Saturday, October 31, 2009

Life Sucks

In this darkly humorous graphic novel, which is often described as "Clerks with vampires," all the typical vampire stereotypes and cliches are turned upside down, with funny and surprising results. Dave is a vampire, but does he live in a sumptuous dwelling, surrounded by quietly lovely undead minions? Not a chance. He works at a convenience store in L.A., where he was turned into a vampire against his will by Lord Radu, a powerful vampire from the Old Country who owns the store. What's worse than working in a dead-end job for a boss you can't stand? Working in a dead-end job for a boss you can't stand for all eternity, that's what.

Dave was a vegetarian before he was turned, and he can't bring himself to hunt people for blood. So, because he subsists on stale, canned blood-bank blood, his powers are fairly weak compared to the other vampires, particularly his nemesis: a handsome, sociopathic surfer vampire named Wes. When Wes sees that Dave is interested in Rosa, a lovely goth girl (who is, ironically, into the guys who dress up as stereotypical, elegantly dressed vampires complete with fake fangs), Wes is determined to have her for himself. Dave hopes to stand a chance, but Rosa unfortunately seems determined to think of him as nothing more than a "good friend."

I thoroughly enjoyed this immensely entertaining graphic novel, which is targeted at teens but equally appealing to adults. It's funny and intelligent, with dark, bold artwork that perfectly suits the characters and storyline. The Los Angeles setting is skillfully depicted, and it's a very effective backdrop for the action, romance and humor of the story. Fans of the Scott Pilgrim books would likely enjoy this book as well. I fervently hope that we will presently be seeing more of Dave, his mellow mortal roommate, and the rest of the cast of Life Sucks.

Life Sucks by Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria and Warren Pleece (First Second, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
The Book Zombie: "The creativity used in putting together such a potluck of uniquely bizarre characters just reminds me so much of a Kevin Smith movie. Artwork, dialogue and plot were all fantastic as well, but it was the people that really made Life Sucks a winner for me."
Bookshelves of Doom: "It's well-written, funny and smart, it's easy to believe that Dave and Carl (his mortal roommate) have been friends forever, and the squabbling/ribbing between Dave and Carl and Jerome rings true."
The Written World: "I really like the cover, too. I find it fun. Once you read the book and understanding who all the characters are it is a fitting one. I recommend the book, but it is not something that I had to own."

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Beasts of Clawstone Castle

After the success of Ibbotson's The Haunting of Granite Falls as a Halloween-season read-aloud to my children this month, we chose this as our next read, and it was a hit as well.

Rollo and Madlyn, brother and sister, are sent to stay with their elderly Great-Aunt Emily and Great-Uncle George, who live in an ancient, moldering castle in northern England. Emily and George aren't too keen on the idea, as they have worries of their own - financial ones, as the castle requires so much upkeep - and they are not very experienced with children. But Rollo and Madlyn are not average kids. Madlyn is immensely capable, responsible, and resourceful, and Rollo is intelligent and very compassionate when it comes to animals. Uncle George realizes, when he sees how much Rollo adores the wild white cattle of Clawstone, that he has found a kindred spirit. When they realize that their aunt and uncle are in dire financial straits, the children act immediately.

Their scheme to restore the castle involves recruiting some proper ghosts to haunt Clawstone - so tourists will come to Clawstone on Open Days, instead of to selfish, wealthy Lord Trembellow's beautiful castle. And after auditioning many interested ghosts, the children take on the best of the best. Among them is the bloody bride, and the ghost who has the ghost of a rat gnawing on his heart (it produces a most wonderful effect when he opens his shirt to castle visitors), and - my girls' favorite - The Feet.

Things seem to be going well until the wild white cattle are threatened in a most insidious way. The children uncover a heinous plot, but by the time they realize what is happening, they are far from their aunt and uncle, far from the safe, stone walls of Clawstone, and completely on their own.

Ibbotson never fails to deliver a gripping, entertaining, and touching tale. Her protagonists are believable and sympathetic, and the villains are delightfully over-the-top horrific. The ghosts are simply wonderful, gory and gruesome, yet lovable all the same. The pacing is tight, but never too focused to spare a moment for a quick, fun side story about a minor character or two, and the plot takes wonderful twists and turns that are sure to keep readers guessing. The novel makes for an excellent read-aloud, and the girls and I are planning on more Ibbotson bedtime reads.

The Beasts of Clawstone Castle by Eva Ibbotson; illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Dutton Children's Books, 2006)

Also reviewed at:
Books for Kids Blog: "Eva Ibbotson's characters are somewhere between spooky and spoofy, with plenty of the YUCK but not too much of the YIKES factor."
On My Bookshelf: "Ibbotson, as always, is very, very funny in a dry, witty way that I really enjoy. I would definitely recommend this, as well as her other books."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Terrier

Beka is a sixteen-year-old "puppy," a new member of the Lord Provost's city guards, known as "dogs." She's from the lower city, but was raised in the household of the Lord Provost himself, after she was so persistent and clever at solving a crime when she was just a child, which brought her to the Lord Provost's attention.

The book opens as she takes her first steps as a puppy, having just finished her years of training. She is astonished to find herself assigned to one of the most renowned pairs of dogs in the entire city - and they are just as astonished as she is. She has much to learn - and some things she learns the hard - not to mention excruciatingly embarrassing - way, but they have a lot to learn from her, too.

Beka is excruciatingly timid, but she has some unusual talents that lend themselves to investigative work. One is that she can hear the ghosts that ride the backs of the city's pigeons, as pigeons are the emissaries that carry souls on to the afterlife. The souls are talkative but are not capable of coherent conversation, so the reader garners clues along with Beka, and can try to piece them together along with her. Beka will need this and her other talents (which involve dust spinners and a talking cat) when she is called on to solve several mysteries, one involving the disappearance of dozens of the city's residents, and another involving kidnapping, blackmail, and an insidious criminal known only as the shadowsnake.

I have been a fan of Tamora Pierce's work for years, and this is an excellent addition to the Tortall books, set several hundred years before her first series. The blending of mystery and fantasy worked very well, and will be appealing to fans of both genres. I also enjoyed the fact that, in Beka's world, the lines between right and wrong are rather ambiguous. There are payoffs to be made to the criminal element of the city, and she is told that it is acceptable to take bribes (as long as she offers a percentage to her dog partners). She becomes good friends with people who are on the questionable side of the law, which sets up an interesting tension that I expect will be explored in future books.

Books in the Beka Cooper series:
1. Terrier
2. Bloodhound
3. Mastiff (forthcoming 2010)

Terrier (#1 in the Beka Cooper series) by Tamora Pierce; narrated by Susan Denaker (Listening Library/Random House Audio, 2006)

Also reviewed at:
All Booked Up: "Tamora Pierce has woven in some unique twists that kept me up late reading the book (and this was on a re-read)."
Today's Adventure: "This is one of the good ones. Beka Cooper is essentially a teenaged, medieval rookie cop. This book combines elements of both the mystery/crime and fantasy genres (no dragons or elves). It tells a compelling story that kept the pages turning."
Wands and Worlds: "Beka is an absolutely fascinating and compelling character, and the first person point of view draws you in to her world and makes you identify with her from the first. The other characters in the book, from Dogs to criminals to ordinary people, are equally interesting and well-developed."
Words by Annie: "It was neat how the book was a mix of thriller and fantasy. Beka's magic was also different and interesting, but you will have to read the book to see what I mean."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Stolen

This second volume in Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series continues the story of Elena, the only known female werewolf, who was introduced in the first book, Bitten. Elena is a headstrong young woman who is slowly learning to accept her life as a werewolf, along with everything that entails, along with her relationship with the Clay, the man who changed her into a wolf - without giving her a choice in the matter - in the first place.

While the first book falls more in to the paranormal romance/urban fantasy genre, this one is more an action/adventure novel. A very wealthy sociopath has come to learn of the existence of supernatural beings, and he is using his not inconsiderable resources to kidnap and collect various people, from vampires and shamans to witches and demons. He has set up science labs and has recruited doctors and scientists in an attempt to isolate and take advantage of those biological properties that give the supernatural beings their powers. Elena is approached by two witches who would like the werewolf pack to become involved in locating and stopping this man, but Elena - who hadn't considered the existence of other supernaturals beyond werewolves, is surprised and suspicious. It's not long, however, before she is on the inside of the supernatural menagerie, and it soon becomes obvious that the extra strength of one lone werewolf won't be terribly helpful in the face of armed guards, strong cells, sedatives and security cameras.

While I wasn't entirely captivated by the first book in this series, I found this second book to be much stronger, with greater character development and tighter pacing. Now that Elena is not railing against her personal situation and is focused on something outside herself, I find her a much more compelling character. There were a few issues that stretched my suspension of disbelief (e.g. - and possible spoiler here - if it is such an extremely rare situation for her to have survived the change as a female werewolf, it seems just a little too convenient that the one other woman who is infected with the virus should also survive).

I like the fact that this series does not focus on the same protagonist with each book, and that the next one will be branching out to different woman who are supernaturals in this fascinating world that Armstrong has created. I look forward to seeing how it all unfolds.



Books in the Women of the Otherworld series:
1. Bitten
2. Stolen
3. Dime Store Magic
4. Industrial Magic
5. Haunted
6. Broken
7. No Humans Involved
8. Personal Demon
9. Living with the Dead


Stolen (#2 in the Women of the Otherworld series) by Kelley Armstrong (Viking, 2002)

Also reviewed at:
Reading Adventures: "When I first read Bitten, it took me a long while to get really drawn into the story, and in the end I enjoyed it, but I have to say that this book was so much better."
Queen of Happy Endings: "There are some pretty evil characters in this story and with such a high level of suspense maintained throughout the book it's very hard to put down with an end that was evil yet so delicious."
The Written World: "Vampires, demons, shamans, witches -- in Stolen they all exist, and they’re all under attack."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Sandman: Season of Mists

Welcome to my first buddy review! Rhinoa of Rhinoa's Ramblings is reading through the Sandman series too, and since we both recently read Season of Mists, we thought it would be fun to have a little e-conversation about it and post each other's answers on our blogs. So here goes!

First of all, a brief description of the book. This is the fourth collection of Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics, and it is about Dream, one of the Endless - deathless personifications of elements such as Desire, Death, Delirium, Destiny, etc. In this story Dream travels to Hell to right a wrong he perpetrated eons earlier, and his actions unleash a chain of events that involve many gods, goddesses and beings from ancient (and current) religions.

Here are the interview questions we came up with, and these are Rhinoa's answers to them. If you are on the edge of your seat, wondering what my answers are to these same questions (and who wouldn't be? LOL), you'll have to check out Rhinoa's post on her blog.

What did you like about the graphic novel?
I liked the story, the main plot that linked the separate comics together. After the previous collection it was a nice to get back to the regular storyline.

What didn't you like about it?
I would have liked to have spent more time with the Endless, but I am sure they will pop up again in future collections.

There were a series of different artists who worked on the novel, did you have a favourite and least favourite?
To be honest I though that the artists all worked really well together keeping a consistent style throughout no matter who did the pencils, ink and colour. The covers by Dave McKean were stunning as always. One thing I did enjoy reading were the spoof blurbs about everyone involved in it's creation at the back of my edition.

There was more from the rest of the Endless, do you have a favourite and least favourite?
Well obviously I love Dream and Death. They are the two I have spent the most time with. I also find Delirium really interesting and hope to get to know her better in the future. There aren't any of the Endless that I dislike and I am curious to see who their other sibling is who was not present in this collection.

What did you think of the ending?
I thought it ended well, the main storyline was closed with a happy resolution for me.

Lucifer has a spin off series, do you plan on reading any of them?
I am definitely interested although I think they have had mixed reviews. I loved his work decision and as always Lucifer is one of my favourite characters. There is just something interesting about him and versions where he is not the bad guy we are told he is.

Which was your favorite story and why?
This collection really read like one cohesive story so I don't really want to separate out the different comics.

What do you think makes the Sandman stand apart from other graphic novels?
I think it really helped comics becomes more main stream. It was written at a time when it wasn't cool to read graphic novels. It's a very dark series which I really like, but I don't think I can read too many too close together as they would give me nightmares ironically enough!

How do you think this fourth collection compares to the first three?
I think I liked it the most so far. I felt the story held together the best to date and I really look forward to seeing what Dream and his family have planned for the next one.

Books in the Sandman series
1. Preludes & Nocturnes (collects The Sandman #1-8)
2. The Doll's House (collects The Sandman #9-16)
3. Dream Country (collects The Sandman #17-20)
4. Season of Mists (collects The Sandman #21-28)
5. A Game of You (collects The Sandman #32-37)
6. Fables and Reflections (collects The Sandman #29- 1, #38-40, #50, Sandman Special #1 and Vertigo Preview #1)
7. Brief Lives (collects The Sandman #41-49)
8. World's End (collects The Sandman #51- 56)9. The Kindly Ones (collects The Sandman #57-69)
10. The Wake (collects The Sandman #70-75)


The Sandman: Season of Mists (#4 in the Sandman series) by Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Matt Wagner, Dick Giordano, George Pratt and P. Craig Russell; introduction by Harlan Ellison (DC Comics, 1992)
Also reviewed at:
Fyrefly's Book Blog: "The Season of Mists was a great, layered story, drawing on more mythologies than I can count. Read into this what you will, but I think the story of Lucifer is one of the more fascinating parts of Judeo-Christian mythology, and Gaiman delivers a doozy of a story here."
Jenny's Books: "Neil Gaiman’s obviously having fun with all of them, and it is fun – Thor’s hitting on Bast, and two of the hell demons are having an affair, and a sinisterly lettered little girl from the hordes of chaos giggles when someone gets made into sausages."
The Wertzone: "It is a tad overlong given its relative lack of actual incident, but for expanding our knowledge and understanding about Hell and the Dreaming, for introducing important new characters (particularly Daniel, Cluracan and Nuala) and for resolving the Nada storyline, it does a great job."

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney

Sparrow Delaney is very excited about starting high school at a new school, even though it means a 45-minute bus ride each way. She is thrilled to be in a place where no one knows her, and no one knows she's from the "weird" town of Lily Dale (otherwise known as Spookyville). Because, as Sparrow says, "When you have a deep, dark secret to hide, a new beginning is a very good thing."

What Sparrow is so desperate to hide - not only from her new friends but from her family - is that she can see ghosts. Her family would be thrilled by this news, because they are spiritualists, mediums who help people by communicating with their loved ones who have died. Sparrow is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, so her family has Big Expectations as far as she is concerned. But from the time she was very small and talked with her first ghost, Sparrow has hidden her talent. She doesn't want to end up in a shabby old house with overdue bills in the cookie jar. She wants a real career, nothing to do with ghosts and spirits. No matter that she has had three spirit guides since she was five years old.

Her problems begin at her new school, when a cute guy in one of her classes turns out to be a ghost. He wants her help, and no amount of ignoring him will make him go away. He seems to be connected with an all-too-real boy named Jack, who is also pretty cute, but thanks to the ghost, she gets off on the wrong foot with him and totally embarrasses herself. When they're assigned to do a history project together, and he wants to do it on Sparrow's town of Lily Dale, Sparrow's problems are just beginning...

This is a fun coming-of-age story with a light supernatural twist. While it was easy to see where the story was going, and it was clear that Sparrow is going to learn an Important Lesson on Being Herself, it happened in such an entertaining way that I was quite happy to go along with the ride. I loved Sparrow's six older sisters, each also named for birds, and her grandmother in particular, a funny character who clearly has no problem whatsoever being herself:
For the past two years Grandma Bee has been creating a new martial art designed for older people. Her belief, based on a completely immodest assessment of her own talent, was that the elderly could be organized into our country's most effective crime-fighting force. "It's so unexpected, you see," she always says. "Who would ever suspect that a man wearing a 'World's Best Grandpa' T-shirt could kill with his bare hands?"
The characters are fun and interesting, and Sparrow's relationships with her sisters, her new best friend, and with Jack, are portrayed in a believable, realistic way. The supernatural elements add a touch of whimsy to a story that, underneath the lightheartedness, is about death and the difficulty of letting go. I have not read anywhere that there is a sequel in the works to this delightful book (which is set in the actual spiritualist town of Lily Dale in New York), but I would be very happy to read more about the irrepressible Sparrow and her otherworldly adventures.

Here is an interview with author Suzanne Harper at Slayground.

The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney by Suzanne Harper (Greenwillow Books, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
The Indextrious Reader: "Enjoyable characters, including Sparrow herself and her irascible Grandma Bee, make this book sparkle (and not in an Edward-the-Undead way)."
The Magic of Ink: "a light, enjoyable read that had enough humorous observations, over-the-top characters, and depth to keep the fluff at bay."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Gunnerkrigg Court

After attending the webcomics panel at WorldCon last summer, I ended up with a great list of recommended comics to read online. The description for Gunnerkrigg Court was intriguing, so I decided to try that one first. And what a great choice for my first webcomic experience!

The story opens with Antimony (Annie) Carver showing up as a new student at a private boarding school called Gunnerkrigg Court. The school is a fascinating and mysterious place, as it contains supernatural and mythological beings as well as advanced technology, such as strange machines and robots. There appears to be some sort of tension between the Court and the nearby forest, Gillitie Wood, where students are not permitted to roam and technology is expressly forbidden.

Little by little the reader learns of Annie's unusual past, and the more the reader learns, the more questions are raised. Annie's own parents attended the school when they were young, as did the parents of Annie's new best friend, Kat. Events from their parents' time together appear to be linked to current events that involve Annie, Kat and their classmates, an odd assortment of children with unusual abilities.

I am enjoying this comic immensely. The story is a delightful mix of mystery, adventure, suspense and humor, and it is so quirky and creative that I am constantly - happily - surprised. Annie is a strong protagonist, but she does have her weaknesses, and Kat is a great sidekick. She's a total science geek, a technological whiz kid, and her abilities are a great complement to Annie's skills in dealing with supernatural phenomena. They make a great team.


The artwork is arresting and expressive, and the backgrounds are evocative and atmospheric. I love that the characters are very easy to distinguish from each other - with some graphic novels the characters have a sort of generic look that makes it difficult to tell them apart.

For a long time this comic was only available online, but now it has been published in a print version. So far there Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation, which collects the first fourteen chapters, and Gunnerkrigg Court: Research, which is forthcoming. This story is appealing to adults, but I'd also recommend it to teens and interested younger children as well. It's complex, and readers must pay attention in order to catch hints and clues, but it is a family-friendly story, full of humor and excitement. I plan to buy the first volume for my older daughter's eleventh birthday. I know she'll love it as much as I do.

Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell (available as free webcomic, also in book format: Archaia Studio Press, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Paradoxical Reading, Writing and Randomness: "It’s a bit hard to explain Gunnerkrigg Court, but that’s part of the mystery. If you read any sf/fantasy webcomic, read this one."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel

Dyamonde Daniel is feeling just a little bit sorry for herself. Her parents have recently gotten divorced, and while she misses having her whole family together, she certainly does not miss all the shouting and fighting that her parents used to do. She misses her best friend dreadfully, though, and she hasn't made any good friends at her new school yet. She also misses having her own bedroom, instead of a pull-out bed in the living room.

Then a new kid shows up, a boy named Free. Dyamonde knows how it feels to be the new kid, so she'd like to be extra nice to him. But he won't let anyone be nice to him. He grunts when people talk to him, refuses to read aloud in class, scares the little kids by yelling at them when they get in his way, and is not at all the sort of person, Dyamonde thinks, that anyone could possibly be nice to. She doesn't realize that as she focuses more on Free's behavior and why he acts that way, she's completely forgotten about her desire to fit in and make friends, and that's when something surprising happens...

This is a delightful story about a clever, spunky little girl whose self-confidence and impulsive kindness are sure to take her far. I loved the fact that she loves to read, and knows that she is a smart kid (although she doesn't brag about it). The book is light in tone, told mostly through a very close 3rd person narration from Dyamonde's point of view, but it covers several topics that are of serious importance to children: moving, divorce, friendship, and social dynamics at school. It's never preachy or trite, though - Dyamonde's fresh voice makes these often-used themes feel new and interesting, and the characters are appealing and sure to hold the reader's attention. New York City is a colorful setting that helps bring the story to life.

The illustrations are cute, but at times the characters look like little old men and women with odd lines on their faces. I do love the cover art, though, which is bright and appealing. This is a good choice for readers who are transitioning from easy readers to chapter books (for more of these reviewed here, click on the "transitional books" tag). I like the fact that this book is about an African-American girl, but the focus isn't on race issues (not that those books aren't important, too) - it's on the everyday issues that all kids face. It's a book that brings readers of all backgrounds closer together because of how much they have in common, and it gives us a character to care about and cheer for. Dyamonde will appeal to readers who like Junie B., Clementine and Allie Finkle, and to those who enjoy school stories. This is the first book in a new series, and I am very much looking forward to Dyamonde's next appearance.

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Kidliterate: "I love Dyamonde and her whole little world. I love her spunk and her friendliness and her smarts and her determination. I think she’s a great character to headline a series, and I highly recommend her."
Too Many Books: "Grimes creates a strong protagonist in a familiar setting using easy to read chapters with plenty of white space. The black and white illustrations are child-like in their appeal and the patterned page borders add that little bit extra."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Need

Zara is having a very difficult time coming to terms with her beloved stepfather's death. In fact, she's having such a tough time that, in order to shake Zara from her depression, her obsession with phobias, and her general apathy, her mother has sent her away from her home in Charleston to live with her grandmother in Maine. It is cold, dark and depressing in Maine, and Zara is hurt and furious with her mother for sending her away. But Zara's affectionate, no-nonsense grandmother is delighted to have her come to stay.

She does warn Zara, however, to be home before dark - a teenage boy has gone missing, and Zara needs to be careful. When Zara starts her new school, she makes an immediate enemy (for no apparent reason) and meets a few potential friends. Issy is a perky, outgoing girl who immediately takes to Zara, and there is not one but two very hot guys who are very interested in getting to know Zara better.

Worries about friends and school fall to the wayside when it becomes clear that there is a man stalking Zara, a man she saw in South Carolina, and at the airport when she landed, and by the side of the road on her way home from school. There is something strange about him, something that seems too unbelievable to be true. But that's not the only unbelievable thing that Zara is about to learn about her New England home.

This is a thoroughly engaging dark fantasy novel for teens. It has some of the typical elements of dark teen fantasy with a dash of romance that are also evident in the first Twilight book, it is true - but I found that it dealt with the elements more skilfully, with characters that I believed in (and did not want to strangle). It also packs some most interesting twists and turns - some that were evident from the outset, but others that took me by surprise. The book is written in the present tense, which I occasionally have problems with because it can make the story feel contrived. But not in this case. Here, I felt as though I were discovering things along with Zara, and it worked well.

I enjoyed the irony of the fact that Zara is so involved with Amnesty International, yet it appears that innocent boys are being tortured because of something to do with her - and that she sees herself as a pacifist, yet she's being put in a position in which she has no choice but to fight. She wants to make a difference in the world - she wants to save others. Yes she finds herself in the position of needing to be saved, and she hates it. She is struggling to find out what is really going on, because until she does she is reacting to events in a passive way, when she needs to find a way to take control of the situation. She is a strong character, despite her struggle to accept her father's death, and she does her best to act, rather than react, and I like that about her. She is also endearingly honest, and I liked that about her, too.

I also loved Zara's grandmother. She's a tough woman who works as an EMT and does her best to be there when Zara needs her. Here is a discussion they have about Nick, who helped her out during a particularly strange and scary incident:
"He likes you, Zara. He took care of you. That's what men do when they take a shine to you."

"He obviously has some rescue-the-damsel-in-distress gene, which is totally inappropriate because I am hardly a damsel in distress," I say, a little too bitterly. Even I can hear it.

"Hardly. You're too busy trying to rescue people you don't know." She points at my pile of Amnesty International papers.

"Like that's a bad thing?"

"It's a good thing, Zara. It's just. Well...we all need a little bit of rescuing from time to time. It doesn't make us weak."

"He doesn't
like me like me."

"You know, there's nothing wrong with admitting he likes you. There's nothing wrong with feeling good things, Zara. Your dad doesn't want any of us to stop living."
I also liked the chemistry between Zara and Nick - it feel natural and very sweet. Here they are in art class together:
He motions to the glue brush. "Can I have some?"

I start to grab it so I can pass it to him. He reaches for it at the same time. Our fingers touch, and the moment they do the fluorescent lights overhead flicker and then fizzle out.

Everyone moans, even though we can all still see. There's enough light from outside filtering in, just not enough for us to really focus on the finer details.

Nick's fingers stroke mine lightly, so lightly that I'm almost not sure the touch is real. My insides flicker like the art room lights. They do not, however, fizzle. I turn my head to look him in the eye.

He leans over and whispers, "It will be hard to be just your friend."
This novel should have appeal to fans of Holly Black and Melissa Marr, and to anyone who enjoys a creative and skillful combination of creepy setting, sympathetic characters, romantic elements, and an intriguing supernatural threat. The ending is a satisfying conclusion, but it leaves a sense that the solution is only a temporary one. And, in fact, there is a sequel due to be published in January, 2010. I look forward to reading it.

Need by Carrie Jones (Bloomsbury, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Angieville: "What I liked about Ms. Jones' writing is the way she created a truly scary world and villain with very little overt description. I have no idea what he looks like. In my head he's this huge dark form without a face and he is the scarier for it."
Beyond Books: "I was hooked on the mystery of it all. I liked the characters (although I was slightly irritated by all of Zara’s Amnesty International obsessions) and I loved the writing. The dialogue was witty and fun and the hints of sarcasm that came from Zara cracked me up."
J. Kaye's Book Blog: "I think the characters are what I loved best. Zara’s grandmother is a hysterical piece of work. The problem I had was Zara seemed a wee bit too slow at putting things together."
Karin's Book Nook: "The suspense is palpable when Zara struggles to make sense of the odd events in her life. Readers will come to love many of the characters and will definitely want to know more about them by the end of the novel."
Reader Rabbit: "Need is okay. It's not bad and it's not fabulous. It's not good enough to pay the hardcover fee, but when it's out in paperback, it wouldn't make a bad purchase."

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Ghost in the Swing

Things have not been easy lately for twelve-year-old Joan. Her parents have just gotten separated, and to make things worse, her mother and little sister have gone to Florida together, and Joan has stayed behind with her father. It wouldn't be so bad - Joan adores her father - but he has to take a long business trip, so Joan must stay at her aunt's house for a few weeks until he gets back.

When they pull up in front of her Aunt Margaret's house, it looks enormous and spooky. Aunt Margaret is clearly delighted that Joan is there, and even though Joan hasn't seen her since she was little, she feels comfortable with her immediately. But it looks like things are going to be pretty lonely and dull. There is no one her age nearby, no neighbors at all, in fact. The house is very secluded, with nothing around it but acres of apple orchard and a cottage where Mr. Cree, the strange old caretaker lives.

But it turns out that Joan won't have much time to be bored. There's the odd singing she hears in the night, the swing that moves back and forth all by itself, and a taunting voice that comes out of thin air. These odd occurrences seem to be connected to a girl in the enormous oil painting that hangs in the entrance of her aunt's house - a girl who looks almost exactly like Joan. When the ghost asks her for help, Joan agrees, not knowing that helping will involve putting her own life at risk and facing the things that she fears the most...

This was one of my hands-down favorite books when I was a child. I always checked it out of the library, and even when I wasn't going to check it out, I'd often wander over to the "S" shelves, just to see if it was there. Simply seeing it there on the shelf made me happy - knowing I could come and get it, bring it home to read again. Which I did - a lot.

Years passed, and I thought I'd see if I could find a used copy, since it has long been out of print. Well, the cheapest one I could find was about $50 on Amazon - for a used mass-market paperback! I just couldn't bring myself to pay that much, but a couple years ago my husband presented it to me for my birthday! (He may have just wanted to stop the whining already, but I so appreciated it!)

I actually saved it until now to reread - I wanted to share it with my own girls, who are nearly 9 and 11. And of course this was a perfect book for the R.I.P. Challenge. I am pleased to announce that the book was a smashing success. The girls loved it so much that they would get up early on school days and help with breakfast and lunch packing so I'd have time to read them a chapter before school. And they'd hurry through their chores and homework after school so I could read it to them before I left for work. I'm so glad they enjoyed it!

It wasn't as dated as I thought it might be - part of that is that Aunt Margaret's house is so secluded, and she doesn't even have a television, so it feels pretty timeless. The story just drips with atmosphere, from the twisting maze that is the apple orchard to the dusty attic with its abandoned dollhouse and other toys. The ghost is funny, and she has a lot of attitude. When I was little I identified more with Joan, and I felt indignant at the ghost's behavior the way Joan did, but rereading the book, I found myself thinking that Joan needed to loosen up and not be quite so stodgy. I also found Joan's dad to be rather irritating, particularly the way he is so patronizing and condescending to Joan's aunt about the mere possibility of ghosts, when Aunt Margaret has researched and is writing a book about haunted houses. I don't remember noticing that when I was a child. Still, it was clear her dad loved Joan very much, and they have a sweet, close relationship.

I do think the book holds up amazingly well, and I'm so, so pleased to have a copy of my own now. It's a timeless ghost story with a bit of humor and a lot of excitement, and I wish it were back in print and available to anyone who wants to read it.

The Ghost in the Swing by Janet Patton Smith (Tempo Books, 1973)

Have you reviewed this book? Please leave me a link in the comments, and I'll link to your review. Thanks!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Murphy's Law

Molly Murphy, a young Irish woman, suddenly finds herself fleeing from the law. She leaves her small village behind and heads to London, hoping to lose herself in the crowded city. A chain of events leads her to agreeing to accompany two young children across the ocean to their father. She travels under an assumed name, pretending to be their mother, who is sure to be turned away and sent back to Ireland because of her ill health. Molly is only too glad to help reunite the children with their father - plus she knows that she will be hanged if she is caught by the police.

A murder occurs on the day of their arrival at Ellis Island, and Molly falls under suspicion, along with some of her traveling companions . Even though Molly grew up in a lower-class household, she was educated with the daughters at the "big house," and she is intelligent and resourceful. Her quick tongue and wits impress the handsome policeman investigating the murder, and even though he believes she is married to the children's father, it is clear that he finds her attractive. Molly believes she saw the killer the night of the murder, and she feels the police are looking in all the wrong places. So she decides to find the killer herself.

Molly's story is s vivid depiction of life in nineteenth-century New York City and the Irish immigrant experience, as well as the political climate of New York at the time, and the heavy-handed influence of Tammany Hall. Molly is impulsive and fairly foolhardy, and her actions are not always well reasoned. She is kind, though, particularly to the young children who have had to leave their mother behind in Ireland, and even though her new life in America is a continual struggle, she is determined to do what she must to survive. The plot does strain credibility at times, but Molly and the other characters are so engaging that I really couldn't bring myself to mind very much.

I learned of this series from a patron at my library, who came to the reference desk to place a hold on one of the books. She was so passionate about how much she was enjoying the series that I asked her to tell me about it. She came back a few days later to return the first book, which her husband had also read and enjoyed, and gave it to me so I could give it a try. And I'm glad she did. I love working at the library! This is a great choice for readers who enjoy historical mysteries, and also those who prefer a more traditional approach, without the gore and violence, and with compelling, interesting characters and situations.

Books in the Molly Murphy series:
1. Murphy's Law
2. Death of Riley
3. For the Love of Mike
4. In Like Flynn
5. Oh Danny Boy
6. In Dublin's Fair City
7. Tell Me, Pretty Maiden
8. In a Gilded Cage

Murphy's Law (#1 in the Molly Murphy series) by Rhys Bowen (St. Martin's Minotaur, 2001)

Also reviewed at:
Bookgirls' Nightstand: "I enjoyed reading about what the travel must have been like on the ship and what it must have been like to arrive at Ellis Island. Plus, the book features a very likable heroine, one who is also very independent and not easily beaten by her circumstances."
Lynne's Little Corner of the World: "She's a spunky lady, not afraid to speak her mind and travel into unknown and probably unsafe locations."
Whimpulsive: "Yes, it’s the typical intelligent plucky heroine and the plot coincidences are many , but I found myself forgiving all the predictability and just enjoying this quick and entertaining read."

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hunting Ground

Anna, the "Omega" wolf, has come a long way from the abused, cringing victim first seen in the short story that introduces her character ("Alpha and Omega" in On the Prowl). She has found a place for herself among a positive, functional pack, unlike her first one, and she has gained self-confidence as well as skill in her role as Omega. She is one of the rare werewolves whose status is outside the pack hierarchy, neither a submissive nor an alpha, and she has special abilities that no other werewolves possess.

She and Charles, her new husband, are still in the early stages of their relationship. They are crazy about each other, but they have both have troubled pasts and issues that they still need to work out. There isn't much time for them to focus on their relationship, though, when Charles convinces his father, the Marrok (leader of their pack) to send him and Anna to Seattle for a political meeting with international werewolves. Charles's father intends to "out" the werewolves as other supernatural creatures have recently done, and his actions will effect werewolves all around the world. Support from these packs will make the transition go much more smoothly, but persuading them will be a challenge.

The meeting is not expected to be exactly civilized, particularly as the French alpha, known as the Beast of Gevaudan, will be in attendance - someone who, according to Charles, "likes to eat his prey - and his prey is mostly human." Presiding over this doubtful venture is one of the Fae, who may or may not be trustworthy - but at least she is powerful enough to keep a bunch of quarrelsome, powerful werewolves under control. When Anna is attacked by a group of vampires, and the mate of one of the alpha wolves is brutally murdered, Anna and Charles not only must deal with the challenge of trying to gain support for the Marrok, but they also have a murder mystery to solve.

This second installment in the Alpha and Omega series has danger, excitement, mystery, and a dash of romance. Anna grows substantially throughout the course of the novel, as she works to face her fears and learn more about the important role she plays as an alpha. The social structure of the werewolves is an interesting way to look at relationships (werewolf and otherwise), their power structure and dynamics. Anna's relationship with Charles is central to the book, and their interactions are sweet and often humorous. The pace, as is typical with Briggs' novels, is taut, and the characters are very engaging. While I miss Mercy Thompson dreadfully, I am grateful for this new series to make the wait for the next book in that series more bearable - and I'm very much looking forward to the next book in this series, as well.

The Hunting Ground series:
1. "Alpha and Omega" (short story in On the Prowl)
2. Cry Wolf
3. Hunting Ground

Hunting Ground (#2 in the Alpha and Omega series) by Patricia Briggs (Berkley, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Angieville: "Anna and Charles...each have heinously complicated histories and are still only scraping the surface of the other's baggage. The nice thing is their violent, unhappy pasts are leavened by moments of quiet, true humor."
The Good, the Bad and the Unread: "You sincerely feel as if her world could exist and she’s just telling you about it like a newspaper relates events. I love that kind of confidence in an author – I have no trouble giving them several hours of my time because I know it won’t be wasted."
The Written World: "I am very happy that I read this book, but now I have to wait six months for anything more!"

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tsubasa, Volumes 3, 4 and 5

Teenage Syaoran is determined to recover all of his beloved Sakura's lost memories, and he and his team of alternate-dimension-traveling friends are working together toward that goal. The price Syaoran has paid for the ability to travel from world to world is that - no matter how many powerful memory "feather" he gathers, Sakura will never regain any memories of him. Still, he values Sakura so highly that he never once hesitated to pay that dreadful price.

In the third volume of the series, they travel to a village in which a traveling magician suddenly attained mysterious powers after killing the town's most powerful warrior and protector. Each of Syaoran's companions also paid a price to travel among the dimensions, and Fai - once powerful magician - has given up his powers. So the friends must find a way to defeat the powerful mage, because it is clear that his power comes from Sakura's missing memory feather.

I enjoyed watching the friends learn to work as a team, using each other's strengths in order to achieve their goals - and learning to trust each other as well. Sakura is becoming more alert and aware as the memory feathers are returned to her, and she begins to play a more proactive role in the story.

The fourth and fifth volumes contain a single story arc. Syaoran and his friends find themselves in a new world in search of another of Sakura's memories. They are in a village reminiscent of a late 19th-century German town, and they are approached by hostile, suspicious villagers. The friends learn that the children of the town have been mysteriously disappearing, and strangers are unwelcome there. Only the town's doctor seems unconcerned by their arrival. From him they hear about an ancient legend in which the golden-haired princess of the nearby castle, now a ruin, kidnapped the town's children. The villagers believe it is happening again. So the friends tell the villagers that they are investigating old legends in order to write a book. It appears that the mysterious disappearances may be related to Sakura's missing memory - and even if it isn't, they feel compelled to find the missing children if they can.

The book ends with a cliff-hanger, and the tale resumes in Volume 5 of the series, picking up where the action left off. The two-volume story is a fun otherworldly mystery, full of adventure, excitement and lots of creepy fairy-tale atmosphere.

Upon solving the mystery, the friends transport to yet another dimension. In this world, magic is commonplace, and otherworldly travelers are common as well. They are greeted by a singing, dancing welcoming committee composed of lovely young girls. One of the committee members explains to them how the country of Oto works, and the travelers find themselves a place to stay - and even some lucrative work. The little magical critter Mokona, who enables them to travel among the dimensions, senses one of Sakura's feathers, but isn't sure where it is. Adventures, action and mayhem, interspersed with the usual humor, ensue.

I'm having a blast reading this creative and immensely entertaining series. I enjoy the interplay among the characters, this random team of misfits, each with their own background and skill set that comes into play, depending on the situation. Syaoran's travels with his father, for example, have given him the ability to think on his feet when dealing with unfamiliar people and cultures. I also enjoyed the fact that Sakura is moving away from the passive princess who needed to be rescued, and she's insisting on pulling her weight and doing her part along with the rest of the group. She is a strong character (not surprising in a CLAMP novel), and it is hard for her to deal with the limitations placed on her by her memory loss. She is an endearing character, enthusiastic and optimistic, and a peacemaker as well.

The interplay among the characters is amusing and lends welcome comic relief to the darker, tension-filled scenes. Finally, I have to say that I am continually impressed by the artwork of this series, particularly the depiction of the characters' clothing. CLAMP has a penchant for designing whimsical, intricate, and lovely outfits, and in this series in particular, they have lots of fun designing the different kinds of clothing found in each world. I look forward to following Syaoran, Sakura, Mokona and their friends on their next adventure.

Books reviewed in the Tsubasa series:
Tsubasa, Volume 1
Tsubasa, Volume 2

Tsubasa, Volumes 3, 4 and 5 by CLAMP (Del Ray/Ballantine Books, 2004, 2005, 2005)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Angel Experiment

Max (Maximum) Ride is a 14-year-old girl who is the head of a most unusual family. She and her "flock" consist of five genetically engineered children who, with the help of a renegade scientist, have managed to escape a place called simply the School. It was there that they were kept in cages, subjected to painful and humiliating experiments, and genetically altered with avian DNA, resulting in the wings they each bear. And oh, yes, they can fly.

But now Angel, the sweet little girl who is the youngest of the flock (and Max's secret favorite) has been abducted by Erasers, another genetically enhanced group from the School. Erasers are half human, half wolf mutants that enjoy hunting - and killing - their prey. Max must somehow manage to keep the rest of her flock safe while figuring out a way to rescue Angel and bring her back to safety.

I must be the only person in the English-speaking world who has never read anything by James Patterson - at least not until I'd listened to this audiobook. The series has been on my list for ages, mainly because of its enormous popularity among teen boy readers - despite the fact that its protagonist is female (just goes to show that readers don't seem to care about that as much as publishers would have us believe). In fact, one little boy who comes to the library with his older teen brothers (who come to use the Internet and leave him to his own devices for several hours at a time - which has had the happy side effect of turning him into a reader - hurray!) was so excited about this series that he actually went to the shelf and brought me a copy of the book, because he was so excited for me to read it. How could I refuse?

I can see why readers are so addicted to this series. It is action packed, with short, fast chapters, engaging characters, and a constant sense of peril. There are so many questions that are raised throughout the course of the novel, and they are answered as further questions are raised, so there is always something intriguing for the reader to ponder. The story is told mainly through Max's first person narration (read by Nancy Ku, who has a young, enthusiastic voice that is well suited to Max's storytelling style), but there are also sections told in the third person (read by Ed Sala), so the reader can learn of events outside Max's immediate purview.

The story was exciting, but it occasionally felt a bit unfocused, with uneven pacing and some scenes that, as far as I could tell, did not do much to carry the plot forward or develop the characters. I had a few moments of skepticism that dispelled some of the storytelling magic - such as how a girl with a 13 1/2-foot wingspan can retract her wings (she evidently has grooves in her back) enough that she can wander around New York City with them hidden under a sweatshirt. She cuts slits in the sweatshirt, but I could never get my mind around how the heck she could pop them through the slits and open her wings to take off into the air as suddenly as she does. I also found that the scenes in which they are chased by the wolf-mutant Erasers became repetitive - I lost track of the number of times they were discovered by the Erasers, attacked, chased, taunted, captured or nearly captured, but after a while I thought: Here we go again.

Still, my interest in the characters, their situation, and the continual mystery surrounding their existence and purpose, never waned. The relationships among Max and the other kids in her flock are developed skillfully through dialogue and action, and they emerge as distinct, three-dimensional characters as the plot unfolds. Max herself is an admirable, immensely likable character, very strong and determined, struggling to do the right thing for her flock, even at the expense of her own safety. The book ends with a few questions answered - but those questions all raise new issues, and challenges, for Max and her friends, and I will definitely be continuing with the series so I can accompany Max on her further high-flying adventures.

Books in the Maximum Ride series:
1. The Angel Experiment
2. School's Out -- Forever
3. Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports
4. The Final Warning
5. Max
6. Fang
(Forthcoming March 2010)

The Angel Experiment (#1 in the Maximum Ride series) by James Patterson; narrated by Nancy Ku and Ed Sala (Recorded Books, 2005)

Also reviewed at:
MariReads: "Typical James Patterson style - short chapters, non-stop action right from the beginning, likable and interesting characters. This was a hard book to put down once I got started."
Tiny Little Reading Room: "I thought Max was a great leader while still coming across as a scared and confused 14-year-old girl. And, while not the deepest character portraits ever, each kid comes through with their own personality pretty well, particularly Fang."
You've GOTTA Read This: "The skirmishes between the Flock and the Erasers seemed to happen A LOT and got a bit old for me. However, the character of Max is a positive, strong one...a girl who knows the difference between right and wrong, and stays strong for her family."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fun Home

If someone had handed me this book and said, "Read this - it's a moving story told in graphic-novel format about a young woman coming to terms with her father's death," I'd have said, "Nuh-uh. No way. Too depressing." Luckily for me, then, that I read Nymeth's review, which did not paint the book in a depressing light. I've come to trust her over the past few years, and I take risks on books I might not normally read when she recommends them, because she hasn't steered me wrong yet. (Thanks, Nymeth!) I had not realized till I started reading, however, that a book about such a dark topic could be heart-wrenching and laugh-out-loud funny at the same time.

Alison's story is told retrospectively, from the point of view of her older self looking back at her life, depicting scenes from her childhood interspersed with scenes from her life as a young adult. The story centers around her relationship with her father, who is a fascinating character (if not the sort of person one would consider to be the ideal dad). He is an English teacher, manic-depressive, addicted to the restoration of their Victorian home, a man who would have made completely different choices had he been born in a different place and time. He is a complex, troubled man for various reasons that I will not go into here, because I don't want to give too much away.

The graphic novel is the ideal format for this story. The panels depict Alison's childhood with the simplicity and immediacy she experienced at that time. The narration describing panels is the older Alison's point of view, her interpretation of the scenes and situations presented in the illustrations. The contrast between the older narrator and the young protagonist lends the tale the humor - and pathos - as the author looks back and reinterprets her childhood in light of what she now knows to be true about her parents and their lives.
I loved the way Alison lives and breathes literature - and how she uses literature to analyze her current life, her childhood, her sexuality, and the relationships she has with others. She discovers herself - who she is, who she wants to be - through books, an attribute I identify with wholeheartedly. It is literature that enables her to connect with her father, and while that connection isn't an entirely comfortable one, it is a meeting point for them, and it enables her to understand her father in a completely new way.

The artwork is black and white with shading that, in my copy of the book, is grey-toned rather than the bright blue of these images, and it is expressive and detailed, giving as much characterization and depth to the characters as the words themselves. This is a bittersweet, funny, compelling memoir, and I highly recommend it.

Here is a fascinating article
that appeared in Slate by Bechdel called "What the Old Ladies Feel: How I Told My Mother About My Memoir." She writes: "Now I know that no matter how responsible you try to be in writing about another person, there's something inherently hostile in the act. You're violating their subjectivity. I thought I could write about my family without hurting anyone, but I was wrong. I probably will do it again. And that's just an uncomfortable fact about myself that I have to live with."

And here is a link to Bechdel's website, which links to her blog and her syndicated comic strip about gay and lesbian life called "Dykes to Watch Out For."

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

Also reviewed at:
Jenny's Books: "Bechdel makes use of myths and literature throughout the book – she talks about a book she read at a certain time in her life, then carries on talking about its relevance to her life, her sexuality, her relationship with her father, whatever – while the characters in the panel carry on discussing the book. I am so impressed by this."
Largehearted Boy: "Bechdel is as talented an artist as she is a storyteller, and this book is the proof. Fun Home is my favorite book of the year, and is strongly recommended."
Things Mean a Lot: "The artwork in Fun Home is both simple and extremely expressive, and it couldn’t suit the story more perfectly. This is an honest, intelligent and sophisticated book. And a very good read."

Skull Duggery

Gideon Oliver, the renowned "skeleton detective" (not to be confused with Skulduggery Pleasant, the literal skeleton detective), returns in this, his sixteenth murder mystery. This time Gideon and his lovely wife Julie head to the village of Teotitlan de Valle in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Julie is going there to help out some relatives, who own a dude ranch there.

Gideon, an anthropology professor who is notoriously antsy after about five minutes of relaxation, has foolishly chosen not to bring any work with him. Julie is momentarily concerned, and then she says:
"Well, I don't know why I should be worried. Some old skeleton will turn up for you; it always does."

"No way, not this time. I'm not bringing any tools with me; no calipers, no nothing. Nobody will even know how to find me, so what could happen?"
"Something will happen, " she declared.
Luckily for the reader, Julie is absolutely right. A skeleton does turn up, and the village police chief (a political appointee who is not keen on his job - he just hopes to make it through his stint with as few problems as possible) is only too happy to have Gideon take a look at the body that mysteriously turned up in the desert not far from the village, mummified from the heat and dryness. He is not too happy when Gideon determines that the local coroner made some mistakes in his assumptions - and is even more concerned when it appears there may be a connection between this corpse and an old murder case that involves the death of a child.

This is one of those mystery series that I enjoy both for the intriguing and puzzling mysteries (complete with interesting physiological clues) as well as for the characters I've come to love. Gideon and Julie have such an affectionate relationship, and their interactions are full of humor and a sincere appreciation for each other (not to mention a tolerance for each other's foibles) that always makes me smile. For instance, at one point Julie has an idea about the murder, and she tells Gideon that she's going to mention her theory to the police investigator when she sees him. He replies:
"No reason not to, but you don't have a theory, Julie. A theory requires at least some observed facts from which to draw reasonable reliable inferences that can then--"

"Okay, my hypothesis."

"You don't have a hypothesis, Julie. Even a hypothesis has to be founded on
observed phenomena that--"

She was rolling her eyes. "Okay already, my speculation! All right?"

"You don't h--"

"My conjecture! My supposition! My
unverified supposition? My blind guess? My shot in the dark?"

Gideon stroked his chin contemplatively. "I would accept blind guess, yes."

She made a face and threw a balled-up napkin at him, and they broke into laughter again. "Oh, the joys of being married to a pedant," she said.
The forensic details of the mystery are fascinating, and it is continually amazing to me how many stories our bodies - our skeletons in particular, as is the focus of this series - can tell about ourselves, our habits, our lives. The small-town Mexican setting is an evocative backdrop, with its archaeological ruins, abandoned mines and arid deserts. All in all, this was an excellent installment in the series, and I'm already looking forward to the next one.

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

16. Skull Duggery

Skull Duggery (#16 in the Gideon Oliver series) by Aaron Elkins (Berkley Prime Crime, 2009)

Have you reviewed this book? Please leave me a link in the comments, and I'll add it to my review.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Bones of Faerie

Fifteen-year-old Liza lives in a world that has been devastated by war, a war between humans and Faerie that nearly destroyed both worlds. When her mother gives birth to a baby that bears all the signs of faerie magic, her father does the expected thing and abandons the infant outside to die - or be taken by the faeries. Liza sneaks out of the house, hoping to save her baby sister, only to find that wild animals got there before she did. Her mother disappears shortly afterward, leaving Liza alone with her harsh, abusive father and a growing sense that she is tainted with faery power herself.

Liza does the unthinkable and runs out into the night, leaving the safety of her village behind, even though "Don't venture out after dark" has been drummed into her head ever since she could talk. It is good advice, in this post-apocalyptic world in which faery magic has spilled into unexpected places, giving plants a sentience and ferocity that make venturing into the woods a harrowing experience. Luckily Liza finds herself with a traveling companion - even though she is angry at her friend Matthew for endangering himself by leaving the village to help her. Although it seems that Matthew is hiding some secrets of his own...

I very much enjoyed this fascinating dark, post-apocalyptic fantasy. Liza's world is a dark and dangerous place, but the more she learns as she ventures into the unknown in search of her mother, the more she realizes that her own "safe" village is a very dark place as well. I found the descriptions of the pernicious flora to be very effective in creating a sense of otherworldly horror. This book certainly stands alone, plot-wise, but there will be a sequel, according to the author's website, due to be published in 2011. I am glad to hear that, because the book left me with a sense of so much left to be explored, even though Liza's story comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Click here to read a short story set in the same world as Bones of Faerie called "Invasive Species."

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner (Random House, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Becky's Book Reviews: "Loved this one. I mean I knew it would be good when Elizabeth Scott said it was. But still. Oh-so-good."
Fantasy Book Critic: "In the end, Janni Lee Simner's first attempt at a teen novel was a success. Despite the quick pace and the lack of details regarding magic and the war, Bones of Faerie was an engaging read."
Karin's Book Nook: "As a reader, it is easy to get attached to the characters. Liza’s visions are marked by italics for easy identification throughout the story and the language is clean which makes this appropriate for even young fantasy fans."
A Patchwork of Books: "Faeries are popping up in books all over and unfortunately, with this particular one, I was left pretty disappointed. I felt Liza was a really flat character, she was whiny at times when she didn't need to be and I had so many questions throughout the entire book that I felt went unanswered."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Valor's Choice

I have been a fan of Tanya Huff's fiction ever since I read her short stories back in the 1980s. I am currently rereading her "Blood" series, and I absolutely adored her recent book, The Enchantment Emporium. I discovered that this, the first book in her science-fictional Confederation series, is available through Audible, and I've heard so many good things about it that I had to give it a try.

The story is set in the distant future, when Earth has joined forces with a number of species from other planets in the Confederation, an alliance against a hostile alien group known simply as the Others. Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr has just returned from a harrowing assignment with her platoon, in which her commanding officer was killed. She is surprised when she is assigned a new second lieutenant, and their first mission turns out to be a diplomatic one, instead of their usual grueling combat assignments.

They are to go to a new planet as an honor guard for a multi-species group of Confederation ambassadors, who are trying to recruit a new species, the aggressive, lizardlike Silsviss, into the Confederation before the Others manage to win them over to their side. What starts out looking like a mind-numbingly dull mission turns into an action-packed adventure when their ship is attacked, and they crash in the midst of a remote part of the planet, where Silsviss adolescents are battling out their hormone-induced aggression. Have the Others moved in to sabotage their diplomatic talks? Has a faction of Silsviss decided to strike against the Confederation? Torin begins to suspect that there is more to their situation than meets the eye - but she has too many immediate worries - the primary being to ensure their survival - to spend much time thinking about it.

This was a highly enjoyable novel with fascinating characters and nonstop action. There are several alien races represented here, each with its own fascinating characteristics and customs. Torin is an immensely sympathetic protagonist, strong and fast-thinking, and with an exceptional ability to see the strengths and weaknesses in people - and use them to the situation's best advantage. She has a lot on her plate in this novel - she's brought her platoon onto an unfamiliar planet to interact with an unknown species, plus she has a new second lieutenant to "break in" - it is fun to watch her subtly manipulating her new boss in order to help him be the best officer he can - and even more fun to see him turn the tables on her. It was refreshing to see the Silsviss portrayed as coming from a planet of sentient beings with different countries, opinions, politics and cultures - so often in science fiction an entire planet is depicted as completely homogeneous, which makes no sense at all - particularly for a planet that has only just discovered life beyond its solar system.

The narrator of this audiobook did an excellent job, giving each alien species its own inimitable way of talking, so that following conversations was definitely more entertaining than it would have been just to read the book on my own. I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of trouble Torin will get herself into in the next book of the series, because it sure is fun watching her extricate herself.

Books in the Confederation series:
1. Valor's Choice
2. The Better Part of Valor
3. The Heart of Valor
4. Valor's Trial

Valor's Choice
(#1 in the Confederation series) by Tanya Huff; narrated by Marguerite Gavin (Tantor Media, 2008)

Have you reviewed this book? Please leave a link in the comments!

Reviews of other books by Tanya Huff:
Huff, Tanya - The Enchantment Emporium
Huff, Tanya - Blood Price
Huff, Tanya - Blood Trail