Christie Burke's Infinite Booklist

The Butterfly Clues October 18, 2012

Filed under: fiction,mystery,YA — Christie @ 12:47 pm
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Ellison, Kate. The Butterfly Clues. 978-1606842638.

This book’s summary intrigued me: a 17-year-old with OCD and a dead brother gets wrapped up in the murder of a young stripper in a bad part of town. Fast-paced mysteries featuring high-school protagonists are pretty thin on the ground, so I thought I’d take a look. (I also thought it’d be important to preview, given the stripper content. The school where I work has a pretty conservative clientele.)  Well.

Kate Ellison brings the reader right into (Pene)Lo(pe) Marin’s experience; I was drawn into the tics and compulsive behaviors right away, and it’s clear that Lo’s home life is not helping her address her mental health issues. While the story is a touch implausible (near-miss murder; incredibly dangerous stalker type and misinterpreted clues all along the way; on-again, off-again, sweet/weird romance; perfectly neat and orderly ending), I do think that mysteries ask us to suspend disbelief more than some other genres do.  With that in mind, I’d recommend this book to readers who like mysteries and thrillers. It isn’t typical shoot-em-up stuff, but it moves fast and slows down regularly to allow the reader (and Lo) to take a breath.

What I think The Butterfly Clues does really well is open a window into the world of a person with OCD. Some of Lo’s behaviors (arranging and rearranging her collections, for example, and a fixation with multiples of three) seem harmless; others (like a particular sequence that Lo needs to complete before entering a room) are obviously in her way. Other reviewers have said that the continuous repetition of that sequence and others was bothersome and interrupted the flow of their reading. I thought that including them continuously, repetitiously, annoyingly throughout the book played up the fact that they interrupt the flow of Lo’s entire life. While it may be unrealistic to think that a 17-year-old girl (other than Nancy Drew) would pursue a murder investigation, this girl has to follow through to the end, by any means possible. We wouldn’t get there if Lo didn’t have OCD.

Overall, The Butterfly Clues was a decent read. Not perfect, and not earth-shattering literature, but definitely the kind of first novel that will make me look for more from Kate Ellison.


I Will Save You September 12, 2012

Filed under: fiction,guys,realistic fiction,YA — Christie @ 7:20 pm
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The jacket blurb for this book is a little mysterious: Kidd is running from everything and runs into a girl, Olivia, who’s different from him in every way (except maybe the important ways that might mean something). Devon is both Kidd’s best friend and his worst enemy, carrying around a death wish and a lot of spite. Kidd doesn’t even know how Devon found him, but now Devon’s staying until Kidd learns a lesson or two. It doesn’t give you a lot to go on, but it does build suspense before you turn a single page.

The plot twist at the beginning of I Will Save You (yes, the beginning) opens the door for the rest of the story to be told as flashbacks, flashforwards, and dreamy-yet-revealing interludes. Ordinarily this would drive me a little crazy, but de la Peña does it skillfully and reveals a little at a time… bringing us through daredevil stunts, particularly sweet Kidd/Olivia moments, and terrible understanding at just the right pace. And then… guess what? Another plot twist at the end, so perfect and fascinating that I had to read the book twice.

This book moves quickly enough that it’d be a good choice for a reluctant reader. It’s a good “guy book,” especially for guys who may feel like no one really gets them. Readers who enjoy suspense and psychology will like I Will Save You, as will those who just appreciate a good, realistic narrative.


Railsea September 10, 2012

Filed under: adventure,fiction,guys,steampunk,YA — Christie @ 2:58 pm
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Though it was a little bit of a slow start for me, once I got into Railsea I This is a steampunk novel full of adventure, action, and suspense.

Sham ap Soorap is an apprentice aboard a moling train (think whaling ship and you’ll have the right idea). The sea is a sea of rails instead of water; the beasts that molers hunt (and are hunted by) are giant moles, ant lions of unusual size, and burrowing owls that can lift a train from the tracks. Sham’s voyage takes him to a wrecked train that’s carrying some surprising information, and the pictures he finds lead him to Caldera and Dero Shroake, whose parents (like Sham’s) have long been missing.

The Shroakes’ quest to finish their parents’ mission brings Sham into epic danger, to a daring escape from near-certain death, and ultimately on a journey to the end of the railsea: the place where there’s only one track to travel on.

This is a great novel for those who like adventure, suspense, and action, with a dark and funny little surprise at the end of the line. Recommended.


The Looking Glass Wars October 7, 2010

Filed under: adventure,crossover,fantasy,fiction,guys,science fiction,series,YA — Christie @ 9:14 pm

I broke a cardinal rule last winter and booktalked Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars without having read it first.  (In my defense, I didn’t actually talk much – just showed the book trailer and noted that we own the book.)  It’s a reimagining of Alice in Wonderland; I talked it up as a fractured fairy tale.  Having just finished it, I think it’s more a SF/battle story that happens to use Alice as its backdrop.


The story begins with Alyss Heart’s seventh birthday and a palace coup that forces her to flee Wonderland through the Pool of Tears.  She lands in Victorian London and makes a life for herself with the Liddell family (Alice Liddell was the actual little girl for whom Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll wrote the original Alice stories), until eventually she’s brought back to Wonderland as an adult and takes on a fight for her rightful throne.


Frank Beddor walks a fine line in this book — Wonderland is recognizably the world of Alice, but it looks a lot different from the way Lewis Carroll brought it to us.  The events of the story are plausible in that world, but completely new and intriguing.  On top of that, The Looking Glass Wars is the start of a trilogy and is followed by a series of graphic novels dealing with Hatter Madigan (Alyss’s royal bodyguard).


Though I found this book slow at first, I think that may have been me and not the story.  It picked up considerably about a third of the way through and really kept me going from then on.  So I was wrong about the fairy tale situation — sorry, high school kids.  You should probably read this book anyway.


Marcelo in the Real World August 3, 2010

Filed under: fiction,guys,Uncategorized,YA — Christie @ 8:54 pm
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Marcelo in the Real World (cover)Stork, Francisco X. Marcelo in the Real World. Scholastic, 2009.

Marcelo is about 17, and maybe on the autism spectrum – at least that’s how his doctor defines his quirks (which include hearing music that no one else can hear). His father arranges for Marcelo to work in his law firm’s mailroom to get some “real world” experience outside the sheltered environment of Marcelo’s small private school.

Marcelo ends up getting way more experience than anyone expected: experience with the city, with people who can and cannot be trusted, with doing the right thing in a setting that doesn’t always ask or expect the right thing, with the very beginning of Being Friends With a Girl.  He’s naive to a fault, but also entirely consistent in the ways he moves in the world.

There is a sweetness in this book that really appeals to me.  Marcelo is a real person and very true to himself — although his method of determining what is and isn’t okay for him is hyper-logical and consistent with an autism diagnosis.  I love the fact that he finds a friend in the book, someone who definitely has his best interests at heart and might eventually come to take a different role in Marcelo’s life.  Marcelo in the Real World is a good read for someone who enjoys a good story and strong characters, and for those who might not enjoy the action/thriller/trauma genre.


Interworld June 13, 2010

Interworld cover, Gaiman/Reaves, 2007

I’ve developed sort of a literary crush on Neil Gaiman.  His writing is clever and just enough off from actual reality to be chilling  (Coraline actually gave me nightmares – that whole parallel universe thing really got to me, for whatever reason.), and I’ll try out any book with his name on it.  I was pleased to run across Interworld (Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves, Eos/HarperCollins, 2007) and intrigued by the premise: not just one parallel world, but hundreds of thousands of worlds, each of which is spun off when someone makes a decision of any import.  If, on a given day, a world leader makes a decision to pursue peace instead of war – and it’s a hard decision, naturally, which affects untold numbers of people – in that leader’s world, his decision stands.  But another world is created in which he made the opposite choice, and any number of things are subtly wrong about that world.

Tenth-grader Joey Harker is the main character of Interworld, and he finds himself walking between worlds without warning or comprehension.  As he comes to understand what’s happening to him (and meets up with the many and varied incarnations of himself that exist in all these parallel worlds), he also learns about the ongoing battle between science and magic in the Multiverse – literally a battle, and literally deadly.  Joey has to make a hero’s decision when he is asked to take on more than he ever considered, and he ends in a place and a mode of living that he would never have thought possible before he started Walking.

I found this book delightfully creepy, action-packed and touching – if a little too easily resolved in some respects.  It’s a good coming-of-age story, and I think it’s interesting that my local library has it cataloged and shelved in Children’s Fiction.  I’d argue for YA/Teen myself.  There are definitely kids in my school who would read and enjoy this book – freshmen more than seniors, I think, but still.  I don’t think I would put Interworld in front of a kid younger than 12, either.  There’s a touch of melancholy and a sense of lostness (also present in Coraline and in Gaiman’s Neverwhere) that I think younger readers would miss or be confused by.  Wherever you want to shelve it, Interworld is a good read, and worth the short time it’ll take you to drink it in.


The White Darkness January 7, 2010

McCaughrean, Geraldine.  The White Darkness. HarperTeen, 2005.

Sym Wates is a slightly out of the ordinary 14-year-old girl.  For one thing, she knows pretty much everything there is to know about Antarctica; for another, she sort of has a dead guy rattling around in her head.  Captain Titus Oates was an Antarctic explorer who died there under horrible circumstances, and Sym is so taken with the idea of him that she brings him into her life as a confidant and soul mate (though the rest of us can see that he’s really an imaginary friend).  Sym’s Uncle Victor feeds her Antarctic obsession, but with his own agenda in mind.  When he takes her on a dream trip to “The Ice,” things quickly degenerate into a struggle for survival.

I’ve read this book twice now – the first time was for class, and the second was for book club at school (i.e. I talked a bunch of students into reading it too).  The plot moves fairly well, but the pace of the writing itself is a little inconsistent – as in blah blah blah blah-TRIP TO EUROPE – blah blah blah – WE’RE GOING TO ANTARCTICA WITHOUT YOUR MOM – blah blah blah blah blah EXPLOSION blah blah blah blah STUNNING TURN OF EVENTS.  Aside from the Memorable Plot Points, there is a lot of sameness about this book – but I think it’s well-crafted, deliberate sameness, designed to evoke the monotony of Antarctica itself and of Sym’s day-to-day life.  It’s written in such a way that it made me physically cold when I read it the first time, and while I don’t like being cold, I do appreciate that kind of description.

So yeah, *I* liked this book.  My book club kids were not as enthusiastic about it, and so I’m a little bit on the fence about recommending it for high-school kids (though the kids who liked it liked it A LOT).  One thing I did notice is that the guys in the group did most of the talking, which is a bit of a change.  Not that these guys don’t talk, but typically more of the girls do.  For the right person, it’s a good read.


Geraldine McCaughrean’s Official Website (Children’s Novels section).  A telling quotation from the blurb on this book: “Who but the mad trust for happiness to someone or something that isn’t there?”  We had lots of conversation about who in this book was and was not completely crazy. FWIW, I think only Victor – because a vivid internal monologue is not necessarily a problem for me. 🙂

A more useful review than  I just wrote, on

Titus Oates on Wikipedia.