Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hooray for independent bookstores!

Huge bookstore chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble are wonderful places, with comfy chairs and coffee and all that, and they can (although they often don't) offer better prices than smaller independent stores. But there is something about the allure of the independent store, with books that the big chains would never take a risk on, dusty nooks and crannies to explore, plus books by local authors and all kinds of used and hard-to-find books. Best of all, there is often a delightful resident feline as well.

Maybe because I am more involved in the library world than the world of bookstores, I was completely unaware of the existence something called bookstore tourism. Two of my favorite things combined! (Now if we can manage to include restaurants in the mix...) Anyway, I had no idea that there is a National Council on Bookstore Tourism, and here is a blog about "Why Indie Bookstores Matter," in which the author talks about his 10-week cross-country road trip to visit 200 independent bookstores in all 50 states. Wouldn't that be fun!

Next time you go on vacation, maybe you should consider hunting down some good independent bookstores and spend an afternoon - or a day - exploring them.

What's a sleestak?

If you don't know (or don't remember), you can check out the wikipedia entry. And then watch the sleestak library video. I think you probably have to be a certain age to find this funny. I have to admit, I laughed pretty hard!

And for those who now think I'm insane, check out the library dominoes video - maybe then you'll forgive me for inflicting the first one on you!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Thoughtful blogging

The immensely thoughtful Nymeth of Things Mean a Lot left me a nice surprise when I returned from my vacation this month. While I was gone, she nominated me for a Thoughtful Blogger award! She wrote some very nice things about my blog, which are equally true about hers! Thanks, Nymeth - I can't tell you how much fun I've been having writing about books, which are and have always been such an important part of my life. And how amazing it's been to get so much excellent feedback and comments, ideas and book recommendations from people who visit my blog - and people whose blogs I visit.
I am supposed to nominate five other bloggers, and honestly I am at a loss. I think many of the people I would nominate have probably already been nominated, and if they haven't, they should be. The posted list of blogs I regularly visit consists of 100% thoughtful bloggers, and I highly recommend everyone on that list. So I'm breaking the rules and nominating them all!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Regency-era Buffy makes vampires go POOF!

So, what's not to like? Our heroine is Victoria Gardella Grantworth, a young, attractive society girl on the brink of her debut. But certain strange dreams have been plaguing her. So she goes to her eccentric Aunt Eustacia as she has been instructed, excited to finally learn the meaning behind them. She discovers that she has inherited the powers of a venator (aka slayer), and if she chooses to follow that road, she will be stronger and faster, able to pit her skills against very strong vampire adversaries.

She agrees, and her initiation - on the very night of her entrance into society - is to kill the vampire that will show up some time that evening. Victoria is excited to embrace her inheritance, for it gives her a freedom that she otherwise would never have experienced. She is young and headstrong, and beyond glorying in her new strength and fighting prowess, she really doesn't stop to think much about the ramifications of being a venator - not even when she falls head over heels in love with the highly attractive Marquess of Rockley -- who seems familiar, somehow, even though they are first introduced at her coming-out party.

I loved the incongruity of a society girl being a vampire slayer, and there were some very funny moments throughout the novel because of that incongruity. I did wonder why she isn't very forthcoming with Rockley about her situation. She brings her maid into her confidence without thinking twice - and Max, one of the other venators, is highly successful, even though he was not born a venator, as Victoria was. She understandably feels protective of Rockley, but she never stops to consider the fact that, if Sebastian can do it, maybe Rockley could, too. This isn't really a criticism, just something I was wondering about as I read. It was bittersweet to me that, even given these extra freedoms as a venator, Victoria remains in many ways trapped by the same rules and restrictions that apply to all women in Regency society.

I enjoyed the amusing chapter titles - they keep the book moving forward on a fun, light note; the vampires were deliciously creepy, and the mystifying Sebastian was mysteriously seductive. Victoria kept me smiling with her combination of confidence, stubbornness and naïveté, and I'm looking forward to reading Rises the Night, the next installment in the Gardella Vampire Chronicles.

Books in the Gardella Vampire Chronicles:
1. The Rest Falls Away
2. Rises the Night
3. The Bleeding Dusk
4. When Twilight Burns
5. As Shadows Fade

The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason (Signet Eclipse, 2007)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

More free online books!

Questia Media has decided to offer their online library of more than 5,000 public-domain books to the public for free! These works include Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Jane Eyre, Tarzan of the Apes, and The Mayor of Casterbridge, as well as a free online encyclopedia and many, many academic and scholarly works (on artists, architecture, business, etc.).

I love that public domain materials can be made available so easily! One of the reasons that copyright extension annoys me is that it is so important for a wide variety of creative materials to come into the public domain and be freely available to the public. Researchers can take advantage of the works without needing to get permission to use them (in many cases no one can even locate the copyright holder, but without that permission, the user is out of luck). Artists can use works as a springboard for other creative endeavors (think of Wicked and all the wonderful fairy and folktale retellings). Because of copyright extensions, the pool of available public domain works is growing old and stagnant, with no "fresh blood" being added - not, I believe, the original intent of copyright laws.

Before I get off my soapbox, here is an interesting link if you want to know more about the public domain and some of the works that should have gone into that quickly growing-stagnant pool but didn't (mainly because Disney did not want to lose rights to Mickey Mouse and the other characters - understandable, but the copyright extension has had far-reaching consequences as a result). And if you are a glutton for punishment, here is a good article on copyright law and the consequences of the extension.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Another riveting faerie tale

Coincidentally I took this book on vacation with me and read it after I finished Tithe. It is also a young adult novel about faerie, and the heroine is also a strong, compassionate teenage girl - but the similarities between the two end there.

The book opens with a scene in which Keenan, the Summer King, is offering a wooden staff to a mortal girl who is in love with him. If she is the chosen Summer Queen, the staff will have no power over her. If she is not, she (like the many girls before her who have tried and failed) will take the cold and frost from the Winter Queen's staff, living apart from the rest of faerie, in pain and alone, until another mortal girl either succeeds in becoming the Summer Queen or fails (and takes the girl's place). Because this scene is in the prologue of the book, I will tell you that the girl does not succeed.

Enter Aislinn. She has the Sight: she can see faeries, while everyone around her cannot. And these are not, for the most part, sweet Tinkerbell-like pixies that glitter and frolic; they are strange, often grotesque, violent and cruel. Aislinn's grandmother has the Sight, too, and Aislinn has lived by Grams' rules her entire life: Rule #1- Don't stare at invisible faeries. Rule #2 - Don't speak to invisible faeries. And rule #3 - Don't ever attract their attention. But what is she to do when, even though she has assiduously followed rules 1 and 2, she has definitely, irrevocably attracted their attention?

Aislinn is being stalked by them, and she's not sure what to do about it. If she confides in Grams, she knows her freedom will be abruptly curtailed - she will be homeschooled, kept in the house, and - worst of all - she won't be able to visit her best friend, Seth, who lives in a refurbished railroad car home (a very safe place when it comes to faeries, because it is made of iron). She'd like to confide in Seth, but he'll probably think she is crazy, talking about things no one but she can see.

Keenan, after centuries of searching for - and tragically failing to find - his queen, the only one who will be able to restore his full powers and help him stand up against the cruel Winter Queen - is convinced that Aislinn is the one. But Aislinn, whose relationship with the very attractive Seth is finally moving beyond friendship, is not at all interested. Evan so, how can a mortal boy hope to compare with the allure of a powerful, handsome faerie, especially when Keenan reveals himself in all his faerie glory?

There is romance, suspense, adventure, and a dash of mystery in this gripping novel. The only thing I didn't much care for was the title, which I felt didn't do the story justice.

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr (HarperTeen, 2007)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

My favorite manga

There are lots of series out there that I enjoy, but I'm always happiest when the next installment of xxxHOLIC arrives at my library. I just finished #9, which continues the story of Kimihiro Watanuki, a boy who can see ghosts. He hates this strange ability, especially when the ghosts follow him and get him into trouble. When he stumbles into the very unusual shop of mysterious time-space witch Yuko Ichihara, she says she can help him - for a price: he must become her servant.

Watanuki is a wonderful cook, and Yuko delights in asking him to prepare intricate and difficult meals. It is so funny to see how annoying he finds her requests, but then he is clearly proud of his skills when he is able to produce delicious dishes. Even more hilarious is when he cooks meals and his classmate, Domeki, ends up eating them (especially when the food is intended for cute Himawari-chan). I love his relationship with these characters - Himawari seems determined to be friends with both boys, and Watanuki is anxious to be the one she really cares about. He gets so angry about things, and rants and raves in such a funny way, while Domeki is always calm and collected, with a deadpan expression and dry sense of humor. The artwork is priceless - it adds so much to the humor and mystery of the story.

In this episode Watanuki inadvertently buys a dream from his beloved Himawari-chan. Unfortunately the dream is a nightmare, and now it's happening to him! I love the Japanese ghosts and spirits (such a refreshing change from the same old reworked fantasy and horror notions that tend to show up again and again), as well as the helpful notes in the back of book that explain customs, folklore and language issues.

This is a fun, intelligent manga series that always leaves me thirsting for more. I just wish I knew how to pronounce it! (Is it "ex-ex-ex-holic" or "triple-ex-holic" - or something else?)

xxxHOLIC #9 by Clamp (Del Rey, 2006)

See also B&OT reviews of
xxxHOLIC #10
xxxHOLIC #11

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A modern faerie tale

Sixteen-year-old Kaye is not a typical heroine, especially for a teen fantasy novel. She is a high-school dropout who smokes, shoplifts, and drifts with her musician mother from one city to another as her mother finds jobs with different bands, always hoping for her big break. But Kaye is also compassionate, intelligent and strong.

She and her mother move back to her grandmother's house in New Jersey, and Kaye is glad to be back. Her childhood friend, Janet, still lives there, and Kaye has many happy memories of time spent there, with Janet as well as her imaginary playmates.

On her way home one night Kaye finds a wounded man in the forest. He is strange and otherworldly, and she immediately recognizes him for the faerie he is. She impulsively helps him, starting a chain of events that takes her life in an entirely unexpected direction. She discovers she is not who she believed, and that not only are her imaginary friends all too real, but they need her help. They warn her that the handsome faerie knight she saved is dangerous and unpredictable, a member of the Unseelie court. But as much as she is determined to stay away from him, their paths keep crossing, eventually leading Kaye into the faerie mound, a dark, dangerous and cruel place.

This is a gripping read, well written with words and images that convey the beauty and brutality of our world as well as the world of faerie. I particularly enjoyed her Kaye's relationship with her mother, which was sweet and anything but usual, as well as the friendship that developed between Kaye and Janet's older brother. There is humor, romance, suspense, and a very satisfying conclusion. I thoroughly enjoyed this teen novel, and I'm looking forward to reading Valiant, which is another "modern faerie tale," although it appears to be a standalone, rather than a sequel.

Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale by Holly Black (Simon Pulse, 2002)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Another good reason to visit your library!

The British library recently hosted a competition to reveal hidden treasures in Britain's regional public libraries. They announced some of the gems that are short-listed, which include an anthology of poetry more than 1,000 years old; medieval manuscripts from Renfrewshire, Exeter, and Hereford; and an album given by the poet Robert Southey to his daughter, which includes poems and drawings by his friends Dorothy and William Wordsworth, Charles Lamb, George Cruikshank and John Constable.

In September the British Library will an announce four winners, one each from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, that will be digitized as virtual manuscripts, so readers from all over the world will be able to go to the British Library's website and read the books for themselves (most regional libraries are unable to afford the cost of digitizing items in their collections). I'm rooting for the Southey album - I'm dying to see that! Plus the article says it's too fragile to be put on display, so really, it's the only chance anyone would get to take a look at it.

What hidden treasures may lurk in the shelves of your public library? Stop in and take a look - otherwise, you'll never know!

Intricate world-building and fascinating characters

This is the first book in Anne Bishop's The Black Jewels trilogy, and I made the mistake of bringing only this one on vacation with me. I couldn't wait to read the next one!

This novel is told from multiple points of view, from everyone's point of view but the heroine of the novel. She is a child of prophecy, the one whose destiny is to right the many wrongs of Terrielle's warped society. Terreille's society is matriarchal, but while men once willingly served women, men are now enslaved and ruled by corrupt women who cruelly eliminate all threats to their power base, male or female.

Bishop's world is a complex place, and at the end of the novel I felt as though we had only scratched the surface. Much of the story is set in hell, with Saetan as the ruler, only he is not the spooky demonic lord one might expect. Rather, he is a father who grieves over the sons who were torn from him at a young age and forced into the most demeaning form of slavery, and who are beyond the reach of his help.

Enter Jaenelle, the Witch of prophecy. She is a mysterious child whose basic grasp of magical craft is so abysmal her family believes her to have no talent, but who can perform immensely powerful magical feats through intuition alone. She prances into hell one day, and before he knows it, Saetan becomes her teacher, along with many other of hell's denizens, who are equally charmed and infuriated by her. Saetan's lost son Daemon becomes her teacher as well, but in the world of the living. Jaenelle is a threat to the corrupt rulers who are determined to destroy her when they find her - and how can Daemon hope to help her, as much as he'd like to, when he is magically bound and controlled by those in power?

As talented as Jaenelle is, she is only a child - but she has seen things no child should ever see, and she has learned to hate. What will be the result if such power becomes twisted? What price will the world pay if her mental equilibrium is destroyed? This is a powerful beginning to a complex story, hard-hitting and graphic at times, and definitely not for the faint at heart.

Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop (Roc, 1988)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Would you rather have the power to fly, or to turn invisible?

There's a wonderful This American Life program about this very question. And Laura Ruby's young adult novel explores the idea in an world that is like - but unlike - the New York City we know. 12-year-old Gurl is a "leadfoot," someone who is unable to fly in a society where flying is a prized and admired ability. She lives in an orphanage called Hope House for the Homeless and Hopeless, and there is very little to be hopeful about in that dreary place, especially for a leadfoot. But Gurl is resourceful and adventurous, and when she finds an opportunity to escape from time to time - to enjoy some leftovers thrown out in the alley of an Italian restaurant, for example, she seizes it.

That's where Gurl finds something rare, something she's only heard about in stories -- a cat. A beautiful, soft, cuddly cat. The reader knows that the cat came from a mysterious man called The Professor, a man who knows something about a child who is only born once every hundred years or so, a child that certain sinister people are searching for.

When Gurl discovers her own unique ability to blend into her surroundings, effectively turning invisible, she thinks it might help her stay out of trouble. But it turns out that invisibility only adds to her problems. The greedy Mrs. Terwiliger, matron of Hope House, holds Gurl's beloved cat hostage, forcing her to steal things for her. And the new boy seems to think the cat belongs to him, anyway. Add to the equation sewer rats the size of people, gangsters with zippers on their faces, monkeys with secrets, and a disembodied hand (purchased on eBay - where else?) that knows the answer to just about any question at all, and the adventure of the wall and the wing is just beginning...

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, with eccentric characters and quirky dark humor. It is always a pleasure to discover a book so unexpected and unusual, with complex characters I care about and surprising twists and turns. Plus I particularly liked Mrs. Terwiliger's creepy monkey toys! (Shudder.)

The Wall and the Wing by Laura Ruby (Eos, 2006)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Slightly underwhelming

It's hard to read this book without thinking about Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake or Meredith Gentry series. It's about three sisters, a witch, a shapechanger, and a vampire, who are also half-faery. They work for OIA (Otherworld Intelligence Agency), a sort of magical law enforcement agency on earth, but they grew up in Otherworld, and so Earth is new and unfamiliar to them, except for stories their human mother told them before she died.

The heroine is Camille, the witch sister, whose spells unfortunately are unpredictable. As with Anita Blake's world, the monsters and magical things of Otherworld are living side-by-side with humans, but not exactly without friction. There are those who idolize and fantasize about the newcomers, and there are those who launch protests against them. A murder opens the book - an OIA operative who also happened to be a giant has been garroted. All signs point to demons, and it becomes apparent that a big bad demon has sent three demon scouts through to Earth, and they are looking for certain artifacts that will allow them to rule over earth - unless Camille and her sisters track down the artifacts first.

There were many things I liked about this book - surprising, fun things, such as the fact that the shapechanging sister turns into a little kittycat instead of a fierce leopard or tiger, and the little baby gargoyle that Camille rescues is charming. But as I read, I couldn't help wishing for a Hamilton novel instead - tight prose, complicated, believable characters, fast pacing.

This novel reads like a first draft - it takes off in sections, but has rough patches that need some editing, wooden characterization, dialog that is simply not believable, and way too many contradictions. It actually makes me a bit angry that publishers allow books in this state to be printed. It's as though they have so little respect for their intended audience that they figure it won't matter anyway. For example, on one page, the narrator says her sister is "a hair over six feet," and just two pages later, she's suddenly "an inch over six feet." Things like that kept happening to throw me out of the story and into editorial mode.

I also wished for a more otherworldly feel from these characters. Camille keeps saying how different they are from humans, but I didn't see that. There was nothing to differentiate Camille's outlook from a human character's. Still, there were fun and interesting elements, and for those who enjoy urban/dark fantasy, this series is worth a try. The second book is called Changeling and is from the point of view of the kittycat sister.

Witchling by Yasmine Galenorn (Berkley Books, 2006)

Poll results are in - hooray for libraries!

Of course, as a librarian, I was hoping that libraries would win out in this poll. They did...and they didn't. Libraries got 5 votes for where people get their books, which was the highest number, with books stores (new) and online shops (new) coming at at 3 votes each. But, of course, when you add them together, that's 6 votes, which beats out libraries after all. There was one vote for online (used) and one for discount stores, so of the readers who participated in the poll, 8 buy most of their books, new or used, and 5 mainly use the library.

The reason I thought of this poll is that so many book bloggers seem to buy all their books. I used to buy many of my books, too, but after four cross-Atlantic moves and two cross-Pacific moves, plus a few others, I realized I had to stop the madness! I set some rules for myself: I can buy children's books for my own kids, books that are unavailable at my library, and used books (usually from my library's book sale). Still, they accumulate at an alarming rate!

I'd be curious to know why people choose not to use the library for most of their reading. Do they not like having a due date deadline? Do they like to write in their books, or just enjoy that lovely feeling of ownership? Does their library not offer the selection they would like to have? Just curious.

Thanks for participating in the poll. I'll put a new one up soon!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

See you next week!

And I'm taking a big bag of books with me...

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

And now for something completely different

This is an incredibly fun family card game, and if you're looking for something to take along on vacation with you, this is a great choice. It comes in a small box and consists of only cards, so it's small and easy to pack (you can just take it out of the box and rubber-band the cards together).

We took this on a ski trip last winter, and a whole big group of us, four adults and five kids ranging from 4 to 13 years old, played it and really had a blast. The premise is that there are a whole bunch of queens (you can see the pancake queen and the ladybug queen in the picture), and they are laid face down on the table. The object of the game is to "wake" the queens by playing a king card (you can see the checkers king) on the discard pile. The queens each have different point values, and depending on the number of players, you must have a certain numeric total or number of queens to win the game.

Other special cards complicate matters - a dragon can carry off a player's queen and put it in another player's pile. But a knight card scares off the dragon, effectively nullifying it. A sleeping potion can put a player's queen to sleep (back face down on the table), but the magic wand card protects the queen from the potion's effects. There is no reading involved, which is great for the youngest kids.

There are number cards, though, and rudimentary addition skills help - but the older kids can help the younger ones. Number cards can be traded in for other (hopefully better) cards by making "number sentences" - so if you have a 2, a 4, and a 6, you can swap all three cards on your turn, saying, "2 + 4 = 6." I let my kids do any kind they want, addition, division, etc. - anything to have them working math problems in their head and having fun with it!

Sleeping Queens is a Gamewright game. We bought ours at Barnes & Noble, but I've seen it at Target and on Amazon. Happy playing!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

What's your favorite teen horror novel?

I'm putting together a list of teen horror fiction for my library's website, for one of the "suggested reading" pages. My definition of horror (although of course it does overlap with fantasy and suspense) is that it must have a supernatural element that is integral to the story. If that element is removed, the story falls apart. Plus it has to be creepy. The ideal list would have a wide variety of creepy things, vampires, ghosts, haunted houses, werewolves, witches, curses, etc.

Does anyone have any not-to-be-missed favorites? Favorites that immediately came to my mind are Gaiman's Coraline, M.T. Anderson's Thirsty, Blood & Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klaus, The Dead Connection by Charlie Price, The Loch by Paul Zindel.

I'm thinking about the Twilight series, but are those horror enough? Maybe the first one. Also something by Vivian Vande Velde (any favorite picks there?), Joan Lowry Nixon, Scott Westerfeld, Neal Shusterman, and, possibly, A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (but I'm afraid that is too far into fantasy. I just like it!).
Any input would be welcome. Thanks!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

I was a teenage drag queen

I picked up this book based on a review, and it was one of those books where I kept changing how I felt about it the entire time I was reading it. At first I found Billy, the seventeen-year-old protagonist, a bit too articulate to be believable. But he's funny and clever, so I found myself buying it as the story went along.

Billy Bloom's mother has kicked him out of the house, and he now must spend his senior year in Florida, at a snooty private school for wealthy kids with "issues." This is not the sort of place, one would think, where the new kid in school, who bursts into his first class wearing make-up and a flamboyant pirate-esque costume, might expect to be welcomed with open arms. But somehow, Billy thinks he just might be. Of course, his grand entrance is a disaster of epic proportions.

I never did figure out what Billy's true motivation was, what was behind his wildly exhibitionist streak and need to express himself, be himself, at all costs. And why he is continually surprised when his progressively more outrageous drag appearances provoke nothing but further scorn and abuse from his classmates. Still, I found myself liking him so much that I was happy to go along for the ride. Billy is pushing his limits, and he means business. He is tormented mercilessly by the beautiful but bigoted kids in his school, and while many parts of the book were very funny, this section was difficult to read. Children being so cruel, saying and doing terrible things, teachers turning a blind eye - granted, Billy is a bit over the top; but still, that kind of thing goes on in subtler but equally harmful ways in many schools every day. He ends up hospitalized, but as a result, he also makes some friends.

One of them happens to be Flip, the hottest guy in school, a football hero, who is horrified by what has happened to Billy and is determined to protect him. And if Billy is head over heels about Flip, he'll never need to know, right? Billy is somehow the only one who realizes that the pressure and expectations surrounding Flip are just as bad as, if not worse, than the issues that Billy is dealing with. Billy exposes Flip to the joys of classic Hollywood movies, gourmet food and insanely creative makeup artistry (think swamp monsters and robot-trannies), and Flip becomes a real friend.

Toward the end of the book, it suddenly struck me that I needed to stop paying so much attention to all the contradictions in Billy's character and stop trying to figure him out. I was missing the point - he is a teenager, and he's groping around blindly trying to figure himself out. Of course he's full of contradictions! The tone of the book reflects these contradictions, ranging from laugh-out-loud hilarious to desperate, confused, depressed, optimistic and angry. I would have liked a little more about the parents, who were strangely absent during most of the book. Billy's father only appears once or twice - we get news of him, as well as his mother, but they tend remain in the background. There are important developments, but they take place off stage.

I realize there will be some knee-jerk reactions to this book, and it probably won't find a place on some school library shelves. Still, it deals with important issues that affect all teens: self-respect, acceptance, and empowerment. Plus it's told by a narrator who grabs you by the hand and pulls you along into an immensely entertaining tale.

Freak Show by James St. James (Dutton Children's Books, 2007)

Poll results are in...

It was a close race, but the winner of "Favorite Harry Potter Novel" is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

There were no votes at all for the first two books, and the last two books tied for second place. I am not surprised - I think that the series really started to take off with the third installment - that's when I became seriously hooked.

Thanks to those who voted. And don't forget to vote in the new poll - it's all about books (of course).

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The validity of reviewing books for children

Have you ever wondered about the fact that children's books are reviewed by adults, who are not the intended audience for them? How much is my - or any adult's - opinion about a children's book worth, anyway?

I have often felt that there are certain picture books that seem to be written by adults for the parents or grandparents or teachers who buy the books, and not necessarily for the children themselves. These tend to be gooey books about how the children are growing and how bittersweet that is, that sort of thing. My kids have always been patently uninterested in that sort of book - books like Munch's Love You Forever (which has always slightly creeped me out). Or else books that have an educational slant but somehow there's not much there to really hold a child's interest, like A Cool Drink of Water (which I thought was kind of cool, but my kids wandered off in the middle of it).

Would children have given those books such high reviews? Maybe. There are adults who review books for adults, and sometimes I agree, and sometimes I don't.

I guess what makes me really wonder about this whole issue is when I go back to re-read a book that was one of my absolute favorites when I was a child, and it just doesn't hold up. I'm sure had an adult reviewed one of those re-read disappointments, it would have been given a poor review. Maybe it was predictable, or the characterization wasn't great, or the dialog not exactly sparkling. But as a child, that book rocked my world.

I suppose we review children's books because we love them, even as adults. I know I do. And I guess we should keep in mind that children often approach books from a different perspective and have sensibilities that can be very different from adults'. But would that make me give a glowing review to a book that I find predictable, with wooden characterization and flat dialog? Nope. I suppose that takes me back to the original question. Oh, well.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Simply Amazing

Chris has an interesting discussion going on at his blog, something that grew from a comment about how wonderful it is when you open a book with few - if any - expectations, and then it turns into one of your favorite books of all time. It is extraordinary moments like those that keep me reading and trying all kinds of different books.

This novel is the perfect example. I have no recollection of putting it on hold from my library, but one day I came into work, and there it was, sitting in my mailbox. I was astonished to see it was a children's book - not even young adult - because it is about three inches thick, no exaggeration. It sat on my book pile for a couple of weeks, until finally I felt ready to dedicate a huge chunk of time to this book about which I knew nothing.

Well. I opened it and read the brief introduction. Then, to my astonishment, I was treated to a series of beautiful black-and-white illustrations, like very detailed frames in a comic strip. The images slowly zoom in from outer space, over the city of Paris in the 1930s, to the train station, and into the station, where we find a boy. The boy moves down a hallway and into an ally, checks around furtively, then slips through a grate into a series of passageways. Eventually we find him staring through a number in the face of an enormous clock. He is looking at an old man working at a toy booth.

I flipped through these illustrations, entranced, and then I came to a section of text, which picked up where the picture story had left off. The entire novel is written in this way: a short section of text, followed by intriguing illustrations that continue the story, and then some more text. We find that the boy is Hugo, an orphan who's been living with his uncle, who is in charge of maintaining the train station clocks. His uncle has disappeared, but Hugo is good with clocks and has kept them running ever since. He has nowhere to go - the tiny room in the hidden passageways of the station is his refuge, and he lives in fear of the station master discovering what has happened and kicking him out.

That is just one of Hugo's many secrets. He has a special notebook, filled with drawings of gears and moving parts, mechanical things, and he has been stealing toys from the toymaker, but to what purpose? When the toymaker catches him and takes Hugo's precious notebook, the young girl who also works at the toy booth tells Hugo she will help him get it back. The book is extremely important to Hugo, but it is also is full of secrets, and he has learned not to trust anyone. How can he accept her help?

The story moves through twists and turns, revealing surprises and connections involving Hugo's father, silent movies, magic tricks, and a mysterious clockwork automaton. Characters, plot, dialog and illustrations combine to transport the reader to the Paris of long ago, and it is indeed a rude awakening to return to the 21st century at the end of the book. In the acknowledgments the author discusses the factual basis for the book, with websites to visit for more information, and it is fascinating. I highly recommend this novel!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (Scholastic Press, 2007)

Also reviewed at:

The Hidden Side of a Leaf

Here is a good Harry Potter Link

Most die-hard fans will probably be aware of this already, but here is a good link to conversations with Rowling, Q & A about the last book, and a bunch of other HP-related links. There are plot spoilers, though, so reader beware!