Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

Reading, Writing, and The Search for Buried Gems of Literature

5-Star Reads January 10, 2010

We’ve all experienced it.  That book so wonderful we try to force everyone we know to read it.

To save their sanity, I’m building my 5-Star List.  Some I’ve read in the past, some I’ll add as time goes by.

1.  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Knopf, 2006.

Hauntingly written, Zusak’s book delivers an amazing tale.  For lovers of Holocaust literature and young adult lit, it’s a feast for the soul.  If you asked what book I’d want to be buried with, this would be it.  One of the biggest hooks for me was Zusak’s choice of narrator: Death.  The vocabulary is lush but by no means overdone.  It’s a beautiful–albeit dark–story of the power of the written word to uplift and rescue the soul.

2.  I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak, Knopf, 2005.

Zusak writes contemporary fiction as beautifully as he does historical fiction.  His characters are fabulously conceived and eloquently flawed, and you can’t help but be taken in.  It’s both witty and dead serious, and there’s a mystery to the plot–the answers to which are pretty much impossible to anticipate ahead of time.  It’s fantastically constructed and a terrific read.

3.  The Minister’s Daughter by Julie Hearn, Ginee Seo Books, 2005.

I’ve read a number of books about witch trials.  Most were about the Salem trials.  This one is set in England, and it’s charmingly written.  The main character is tough, scrappy, and completely unapologetic about who and what she is.  In terms of plot, it’s tightly constructed–puzzle pieces fall into place over time.  Also titled The Merrybegot.  Captivating cover, captivating book.

4.  Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, Algonquin Books, 2006.

I fell in love with this book.  It’s off-color, unique, and riveting.  It definitely deserves the praise it has earned over time.  Gruen creates richly dimensional characters, each with their own flaws and foibles.  I love deliciously flawed characters.  And Rosie?  Rosie becomes more than an animal–she’s a character with as much humanity as any of the cast of the book.  Marvelously written.

5.  The Red Queen’s Daughter by Jacqueline Kolosov, Hyperion, 2007.

I love this book’s cover–it’s the reason I picked it up to begin with.  When I read it, I realized I made a great decision.  The story Kolosov tells is as beautiful as the cover.  It’s a wonderful blend of Tudor history and the fantasy of magic.  The heroine is sensitive and powerful–I definitely recommend this title for YA readers and lovers of YA lit.  I found myself craving a sequel–hopefully Kolosov delivers one.

6.  The Observations by Jane Harris, Faber & Faber, 2005.

This was a great read.  It’s a “gothicomedy,” a skillful blend of gothic suspense, artful wit, and a delightful cast of characters.  Bessy, the heroine, may well become one of your favorites.  As adult historical fiction about this period, it reads quickly, without bogging down into tedious passages detailing the politics of the day.  Harris still manages to keep the historical accuracy by weaving her references seamlessly into the plot.

7. Tamar by Mal Peet, Candlewick, 2007.

Mal Peet’s novel provided a new perspective on WWII:  that of resistance fighters in the Netherlands.  Subtitled “A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal,” the story is gritty, at times bleak, but at all times splendidly written.  Peet won the Carnegie Medal for this piece, and it definitely deserves it.   The story unfolds both in the present and in the past, as family mysteries unfold.  Well-paced and brilliantly conceived, particularly for YA lit.

8.  Candor by Pam Bachorz, Egmont USA, 2009.

Bachorz’s debut novel is remarkably well-written.  If you liked M.T. Anderson’s Feed, you’ll love this book.  The story’s intriguing premise and strong characters will definitely hook you in.  It’s science/utopian fiction, but it’s just modern-day enough to chill the blood.  You’ll find yourself rooting for Oscar and Nia.  It’s a terrific read, one that’s definitely worth the time.

9. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Dial, 2010.

Fisher’s book is a wonderful mix of futuristic fantasy and intrigue.  The duality between the world of the prison called  Incarceron and the outside world will keep readers interested and hungry for more.  It’s the first of a series, with the sequel, Sapphique, due in December 2010.  It’s a unique premise, with an incredibly well-constructed plot and a remarkable cast of characters.  If you’re not into futuristic fantasy, this one may be good enough to snag you; it certainly pulled ME in.

10.  The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2005.

Hoffman’s story of a matriarchal nomadic warrior tribe closely parallels the lore of the Amazons.  It’s sparely written but immensely powerful and beautiful.  The story hints at a vastness of legend while still following the coming of age of one girl, as she grows from child to young woman, to Queen of her people.  There is a haunting edge to the tale, more mature than the simplicity of the narrative would indicate.  A fast, straightforward, yet profound read.

11. Burned by Ellen Hopkins, Simon Pulse , 2006.

This verse novel is a stunning piece of writing.  Hopkins’ effortless, eloquent free verse will make its 500+ pages seem like nothing.  This is a book to devour, to savor, to inhale and consume.  Hopkins writes a tale that in form is deceptively simple, but in reality is anything but.  This is definitely a book for more mature, developed readers who can really appreciate the art of the craft.

12.  Vampire Haiku by Ryan Mecum, Who, 2009.

Mecum’s slim volume of Haiku is witty and addicting.  It’s the journal of a vampire from his “birth” on the Mayflower until the present day as he progresses through various events in American history and interacts with some of the more prominent figures of the times.  Faithful to the genre and remarkably well-connected throughout, it’s a beautiful book as well.  Definitely worth tracking down.

13.  Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Simon Pulse, 2009

Westerfeld has created a fantastic epic based on an alternate history of WWI.  The players are the same, but he’s made it infinitely more interesting through the addition of Steampunk.  Incredible action, well-developed characters, and fabulous illustrations make this a MUST-READ.  1st in a trilogy, to be followed in October 2010 by Behemoth.


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