Odd and the Frost Giants, Neil Gaiman
This enchanting story was recommended to me by the incomparable Audrey of Bibliovermis. For those of you who enjoy reading enough to a) read my blog and b) presumably read some of the books I recommend, don't click on this link. Because it will take you to a really awesome review which requires no reading at all but instead uses creative pictures. Hmph. You clicked, didn't you? Well, here's my review anyway.
I thought this was an excellent fairy tale that felt as though it had been told for hundreds of years even though I had never read it. Odd, our hero, runs away from home because winter is never ending (literally) and he can't stand to stay with his mother, stepfather, and multiple not so nice step-siblings. He encounters a bear, a fox, and an eagle, who turn out to be gods who have been tricked by the Frost Giants. In order to bring spring back and save his village, Odd must go to the land of the gods and defeat the Frost Giants; no small task for a 12 year old with a bad leg and a crutch.
I will refrain from telling more about the plot because it is a short book, but I recommend this to readers of all ages. The edition I had also included lovely illustrations by Mark Buckingham which added to the spare, wintry feel of the book. What a great contribution to World Book Day!
A Secret Kept, Tatiana de Rosnay
One of the hardest things for an author or artist to do is to follow up a debut smash hit with an equally smashing second offering. This task was near impossible for Tatiana de Rosnay given the amazing quality of her first book, Sarah's Key (see my review). A Secret Kept has quite a few similarities: a family in France dealing with secrets from many years ago while trying to navigate present tension. Unfortunately the story here was neither as compelling nor as well fleshed out as Sarah's Key.
The book begins when Antoine takes his sister Melanie to Nourmoutier for her 40th birthday. As children they had spent weeks there every summer but after their mother died while they were children, the family never returned. The trip stirs up a memory for Melanie that drastically alters their view of their mother and her death. Antoine sets out to learn more about the mother he never really knew. I was disappointed that I had trouble understanding many of the characters' motivations and frequently felt confused by their actions. The ultimate reveal was a bit of a letdown for me. Had I read this book without comparing it to Sarah's Key my review might have been better, but this just couldn't live up.
Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, Adrienne Kress
This was another Audrey recommendation and I adored it! Alex is an independent, smart ten year old who lives in a small town with her uncle. When a new and different teacher comes to her school her life is soon turned upside down as she learns he is the heir to a pirate treasure. When he is kidnapped Alex has to put her ingenuity to work to rescue him from the world's most deadly pirate.
The tone and style of the book reminded me a of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. It was filled with quirky characters and sly references (Alex tracks the ship to both Port Cullis and Port Wine). I hear this movie may be made into a movie and if done right it will be excellent. In the meantime, I will hope for a sequel!