Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What's your savvy?

I first heard about this novel through Becky's irresistible book review last month, and when the book arrived at my library, I picked it up immediately - and I was glad I did.

Mibs Beaumont belongs to a very special family. Not just because they are loving and take care of each other. The Beaumonts have a special savvy, something that usually makes a sometimes spectacular appearance on their thirteenth birthday. Her grandfather can literally move the earth, causing earthquakes and creating mountain ranges. One of her older brothers has weather savvy, and the hurricane he created on his thirteenth birthday caused the entire family to move to the Midwest, far from any body of water large enough for his savvy to wreak much damage. Her other older brother has electricity savvy and can keep the car running even when the battery has died.

Mibs has been waiting impatiently for her thirteenth birthday - she's dying to know what on earth her savvy will be. Not only that, but when she turns thirteen she won't have to go to school anymore - won't have to put up with the nasty comments from certain very annoying and spiteful girls in her class - because the Beaumont children are always home-schooled for a few years after their thirteenth birthday, in order to give them time to get their savvy under control.

As her birthday draws nearer, Mibs can barely contain her excitement - and then her father - her dear, funny, wonderful, savvy-less father, is in a car accident. Suddenly it's the day before her birthday, but her mother and oldest brother are in the hospital, miles away, and her father is in critical condition. The odious Miss Rosemary, the preacher's wife, is preparing a pity birthday party for her, inviting all the awful kids from her school - and who knows what will happen when her savvy comes in front of all those people?

Before she knows it, she's stowed away on a bus with her two of her brothers and the preacher's two kids, determined to make her way to the hospital. Somehow, she just knows, her savvy - whatever it is - will be able to save her father. But the bus goes in the opposite direction, and she's off on an unforgettable adventure.

I loved this book from the first page, with its creative premise, unforgettable characters and gripping plot. Mibs is an engaging heroine, and I hope we haven't seen the last of her!

Savvy by Ingrid Law (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Becky's Book Reviews
Books are King
Shelf Elf

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Angel of Death

Cameryn Mahoney returns in this second book in the young adult "Forensic Mystery" series. While this is a stand-alone story, there are personal details about Cameryn's life that make it worth reading the first book, The Christopher Killer, first.

Cameryn is still working as the assistant to her coroner father, and she is holding her own and has proved herself to the people who matter - so much so that the sheriff calls her "the angel of death" behind her back. She doesn't mind - she is finally doing what she has been studying so hard for, and while at times it is challenging and distressing, she has no intention of giving it up.

Then she is called to assist her father, and the body turns out to be one of her favorite teachers. She feels a connection with the boy who found the body in its gruesome, mystifying condition, and they become romantically involved. She finds it difficult to maintain her clinical detachment regarding the case, which appears to have been murder, only no one can figure out what means the killer used. At the same time, events in her personal life are coming to a head. She is angry with her father and grandmother for holding back information that was revealed at the end of the first book, and in turn, Cameryn is keeping her own secrets. It seems like a viable thing to do, but when she begins fighting with her best friend, and even the sheriff's deputy comments that she doesn't seem to be acting like herself, can it be that she's heading down a destructive path?

I very much enjoyed this sequel to the first forensic mystery - my favorite mystery series tend to involve interesting plots with well-developed characters whose lives are affected by the events in such a way that they change from book to book - and this one fits the bill perfectly. My only quibble is that it seemed fairly obvious to me what had happened to the teacher, but the coroner and medical examiner and everyone else were completely baffled. Still, I had no idea how the killer could possibly have carried out the actual murder, and it was a gripping read all the way through. I'm very much looking forward to the third book in this exciting series.

Books in the Forensic Mystery series:
1. The Christopher Killer
2. The Angel of Death
3. The Circle of Blood
4. The Dying Breath

The Angel of Death (#2 in the Forensic Mystery series) by Alane Ferguson (Viking Sleuth, 2006)

Also reviewed at:
Amberkatze's Book Blog
Sarah's Holds Shelf

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Unlikely companions in adventure

Sir Michael Sevenson is, to the amusement of just about everyone around, a knight errant - the first one anyone's seen in over two hundred years. He travels around the land, helping people, righting wrongs, upholding the values of chivalry and honor. Fisk, to the amusement of just about everyone except himself and Michael, is Sir Michael's squire. (It was either that or spend some time in jail, so it seemed the preferable option.)

Fisk isn't exactly thrilled when Michael takes it into his head to rescue a damsel in distress who, he's been told, is being held prisoner in a tower, soon to be forced to marry against her will. But he helps out, and the lady is rescued, and all's well that ends well. Except for the unwelcome truth, which they discover the following day: they have actually helped a suspected murderer escape from prison, where she'd been awaiting trial. Now Micheal and Fisk must recapture the woman, but the longer they search for her, the more they realize there is more to the situation than meets the eye. Who would have thought that a scrupulously honest and trustworthy nobleman and an inveterate scoundrel with cards - literally - up his sleeve could possibly make a good team? Certainly neither of them.

This is a delightful fairytale-adventure story, told in alternating viewpoints by Sir Michael and Fisk. Their narratives give the reader a more detailed picture than either character possesses individually, adding depth and humor to the story, a
swashbuckling tale about trust, friendship, and the importance of following one's dreams. This is the first book I've read by Hilari Bell, but I am certain it won't be the last, especially with a sequel soon to be published this fall.

Books in the Knight and Rogue series:
1. The Last Knight
2. Rogue's Home (forthcoming, September 2008)

The Last Knight (#1 in the Knight and Rogue series) by Hilari Bell (Eos, 2007)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Gideon Oliver is back!

There are certain authors that, when I see their latest book, have me dropping whatever else I may happen to be reading at the time so I can happily delve into their book as quickly as possible. Aaron Elkins is one of these authors and has been for years. His protagonist, Gideon Oliver, is a forensic anthropologist who travels to interesting and exotic places around the world for various reasons, but - surprise - there are usually some old (or new) bones that turn up and, through Gideon's expertise and insight, offer important clues to solving a mystery or murder.

In this, the fifteenth book in the series, Gideon travels to Gibraltar with his wife Julie, in order to attend the annual conference of the International Paleoanthropological Society. Prior to the conference, he is interviewed by a newspaper reporter, and Gideon's joking response to a question is - purposefully or mistakenly - taken seriously. The lecture he intends to give, which in reality is interesting but fairly uneventful, is depicted in the newspaper article as a shocking revelation that will stun the entire paleoanthropological community with its earth-shattering ramifications. Gideon is admittedly embarrassed by the whole thing, but he trusts his colleagues will have the insight to understand the exaggeration for what it is.

And so it appears - until, several near brushes with death later, it becomes apparent that someone at the conference has taken the article all too seriously, and fears whatever it is Gideon might be about to reveal. A little digging (sorry, couldn't resist that pun) into the facts surrounding the world famous archaeological find of the Gibraltar Woman and Gibraltar Boy skeletons reveals there may, in fact, be more to the situation than meets the eye...

While the previous book in this series, Little Tiny Teeth, combined elements of suspense and adventure with the mystery, this one is a classic cozy, with a clear list of suspects to choose from. It is tight and well paced, with interesting characters and motivations, and I enjoyed the fascinating setting as well. I was pleased that Julie came along for the ride on this one - her relationship with Gideon is delightful, as always, and their dialog with each other never fails to make me laugh. Uneasy Relations is an excellent addition to the growing list of "skeleton detective" mysteries, and I highly recommend both it and the entire series. And for art history fans, be sure to check out Elkins' Chris Norgren mysteries, too. There are only three so far (with hopefully more to come, one day), and the first one is called A Deceptive Clarity.

Books in the Gideon Oliver series:
  1. Fellowship of Fear
  2. The Dark Place
  3. Murder in the Queen's Armies
  4. Old Bones
  5. Curses
  6. Icy Clutches
  7. Make No Bones
  8. Dead Men's Hearts
  9. Twenty Blue Devils
  10. Skeleton Dance
  11. Good Blood
  12. Where There's a Will
  13. Unnatural Selection
  14. Little Tiny Teeth
  15. Uneasy Relations
Uneasy Relations (#15 in the Gideon Oliver series) by Aaron Elkins (Berkley Prime Crime, 2008)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Return to the Gallagher Academy

This second installment in the Gallagher Girls (school for spies) series sees Cammie recovering from the aftermath of her relationship from the first book. She is back at school, and even her broken-hearted distraction is not enough to hide the fact that something strange is going on at the school - something that her own mother, the headmistress, is keeping from her as well as all the other students.

Glad to have a mystery to keep her mind from other matters, Cammie sinks her teeth into this one, with the help of her fellow genius spy-student friends. In a school where the students learn dozens of languages, martial arts, and covert operations, the girls seem to have life fairly under control. But when a previously unconsidered element enters the equation, everyone is a bit flummoxed. Assassins? No problem. Bombs? No sweat. But boys? Not a clue.

It turns out that successfully dealing with matters of the heart entails more than analytical skills and a solid grounding in espionage skills. To add to Cammie's confusion, it seems that there are things about her father's disappearance that her mother is concealing from her.

I enjoyed this second book in the Gallagher Girls series, and it was an enjoyable one to listen to on CD. The series is lighthearted, funny and sweet, with a dash of suspense and romance to liven things up. While it does seem as though Cammie rather conveniently alternates between razor-sharp genius and completely idiotic teenager for the sake of the plot, the premise is such fun that it hardly seems to matter. Many unanswered questions are raised in this installment, so I imagine Cammie will be back in an intriguing sequel to this volume of the series. At least I certainly hope so!

Book in the Gallagher Girls series:
1. I'd Tell You I Love You, But then I'd Have to Kill You
2. Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy (#2 in the Gallagher Girls series) by Ally Carter; narrated by Renne Raudman (Brilliance Audio, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Sarah's Young Adult Book Blog
Sassymonkey Reads
What I'm Reading

Saturday, July 19, 2008

More funny little men

In an enormous department store (Arnold Bros, est 1905) , beneath the floorboards and inside the walls, live teeny tiny people. Humans have no idea that these people, the nomes, live there, and because humans are so slow (and slow-witted, according to the nomes), they have no idea that the little people not only exist, but that they are living entirely on the bounty of the merchandise of Arnold Bros (est 1905).

Meanwhile, there is a small group of nomes who live Outside. Their numbers have decreased over the years, and now they are composed of a group of elderly nomes and two younger nomes, Masklin, who's been hunting to provide food for everyone, and Grimma, a young woman who does her best to take care of the group. But food grows more and more scarce, and finally Masklin realizes they risk starvation if they remain where they are. It is time to move on.

When a group of nomes from the mythical Outside shows up at Arnold Bros (est 1905), no one knows what to think. It hardly seems possible - after all, Arnold Bros (est 1905) is their entire world. The store nomes don't know it yet, but the arrival of the outsiders is just the beginning of enormous changes that are about to happen. Masklin just wants to find a safe place for his little group - the last thing he wants is to be responsible for more nomes than he knew even existed in the world. But it doesn't appear he's going to have much choice in the matter.

I can honestly say I've never a read book by Terry Pratchett that I haven't enjoyed, and this one is no exception. There is humor, as always, and wonderful characters, interesting predicaments, and a bit of social commentary. It is an excellent opening book to the trilogy, and I look forward to reading the second book soon.

Books in the Bromeliad trilogy:
1. Truckers
2. Diggers
3. Wings

Truckers (#1 in the Bromeliad trilogy) by Terry Pratchett (Corgi Books, 2004)

Also reviewed at:
A Fort Made of Books
Sue's Book Reviews
Things Mean a Lot

Friday, July 18, 2008

The shadowhunters return

If you haven't read City of Bones, the first book in The Mortal Instruments series, and you're a fan of dark urban fantasy, you're missing out on a great book. If you're considering reading it, you should probably skip this review, even though I'm trying very hard not to include any major spoilers. My spoiler-less review of the first book is here.

The second installment in the series begins not long after the conclusion of the first book. Clary's mother is still alive, but she's in a coma in the hospital, and no one knows when - or if - she'll wake up. Things are a bit awkward between Clary and Jace, who haven't figure out how to continue with their relationship, given certain startling revelations in the first book. Simon, Clary's best friend, has finally made his feelings clear to her, and she is coming to see him in a new light, as more than just the buddy he's been to her all his life.

It seems as though life cannot possibly get any more complicated, but of course it does. There are a series of murders of downworlder children, setting races already at odds with each other on the brink of war. Then another mortal instrument is stolen in a most heinous manner, and it seems that the murders are linked to the theft, which can only conceivably have been committed by rogue shadowhunter Valentine. Jace and Clary are caught up in a tide of events that pit races against each other - not to mention the shadowhunters themselves.

I am officially hooked on this series and am waiting impatiently for the third book to be published. It combines those things that I love most in this kind of novel - an unusual, well-built fantasy premise, believable, complex characters, funny moments, a gripping plot with unexpected turns of events, and writing that tugs at my heartstrings.

Let me include a couple passages that tickled my funny bone. This first one describes Isabelle, one of Clary's fellow shadowhunters:

"She looked like a princess in a fairy tale, waiting at the top of her tower for someone to ride up and rescue her. Not that traditional princess behavior was like Isabelle at all. Isabelle with her whip and boots and knives would chop anyone who tried to pen her up in a tower into pieces, build a bridge out of the remains, and walk carelessly to freedom, her hair looking fabulous the entire time. This made Isabelle a hard person to like, but Clary was trying."

And in this one, Jace has convinced his step-brother to change places with him, so that he can escape the watchful eye of Magnus, a powerful warlock, who's been holding him under house arrest. Isabelle finds out about their little plan:

"I can't believe you did it!" she exclaimed. "How did you get Magnus to let Jace leave?"
"Traded him for Alec," Clary said.
Isabelle looked mildly alarmed. "Not
"No, " said Jace. "Just for a few hours. Unless I don't come back," he added thoughtfully. "In which case, maybe he does get to keep Alec. Think of it as a lease with an option to buy."
Isabelle looked dubious. "Mom and Dad won't be pleased if they find out."
"That you freed a possible criminal by trading away your brother to a warlock who looks like a gay Sonic the Hedgehog and dresses like the Child Catcher from
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?" Simon inquired. "No, probably not."

See what I mean? I am sure this series will be among my top books read this year.

Books in The Mortal Instruments series:
1. City of Bones
2. City of Ashes
3. City of Glass (To be published March 2009)

City of Ashes (#2 in The Mortal Instruments series) by Cassandra Clare (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008

Also reviewed at:
Nineseveneight Book Reviews
The Path or the Walker

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Two orphans, a mysterious pouch, and a royal family that's not quite what you'd expect

Pia, a peasant girl of twelve or thirteen, and Enzio, her little brother, happen to witness a thief on horseback fleeing from the King's Men. The thief tosses a pouch onto the ground near them and continues on his way. The children are delighted with their find. Then a soldier, returning unsuccessful from the chase, tells them that, should they happen to find anything, they should give it to the old wise woman who lives in their village. But they can't bring themselves to do it immediately. First, of course, they have to see what's inside.

The discovery of the pouch sparks a chain of events that reaches all the way across the kingdom to King Guido, who is disturbed by the theft even as he yearns for more comfortable clothing and perhaps even a nap, and Queen Gabriella, who feels that there should be more to life than the endless circle of chores and audiences that ruling the kingdom entails, although she doesn't quite know what that might be. The cast of characters also includes two princes, a princess, a hermit, an old wise woman, and a storyteller who spins wondrous tales that enable his listeners to envision unexpected possibilities.

I thoroughly enjoyed this fairytale-like story and the lovely "illuminations" by David Diaz. Told with humor and compassion, this story makes a wonderful read-aloud, with memorable characters that are a delightful combination of the typical and the unexpected.

The Castle Corona by Sharon Creech; illustrated by David Diaz (Joanna Cotler Books, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Litlb00k's Spot

Other B&OT reviews of books by Sharon Creech:
The Wanderer

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A welcome refuge

I discovered this wonderful graphic novel series from Nymeth's irresistible review - her book contained both stories, but my editions are separate volumes; this is the second one. The Lucky Road continues the story of what happens at Sleeping Beauty's castle after she wakes up and gallops off with her prince.

The story opens on a dark and stormy night as the hooded figure of Lady Jain, a young woman who, with the help of a talking bear, escapes from a fortress. She rides away in the night, and we see her face is bruised and swollen. She travels across the countryside, a pregnant woman alone, but it becomes clear that she is shrewd and self-sufficient. Her destination is Castle Waiting, a place of refuge.

After some adventures along the way, Lady Jain arrives at the castle, where she meets its motley crew of eccentric and unusual inhabitants. The castle and the people who live there have secrets, but that's okay with Lady Jain - she has her own, and no one pries into her past. The characters are portrayed with sympathy and humor, and the dialog is sweet and funny, at times making me laugh out loud. This is a delightful graphic novel, with illustrations that are nicely evocative of fairy tales, and I'm excited that the second volume is due to be published soon.

Books in the Castle Waiting series:
1. The Curse of Brambly Hedge
2. The Lucky Road

Castle Waiting, Volume 1: The Lucky Road by Linda Medley (Olio Press, 2000)

Also reviewed at:
Things Mean a Lot

Friday, July 11, 2008

Strangers in a very strange land

There are three girls who live on Gumm Street in the picturesque town of Sherbet: Franny, Pru and Cat. Cat appears to sense the paranormal, while Pru is timid, her nose perpetually stuck in a book (and she has more safety sips than Officer Buckle), and Franny is daring and adventurous, an admirer of the great explorers. They're the same age and have lived there all their lives, but they are most definitely not friends. Ivy and her mother move into the creepy, run-down house on Gumm Street, and the unexpected arrival of a piano at their new house on moving day prompts Ivy to begin piano lessons with Mr. Staccato, a nearby neighbor.

Ivy is hoping that her move to Sherbet will make her luck change, but that doesn't happen. She really didn't think it would, because ever since the day her father disappeared and a mirror broke, she's been plagued by bad luck. She has been jinxed. When Cat sees her at school, she catches glimpses of something dark and toothy that oozes in and out of Ivy's shadow - she thinks it is part of Ivy, not realizing it's actually the jinx.

Events conspire to throw the four girls together, however (or perhaps it was the wish that Ivy made when she threw a coin in the wishing well at school). Before they know it, their lives have become entangled in events involving a nasty neighbor named Cha-Cha, a pair of talking dogs named Fred and Ginger, ruby red slippers, and backwards tidal waves. They are transported to the land of SPOZ, where things are not fun at all, and they are going to have to work together, as difficult as that may be, in order to find a way not only to return home, but to keep a special pair of shoes out of the clutches of Cha-Cha Staccato, who bears a striking resemblance to a certain wicked witch.

I listened to the audio version of this book, but later, when I took a look at at the novel itself, I must say I found myself regretting my choice. The illustrations, also done by Primavera, are whimsical and a delightful addition to the text. I did enjoy Colleen Delaney's narration - she did a great job differentiating among the voices of the different girls, and also came up some wonderfully evil voices for the antagonists. But the pictures make a big difference.

My girls and I are fans of Elise Primavera's Auntie Claus and its sequel, and we read them every holiday season, so when I saw this, her first novel, I was excited to read it. I enjoyed it, although the adult reader in me found it a bit too over the top at times. When every element in the book - the town (a bit of a Camelot place, only rains at night, etc.), the characters' names (Cat Lemonjello, Mr. Staccato the piano teacher, Cha-Cha, Bling-Bling, etc.), - is clearly fantastical, and the characters are doing fantastical things, going fantastical places, where things happen that are constantly incredibly coincidental, it becomes a bit too much.

Even humorous fantasy novels need an anchor of reality, at least as far as I'm concerned. Otherwise they risk becoming so very unbelievable that the story ceases to work. It is so clearly contrived that it loses its sense of what's truly at stake, and the author's hand is so evident as it manipulates characters and events that the tension disappears, as well as sympathy for the characters, who simply don't seem that real. This book occasionally crossed that line for me, but I don't know that younger readers would have that same issue. Also, it seemed to me as I flipped through the actual book, the pictures lend an additional sense of humor to the text that was lacking (to me) in the audiobook, so had I read the actual book, I might have felt differently. The artwork reminded me of Quentin Blake's illustrations in Roald Dahl's children's books.

This is a great choice for readers who find page after page of text a bit daunting, but who are not put off by long books (this one has nearly 450 pages), and particularly for readers who are fans of the Oz series. Those who have only seen the film will appreciate the connections, but readers of the books will be the most rewarded. The novel has a lot of kid appeal; it's a madcap adventure as well as a touching story about friendship.

The Secret Order of the Gumm Street Girls by Elise Primavera; narrated by Colleen Delany (Landmark Audiobooks, 2006)

Also reviewed at:
My Bookwyrm (possible spoilers)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Book Giveaway Winners!

I'm happy to announce (finally - sorry it took so long!) the winners of the book giveaway. The competition wasn't too tremendous. The winners are...

The House with a Clock in Its Walls/The Ghost in the Mirror: Stephanie

No More Dead Dogs: Rachael

The other three books: Serena

Rhinoa - I'm so sorry, you are the only one that didn't get the book they asked for! As a consolation prize, would you like an advance readers' copy of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak?

When you get the chance, email me your addresses, and I'll get the books in the mail.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A dark tale of otherworldly horror

I've long been curious to check out the books that Charles de Lint wrote back in the 80s and 90s under the pen name "Samuel M. Key." He mentions them in some of his books, and the reason why he wrote them under a different name: normally he writes fantasy, usually urban fantasy, but these books are definitely horror, very dark and, judging from Angel of Darkness, very violent. I have enjoyed many of de Lint's books, so when this reissue was purchased by my library, I was happy to finally be able to read it.

The novel opens with a man, clearly deranged, who has made it his hobby to torture people in order to record their voices. It seems he has a plan to make a sort of music from the sounds of pain and desperation, and his current victim, a teenage runaway he'd lured to his recording studio under false pretenses, will be the culmination of his demented endeavor. The music that results calls forth a vengeful presence that is terrifying to behold.

Ex-cop JackKeller, searching for the runaway teen, arrives at the scene and immediately senses something horrific - something so horrible that he doesn't even go into the house. Instead, he calls for the police. The officers on the scene experience very disorienting visions at the gut-wrenching sight in the recording studio, visions that continue even after they leave. There are visions of a wasteland, a rotting, distorted version of their city, and when they fall asleep, they are transported there in their dreams - but is it just a dream? As more and more unexplainable things happen, Jack, his former coworkers and his friends come to the conclusion that just because something cannot be explained does not mean it isn't real. Unfortunately this isn't exactly the sort of foe the police academy prepares its students to face...

First off, let me say that this book is definitely not for the squeamish. De Lint pulls no punches. If I'd read the first few pages of this book, and it had been by an unfamiliar author, I may not have been as determined to continue with it. But I trust de Lint, and soon his characters took over (there were several, some less sympathetic than others, whose stories were told in alternating point-of-view sections), and I was quite happy (if a bit disturbed at times) to go along with the ride. It is a gripping tale, with many of his common themes (the horrors of child abuse and spouse abuse, the psychology of the victims, the possibility of redemption, the strength of compassion) presented in a harder-hitting, darker way than the Newford books. The description of the desolate city was very effective, creepy and palpable, and the entire premise was unusual and intriguing. I definitely plan to check out the other Samuel Key books. While I do prefer the world of Newford, it is fascinating to take a peek at the darker side of de Lint's imagination.

Angel of Darkness by Charles de Lint" - originally published under the pen name "Samual M. Key" (Orb, 1990)

Also reviewed at:
Someone's Read it Already

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A hilarious homage to H.L. Mencken

Connie Willis is one of my favorite writers of speculative fiction, and when I saw this book on the shelf at my library, I suddenly realized I hadn't read anything by her in far too long. Her books are unusual, intelligent, and hilarious with characters I quickly come to care about. This one won the Hugo Award for best novella in 2005, and somehow I'd never gotten around to reading it. Now I'm kicking myself for having waited so long!

Once again, this book is best read without knowing too much about it, so I will reveal only a few details from the beginning. Ned is a reporter for a newspaper called The Jaundiced Eye, a paper whose purpose is debunking fake psychics, mediums, and other such "spiritual" scams, and such things abound in Los Angeles, so there's a lot to write about. His unlikely partner (technically, employee) is Kildy, a drop-dead-gorgeous actress who has had enough of the Hollywood scene and has, for reasons Ned cannot begin to fathom, taken to working at the paper. And she does a marvelous job.

Kildy phones him up and asks him to accompany her to a very expensive ($750/ticket) spiritual seminar to see a medium. Why, he has no idea. Apparently he'll understand when he gets there. Kildy is right - what he sees at the seminar is astonishing, puzzling and just a bit unsettling. Ned, skeptic par excellence, needs to find out what is going on, and he won't stop until he gets to the truth of the matter.

I enjoyed every minute of this book, particularly its wit and sarcasm, quotations from and references to H.L. Mencken, the hard-boiled detective atmosphere, snappy dialog and memorable characters. It is a novella - only 97 pages, so it can easily be read in one sitting (and I was sorry that it ended too soon). For once the jacket flap didn't give away too much information, saying merely that it's "a tale of spiritualists, seances, skeptics, and a love that just might be able to rise above it all." If that sounds at all appealing to you, you will love this book as much as I did.

Inside Job by Connie Willis (Subterranean Press, 2005)

Also reviewed at:
Adventures in Reading
Bookshelves of Doom
Tabula Rasa

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Mortal Instruments

This is a taut, dark, gripping read, full of twists and turns and sudden revelations (that may not always be surprising to the careful reader). I knew nothing about the book when I started it, and I know that I enjoyed it all the more because of that. Therefore, I will not say very much about the plot, because I don't want to ruin any surprises.

The book opens with Clary Fray, a fifteen-year-old girl who lives with her mother, and Simon, her best friend. They're at a dance club together. He hates going there, but does it because she enjoys it so much. She spots an attractive guy across the room, and when it seems as though he's being followed by some other kids, one of them carrying a knife, she tries to come to his rescue. What ensues is very confusing - there is a fight, at the end of which the cute guy is gets stabbed, bleeds black fluid, then disappears into thin air. When Simon finally finds Clary, it is obvious that the attackers are invisible to him, while Clary can see them perfectly well.

From that moment, Clary's life changes in radical ways. She wants nothing to do with this strange, frightening, previously unseen world. But when her mother disappears after a frantic cellphone conversation in which she begs Clary to run, not to come back to their apartment, Clary realizes she must find a way to deal with what is happening, or she may never see her mother again. There is so much she doesn't know, and every time she tries to find out what is going on, she almost gets killed by nightmarish creatures.

Clary is an admirable character, full of determination and strength she never realized she had. Despite constant setbacks and disturbing revelations, she does her best to follow the right path. I loved watching the relationships develop among the various characters in the novel. Simon and Clary have been friends for years, and have an easy sort of camaraderie common to good friends with a shared history, which is evident in the way they speak with each other. Jace, one of the teenagers involved in the club incident, is appealing in a different way - he's the handsome, broody, loner type, and Clary immediately finds herself both attracted to and irritated by him (particularly his high-handedness and self-confidence to the point of being a bit stuck up). Their dialog is wonderful, too, particularly when Clary is annoyed.

Books that are dark and suspenseful, yet have continual sparks of humor in them always get high ratings from me. This one was so gripping, I stayed up way past my bedtime to read it, and it has been in my mind in the days since I finished it. I highly recommend it - and I am very much looking forward to reading the sequel, which I brought home from the library yesterday.

Books in The Mortal Instruments series:
1. City of Bones
2. City of Ashes
3. City of Glass (To be published March 2009)

City of Bones (#1 in The Mortal Instruments series) by Cassandra Clare (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Biblioharlot's Bookshelf
Drying Ink (warning - spoilers)
The Book Muncher (warning - spoilers)
WORD for Teens

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Welcome to Castle Waiting

This graphic novel is a retelling of the sleeping beauty tale, with whimsical details, heart, and a wonderful sense of humor. I had never heard of this series until I read about it a month or two ago in Nymeth's irresistible review (thanks, Nymeth!). In this version of the fairytale, the king and queen are desperate for a child, and finally the king travels to consult some wise woman for help. His mission succeeds, and the queen in due course delivers a lovely baby girl.

However, the sister of the wise women, an appropriately evil and selfish witch named Mald, is incensed that the king and queen did not come to her for advice. It is this insult that brings Mald to the baby's christening. As in the traditional fairytale, all the special gifts of the wise women but one have been given when Mald shows up, so the very youngest wise woman saves the day by changing the curse enough to save the princess's life. Unfortunately the youngest wise woman's original wish was going to be wisdom, and it becomes immediately apparent that the princess could certainly have used some!

This initial story sets the scene for the subsequent books in the Castle Waiting series. The story itself is very short, and following it are some extras, such as drawings and descriptions of the main characters, fun writing activities, children's literature resources, and - my favorite - a section about comic-book-style drawing, complete with how to draw different kinds of speech and thought bubbles in order to convey particular emotions. I very much enjoyed this fairytale graphic novel, with its very interesting cast of characters (I particularly loved the princess's ladies in waiting), humorous dialog and artwork that perfectly complements the text and themes. I'm looking forward to reading more of the Castle Waiting series to see what happens next at the forgotten castle.

Books in the Castle Waiting series:
1. The Curse of Brambly Hedge
2. The Lucky Road

Castle Waiting: The Curse of Brambly Hedge by Linda Medley (Olio Press, 2002)