was believable, and I fell in love with the characters.  Most of them, anyway.”

the outsiders

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The Girl says: “I loved everything about this book from start to finish.”


Unfed by Kirsty McKay

The Girl says: “It’s a great second book in what I hope is a series.  It picks up right where Undead ends.  It’s a great zombie book and always kept me on my toes.”

catching fire

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

The Girl says: “This is book 2 in The Hunger Games trilogy and my favorite of the three.  I loved the scenes in the arena, and I loved Finnick.”


Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith

The Girl says: “This is a young adult novel for teens 14 and up because it is gory.  Really gory.  But I didn’t mind the gory descriptions because they made the book more vivid and exciting.”


Slated by Teri Terry

The Girl says: “I loved Kyla from the first page, and the dystopian world was very unique and believable.”


Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The Girl says: “A great way to end the trilogy.  It almost made me cry.  Almost.  I haven’t cried reading a book yet, though.”

lord of the flies

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The Girl says: “I could feel the fear.  This book makes you think.”


Black Box by Julie Schumacher

The Girl says: “A sad, compelling story that has stayed with me.”

every soul a star

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

The Girl says: “Wonderful writing, a page-turner.”

The Girl’s 2013 Honorable Mentions

tomorrow girls series

The Tomorrow Girls series by Eva Gray

The Girl says: “I couldn’t put these books down.”

entice and endure

Entice and Endure by Carrie Jones

The Girl says: “A series that will always stay with me.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget these characters.”

The Girl wants to know:  What were your favorite YA books of 2013?

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★★★

Here she was at the beginning of something, her toes curled over the edge of the diving board.  She was ready to plunge.  Good-bye to her awkward list of numbered boyfriends and her mutated, Austen-inspired intensity that had pushed her from one ending to another.  She was determined that this vacation, this holiday, unlike any of her relationships, would have a very good ending.

(from Austenland, pages 30-31)

Jane Hayes is a 33-year-old artist working as a graphic designer at a newspaper in New York City.  She is obsessed with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, specifically the 1995 BBC adaptation starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.  Jane has endured a string of failed relationships, and none of the men she’s dated live up to her Mr. Darcy ideal.  Recognizing that Jane is living in a fantasy world, her great-aunt Carolyn leaves Jane in her will an all-inclusive, three-week trip to Pembrook Park, an estate in Kent, England, where wealthy women act out their fantasies of living in Regency England.  Jane decides to enjoy the trip, live out the fantasy, and return to a reality without Mr. Darcy…or any man.

At Pembrook Park, Jane dons Regency dresses and bonnets, plays Regency parlor games, adheres to Regency etiquette, and acts out a story in which she is Jane Erstwhile, the American niece of the estate’s owners.  Jane spends her days and evenings with other guests like herself (including Miss Charming, a 50-year-old American pretending to be a 22-year-old and adopting a horrible British accent) and the actors paid to charm and romance them.  Jane banters with Colonel Andrews, a happy-go-lucky, rakish second son of an earl (reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice‘s Colonel Fitzwilliam) and his friend, Mr. Nobley, a brooding, arrogant man who makes her question the attractiveness of her beloved Mr. Darcy.

As the lowest-ranking woman in attendance, Jane feels like an outsider and enjoys hanging out with the gardeners more than the gentlemen.  As the line between fantasy and reality starts to blur, Jane has to decide whether or not to play the game.  She has to confront her Austen obsession head on and find her true self.

The Girl (age 13) and I read Shannon Hale’s Austenland together in preparation for the movie, and we both thought it was a delightfully fun novel.  The Girl hasn’t read any of Austen’s novels yet, but she loves the movie adaptations, and we both were intrigued by the idea of basically becoming an Austen heroine for a few weeks.

Hale created a believable, likeable character in Jane.  I’m sure many bookworms can name some fictional characters who’ve made them swoon and have wished that real-life relationships all had happily-ever-afters.  Hale includes a short description of each of Jane’s relationships at the beginning of every chapter, and it’s easy to see why she’d want to hold out for her Mr. Darcy, although somewhere along the way (probably blinded by Colin Firth in the wet shirt scene) she forgot that even Mr. Darcy isn’t perfect.  It’s also understandable how Jane could get caught up in the magic of Pembrook Park, all the men in breeches, and all the Austen-ness.  And between the hot-to-trot Miss Charming and Jane’s numerous mishaps, there are plenty of laughs.

The Girl and I gobbled up this short book on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  We had an inkling of how it would play out, but we just couldn’t stop reading until we found out what happened to Jane.  Austenland is full of humor and fantasy, and it’s a must-read for Austen fans who want to go back in time for a little bit in search of their own Mr. Darcy.

Disclosure: I borrowed Austenland from the public library.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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winter's end

Source: My daughter
Rating: ★★★☆☆

“The barbarians weren’t going to silence her. … While she still sang, the Resistance wasn’t giving up.  You’d have thought that hope depended on her voice.”

(from Winter’s End, page 207)

Winter’s End is a young adult dystopian novel by Jean-Claude Mourlevat, translated from the French by Anthea Bell, and our book club’s April pick, nominated by The Girl (age 12).  It focuses on four teenagers who reside in prison-like boarding schools in a country ruled by the tyrannical Phalange.  Their only respite is an occasional visit to their consolers, villagers who serve as confidants and are pretty much the only parents they’ve ever known.

When the novel opens, Helen is feeling particularly low and desperate to meet with her consoler.  She takes her best friend, Milena, with her to the village, and on the way, they meet Bartolomeo and Milos from the boys’ school.  This chance meeting changes their lives, igniting a desire to be free and to fight against the government that destroyed their families.  They also get a taste of what it feels like to be in love.  Bart and Milena run away despite the fact that two of their fellow classmates will be punished in their place.  They are immediately drawn to one another, their shared pasts sparking a journey in which Milena’s beautiful singing voice could be their saving grace and something pure to unite the masses.  Meanwhile, Helen and Milos go off in search of their friends, who are being tracked by an evil police chief and a pack of bloodthirsty dog-men.

In Winter’s End, Mourlevat takes readers on an adventure complete with barbaric games, giant horse-men, and a back story of obsession and revenge.  It’s a fast-paced, very readable book, but The Girl and I longed for more.  Who were the Phalange, and why did they feel a need to take over the government?  It was difficult to feel completely invested in their fight for freedom without knowing exactly what they were fighting against.  It was also hard to connect with the main characters because they were pretty flat, with the exception of Milos.  The Girl and I both loved Milos; he was not only strong and fearless but also a romantic and gentle soul.  As for the others, Helen is likeable but seems to act only when she has to and is absent from the major action.  We’re supposed to view Bart as a leader, but he seems to be pretty weak in that regard, simply benefiting from his father’s reputation as a Resistance leader.  And Milena…The Girl couldn’t stand her because she was portrayed as perfect, with everyone fawning over her and her voice, and it got annoying after awhile.

However, there was plenty to like about this novel as well.  I love that it’s a standalone book, not part of a series or trilogy.  (The Girl disagrees with me on that point; she thinks it would have made a great trilogy if there were more details about the Phalange, the political coup, and the teens’ parents and a better build up to the revolution.)  Despite our issues with the character development, they seemed to be realistic teens in their impulsive decisions and the intense feelings of first love.  And we liked that these characters had the courage to stand up for what they believe is right, even though it could cost them their lives.

Overall, Winter’s End was an enjoyable novel.  The writing wasn’t spectacular, but the story was intriguing.  There were some exciting, edge-of-your-seat scenes, and while there was a lot of violence, it wasn’t overly graphic.  The Girl liked it more than I did, but she’s also the target audience for this book.

Book Club Discussion (beware of possible spoilers)

The Eclectic Bookworms seemed to enjoy the book, with most of us rating it 3 out of 5 stars.  We thought it was the best written of the YA novels we’ve read as a group so far, particularly better than Ashes and Shadows by Ilsa J. Bick.  Some of us found it hard to believe that one girl’s voice could spark a revolution, but it made more sense to others if the book was indeed set in France.  (I’m not up on my French history, so not exactly sure why they thought that.)  We talked about the numerous coincidences, particularly Bart and Milena’s chance meeting given their entwined pasts, and the many scenes where we had to suspend disbelief, like when the police chief (who’s supposed to be an expert hunter) makes an obnoxiously stupid mistake and gets himself killed early on in the book.  With that scene in particular, some of us thought it seemed like the author didn’t know how to get Helen and Milos out of the impossible situation they were in on the mountain.

Some of us were disappointed by the anticlimactic ending and the unnecessary epilogue, and some of us also wanted a more developed and detailed back story.  Some of us even saw some similarities to The Hunger Games when it came to the scenes with the gladiator games.  I was especially surprised that some members wished it had been a trilogy, with the first book focusing on the boarding school, the second on the gladiator games, and the third on the revolution.  I seemed to be in the minority in wanting maybe a longer book, but just one book.

Our book for May is The Last Van Gogh by Alyson Richman.  I’m really excited about this one because Richman’s The Lost Wife made my Best of 2011 list!  The Girl and I are only about seven chapters in, but we’re enjoying it so far.

If you’ve read Winter’s End, what did you think?  Please let me know in the comments!

Disclosure: I borrowed Winter’s End from my daughter.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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the outsiders

Source: My daughter
Rating: ★★★★★

It wasn’t fair for the Socs to have everything.  We were as good as they were; it wasn’t our fault we were greasers.  I couldn’t just take it or leave it, like Two-Bit, or ignore it and love life anyway, like Sodapop, or harden myself beyond caring, like Dally, or actually enjoy it, like Tim Shepard.  I felt the tension growing inside of me and I knew something had to happen or I would explode.

(from The Outsiders, page 47)

S.E. Hinton’s classic young adult novel, The Outsiders, first published in 1967, is one I missed during my school years, but it proved to be another case of better late than never.  The Girl (age 12) recently read it in her reading class, and it became her newest favorite book.  Her class also watched the 1983 film adaptation, and I bought it for her because she couldn’t stop talking about how much she loved it.  So I wasn’t surprised when she begged me to read the book, mainly because she has been talking about this book for weeks but didn’t want to spoil it for me and also because she really wants me to watch the movie with her but insisted I can’t do that until I read the book.  I was so happy to see her so excited about a book that I couldn’t refuse.

The Outsiders is narrated by 14-year-old Ponyboy Curtis and mainly deals with the clashes between the town’s rival gangs, the greasers and the Socs (short for the Socials).  The greasers, to which Ponyboy, his brothers, and his friends belong, are seen as hoods because of their penchant for long hair and hair oil, along with the fact that they smoke and drink, fight, and shoplift.  Most people think that’s all there is to know about the greasers, but they would be wrong.

Ponyboy doesn’t like to fight.  He loves movies, reading, and sunsets.  He is a thinker, and he constantly questions why things are the way they are, basically why the Socs are the “haves” and the greasers are the “have-nots.”  Through his honest narrative, readers come to know the boys that make up his family: his stern oldest brother, Darry, who was forced to give up his dreams of college to take care of his brothers when their parents died; his other brother, Sodapop, a happy-go-lucky high school dropout; Two-Bit, known for his ability to shoplift and for his wisecracks; Dally, who is known for being tough, cold, and always in trouble with the law; Steve, Sodapop’s best friend, who unlike the rest of the gang, sees Ponyboy as an annoying kid; and Johnny, who is quiet and shy, abused by his parents, and scared ever since he was badly beaten up by the Socs.

One night, Ponyboy goes to a drive-in movie with Dally and Johnny, where they meet Cherry and Marcia, two Socs who are alone because they ditched their drunk boyfriends.  Ponyboy gets a chance to talk to Cherry and realizes she is different than most Socs.  His troubles begin later on, when the girls’ boyfriends catch them walking home with the greasers, he has a fight with Darry about coming home late, and runs off with Johnny in anger.  What happens next changes Ponyboy’s outlook on life.

I didn’t expect The Outsiders to be so well-written and so deep when I learned that Hinton began writing the book when she was only 15.  The Girl was right in her prediction that I would cry.  There is plenty of action, a cast of well-crafted characters, and even some melodrama, which is to be expected in a book written by a teenager and told from the point of view of a teenager, so I wasn’t bothered by it at all.

At its core, The Outsiders is about friendship and how we love our closest friends as family.  It’s about recognizing that even as society categorizes people, and despite all our differences, we essentially are the same.  We all want to be loved and accepted, and we all have dreams and desires.  The book shines in its characters and in its timelessness.  Even though they were lumped into a single group and judged accordingly, the characters retained their individuality.  Readers can see their potential to be more than what society has branded them and to rise above the circumstances that have defined their lives.  These are people who you probably know or knew, in some way, in your real life, and they grow to feel like friends over the course of the book.

The Outsiders is a book that has been challenged and banned in schools for gang violence, smoking, drinking, and the lack of strong parental role models, but I’m glad my daughter was introduced to this book at school because she and I might have missed it otherwise.  Of course, the characters aren’t good role models for kids, but there is so much about this book that is good.  It features a brother who gives up everything to do what’s right for his family and shows how nothing good comes out of fighting, the importance of not judging others based on their appearance or their social class, how friendship can carry you through tough times, and the importance of questioning and challenging the status quo when something is wrong or unfair.  I’ll never know how this book would have affected me as a teenager; I’m just glad to have read it.

The Girl’s Thoughts on The Outsiders

*I loved everything about this book from start to finish.

*I loved the action.  It made the pages fly by.

*I loved the description.  I could picture what happened in my mind.

*I loved the characters.  They all had their own personalities.  My favorite character is Two-Bit Mathews.  He does bad things but is funny and a good person deep down.

*This was a great book to turn into a movie.  I have watched it many times since finishing the book.  It sticks to the book for the most part and brings it to life.

*Now I have to make my mom watch the movie.

Disclosure: I borrowed The Outsiders from my daughter.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Review copy from Farrar, Straus and Giroux
The Girl’s Rating: ★★★★★

Furnace Penitentiary: the world’s most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth’s surface. Convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, sentenced to life without parole, “new fish” Alex Sawyer knows he has two choices: find a way out, or resign himself to a death behind bars, in the darkness at the bottom of the world. Except in Furnace, death is the least of his worries. Soon Alex discovers that the prison is a place of pure evil, where inhuman creatures in gas masks stalk the corridors at night, where giants in black suits drag screaming inmates into the shadows, where deformed beasts can be heard howling from the blood-drenched tunnels below. And behind everything is the mysterious, all-powerful warden, a man as cruel and dangerous as the devil himself, whose unthinkable acts have consequences that stretch far beyond the walls of the prison.

Together with a bunch of inmates—some innocent kids who have been framed, others cold-blooded killers—Alex plans an escape. But as he starts to uncover the truth about Furnace’s deeper, darker purpose, Alex’s actions grow ever more dangerous, and he must risk everything to expose this nightmare that’s hidden from the eyes of the world. (publisher’s summary)

Here’s what The Girl (age 12) thought of Lockdown, the first book in the Escape From Furnace series by Alexander Gordon Smith:

*I first want to say this was 5/5 stars for me.

*This is one of the best dystopian novels I’ve read in a long time.  When I picked up this book, I didn’t realize it was about an all-boy’s prison, so this book is geared toward boys.  But that didn’t bother me.

*This is a young adult novel for teens 14 and up because it is gory.  Really gory.  But I didn’t mind the gory descriptions because they made the book more vivid and exciting.  There was also violence, with things like the warden’s monster-like dogs that rip people apart.  Even though my mom let me read it, it’s not a book for everyone.  I think some people would find it scary, but I didn’t.

*I loved the descriptive writing.  Here is an example, which describes the “Hell Hounds” and could be kind of gross:

They didn’t have any skin.  Their slick bodies were made up of muscles and tendons that bulged in plain view, throbbing gently with the beating of their hearts.  As they moved you could see their insides working, the muscles stretching then contracting, finally tensing when the group came to a halt.  Their faces too were entirely devoid of fur, two silver eyes embedded into their flesh and glaring at our group like we were dinner.  (page 56 in the advanced reader’s edition)

*My favorite character was Carl Donovan (everyone calls him Donovan), the cellmate of the narrator, Alex.  He was sometimes gloomy, protective of Alex, and I just liked him.

*I loved that this book had lots of action, and I thought the story was unique.  It was suspenseful, and the author makes you feel like you are in the prison, too.  I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in this series.

Disclosure: I received Lockdown from Farrar, Straus and Giroux for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

But every second I’m alive is one more moment I still have a chance to do something.

(from Shadows, page 33)

Shadows is the second book in The Ashes Trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick, centered on the survivors of an electromagnetic pulse that killed all the middle aged, revived the elderly, and changed most children and teens into crazed, animalistic, zombie-like creatures.  Shadows picks up right where Ashes left off, and it’s definitely not a standalone novel.  Please note that this review may contain spoilers from the first novel, but not from this one.

Whereas Ashes focuses on Alex, a 17-year-old girl with a brain tumor whose sense of smell is returned and magnified by the EMP, and how she and the people she meets along the way struggle to survive and adapt to the post-EMP world, Shadows follows so many people and so many subplots that it is hard to keep everything straight.  While Alex fights to keep from becoming the next meal for a group of Changed, there is a struggle for power in Rule, the cult-like town that took Alex in during the latter half of the first book.  At the same time, the various characters also must contend with bounty hunters and a militia led by a sadist.

With lots of blood and gore, and even some nauseating sex scenes, Shadows is a YA novel definitely meant for older teens.  The Girl (age 12) really enjoyed Ashes, which was far tamer in terms of sex and violence, so I was glad that Jill informed me of the more adult scenes in this book.  Because The Girl was so attached to the characters and wanted to know what happened after the cliffhanger ending of Ashes — and because it was our book club’s February pick — we read this one together, me reading it aloud and paraphrasing the more graphic parts.

Shadows is an improvement over Ashes in terms of pacing, and it definitely is an exciting dystopian novel.  However, there are just way too many characters, and the overuse of certain adjectives (“ashen,” “shadowy,” and “coppery,” to name a few) made for some tedious reading at times.  Bick made me curious about what’s going on with the people of Rule, but I’m craving more of an explanation about the EMP and its impact on more than just this town, which seems like it was kind of crazy even before the “Zap.”  There also were a lot of short chapters and swiftly changing points of view between them, which I assume was to increase tension but got on my nerves after awhile, and many scenes that just seemed to be about the violence and the action but didn’t really further the plot.

Even so, I liked it enough to read the third book, Monsters, which is slated for release in September.  And The Girl liked it way more than I did, but she’s always been a fan of horror and unrealistic gore.  I wanted her to write up her own thoughts, but she’s been too busy with homework, soccer practice, and play rehearsals to write reviews.  (At least she’s plugging along in her reading!)  She says that even while she only cared about the main characters, Alex and Tom, and thought the book was kind of slow in the middle, she enjoyed it because it was full of action and suspense.

Serena has a comprehensive wrap-up of what our book club thought, along with her review, on Savvy Verse & Wit.  I will be leading the March book club discussion on Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada…stay tuned for my thoughts!

Disclosure: I borrowed Shadows from the public library.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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eyes, stones

Source: Borrowed from Serena
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Eyes, Stones is my book club’s first poetry selection, and I can’t wait for our discussion on Jan. 19.  Poet Elana Bell is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, so it’s not surprising that the poems in this collection touch upon the Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The poems are grounded in history and human suffering, and Bell gives voice to both sides of the conflict.

Bell uses narrators to tell stories in verse, and she manages to convey a significant amount of pain and emotion in so few lines.  I was most affected by the poems featuring Zosha, a Holocaust survivor, particularly “God,” in which she arrives home to find that her mother and everyone else have been taken away and questions her faith.

You sit put. So that’s how
I survive. What do I know

from God? … (page 21)

There are poems about survival, like “Visiting Auschwitz,” which considers the randomness of how one person survived and another did not.

what glint willed the breath
what saw her and said live. (page 28)

Some hit you immediately with their descriptions of violence and feelings of hopelessness and despair, like “Kishinev,” which is about a three-day pogrom that occurred in 1903.

We are inside the dream of a God who’s forgotten us. There is no other way to say it. Through the stippled glass I watched the neighbors hammer nails into the Jewish babies’ eyes. (page 16)

But Bell goes beyond the persecution of the Jews and tenderly writes of the Arab connection to their homes and land. “On a Hilltop at the Nassar Farm,” focuses on Amal, a Palestinian whose family has farmed their land for generations, and her love for this land, juxtaposing her life with that of someone who moves around and has no connection to the earth. I was struck by the beauty of these lines:

…Amal loves this land
and when I say land I mean this
exact dirt and the fruit of it
and the sheep who graze it and the children
who eat from it and the dogs who protect it
and the tiny white blossoms it scatters in spring. (pages 36-37)

The Girl (age 12) read the poems aloud with me, and though we both know little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we appreciated the stories told here about people who are divided yet have a common understanding of what it means to suffer. My daughter’s favorite poem was “Refugee,” about the Arab-Israeli War in 1948, in which the Arabs of Ramla were displaced by Jewish immigrants.

Who lived here? The doors swing
like slabs of meat on their hinges.
Inside, the cupboards gaped
to reveal their goods, stacked tight,
except a few cans rolling on the floor,
a pot on the stove still steaming.
Who lived here? I tiptoed
into the smallest room and crouched
by the foot of the bed. Mama
pulled me up and cupped my face.
Tonight you’ll sleep in a proper bed
she crooned. (page 9)

While content to merely listen to me read the other poems, The Girl wanted to spend time with this one. She was struck by how it described the end of a certain way of life for one family and a new beginning for another.

Eyes, Stones is a slim volume of poetry that can be read fairly quickly, but it begs to be pondered in more depth. My husband (who is new to reading poetry) loved it and wants to buy his own copy so he can spend more time with these poems. Bell is skilled in her ability to tell both sides of the story in a compassionate, respectful way, exploring the gray issues of a contentious conflict.

dive into poetry challenge

Book 1 for Dive Into Poetry Challenge

Disclosure: I borrowed Eyes, Stones from Serena.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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The Girl (age 12) read 42 books last year, which is a personal record for her.  I’m so proud that she always has a book in her hand and enjoys talking about books as much as I do.  After seeing my best of 2012 list, she wanted to create her own.  When I asked her why these were her favorite books, she just said, “They were really really good.”  (These are books she read last year; not all were published last year.)

The Girl’s Top 10 of 2012


Undead by Kirsty McKay


Need by Carrie Jones

hunger games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

code name verity

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

the book thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak


Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

the limit

The Limit by Kristen Landon

witch & wizard

Witch & Wizard by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet

the help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

judy blume

Just as Long as We’re Together/Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson by Judy Blume

The 2012 Honorable Mentions

the lost hero

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

the lightning thief

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

zombie blondes

Zombie Blondes by Brian James


Smile by Raina Telgemeier

What were the best books you read in 2012?

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

“He’s very cunning,” Hawking said, as if admiring him.  “Perhaps brilliant, strong, dedicated, all qualities one might be proud to possess.”

“B-but…,” Carver stammered, “he’s also evil.”

Hawking turned his intense gaze on Carver.  “And no one wants to hear good things about the devil, eh?”

(from Ripper, page 201)

Ripper, my book club’s December pick, is a young adult historical/steampunk novel focused on orphan and amateur detective, Carver Young, in 1895 New York City.  The 14-year-old Carver is adopted by a not-so-retired Pinkerton detective, Albert Hawking, just as murders reminiscent of London’s Jack the Ripper begin, putting pressure on the city’s police commissioner, Teddy Roosevelt, who is working tirelessly to reform the corrupt police department.

Carver is thrust into a world he believed to be the stuff of crime novels, brought by Hawking to an underground crime lab run by the New Pinkertons, whose agents are working secretly to solve the murders in hopes of putting the agency back in the limelight.  He is tasked with finding his biological father, known to him only through the letter in his orphanage file, under the tutelage of the eccentric Hawking.  Although he is fascinated with the gadgetry of the New Pinkertons, Hawking teaches Carver how to narrow down the possibilities and to trust his gut — which comes in handy when it becomes obvious that finding his father is not only a daunting but also very dangerous task.

Stefan Petrucha uses the facts known about the London murders committed by Jack the Ripper, along with actual letters he sent to the newspapers and police, as a foundation for a chilling tale.  But Ripper is more about Carver’s evolution than finding the man responsible for the brutal slayings of city socialites.  Watching Carver mature and develop his detective skills is the highlight of the novel, along with how turn-of-the-century New York City becomes a character in itself.

However, the book was slow-moving for the most part, helped along by the fact that the big mystery becomes obvious early on.  The Girl (age 12) read this book with me, and she figured it out right away and frequently mentioned how “blah” the descriptions were.  Moreover, the murders were barely described, so they didn’t have much of an impact, and while Petrucha might have toned that down for the target audience, The Girl pointed out how she’s read YA zombie novels that were much gorier and exciting.  Petrucha picked up the pace in the last quarter of the book, which made it much easier to read and enjoy.

Overall, Ripper was just an okay book for us.  The history was interesting and the premise was intriguing, but we felt there was something missing in the execution.  The book club seemed to feel the same way.  Most members said they simply weren’t part of the target audience, but even the youngest member of the group had a hard time with its predictability and lack of excitement.  Even though the book lacked the gore one would expect when focusing on a serial killer, there was a hint of creepiness in both the asylum where Hawking lived and worked and the home of the crazy cat lady and member of the Midnight Band of Mercy.  Ripper didn’t make for a captivating mystery, but it shines as a coming-of-age story about a young boy unsure of who he is, what to make of his parentage, and how to rise above the evil attacking him and the city he loves.

Disclosure: I borrowed Ripper from the public library.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

The pain was fire, a laser that scorched her brain.  A sudden metallic chattering bubbled in her ears, and her vision sheeted first red and then glare-white, and then she was stumbling, her feet tangling, and she fell.  Something wet and hot spurted from her throat and dribbled down her chin.

(from Ashes, page 26)

Ashes is the first installment in Ilsa J. Bick’s YA dystopian trilogy about a world turned upside down by an electromagnetic pulse that renders all electronic devices useless, causes countless people to drop dead on the spot, and changes many others in unthinkable ways.  The novel follows a teenage girl named Alex, who is camping in the mountains, grieving the death of her parents, and contemplating her terminal brain tumor when the EMP kills the old man she has just met in the woods, leaving her to watch over his 8-year-old granddaughter, Ellie, who is already dealing with the grief of losing her dad in Iraq.

Shortly after what she calls The Zap, as she’s trying to figure out what supplies she has, what she should do next, and how to manage Ellie and her bad attitude, Alex realizes that she suddenly has regained her sense of smell, and it’s even sharper than before.  She can smell fear and the emotions of both people and animals.  It’s not long before she smells a rotten stench, and she and Ellie stumble upon teenagers who have suddenly gone primitive.  Somehow they also were changed by The Zap, but into cannibals, wild beings focused only on eating whatever they can get their hands on.

While dodging these zombie-like cannibals and a pack of frenzied dogs, they run into Tom, a soldier not much older than Alex, and as they try to find food and shelter and piece together what is going on in the world beyond the forest, they become a family of sorts.  They can’t stay in the woods forever, but there are more sinister things waiting for them on the road, as catastrophes such as this bring out the worst in some people.

I probably wouldn’t have picked up Ashes if it wasn’t our August book club pick, but it was a quick read that had a little bit of everything — disaster, romance, and of course, action and horror, courtesy of the cannibals.  The Girl (age 12) and I read this together, and she really enjoyed it, gore and all.  (I should probably state that this book may not be appropriate for your younger reader.  There is some sex talk but nothing too graphic, a few swears, and the cannibal gore, so it just depends on what your child can handle.)  As one of my friends in the book club stated, it’s not great literature, but you can enjoy it for what it is, and considering some of the deep war novels I gravitate toward, this was a bit of light, mindless reading for me.

However, The Girl and I both grew tired of the overuse of the words “ash,” “ashes,” “ashen,” etc., and how Bick ends scenes too soon, picking up a little later in the story and making us wonder what happened during some critical moments.  We both would have preferred more details about the EMP, but all we got were the speculations and observations of various characters, though we understand (and hope) that Bick probably is saving the crucial details for the last two books.

We liked the first half of the book, when it was truly a survival story, but it seemed to fall apart toward the end, when Alex comes across the village of Rule, its cult-like Council of Five, and its creepy plan for the Saved, and she seems to lose some of the toughness that made her character so interesting early on.  She suspects all is not as it seems in this town, but she is placed in a home with other young girls not affected by The Zap and falls into a routine that involves working at a hospice.  We also questioned why books with teenage heroines seem to need a love triangle, as a shadowy Chris, who is torn between the rules of Rule and what he thinks is right, shows an interest in Alex.

Still, there was a lot to like about Ashes.  Bick does a good job developing her characters and getting readers to care about whether they survive.  The premise of the book is unique, and she paints a realistic portrait of human nature in times of distress.  The abandoned cars and dead bodies, the chaos and violence that erupt as people become desperate for food and a place to sleep that’s safe from the cannibal kids may be the result of an unbelievable situation, but I certainly could see people reacting in such a way.  It was hard to tell who they should fear more — the Changed who want to eat them or the humans who only care about themselves.

The cliffhanger ending made us definitely want to read the second book, so it’s a good thing Shadows is slated for release next month.  There were so many loose ends left dangling, and while we don’t need everything tied up neatly, we just want some answers and some resolution when it comes to certain characters.

Disclosure: I borrowed Ashes from the public library.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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