My Top Ten of 2013

One of the best parts of working on Lemon-Squash has been the excuse it provides to read. A lot. While I try to share all of the really good books I discover with you, there are a few that have stood out as particular favourites. If you know me in person, there’s a pretty good chance I’ve already insisted that you read these. For those who don’t (and those who need a refresher), here are my top ten kids’ and YA reads from 2013.*

*These are titles I discovered and loved this year, not necessarily ones that were released in 2013. That said, at least a couple have sequels released this year or due to come out in 2014 that you should watch for, too.
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Ten: Vying for the Throne

Arthur demonstrated his claim to the throne but pulling Excalibur from a rock. Others’ paths to a throne (or its equivalent) have been a little more complicated. This week’s Ten looks at how a variety of characters have approached the challenge of winning a place at the top, whether facing curses, usurpers, or strings of bizarre tests.

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix
Prince Khemri’s one of ten million princes responsible for keeping the Empire humming. Though his first experiences as an adult prince quickly teach him to moderate his opinion of himself, it turns out that Khemri is indeed a favourite of the Emperor, picked out as a top candidate for the throne. The job of proving himself the best suited of a galaxy full of princes raises questions, though, and leaves Khemri wondering whether the system he’s been raised to benefit from is really so great after all. Continue reading

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave coverIn a post-apocalyptic world, Cassie feels like she is the last human alive. When the alien mothership loomed closer towards Earth, no one could have predicted what was to happen. The first wave took away their lives, the second took away hope of reconciliation, the third left only the few (both lucky and unlucky) survivors, and the fourth is killing off most of those who have outlived the other waves. Now, on the brink of the fifth wave, anything could happen — nothing and no one can be trusted.

Among Cassie’s possessions is her M-16, a first aid kit, water, a diary, some tins of sardines, pictures and a stuffed toy bear. Though worn and ragged from years of being loved, the bear represents the promise that she made to her brother, and the reason she fights so hard to survive. Little does she know that she is being stalked by someone in the shadows.

Elsewhere is another survivor who, through a miracle, has also somehow survived through all four waves. Dubbed Zombie by his rescuers, he is ushered to the barracks amongst the other surviving children to become trained “military style” to fight the enemies: you either make it or you die trying. When his regiment succeeds in bumping up its ranking and finally takes action outside camp, they are in for a surprise when they learn who their real enemies are.

Suspenseful, mysterious and with hints of romance throughout, Yancey does a stellar job of interweaving the lives and stories of its characters. He leaves the reader speculating about the realities within our day to day lives; what if the world that we live in really isn’t what we think it is? What would you do if your life was endangered by another species?

See more reviews by: Wired, the New York Times, and Mrs. ReaderPants.

Read the interview between Entertainment Weekly and Rick Yancey.

Zita the Spacegirl and Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita the Spacegirl coverWhen Zita pushes a mysterious red button, a portal opens and her friend Joseph is yanked through by a set of disembodied tentacles. It takes Zita only minutes to decide to go after him. She lands in a strange and damaged place full of a wide variety of aliens and robots, all looking to escape a looming meteoroid. As Zita searches for her friend, her kindness and bravery inspires the loyalty of a number of new companions, including a con man, a giant mouse, two discarded robots, and a furry giant named Strong Strong. They make a surprisingly promising team, but they have three big problems to solve: 1) Rescue Joseph, 2) Stop the Meteoroid, and 3) Get Zita and Joseph Home.

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl coverIn her second story, Zita continues to travel the galaxy. Now a beloved hero, she and her friends apparently stop regularly for Zita to meet her fans and give out autographs. When a copycat robot takes on Zita’s appearance, the girl is thrilled to let her double take the spotlight for awhile so she can take a break. Unfortunately, said double likes the role a little too much. With the ship (and robo-Zita) headed off to save another planet, Zita must find her own way to follow. A rash decision makes her a criminal, and public opinion very quickly turns against her. Only with the help of some rather questionable new friends — two of whom have unexpected connections to her shipmates — does Zita have any hope of reclaiming her place and continuing her journey home.

A few weeks ago, as my sister and I reminisced about the space adventure books we’d loved as kids (think Bruce Coville), we realised we couldn’t think of any that centred on girl characters. Zita, sister dear, is our answer. Zita demonstrates a combination of rashness, bravery and ingenuity that suits Coville-esque adventures perfectly, and Hatke does a fantastic job of making not only Zita, but each of her companions, too, unique and sympathetic. Add creative storylines, an imaginatively-populated universe, and rich, detailed environments, and you’ve got a series readers will be eager to share.

Read other reviews from Fabbity Fab Book Reviews and Cory Doctorow.

Read an interview with Ben Hatke about the books, his process, and the third Zita book!

Check out the Zita page on The Graphic Classroom, a neat site focused on reviewing graphic novels for the classroom and suggesting ways to use each title for teaching.

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

A Confusion of Princes coverKhemri knows his place in the galaxy. Selected as a toddler, augmented and groomed for Princedom in the years since, Khemri embarks on his career not only prepared to join 9,999,999 other Princes as co-ruler of the Empire, but convinced that he is the best and brightest of the pack. After a few years of doing what he pleases and, of course, demonstrating his superiority, he expects to be selected as the next Emperor: the powerful mind that oversees all of the Princes and everything they command. The current Imperial Mind does indeed have something special planned for Prince Khemri. However, the road meant to take him there also reveals, bit by bit, the flaws in Khemri’s understanding of the role for which he has been remade.

Two criticisms have been pretty consistently levelled against A Confusion of Princes (though most reviewers quite like it just the same): 1) the pacing of the novel doesn’t leave much space for the development of its deeper themes, especially toward the end, and 2) Khemri’s relationship with Raine is too quick and too influential to be believable. I’m going to go out on a limb and disagree – at least to some extent – with both, for basically the same reason. It’s true that Nix spends a lot of time on world building early in the novel, and then packs the majority of the story’s events, and Khemri’s development, into the relatively small space remaining. However, that early world building lays the necessary groundwork to make the rest of the story both believable and meaningful. And while the majority of the novel moves quickly, there are plenty of signs throughout that Khemri not only can, but has already started to diverge from the norm. Raine is a contributor to Khemri’s change, but only that.

Read the book? What did you think of Nix’s choices?

A Confusion of Princes has been compared to a lot of past science fiction that I’m woefully behind on reading for myself, so I’ve linked extra reviews to give you better coverage of that aspect of the book. Enjoy!
Check out School Library Journal, Tor, io9, and The Book Smugglers.

Take a look at the online game created to go with the book: Imperial Galaxy

Read an interview with Garth Nix about A Confusion of Princes and his varied work in the book world.

Ten: Trilogies of Days Past

How many of the books on your shelves come in sets of three? Trilogies are big these days, and for good reason: three books give the author more space to develop a story and keep readers coming back, without running the risk a longer series does of petering out when the number of books exceeds readers’ interest. Trilogies’ popularity isn’t new, though. This week’s Ten reintroduces some excellent past trilogies that, like their newer counterparts, will keep students reading. The only trick now is to find them!

Note: I read and loved most of these titles when I was young, but I haven’t reread most of them in quite a long time (and yes, I confess that The Lord of the Rings and the second and third Emily books remain on my to-read stack). With the help of Goodreads and Wikipedia, I’ve done my best to get the basic summary right, but please let me know if I’ve gotten something wrong.

The What Katy Did Trilogy by Susan Coolidge
What Katy Did (1872), What Katy Did at School (1873), What Katy Did Next (1886)
Katy Carr has ideas of her own — most of which get her into trouble. Most of the first book in the trilogy is about Katy’s response to an accident that leaves her (temporarily) paralysed. The second covers a year at boarding school, and the third follows Katy to Europe, where she spends a year assisting a family travelling there.
See also Clover (1888) and In the High Valley (1890), additional companion novels about other members of Katy’s family. Continue reading

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Unwind coverConnor’s parents have had enough of his attitude. Risa, a ward of the state, has not proven herself valuable enough to merit continued taxpayer-funded support. Lev, the tenth child of a large, religious family, has been raised to offer himself up for the good of humanity. All three are on their way to an unwinding camp, where they will be disassembled, their parts used to repair others suffering injury or disease.

In Shusterman’s imagined future, the pro-life/pro-choice debate has brought the US to the point of war. The compromise that ended the war was this: a pregnancy may not be aborted, but between the ages of 13 and 18, a child may be turned over to the government for unwinding. Because the unwound are kept conscious through the whole of the procedure, they are not considered dead, but altered (there is evidence to support this argument toward the end of the novel), so that parents retain the right to decide whether they wish to bring a child to adulthood without threatening the sanctity of life. An unlikely scenario, perhaps, but one that is presented with enough skill to enable readers to suspend disbelief and consider a fresh perspective on an issue whose implications for both sides tend to leave little room for discussion. Remarkably, Unwind manages to challenge the reader without championing one side over the other. Instead, as good stories should, it opens the door to questions, and allows readers to wrestle with the answers for themselves.

Audio edition highly recommended.

Read reviews from the New York Times and The Page Sage.

This short film, based on the world presented in Unwind, is very well done. However, it will make more sense if you’ve already read the book: