Recommend a… (book with a character who plays a sport)

Recommend A… is a weekly meme run by Chick Loves Lit. Click here to check out future prompts and take part!

I looked and looked, and I have yet to see a book I have read in which a character plays sports! Predictable. I suppose Harry Potter is a possibility (“And here is how one plays Quidditch…“), but I prefer — most of the time — suggesting books that receive less attention. Hence, this week’s recommendation might be considered somewhat of a cheat. The main character refers to his “sport” of preference as a “mental sport,” but I hope no one minds, as it is an enjoyable book.

The Cardturner: A Novel about a King, a Queen, and a Joker by Louis Sachar
Published May 11th, 2010 | Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Young Adult Fiction

Summary from GoodReads:

From Louis Sachar, New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Newbery Medal for HOLES, comes the young adult novel THE CARDTURNER, an exploration of the human condition.

How are we supposed to be partners? He can’t see the cards and I don’t know the rules!

The summer after junior year of high school looks bleak for Alton Richards. His girlfriend has dumped him to hook up with his best friend. He has no money and no job. His parents insist that he drive his great-uncle Lester to his bridge club four times a week and be his cardturner—whatever that means. Alton’s uncle is old, blind, very sick, and very rich.

But Alton’s parents aren’t the only ones trying to worm their way into Lester Trapp’s good graces. They’re in competition with his longtime housekeeper, his alluring young nurse, and the crazy Castaneda family, who seem to have a mysterious influence over him.

Alton soon finds himself intrigued by his uncle, by the game of bridge, and especially by the pretty and shy Toni Castaneda. As the summer goes on, he struggles to figure out what it all means, and ultimately to figure out the meaning of his own life.

Through Alton’s wry observations, Louis Sachar explores the disparity between what you know and what you think you know. With his incomparable flair and inventiveness, he examines the elusive differences between perception and reality—and inspires readers to think and think again.

Yeah, yeah, no real sports! I’m sorry. Yes, I present a book entirely void of any physical exertion, unless I count Uncle Trapp — the old man tires simply by walking, but he is an amazing bridge player. I should hope the card game does not throw anyone off, because the story itself — the true heart of it — has less to do with bridge and much more to do with character history and relations.

I found Alton’s narrative voice difficult to dislike, as Sachar makes an agreeable character out of him. The atmosphere is notably light and fun, yet balanced by sincerity. The romantic aspect flickers faintly most of the time, just at the edge somewhere in peripheral view, but the emotions are there and felt. The main focus centers on Alton’s developing relationship with his uncle, Trapp, as well as Trapp’s history. As the reader, I loved learning Trapp’s backstory: a tale that involves bridge, of course, but elaborates on a different and tragic love that I think can fill a novel of its own. Reading The Cardturner turned out to be a relaxing experience that holds more than one gripping attribute. I recommend Sachar’s book for fans and players of bridge, and even to those who are not. (Only the former party will show greater appreciation, and for obvious reasons.)

  • You can read my review here.

Since my book list falls short in sporty characters, I’d love to hear recommendations — if you’ve got any.

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Recommend a… (book by a debut author)

Recommend A… is a weekly meme run by Chick Loves Lit. Click here to check out future prompts and take part!

Shadow & Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Published June 5th, 2012 | Henry Holt and Co.
Fantasy

Summary from GoodReads:

Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, the one thing she could rely on was her best friend and fellow refugee, Mal. And lately not even that seems certain. Drafted into the army of their war-torn homeland, they’re sent on a dangerous mission into the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh.

When their convoy is attacked, all seems lost until Alina reveals a dormant power that not even she knew existed. Ripped from everything she knows, she is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. He believes she is the answer the people have been waiting for: the one person with the power to destroy the Fold.

Swept up in a world of luxury and illusion, envied as the Darkling’s favorite, Alina struggles to fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But as the threat to the kingdom mounts, Alina uncovers a secret that sets her on a collision course with the most powerful forces in the kingdom. Now only her past can save her . . . and only she can save the future.

I admit that I would like to give Shadow & Bone a second read, because I’m almost — almost! — embarrassed to say that I love the Darkling. Go ahead: you are free to make fun, but I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone. Bardugo does well in getting readers to like the villain, and while I would hate for this news to spoil anyone, I don’t believe it’s difficult to pick up on the Darking’s intentions. I spent time thinking about his character — his future role, how it would clash with Mal’s position, and not to forget how the Grisha age is dying. Where does that leave him? It leaves him as the antagonist, and dammit, I like him. So maybe I was infatuated (ahem), but new perspectives come with second readings.

Regardless, Shadow & Bone took me on a light fantasy adventure, and I would readily read it a second time.  Bardugo sucked me into Alina’s story quickly and with ease, and I maintained interest until the last page. This is a book I didn’t want to end, although it is not difficult to get so absorbed into the text that, in consequence, I didn’t realize the speed at which I stormed through it.

If Shadow & Bone has at all roused your interest, you can read an extended preview of the book: Chapters 1 – 5. In relation to Bardugo’s Grisha world creation, The Witch of Duva: A Ravkan Folk Tale is something else to read as well.

Find my review here, and check out the book trailer below!

Now, one book recommendation is to be expected, but I could not resist the temptation to suggest a second book:

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Published July 10th, 2012 | Random House Books for Young Readers
Fantasy

Summary from GoodReads:

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina’s tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they’ve turned the final page.

In 2002, Rachel Hartman did publish a comic book, Amy Unbounded — which takes place in the same universe as Seraphina — but the debut fantasy is the author’s first novel. What can I say about Seraphina that I haven’t said already? Even before the book’s release, pure excitement radiated off me in frightful blasts, and it has only worsened now that I have read it. Much to the dismay, perhaps, of everyone around me — and to my wonderful followers — I enjoy praising this book (a lot). In contrast to Bardugo’s novel, Seraphina is undoubtedly much more high fantasy. (It is also, I would like add, more developed in world-building aspects than Shadow & Bone.)

Rarely do I ever stray into high fantasy, as I prefer grounding myself in worlds similar to my own. Throw too many strange creatures and made-up languages with odd pronunciations my way, and my brain says it is time to step away. The likes of J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis were as deep as I dared to venture into the fantasy genre for years, and even then: our primary world still exists. As a result of reading Seraphina, I am more friendly with this genre. Hartman crafted an entire world I think readers will enjoy exploring, and I am quite fond of the Vulcan-like dragons.

My review can be read here. I warn, however, that Hartman’s pace is indeed steady and slow. Seraphina takes some time to read, which appears to be one of the chief complaints among reviewers.

These are my recommendations this week! If you have read either book, I would love to hear your thoughts.
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Recommend a… (book with a blue cover)

Recommend A… is a weekly meme run by Chick Loves Lit. Click here to check out future prompts and take part!

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Published February 14th, 2012 | Knopf Books for Young Readers
Realistic Fiction

“I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels

Palacio’s Wonder proves itself a tender story that deserves to be read not only for theme, but for value. It produced no effect at first, and August’s young sense of humor — though I hate to admit this, because it will assert me as a downer — felt dull. My sympathy owns a tough coat, though penetrable, while my perspective has become jaded. (Fussy taste, it seems, extends beyond the realm of food.) I wondered how well, if at all, I would warm up to August Pullman. Few stories like Wonder manage to stand out among the heap and bedazzle me. While others may sound preachy or campy, few touch on a deeper, realistic level if only because I’m human. Needless to say, August grew on me — and quickly. (In fact, I found myself attached to the majority of characters.)

I feel shock and disgust, yet I also expect these emotions, when I am a witness to cruelty — whether I play the bystander or victim role. Sitting opposite of cruelty’s nature, however,  is kindness, and how overwhelming it can feel to be surprised by it! Palacio presents a story heavy in affliction but writes with humor balanced by keen sensitivity. This book reminded me that while life throws punches, goodness still exists. These are moments to appreciate and not sweep by unnoticed. I laughed and I cried, and I felt uplifted. For me, Wonder is not about the ending’s accuracy to real-life situations. Wonder is about the lesson I sometimes forget I have learned, and the importance of it.

Kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.

Kindness, after all, does not simply affect the person it is directed at, because kindness also invokes change in the one who gives it.

Recommend a… (book someone else recommended to you)

Recommend A… is a weekly meme run by Chick Loves Lit. Click here to check out future prompts and take part!

A book recommend to me by someone else (multiple people, actually) is A Game of Thrones, but the last book I recall someone suggesting I read — and that I did read! — is…

The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi & illustrated by J.K. Drummond
Published January 31st, 2011 | Subterranean Press
Fantasy

Magic has a price. But someone else will pay.

Every time a spell is cast, a bit of bramble sprouts, sending up tangling vines, bloody thorns, and threatening a poisonous sleep. It sprouts in tilled fields and in neighbors’ roof beams, thrusts up from between street cobbles, and bursts forth from sacks of powdered spice. A bit of magic, and bramble follows. A little at first, and then more–until whole cities are dragged down under tangling vines and empires lie dead, ruins choked by bramble forest. Monuments to people who loved magic too much.

In paired novellas, award-winning authors Tobias Buckell and Paolo Bacigalupi explore a shared world where magic is forbidden and its use is rewarded with the axe. A world of glittering memories and a desperate present, where everyone uses a little magic, and someone else always pays the price.

In the beleaguered city of Khaim, a lone alchemist seeks a solution to a deadly threat. The bramble, a plant that feeds upon magic, now presses upon Khaim, nourished by the furtive spell casting of its inhabitants and threatening to strangle the city under poisonous vines. Driven by desperation and genius, the alchemist constructs a device that transcends magic, unlocking the mysteries of bramble’s essential nature. But the power of his newly-built balanthast is even greater than he dreamed. Where he sought to save a city and its people, the balanthast has the potential to save the world entirely–if it doesn’t destroy him and his family first.

I hopefully will get to the Song of Ice & Fire series soon — preferably before the year ends — but I am glad to have read Bacigalupi’s short novella back in 2011. The Alchemist tells the story of Jeoz: widow, father of two, and desperate to cure his sick child. In a place where magic is outlawed, Jeoz risks punishment by casting spells that subdue his daughter’s bramble-induced illness. However, with every cast spell means new bramble: a deadly plant encasing Khaim, threatening to take over completely. Determined to find a solution — both for his child’s health and the end of bramble — Jeoz creates the balanthast, thus providing Khaim the ability to free itself. To the misfortune of Jeoz and his family, this wondrous invention also brings unforeseen consequences.

Ninety-five pages long, Bacigalupi’s words breathe life to the story. Quickly paced, the language proves tactful and not butchered by disruptive sentence flow or poor execution. Instead, I find it a surprisingly fun and lively read — one that I don’t mind reading again and again. I haven’t checked out Tobias S. Buckell’s The Executioness  yet, but it may interest you more to read both back-to-back.

You can find my review here!

Recommend a… (first book in a series)

Recommend A… is a weekly meme run by Chick Loves Lit. Click here to check out future prompts and take part!

I was going to recommend Hartman’s Seraphina, but considering how I gushed over it in a review yesterday, I think I will shine the spotlight on something else. Several titles came to mind: The Colour of Magic, Shadow & Bone, Harry Potter (a no-brainer), Divergent, Legend, and the list carries on. As always, I waver back and forth between options, so which book did I finally settle on as a recommendation?

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Published June 7th, 2011 | Quirk Books
Young Adult Fantasy

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

I acknowledge that Riggs’s book is not for everyone. Varying opinions surround the photographs, which work in conjunction with the story-telling. These pictures are considered unnecessary, a poor construct way to build plot, or they simply aren’t “scary.” (If anything, I find the photographs serve as interesting (but not scary) visual aids, finely tied to the text. I have no issues with them.) For the record: I do see several faulty areas in the writing, places that I believe — had they been revised more — could have made a leap of improvement (such as the conclusion). I’d prefer to see a stronger foundation from which the story’s framework is built — a neater wrap-up of a novel, if you will.

At the start, Riggs succeeded to enmesh me into Jacob’s suspense and fear. This thrill, I thought, would last — it would remain a key factor in the story’s progression. Alas! That exciting rush and prickling unease subside, as Jacob’s journey becomes one of steadily paced intrigue. Where I think much disappointment stems from is how Riggs’s novel is showcased: “spine-tingling fantasy!” it says. I disagree, but that does not make this book any less interesting or worth checking out. I found myself absorbed into the characters, and I calmly anticipate book two (expected publication: 2o13). There are whispers of a film adaption as well!

  We answered with a cry of our own, both a victory yell and a lament, for everything lost and yet to be gained.

You can find my favorite Peculiar quotes or read my review here!

Recommend a… (book you read this year!)

Recommend A… is a weekly meme run by Chick Loves Lit. Click here to check out future prompts and take part!

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
Published October 1st, 2009 | Scholastic Press
Young Adult Realistic Fiction

From bestselling author Natalie Standiford, an amazing, touching story of two friends navigating the dark waters of their senior year.

New to town, Beatrice is expecting her new best friend to be one of the girls she meets on the first day. But instead, the alphabet conspires to seat her next to Jonah, aka Ghost Boy, a quiet loner who hasn’t made a new friend since third grade. Something about him, though, gets to Bea, and soon they form an unexpected friendship. It’s not romance, exactly – but it’s definitely love. Still, Bea can’t quite dispel Jonah’s gloom and doom – and as she finds out his family history, she understands why. Can Bea help Jonah? Or is he destined to vanish?

Given the choice to suggest one out of the eighty-six I’ve read this year (I’m on a roll, kind of…), I choose How to Say Goodbye in Robot. I could (and do) recommend The Hunger Games, I Sang to the Monster, The Book Thief, Between Shades of Gray (no fifty, and much more YA-appropriate)… The list goes on. However, Standiford’s book stands out among other YA contemporaries I’ve read, and I’m sad that I have no one to share it with.

A fair percentage of readers don’t understand the relationship between Bea and Jonah — the two become so intrinsically bound that their connection transcends mere friendship, and yet absolutely nothing romantic results from it. Frankly, I adore that. These two characters manifest an unconditional love for one another, developing an attachment that will last a lifetime. Trying to label the relationship, I find,  proves ineffectual; words can’t name it. (To discuss it, though…) One can say they sit somewhere between best friends and a couple, but — and I believe Jonah himself says something similar — they have something that tops both, and I enjoyed watching their friendship thrive and mature. While this book has imperfections, I found it overall heart-warming, funny, and bittersweet — it is a book I think about often and would love to re-read.

(Poor-quality picture-excerpt does not apologize.) See my How to Say Goodbye in Robot favorite quotes & excerpts.