Recent Reads

I haven't had much time for book blogging recently, so here are several fantasy reviews in one post! All of these were read recently by our Read and Rant Book Discussion Group, which is for grades 7 to 9. If you want to read them, click on the covers to find library copies.

Downsiders by Neal Shusterman
This is one of Shusterman's older books that has recently been republished. I am a fan of his books, especially Unwind, so it's great to be able to read more of his writing. Downsiders envisions a secret society living in the tunnels under New York City, which is just possible enough to be creepy. Talon, a Downsider, knows there are strict rules about contact with Topsiders, but his curiosity gets him in trouble. After being discovered in our world by 14-year-old Lindsay, he dares to take her on a forbidden visit to the Downside. The story follows a fairly typical fantasy arc, but the world created by Shusterman is rich with images even though it is dimly lit. The Downside really captured my attention with forgotten subway stations as meeting places, dropped subway tokens and lost earrings finding new life as art, and herds of cattle (not alligators) terrorizing the tunnels. It's great for the imagination...think of what might be under Philadelphia!

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
Matt Cruise is a knowledgeable cabin boy aboard the airship Aurora in a historical fantasy setting where airplanes never replaced dirigibles in the skies. One night, he helps rescuse a dying balloonist whose last words are of mysterious winged creatures. Matt thinks his talk was just a hallucination, but that man's wealthy granddaughter, Kate, shows up as a passenger a year later and is seriously searching for information about the creatures. When their flight is overtaken by pirates and crashes on an uncharted island, Matt and Kate are propelled into action to save themselves, rescue their shipmates, and possibly revolutionize science. This book starts out slowly, as the author works to build the reader's understanding of his world. But the action really starts to take off when the pirates attack, and it does not slow down until the end! This is a good old-fashioned adventure story with a fantasy twist. It is first in a trilogy, so be sure to look for Skybreaker and Starclimber if you like it.

The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman
With the Earth's enviornment in ruins from freak weather events, Earth Mother is gathering the remaining people into the safety of the Enclosure.  When Honor and her parents are brought in from a remote island, Honor is happy to accept everything as it is presented to her.  However, her parents are much more suspicious.  They refuse to worship Earth Mother and decide to have a "selfish" second child.  It seems that the harder Honor tries to fit in, the more her parents to do stand out.  And people who stand out have a habit of disappearing.  Allegra Goodman does an excellent job of creating a dytopian world build on radical environmentalism rather than the intellectual freedom issues featured in many other books of this genre.  The story really picks up pace in the second half of the book and becomes a page-turning race against time to save those who have had their minds altered in the name of peace and safety.  Some of the plot elements seemed a bit unlikely to me, but I think that the writing style and compelling action more than compensate for them.  This is a good choice for fans of The Hunger Games and other dystopian novels.

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