Dragon's Bait by Vivian Vande Velde
I thought I read about every book concerning dragons there was when I was a kid, but somehow I missed this one. I heard about it recently; the plot sounded so awesome that I downloaded the ebook from the library even though it wasn't on my list. A young woman is falsely accused of witchcraft and sentenced to be put to death by staking her out as a sacrifice to a marauding dragon. Instead of becoming the dragon's dinner, she makes friends with the dragon and with him, plots revenge on her accusers. How could this not be awesome?
Well, unfortunately, it found a way to be less than awesome. It wasn't terrible, just disappointing. None of the characters were anything other than cliches. It was hard for me to believe that a group of villagers who had known someone all their lives would just decide one day to let her be sacrificed to a dragon because the village asshole accused her of witchcraft in a wildly transparent attempt to gain possession of her father's house. I think Alys had some potential, but the dragon was completely unlikable. I think he was meant to be a sort of love interest for Alys (he can transform into human shape), which could have been interesting, but in practice turned out more like a proto-Twilight-style paranormal "romance." He seems to do nothing but make her uncomfortable, including a creepy moment where he may have watched her undressing, but suddenly she's ready to do anything to save his life? It just did not work for me.
Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
This was Neil Gaiman's charming take on Norse mythology. It concerns a boy named Odd (which is an actual Norse name, not an insult) who must use his unique skills and personality to save his village from an unnaturally long winter.
I loved the character of Odd, a crippled woodcutter's son. In a place where physical strength and prowess are valued above all else, he's able to prove his worth by wits alone, even when he meets the gods Odin, Thor, and Loki (who I pictured as Anthony Hopkins, Chris Hemsworth, and Tom Hiddleston, haha). We learn that the gods have the same failings as people (message?!). No matter how powerful or clever you are, you're not infallible, but there's always a way to solve your problems if you just use your mind.
It's simply and lovingly written, and I think would be very nice read aloud or as an audiobook.
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
This was so very good. My mother, who is a teacher, told me that one of her students who hated to read was prevailed upon to read this book and because of it, decided that maybe reading wasn't so bad after all. It really is a delightful, simple story about a young girl who is being raised by her father and whose mother has left them. They've moved to a new town and she's had some trouble making friends. That all changes when she meets a stray dog at the grocery store and manages to convince her father to take him in.
What is it about dog stories that just tug at your heartstrings? It must have been dusty while I was reading because I kept getting something in my eye. Winn-Dixie is the catalyst that helps Opal settle into her new home. Opal's not perfect (in fact she's a very believable little girl), but she has a big heart and this comes out in a wonderful way as she tries to understand the people around her, including her absent mother. The mother is a difficult subject that is handled with such grace. And I loved the theme of not judging people based on appearance or perceptions.