Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Penguin Story

I thought I'd get started a little early on one of my New Year's resolutions, which is to review more picture books. I love picture books! I love the way they make children eager to read, to experience stories, to see the world through someone else's eyes. I have so much fun sharing them with my own children - who, even as they grow older, are still happy to come sit with me and read lovely books like this one. I also enjoy sharing them with the toddlers and preschoolers who come to my storytimes at the library where I work. As soon as I read this one, I knew I'd be using it in my next storytime. I'd also like to share the wonderful picture books I come across here on my blog, as well.

The story opens with Edna the penguin looking at the world around her and noting that the colors are always the same. White, like yesterday, she thinks during the day. Black, like tomorrow, she thinks at night. And, when she looks at the ocean: Blue, blue, blue. Forever. She understands that the white ice is for sliding, and the black night is for seeing stars. And the blue sea is for hunting fish, of course. But, she thinks, "There must be something else."

None of the other penguins seems to share her curiosity - but they don't condemn it, either. When Edna sets off to look for that something else, her large penguin friend even "packs her a lunch" (i.e. hands her a big fish) to take with her. Edna looks and looks, and her determination pays off. She does find something else, and she runs back home so she can share it with all her penguin buddies.


I loved this book, from the adorable penguin illustrations that, despite their simplicity, manage to convey quite a lot about these little creatures. Edna is bright and inquisitive, and she is not shunned by the others for being different - and I liked that about the book, too. The above illustration is not as bright as in the actual book - imagine the rust as a bright orange, and you'll get a better idea of how it looks. The book an excellent choice for preschool and elementary readers - the little ones will enjoy the colors and the penguins, and the older ones will appreciate the reward that can come when a burning desire to know something is acted upon - and when new knowledge is shared with friends.

Antionette Portis is the author of two other picture books I adore, Not a Box and Not a Stick, which I highly recommend along with this one.

A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis (HarperCollins Publishers, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Fuse #8: "...Antoinette Portis, a woman who has figured out how to do something extraordinarily difficult: combine good design with pitch-perfect storytelling."
Maw Books Blog: " It’s so fun. Great story, great design, great color. It was so much fun to read."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Holidays Are Hell

There's nothing like curling up in front of the fireplace with a holiday-themed book this time of year - particularly when that book involves holidays and shapeshifters, witches, and other things that growl in the night. This holiday collection features stories by popular urban fantasy/paranormal authors, but the only one I was familiar with before reading was Kim Harrison, whose Hollows series is one I enjoy.

The opening story is "Two Ghosts for Sister Rachel" by Kim Harrison, and it details events that are referred to in the series novels, so I found myself wishing I'd read this story first. The story is set when Rachel Morgan was a teenager, and she is still recovering from the illness that nearly killed her as a child. She is weak and easily tired, but she is determined to be an IS agent. So she has been working out and running - but even if she does manage to pass the physical, she still needs the signature of a parent or guardian to apply for the job. Her mother, she knows, will never sign - after all, Rachel's father had died in the line of duty, working for IS himself. But her brother Robbie is home for the holidays. If only she can convince him to sign. But her brother stubbornly refuses. Finally, when Rachel insists that her father would have given his blessing, Robbie challenges her to perform an extremely difficult spell that will call her father's ghost so she can ask him herself - and if he says yes, Robbie will sign the papers. Rachel's spell, however, has some unforeseen consequences...

I enjoyed this story, with its glimpse into Rachel's past and her relationships with her brother and mother, which gives additional insight into her motivations as an adult. The Hollows is always a fascinating place to visit, paricularly during the Solstice. Reading this story made me doubly anxious to get to the forthcoming book in the Hollows series, Black Magic Sanction, which is due to be published in the U. S. this coming February.

"Run, Run, Rudolph" by Lynsay Sands is about a young woman named Jill who is zapped by a device in her brother's basement that effectively turns her into a shapeshifter - she thinks it's an accident, but it's not. Her brother's former colleague, a monomaniacal scientist, has plans for Jill. Jill, however, has committed to riding in the town parade dressed as Santa's wife - something she's very excited about because she has a massive crush on Nick the man who's going to be Santa. With the maniac hot on her heels, though, Jill finds herself using her new shapeshifter skills to be a different person, a stand-in for Mrs. Claus - so instead of getting to laugh and talk as they always do together, Jill finds herself standing awkwardly next to Nick on the parade float, ostensibly a perfect stranger. Then she realizes that this might be the golden opportunity to ask Nick some questions about how he really feels about her. Unfortunately, when she spies the maniac among the parade attendees, she forgets all about holding onto her disguise. That's when things really get interesting.

This was a fun story, but it did seem a bit contrived. The villain was barely a person - completely two dimensional, and Jill was a bit too scatterbrained for my taste. I mean, if you can shift into any sort of form at will, avoiding a dimwitted psychopath shouldn't be so hard. I did enjoy the developing relationship between Jill and Nick, and Nick is a very good sport about the whole thing. Maybe it would have worked better for me had the humor been heightened a bit, but this one was not my favorite. It was cute, though.

Marjorie M. Liu's story, "Six," was a compelling tale from beginning to end. Set in China, the story opens with a government spy working under cover at a massage parlor. Her current client is a man they want to question for important information on escalating terrorist activity. Then another man comes in, and there is a fight in which her client becomes something else, something withered and deadly and cruel. Six, a small but incredibly talented fighter, finds herself slung over the man's shoulder, inexplicably unable to move - and soon she finds herself having to trust a stranger, something that goes against everything she's ever been taught, and having to take a leap of faith - even as they're being pursued by more of the nasty creatures.

I enjoyed this story very much. The setting was unusual and interesting, and the back story that is skillfully woven into the narrative adds depth to Six's character. I don't know if Six and Joseph are part of a series by this same author, but I certainly hope so. Either way, I'll definitely be checking out more of this Marjorie Liu's work.

The final story in the anthology is "The Harvest" by Vicki Pettersson. It concerns Zoe, a woman who's given up supernatural strength and power in order to save her daughter, who's recently been raped, and her baby granddaughter. But when the adoption she's so carefully set up turns out to have been a trap, and Zoe's granddaughter disappears, she realizes that somehow her adversaries have managed to snatch the baby right out from under Zoe's nose. Now she must fight them, somehow, despite the fact that she is weak and human, and in order to get help she desperately needs, she needs to confront her old team, and convince them to help her without revealing the secret prophecy.

I couldn't help but wonder as I read this story if I was supposed to be as confused as I was. I think these characters are part of a series, so fans of the series may have been on board from the start, but it took me a while to understand what was going on. The backstory was a bit too much for me, for such a short story, which left me being told too many things, rather than seeing them as they actually happen. Also, when in the end Zoe insists on confronting the Big Bad all by herself, and spurning the help of her former team, it made the scenes concerning them seem tacked on in order to add some romance and tension to the plot. I liked Zoe's character, though, and the fact that she is very strong and willing to make enormous sacrifices for her loved ones.

If you are in a mood for a holiday read, this is a fun anthology - particularly if you'd like to try out some new authors, or revisit an old favorite. Happy holidays!


Holidays Are Hell by Kim Harrison, Lynsay Sands, Marjorie M. Liu, and Vicki Pettersson (Harper, 2007)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate today. I hope you're all having a wonderful day!
Click on the Santa pic for a fun card. Be sure to click on all the reindeer!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

xxxHolic, Vol. 3

In this third volume of the xxxHolic series, Watanuki is delighted when Himawari, the girl he has a devastating crush on, organizes a picnic for everyone. She mentions that a friend of hers, who goes to a nearby school, has described some odd goings on there, and Himawari thinks she might be in trouble. It seems the girls have been playing a Japanese game similar to Ouija, and things have gotten out of hand. Yuko agrees - but instead of helping Himawari herself, she sends Watanuki and his friend/nemesis, Domeki. Watanuki is dying to help Himawari, but he finds Domeki's presence massively annoying - even though, as Yuko points out, when Domeki is around, he doesn't see ghosts.

The adventure at the school is followed by another episode, in which an uber-confidant young woman shows up at the shop, and she asks to purchase an unusual round container, which Yuko agrees to sell her - on the condition that she never try to open it. The girl agrees, then immediately sets out to open it. She just knows that whatever is in it will not be bad luck for her - maybe for someone else, but she is special, lucky, and such rules do not apply to her. When she does access the object inside, Watanuki sees some very strange things happening, and he has a sinking feeling that, despite the girl's confidence, things are not going to end well for her.

I continue to enjoy my reread of this manga, with its fantastical nature and folkloric elements. My favorite part of the book is a scene near the end in which Watanuki, hurrying back to the store later than he intended, comes across a food cart manned by a fox wearing a kimono. The fox is a Kitsune fox spirit, and Watanuki is kind to the little fox cub who is there, too. It seems that seeing spirits is not always such a bad thing. I love the notes at the end of each volume of this series, which explains the significance of aspects of the book that readers unfamiliar with Japanese culture might enjoy learning about. This book seems to be a bridging novel that allows us to get to know the characters a bit better, but it also introduces some thematic elements that will become important as the series progresses.

Books in the xxxHolic series:
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4
Volume 5
Volume 6
Volume 7
Volume 8
Volume 9
Volume 10
Volume 11
Volume 12
Volume 13
Volume 14

xxxHolic, Vol. 3 by Clamp (Del Rey, 2004)

Have you reviewed this book? Leave a link to your review in the comments, and I'll include it here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Everlost

Allie and Nick are two teenagers, riding in two separate cars, when they are involved in a fatal accident. They move toward the tunnel of light, but something happens, and they bump into each other, and they find themselves falling away from the light...

When they wake up, they find themselves still on Earth, but everything is different now. They are in a place they come to call Everlost, a sort of limbo between the land of the living and whatever lies at the end of that tunnel of light, which is nowhere in sight now. They discover that there are "dead spots" in the world, places where people have died, and to them the dead spots are brighter and much more real. When they step into the world of the living, they slowly start to sink into the ground.

They meet a boy in the forest where they wake up, and because he's forgotten his name, Allie decides to call him Leaf. He's wearing old-fashioned clothes, and it appears he's been dead for years now. Leaf wants them to stay in the forest with him - he's so excited to finally have some company that he is reluctant to answer any of their questions. But Allie and Nick need to discover what's beyond the beautiful forest. They wonder if anyone else in their family survived the accident. They want to go home.

But there is a whole lot about the land of Everlost that they don't understand, and while at first it seems that they have nothing to fear because they are already dead, it isn't long before they understand that there are far worse things than death. They end up in New York City, where they find a refuge for lost children run by a teenage girl named Mary. She has taken it upon herself to watch over the children, and she has written numerous books full of advice and information about Everlost. Allie dislikes Mary instantly - she is condescending and seems to be holding back vital information. Nick, however, adores Mary - and Nick makes Mary feel emotions she hasn't experienced in centuries. Allie's determination to find things out for herself eventually lands Nick and Leaf in a lot of trouble, and then Allie is on her own, trying to set things right in a world where everything seems to keep going wrong.

This was a gripping audiobook that really held my attention. The world that Shusterman has created is complex and has very real rules. Allie and Nick are thrown into a horrible situation together, and they are so different that they continually butt heads. But they do learn things from each other, as well as from their pal Leaf, and even though they're dead, they continue to learn and grow. The antagonists are not truly evil - they have their own justification for their actions, which may be misguided, but they are not wholly bad. The book is the first in a trilogy, and while there are some things left unresolved at the end, there is a conclusion that will satisfy readers while leaving them eager for the follow-on book, Everwild, which was recently released.

Despite the fact that Shusterman has written tons of books, and he is so popular among kids and teens at my library, this is the first of his books that I've read. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.

Books in the Skinjacker trilogy:
1. Everlost
2. Everwild

Everlost (#1 in the Skinjacker trilogy) by Neal Shusterman; narrated by Nick Podehl (Brilliance Audio, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
The Book Muncher: "I quite enjoyed the entire setting of Everlost and thought it made for a fantastic backdrop to the story, which was just filled with all sorts of adventures as well as challenges specific to Everlost."
Confessions of a Bibliovore: "Besides the world-building, I loved the characterization. Shusterman never forgets that his characters are children, although they’ve been nine or twelve or fifteen for a long, long time."
Reader Rabbit: "Everlost is a fast thrill ride that will keep you flipping the pages"
Wondrous Reads: "Neal Shusterman has managed to create an enchanting, terrifying world where nothing and everything makes sense"

Monday, December 21, 2009

Impossible

Lucy Scarborough is excited about her life. She's been asked to the prom by a genuinely nice guy, and she's found the perfect dress to wear. Her stepparents are so kind and loving and supportive - even if they're just a bit overprotective. And her good friend Zack is coming to stay with them for the summer.

It's funny how just when things are going so right, they can so suddenly take a turn for the terrible. First her mother shows up at school - luckily no one knows the crazy bag lady is Lucy's mother - but it's unsettling. Then the lovely dream of her prom night turns into the worst kind of nightmare, leaving Lucy the victim of sexual violence. Just when she thinks she might be able to move on with her life, she discovers that the morning after medicine did not work as expected. Lucy is pregnant.

As Lucy struggles to come to terms with the turn her life has taken, she discovers that, unbelievable as it might seem, she is one in a long line of cursed women. The words of "Scarborough Fair," the song she knows by heart thanks to her mother, are a message to her. She must perform the impossible tasks set forth in the song, or she, too, will be cursed to go insane after the birth of her baby, just as her mother did, and her grandmother before that - a long line of cursed Scarborough women going back in time. The faerie who has perpetrated this curse is always nearby, gleefully watching as she draws closer and closer to falling into his trap. But Lucy has something that none of her ancestors ever did - a pair of supporting, loving parents and - just maybe - a chance at true love. Even so, the three impossible tasks remain, and as her pregnancy progresses, it grows clear that time is running out.

This is a captivating story, a fantasy romance with lots of suspense that draws from British folklore as well as the lyrics of the traditional ballad "Scarborough Fair." Unlike many teen novels, the main character in this novel has close connections to the adults in her life, and instead of turning inward or only consulting her friends, Lucy turns to them for help. They are depicted as actual people, rather than two-dimensional role models, which gives the story greater depth. Lucy is strong and resourceful, but she also understands - eventually - that she cannot handle things all alone. Surviving the rape is difficult enough without having to deal with a curse on top of things, and her resilience would not be nearly as believable without her strong and supporting family. The growing romance between Zack and Lucy is also handled skilfully and will have readers rooting for them every step of the way.

This is the first book I've read by Nancy Werlin, and I'm certain it won't be my last!

Impossible by Nancy Werlin (Dial Books, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Angieville: "Impossible reminded me of an end of high school version of Pamela Dean's Tam Lin. It had that same eerie, lyrical feel to it and I had similar responses to both books."
Becky's Book Reviews: "It's good. It's a page turner. It matches my high expectations in a Werlin novel."
Confessions of a Bibliovore: "Impossible is about a pregnant teenager in the same way that Hamlet is about a guy who’s a little down these days. Technically true, but there’s so much more to the story."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Lost Days

I have enjoyed the artwork and odd little stories in the graphic novellas about Emily the Strange, and when I was browsing through my library's downloadable audiobook site (we use Overdrive - I highly recommend it!), I noticed a full-length novel, the first in a new series about Emily, was available as a download. What a lot of fun!

The book is ostensibly Emily's diary. She has suddenly found herself on a bench in the small town of Blackrock with no memory of anything that happened before. She can't remember her name, where she's from, or what she's doing there. She has a slingshot and a diary, and there are some pages from the diary that are mysteriously missing.

What follows is a most unusual and intriguing adventure. Emily gets a job at a nearby cafe called the El Dungeon, working with a very odd girl named Raven. The more Emily learns about Blackrock and the bizarre people who hang around at the El Dungeon, the more mysteries there are to solve. Such as, why is the entire town painted beige? Why are there no birds in the town of Blackrock? Why is the Medicine Show always hanging around? Why does she look so much like the town's founder? Why are there no black rocks in the town of Blackrock? What's behind the looked door at the El Dungeon? And what's with the boy who can read her mind?

I like Emily a lot. She is intelligent and eccentric, and she follows her own path. She admits to being rather antisocial - being around people for long stretches of time drives her crazy. But she is kind and does her best dealing with people, and her antisocial nature gives her a definite edge when she's dealing with unpleasant characters. She has a great (if dark) sense of humor - and she accepts herself for who she is, which I particularly appreciate in a teenage female protagonist. She is a kindred spirit to Courtney Crumrin, and fans of Courtney will likely enjoy this series as well - and fans of Franny K. Stein will be happy to know that Emily's waiting for them as they move toward books for older readers. There is a sense of Goth magic realism to this tale, which is full of bizarre occurrences and unrealistic coincidences, but the way in which the story is told makes it an easy matter to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride.

The Lost Days (#1 in the Emily the Strange series) by Rob Reger and Jessica Runer; narrated by Angela Goethals (Harper Audio, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Carrie's YA Bookshelf: "It's definitely interesting. It's full of crazy characters and even crazier occurrences. I got into it right away, but in the middle it started to lose me a little. It picks back up though and is worth sticking with."
Sarah's Random Musings: "This book was really different and odd. I really liked the artwork in the book and Emily's snarky and funny attitude. The plot was mysterious."
Shooting Stars Mag: "The Lost Days is one crazy book, that’s for sure, but it’s also a lot of fun. Readers need to lose their belief in reality and just go for the ride with Emily and her cast of companions."

Friday, December 18, 2009

xxxHolic, Volume 2

This second volume of the fantasy manga series xxxHolic (which, I've learned, is simply pronounced "holic") continues the story of Kimihiro Watanuki, a young man whose desire to rid himself of the ghosts that plague and pester him has led him to the shop of the space-time witch, Yuko. In exchange for helping out at her shop, Yuko will fulfill his wish to no longer see ghosts.

In his job at the shop so far, Watanuki has seen some unusual - even unbelievable - things. Most recently, two people have fallen from the sky (Sakura and Syaoran from Tsubasa). Yuko has given them what help she can, for an equitable price (she says), and has sent them on their way, along with their companions (their adventures are detailed in Tsubasa, and are well worth following).

Watanuki has an enormous crush on a very pretty, sweet girl named Himawari. When she discovers his birth date, she tells him that because he is an Aries and she is a Sagittarius, they are compatible. He comes into the shop that afternoon walking on air. When he shares his good news with Yuko, however, she tells him that horoscopes are much more complex than that. To illustrate her point, she takes him to visit her personal fortune teller - only to discover there is a new woman telling fortunes at that shop now. What follows shows Watanuki that just because he has seen that many kinds of supernatural things exist, not everything that makes supernatural claims is necessarily so.

In the second part of the book, Yuko decides that the summer heat makes it the perfect time for a ghost story party. She persuades Watanuki to talk with his friend /rival Domeki, who lives at a temple, and see if they can tell ghost stories there. What follows is a chilling, but elucidating experience.

This second volume sees the major characters for the series introduced, and explores their relationships with each other. Watanuki has a love/hate relationship with Domeki, whose deadpan humor contrasts hilariously with Watanuki's histrionics. Pretty Himawari does an excellent job of setting up explosive moments between the two guys, and it's unclear whether she does it because it's just too funny to push Watanuki's buttons, or if she's genuinely unaware of her effect on him.

I continue to enjoy my reread of this fantastical series, and the ghost stories told at the temple is one of my favorite scenes in the series. Yuko may seem to be acting on a whim, but her motives are very serious indeed, and there is a sense that events from that night are going to have far-reaching consequences for the three friends.

Books in the xxxHolic series:
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4
Volume 5
Volume 6
Volume 7
Volume 8
Volume 9
Volume 10
Volume 11
Volume 12
Volume 13
Volume 14

xxxHolic, Volume 2 by CLAMP (Del Rey, 2004)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dead Girls Are Easy

Following a near-death experience, former Goth-chick turned small business owner Nicki Styx finds that she can see ghosts. Worse than that, they can see her - and they all have something they need her to do for them. The one good thing about her ordeal is the very sexy young doctor who worked so hard to save her life - she could see him working feverishly to save her as she floated above her body in the operating room. Of course it's not easy to deal with a potential new relationship when she may possibly be going insane - and even if she's not crazy, who wants to be with someone who sees dead people?

Luckily Nicki has her best friend, Evan, to help keep her grounded and stay on the right track with her life. But when her friend Caprice, who owns a nearby store, dies in a nasty fall down the stairs - and Caprice's boyfriend is carted off to jail for pushing her, Nicki's life gets even more complicated. Caprice's ghost appears to her that night, demanding that she do something to get her boyfriend released because he was not the one who pushed her. What can Nicki do? Caprice seems unlike the other spirits she's seen so far, though, and there is a menace to her presence that does not bode well. Soon Nicki is more kinds of trouble than she could ever have imagined.

This is a promising start to a new mystery series. While the idea of seeing ghosts and being pestered by them for favors is nothing new, Nicki is an engaging character, and her friendship with Evan as well as her romance with Joe brought the story to life and made me care about them. The mystery was intriguing as well, particularly when Nicki turns to Caprice's Granny Julep, who knows a thing or two about voodoo, for some help. I remain a bit skeptical of some of the coincidences, but who knows - maybe things will be explained in a more believable way in future books, as there are quite a few questions about Nicki that remain to be explored. This should definitely appeal to fans of light supernatural mysteries with a romantic angle. I look forward to reading the next book soon - and I'd like to thank Ladytink for introducing me to this fun series in the first place!

Books in the Nicki Styx series:
1. Dead Girls Are Easy
2. A Match Made in Hell

3. You're the One that I Haunt

4. Silent Night, Haunted Night


Dead Girls Are Easy (#1 in the Nicki Styx series) by Terri Garey (Avon, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Confessions of a Bibliophile: "It’s not as silly as a MaryJanice Davidson, but not as serious as a Laurell K. Hamilton. I would definitely read more in this series."
Darque Reviews: "The intriguing storyline has quick action with sweet romance, and will leave readers anxiously awaiting Nicki’s next contact with the other side."
The Movieholic and Bibliophile's Blog: "Garey’s book was one of the best paranormals I’ve read so far this year. It was hilarious and interesting, and just plain fun!"

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

xxxHolic, Volume 1

I have been reading the manga series Tsubasa these past few months, which I started because I have enjoyed this series, xxxHolic, by the same authors so very much - it is my favorite manga series right now. While the two series are separate stories, they share an interesting connection with each other - there are occasional scenes in which the two series "cross over" with each other - and reading those scenes in Tsubasa made me want to reread this series. It is fun to see events from an expanded point of view - I now understand things that I overlooked the first time around.

Volume 1 of this series sees Kimihiro Watanuki, a young man haunted by ghosts that only he can see, stumble across a very strange shop. The moment his hands touch the fence outside the shop, his legs take control of his body and literally walk him -against his will - inside. Once there, he meets a beautiful, enigmatic woman who calls herself Yuko. She is a space-time witch, and she has the ability to grant people wishes - for a price. Watanuki wants to stop seeing ghosts - she can arrange for that to happen. Her price? Watanuki must help out around the shop. His tasks include cleaning up and running errands - and, when Yuko discovers how skilled he is at cooking, preparing meals as well.

Watanuki is a funny guy - he's sweet and sincere, but has a terrible temper, which leads him to make hilarious caustic remarks under his breath. He is new to this strange world of fortune telling and magical objects, and the reader is introduced to all these strange things along with him - plus has the benefit of his humorous, over-the-top reactions to things as comic relief. Customers come into the store with interesting problems, usually - but not always - of a supernatural nature. Typically, they're addicted to something (hence the "holic" in the title, with the "xxx," I assume, standing for whatever their addiction happens to be), and Yuko fulfills their wishes in unexpected ways, with varying success.

At the end of the first volume, the main characters from Tsubasa appear. To Watanuki's astonishment, they fall out of the sky. Yuko is not surprised - she was expecting them, she says, sending Watanuki into the shop to fetch the black and white bunny-like Mokonas, each of whom features prominently in both series. Apparently the Mokonas were created in yet another CLAMP series, Chobits, which unfortunately my library does not own. I will have to look for it.

There are so many things I love about this series, and rereading it has been extremely rewarding now that I understand the back story and characters from both series, which lends it more depth this time around. I adore the character of Yuko - she is complex and surprising - one minute she's a sexy party girl, laughing and joking, poking fun at Watanuki so he might learn not to take himself so seriously. But when important things are happening, Yuki is dead serious, skillful and powerful, and very wise. She teaches Watanuki essential things, usually by showing him in such a way that he figures things out on his own - which has a much greater impact than just being told something.

I also love the various aspects of Japanese folklore that permeate the series, as well as the episodic tales of the various customers who come into the shop. It was fun revisiting this first volume, and I can already tell I'm going to thoroughly enjoy my series reread. I also have to mention the arresting, expressive artwork that defines these books. It evokes the otherworldly atmosphere of the story perfectly - and the characters wear the most fabulous outfits, depicted in glorious, stunning detail, particularly in the full-color panels. If you haven't tried manga yet, and you enjoy a mix of of fantasy with folkloric elements - along with a healthy dash of humor - give this one a try!

Reviews of other books in this series:
xxxHOLIC, vol 9
xxxHOLIC, vol 10
xxxHOLIC, vol 11
xxxHOLIC, Vol 12

xxxHolic, Volume 1 by CLAMP (Del Rey, 2004)

Also reviewed at:
Comics Worth Reading: "Yuko’s character design is classic, though, all slinky glamour and long straight black hair. She makes a terrific host for tales of people trying to shake the addictions in their lives."
In Spring It Is the Dawn: "Some panels are very nicely drawn, but I often found the art a bit chaotic. And like I mentioned above I really disliked the over-exaggerated expressions of the main character, Kimihiro, to show his anger."
Unflipped Pages: "This was initially a total blind buy for me.... The unique artwork and good stories both made this a worthwhile purchase."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had

When 12-year-old Dit hears that there's a new postmaster coming to live in his small town of Moundville, Alabama, he is so excited - he's heard that the postmaster has a son who's just his age. So when he gets his first glimpse of Emma Walker, he is extremely disappointed - not only is she a girl, but she's a black girl, and she's all dressed up in a beautiful outfit, complete with shiny new shoes. She is not exactly his idea of the ideal playmate.

But little by little, Dit and Emma become friends. This despite the fact that the town's sheriff, a bully everyone calls Bigfoot, warns Dit away from spending time in Emma's company. Emma and Dit are good for each other in many ways. Dit helps a city girl get used to the big outdoors, teaches her how to swim and play baseball, shows her how to climb and dig - and is sincerely baffled when she disapproves of his shooting and killing birds and other critters with his slingshot.

Emma's influence on Dit is a bit more subtle. Sure, she helps him with his homework - she's a whiz at school, even though she has to travel far to a school for black kids instead of the nearby town school where Dit and the other white kids go. But she also makes his mind open up and move to uncomfortable new places, considering things that he'd never thought to question, things he'd just accepted as the way things were. He looks at his school friends and their behavior with new eyes, and he notices the way Bigfoot treats the town barber, who is black, and finds himself growing angry about that behavior.

I discovered this book through one of the mothers who is a regular attendee, along with her two adorable children, of the preschool storytime I host twice a month at my library. She mentioned that she'd written a children's book, and that the library owned a copy. Of course I immediately put it on hold, although I have to admit I'm always a little nervous about reading books by people I know. What if I didn't like it? I needn't have worried. After the first few pages I forgot all about the Kristin from storytime and fell into the world of 1917 Alabama. I loved Dit's voice and his honesty, and the fact that the story was told from his point of view, which made for an extremely powerful reading experience. And I positively adored Emma. She's smart and brave and stubborn, and would have been exactly the sort of best friend I'd have wished for when I was twelve. This is a powerful story about friendship and trust, and I highly recommend it.

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had by Kristin Levine (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Becky's Books: "The characters. The dialogue. The story. Everything just right."
The Book Nut: "It's a remarkable book, from the voice -- Levine gets the Southern drawl without using dialect, and Dit's voice is so spot-on I could just picture him in my mind -- to the tackling of issues -- in this case race and racism in the South during the Jim Crow days -- without being heavy handed."
A Patchwork of Books: "This story is truly remarkable in its theme of friendship without boundaries. It is inspired by the author's family history, a wonderful aspect to the overall story, though my favorite part was the simple, yet incredibly complex relationship between Dit and Emma."

Monday, December 14, 2009

My Review Policy

I am a children's librarian, and about 95% of the books I review on this blog are from the library.  Unless otherwise noted, the books that I review are all from either my own collection or my public library.

I occasionally accept review copies from publishers and writers - typically only if the book is not in my library's collection. I make mention in my review that the book in question is a review copy.

If I cannot finish the book (as has happened, on occasion, either with awkward writing or a plethora of typos, etc.), I do not post a review, nor do I post one if I simply have nothing positive to say about the book.

I do not advertise books for payment, or write positive reviews in return for review copies of books. There are no ads on my site. I blog because I like it; I review books because it's fun, and I enjoy discussing books and reading with other book lovers. I am passionate about literacy, and I love spreading the word about good books for kids that just might tip the balance and turn a child into a reader for life.

I write what I think about books - it's just my opinion, and I try to be fair and honest. I have a background in English literature and a couple of graduate degrees, which may or may not add any weight or substance to anything I have to say. Probably not.

Please query about sending me copies of books to review. I typically read and review children's middle grade readers of all kinds, graphic novels, and teen fiction. I would love to review more picture books, but I often simply don't have the time. Fiction for adults that I tend to read includes fantasy of all kinds, science fiction, mysteries, and whatever other book happens to catch my fancy. I don't read as much nonfiction, but I enjoy biographies and memoirs, cookbooks, and other books about cooking and food.

I try to read and review books received in a timely manner. However, if I simply don't feel like reading a particular kind of book, I tend to wait till I'm in a receptive mood for it - I like to like books, and I want to have the best reading experience possible, and write positive reviews to go along with it.

Unless otherwise noted, all the books I review here I have checked out (or downloaded) from my local public library.

Please address any inquiries to darladarlad (at) gmail (dot) com.

Destiny Kills

A young woman wakes up on a beach. A man lies dead next to her. She knows his name, knows he's dear to her - but has little memory of anything else. She has no idea what she's doing there or who killed her friend; she doesn't even remember her name. Details swirl at the edge of her memory, and every now and then something slips through - but nothing seems to make any sense. She knows that she is in danger, and she knows that she has to keep moving.

The next few days see Destiny (as she will discover her name to be) on the run and desperate - no money, no shoes, no idea where to go. In a risky maneuver she manages to get a car to stop on the road for her, although the driver nearly runs her over. It turns out the man behind the wheel, the very handsome Trae Wilson, has a connection to the dead man on the beach. Unfortunately, while she finds herself most attracted to him, he seems less than trustworthy. As her memories begin to return, she learns that she is not the normal human that she thought - and neither is Trae. And even with the additional strength and powers that she realizes she has, she is still nearly powerless against the group of people who held her captive for the past ten years - who still hold her mother, not to mention a group of children who have become very dear to her. Somehow, though, with Trae's help or without, Destiny must return to save them.

I listened to this book as a download from my library's catalog (I love the downloadable audiobooks!). I've never read anything by this author, and I'd heard good things about her books, so I thought this would be a good introduction. I knew nothing about the story or its supernatural elements, and I enjoyed the fresh take on shapechangers. While the plot held my attention, I found the experience to be a bit frustrating at times, as many questions were raised that were never addressed in a way that was satisfying to me, and some things simply didn't make sense. For example, Destiny's father is very ill, probably dying, somewhere in Maine. She's in Oregon. Her concern is somehow to get to her father before he dies. But does she pick up a telephone and give him a call? No. Does she call his best friend, the one she immediately suspects must know where he is when she can't immediately find him when she gets to Maine? No, not till she gets to Maine. Why does she not ask his friend - or the doctor - for help with her mission when it becomes clear that he is aware of - and probably part of - her special situation? The answer seemed to be because it would have been inconvenient to the plot, and that was not satisfying to me. It seemed unrealistic that, after being captured the first time, she would approach the scientists who had imprisoned her without more of a plan, and without backup. What about the parents of the children who are being held there? The point was never even raised. Could she at least have gone in to rescue them with a weapon of some sort?

There is a lot of backstory that comes out during the course of the book that I thought would have made for a good story, if told in real time. Since we have never met Destiny's mother or the kids that she wants to save, it's hard to feel that there's much at stake. There is a lot of time spent on the romance between Destiny and Trae, but often that time is smack in the middle of a tense situation - when the bad guys are about to plow the door down and get them, it's hard to be patient as Destiny ruminates about her feelings for Trae, or about how great he looks in his jeans.

The premise for this series is interesting, but I found I just didn't connect with the characters as much as I would have liked. Destiny seemed to do a lot of reacting, she is impetuous and rash, and she counts on Trae to save her over and over again. This may not be an issue for some readers - but I tend to prefer a heroine who, if not strong to begin with, changes and learns from her mistakes, and who, in the end, manages to save herself.

Books in the Myth and Magic series:
1. Destiny Kills
2. Mercy Burns

Destiny Kills (#1 in the Myth and Magic series) by Keri Arthur; narrated by Cassandra Campbell (Tantor Media, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
The Good, the Bad and the Unread: "Because of the lack of connection, I didn’t identify or sympathize with anyone or with the predicament. I can’t really tell you why that was, except I didn’t – it all seemed so impassionate."
SciFiGuy.ca: "The authors’ depiction of the air and sea dragons is fresh and evocative and a welcome change from the usual shape shifters."
Sidhe Vicious Reviews: "Mystery, non-stop action and danger, romance, and wonderful world building all rolled into a wicked, sexy ride!"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute

Hector, Terrence and Dee are sitting around the cafeteria speculating about the life of their cafeteria lady. Dee thinks that she might have hundreds of cats. Science geek Hector thinks that maybe she's a super secret-agent spy.

The three friends would be astonished if they knew that the lunch lady is actually a superhero - and she has some suspicions about the new substitute teacher. The math teacher who is absent has not been sick once in the past twenty years, for one thing - and the new sub is completely uninterested in her fresh-baked cookies. With the aid of her trusty, gadget-inventing cafeteria assistant Betty, the lunch lady embarks on some heavy-duty investigation.

What a fun start to a new graphic novel series! The story is funny, clever and creative - particularly the lunch lady's culinary-related gadgets, and the bold, expressive illustrations are a perfect fit to the humor and excitement. As a fellow gadget lover, I could not help but be impressed by her fish-stick nunchucks, her spatula helicopter, and her chicken-nugget bombs. Add to the mix a gleefully evil, monomaniacal teacher, an army of spooky claw-handed robots, and a trio of elementary school kids tailing their lunch lady, and readers are in for a silly, action-packed romp. Fans of Babymouse and Ricky Ricotta are going to gobble these books right up.

Books in the Lunch Lady series:
1. Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute
2. Lunch Lady and League of Librarians
3. Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta
4. Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown
(forthcoming spring 2010)

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute (#1 in the Lunch Lady series) by Jarret J. Krosoczka (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Becky's Book Reviews: "...I liked this one. It had a fun premise."
Carrie's YA Bookshelf: "It took me about 15 minutes to read this book and I loved every minute of it....The action jumps of the page and hooks you from page one."
Mother Reader: "With a variety of silly, food-themed gadgets and a large serving of humor, readers will leave wanting second helpings."
Welcome to My Tweendom: "...a laugh-out-loud funny graphic novel that is sure to have kids talking. From the familiar school angst that Hector, Terrence and Dee are facing, to the wise cracking maintenance man, readers will recognize their own lives."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

One More Bite

Jaz Parks, CIA assassin who died but came back with a mission, goes to Scotland in this fifth installment of the Jaz Parks series. This time she and her team (and there are only three of them on this assignment) are supposed to eliminate an assassin who is purportedly there to kill the leader of a poweful coven of witches. These are not nice and kind nature witches, either, but a group of people who perform heinous acts for their own personal gain. It galls Jaz to have to protect this horrible woman, but it's her job, and she's going to do it the best she can.

There are, of course, complications. The first one is that somehow Jaz's father, a retired marine with whom Jaz has a rather bumpy relationship, has insinuated himself into the group. The mission is difficult enough without all the emotional baggage that has been dragged into it. And then there's the situation with sweet, sexy Cole, a co-worker who is still hoping with a chance with her, when Jaz finds that the only man for her is Vayl, her even sexier vampire boss. The fact that she does care for Cole makes things even tougher. There's also Brude, a powerful, kilt-wearing Scottish ghost who seems to have plans for her. And the fact that the assassin is rumored to be a Medusa, with control over all kinds of deathly poisonous snakes isn't much fun, either. Worst of all, Jaz keeps having distressing visions in which the features of Edward Samos, the malignant vampire she'd finally managed to eliminate in a previous book, appear on various people as she's talking to them. Is it her imagination, a warning, a threat? As usual, all these issues combine to give Jaz plenty to keep her busy, as mysteries, romantic tension, and malicious intent are ever increasing - as is the fun.

I adore this series. With each successive book my expectations grow higher, to the point that I'm almost worried that the next one is sure to be a letdown, but Rardin delivers every time. What I seem to forget about between installments is how darn funny these books are. I laugh out loud constantly when I read them, yet the stories are not actually funny in and of themselves - they have many dark and disturbing elements. It's Jaz's voice, the way she tells it, her descriptions and the dialogue, that add all the humor - often at Jaz's own expense. The combination of tight plot, quirky, believable characters, intriguing mystery, supernatural elements, action and humor is irresistible to me. I am looking forward to the next book in the series, but I almost hate to read it, because I have no idea when the next book will come out, and it will be a long, sad wait.

Books in theJaz Parks series:
1. Once Bitten, Twice Shy
3. Biting the Bullet
5. One More Bite
6. Bite Marks

One More Bite (#5 in the Jaz Parks series) by Jennifer Rardin (Orbit, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Ellz Reads: "This series is so much fun to read, there is something for everyone. Guns, action, paranormals, high-tech gadgets and magic lead the story from beginning to end."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand

In this fifth book of Carrie Vaughn's series featuring Kitty, werewolf and radio show host, Kitty prepares to face a new challenge in her life. Surprisingly, this challenge is not supernatural in nature - it is simply that she and Ben have decided to get married. The challenge the upcoming wedding poses is mainly how Kitty will deal with her mother's expectations of the wedding. It's difficult for Kitty to go against any of her mother's wishes, as her mother is in the process of fighting cancer, and how can she bear to disappoint her in any way?

Still, when it becomes clear that the plans are spiraling out of control, the thought of slipping off to Vegas for a quick, quiet elopement is too seductive to resist. It isn't long before the Vegas plans are neither quick nor quiet - everyone knows, and Kitty has been offered a chance to do a television broadcast of her show while she's in Vegas - and her parents have decided to come along. When the hotel they're staying in turns out to be hosting a gun show, and the place is crawling with bounty hunters with itchy trigger fingers just dying to shoot themselves some werewolves, Kitty's quick and simple wedding weekend becomes a bit more complicated. Add to the mix an odd show in which big cats perform without any visual cues or directions, a magic show where the magic is said to be more than sleight of hand, and a message that Kitty has agreed to deliver to the master vampire of the city, and Kitty's wedding weekend might be just too full for an actual wedding ceremony to take place.

This book does have a bit of a mystery to it - several mysteries, actually - but they are more peripheral to Kitty's life than those of the previous books; the focus is on her relationship with Ben. There is plenty of action and adventure, some humor to lighten things up, and intriguing and mysterious new characters. The ending reveals a fascinating supernatural development, an intriguing element that, I hope, will factor in the next book of the series. This series has become one of my tried and true favorites, and I'm excited to move on to the next book while dreading coming to the end of the series and having to wait impatiently for the next one to be published. I like that feeling of comfort I get from having the next installment waiting for me on my shelf, and knowing I can read it whenever I want. I've been eking this one out - but the good news is that the seventh book of the series, Kitty's House of Horrors, is due to be published this coming January.

Vaughn, Carrie - Kitty Norville series:
1. Kitty and the Midnight Hour
2. Kitty Goes to Washington
3. Kitty Takes a Holiday
4. Kitty and the Silver Bullet
5. Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand
6. Kitty Raises Hell
7. Kitty's House of Horrors (forthcoming January 2010)

Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand (#5 in the Kitty Norville series) by Carrie Vaughn (Grand Central Publishing, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Adventures in Reading: "That’s the thing about Kitty Norville – she is not a one woman wrecking crew. She struggles and gets in over her head. But, she is loyal to her friends and tries to do the best she can. There are also generally consequences to Kitty’s actions which affect and shape the world around her."
Beside the Norm: "Overall, though, Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand is a fun addition to the series and a good vacation read, the biggest draw not only being if the characters come out unscathed, but if, despite all those scathe-inducing scenarios, Kitty and Ben finally manage to tie the knot."
Musings of a Bookish Kitty: "Although this was not my favorite book in the series, Kitty and her friends continue to keep me entertained and interested in their adventures."
Unmainstream Mom Reads: "Kitty is getting to be such a hardcore, tough heroine, and it's great. The book is fast and furious, and I loved every page."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Dying Breath

Cameryn, a seventeen-year-old forensic science enthusiast, returns in this, her fourth mystery. She acts as part-time assistant to her father, the county coroner, but it is when she is working with Dr. Moore at the autopsy table that she is really in her element.

Each of the books focuses on a single mystery, but the series is best read in order, as there are narrative arcs that move across several books at a time, as well as relationships that grow and evolve. It is much more rewarding if the reader is in on the ground floor, so to speak. The first book is called The Christopher Killer, so if you are interested in the series, please check that one out to avoid any potential spoilers in this review.

There are unresolved elements from the previous book that come to a head as this one opens. Because the young man who had threatened her managed to escape, and no has heard from him since - or found his body - it is assumed that he is alive and is planning his next move with Cameryn. She is stressed and worried, and is tired of playing the role of the frightened victim. Then she hears from Kyle, her stalker, in an extremely disturbing way. There is a dead body that might contain clues about him, and there are disturbing email messages from him - and the FBI wants Cameryn to cooperate in a potentially dangerous plot to ensnare him. Meanwhile Justin, the hot cop she's attracted to, but who is a bit too old for her, has declared his feelings for her - not the perfect time for that, it's true, because now is the worst time for her to be distracted from the task at hand.

This series will appeal to teens who enjoy gritty mysteries, particularly those dealing with forensic science and the fascinating stories that the body can tell about what happened to it prior to death. There are graphic descriptions of corpses and the autopsy process, but they are informative rather than gratuitous; in fact, it is rewarding to watch Cameryn fight to remain her composure and focus on the details that will help her solve the mystery at hand. (Although you might not want to read those parts while you're eating lunch!) I love Cameryn's passion and dedication to her goal of becoming a medical examiner, despite the ignorant attitudes and comments from other kids at her school. She doesn't always make the best decisions - she's only seventeen - but she has grit and determination, not to mention intelligence and insight.

This installment in the series brings many different plot strands together in a satisfying conclusion that still leaves me looking forward to Cameryn's next mystery.

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

The Dying Breath
(#4 in the Forensic Mystery series) by Alane Ferguson (Viking, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Kiss the Book: "For kids who love forensic mysteries, this has been a great series. I don’t think the mystery is quite as tight in this one, but the deaths are not main focus here– staying alive when you are stalked by a psychopath is. So, hang on and enjoy the ride!"

Tsubasa, Volumes 6 and 7

Syaoran continues the search for his beloved Sakura's missing memories, which take the form of powerful, magical feathers, as he and his companions travel from one alternate reality to the next. The delightful Mokona, a cute little rabbit-like critter with a great sense of humor and the ability to transport them from one world to another, accompanies them, along with warrior Kurogane and the former wizard Fai.

The country of Oto, where our heroes find themselves this time, is an odd one in which those with warrior skills can earn money by battling wicked, demonlike beings called Oni. This is a fine way for Syaoran and Kurogane to spend their time while they search for the feather, and it is hilarious to see that Kurogane is beyond irate when he discovers that Fai has signed them up as Oni fighters called "Big Puppy" and "Little Puppy"(Kurogani is the Big Puppy). When they hear there is a strange, new type of Oni that is more powerful than all the others, they suspect the presence of a feather may have something to do with the demon's enhanced abilities.

The story continues in volume 7, as Syaoran discovers there is another visitor to this dimension, someone from his own past. It is the powerful warrior Seishiro, who trained him years ago. Despite the fighting skills he's been learning from Kurogane, Syaoran knows that he doesn't stand a chance against someone as skilled and experienced in fighting as Seishiro - but going up against him is his only choice if he's to win back Sakura's feather.

I continue to enjoy this series, with its mix of humor, romance, martial arts, action and fantasy adventure. As Sakura regains her feathers and memories, she becomes a more active participant in the stories, and while she has led the sheltered life of a princess, she is turning into a brave and feisty heroine with some unusual abilities of her own. Her upbeat, optimistic attitude continually draws the unlikely group of friends together, and the interplay between them all is alternately humorous and touching. These two volumes are a departure from the formula of the earlier books, which makes me doubly curious to see which direction the story will take from this point.

Books reviewed in the Tusbasa series so far:
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4
Volume 5

Tsubasa, Volumes 6 and 7 by CLAMP 9 (Del Rey, 2005)

Have you reviewed either of these? Let me know, and I'll add a link to your review.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Memory in Death

I have come to adore listening to the audio versions of J.D. Robb's futuristic mystery series featuring tough New York City cop Eve Dallas, so much so that I doubt I'll ever read the printed version of this series again! Susan Ericksen does a fabulous job telling these stories, particularly with the dialogue and various accents of the characters. She delivers the humorous lines with the perfect inflection and timing, invariably making me laugh out loud as I listen.

This installment sees Eve unexpectedly confronted with someone from her past: Trudy Lombard, one of her foster parents from those painful years of her childhood. Eve considers herself to be tough and resilient, but she is completely unprepared for the overwhelming sense of panic that sweeps over her as locked-away memories of the abuse she suffered under Trudy's care. Eve's husband Roarke immediately realizes that there is an ulterior motive to Trudy's presence in New York City, something more than a whim to stop by to visit with Eve, whom she'd seen on TV following the media circus of her last case.

When Trudy is murdered - and it is Eve and Roarke who find her body - Eve takes the case, even though she isn't entirely certain if she can retain a clear mind. Complicating matters is the fact that it is Christmastime in New York City, and with it come extra crowds and and confusion on the street - not to mention extra personal responsibilities that vie for Eve's attention. She is slowly learning to juggle her personal and professional lives, after living only for the job for so many years, and it is fun to watch her squirm as she finds herself connected to so many more people than she could ever have imagined, responding to the kindness and generosity of her friends and the warmth of the season. The mystery is not difficult to figure out - but the hows and the whys of it are intriguing.

It is constantly surprising to me that this series, which is one of the longest that I have read, continues to hold my attention and keep me wanting more. The mysteries are interesting and tend to explore the darker areas of the human psyche, and I do like that - but what keeps me coming back, book after book, are the characters that I've come to adore. Eve's partner Peabody, along with her boyfriend and fellow cop McNab, get plenty of screen time, as Peabody freaks out at the prospect of going to Scotland to finally meet his family. Mavis shows up for a scene or two, hugely pregnant and reminding Eve and Roarke (to their joint, continual horror) that they still have to attend that childbirth class so they can be present at the birth of her baby. Fallout from the previous book in the series left some unresolved tension between Dr. Mira and Eve, which is addressed in the course of the novel. And, of course, Eve and Roarke together make for one of my favorite literary couples, and it is fun watching them spar and butt heads, come to terms with their various issues, and come back together again, stronger than ever.

I'd say that anyone interested in this series would do well to start from the beginning, because the ongoing lives of the various characters add so much to the stories, and the characters are definitely the highlight of the series as far as I'm concerned.

Books in the Eve Dallas series:
1. Naked in Death
2. Glory in Death
3. Immortal in Death
4. Rapture in Death
5. Ceremony In Death
6. Vengeance in Death
7. Holiday in Death
"Midnight in Death" (in Silent Night)
8. Conspiracy in Death
9. Loyalty in Death
10. Witness in Death
11. Judgment in Death
12. Betrayal in Death
"Interlude in Death" (in Out of This World)
13. Seduction in Death
14. Reunion In Death
15. Purity in Death
16. Portrait in Death
17. Imitation in Death
18. Remember When
19. Divided in Death
20. Visions in Death
21. Survivor
in Death
22.
Origin in Death

23. Memory in Death
"Haunted in Death" (in Bump in the Night)

24. Born in Death
25. Innocent in Death
"Eternity in Death" (in Dead of Night)
26. Creation in Death
27. Strangers in Death
"Ritual in Death" (in Suite 606)
28. Salvation In Death
29. Promises in Death
30. Kindred in Death
"Missing in Death" (in The Lost)
31. Fantasy in Death (Forthcoming - 2010)

Memory in Death (#23 in the Eve Dallas series) by J.D. Robb; narrated by Susan Ericksen (Brilliance Audio, 2006)

Also reviewed at:
Errant Dreams Reviews: "Roberts/Robb gleefully indulges in everything that makes over-the-top detective novels and mysteries fun, and infuses it with a dollop of romance for good measure. It seems clear that she’s writing for the fun of it and thoroughly enjoying what she’s doing, and as a result her books are equally enjoyable to read."
Sherri's Thoughts and Ramblings: "The identity of the killer came as a complete surprise. I love how this series continues to hold my interest."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Neil Gaiman on audiobooks

I enjoyed reading Heather J's recent post about her love for audiobooks, as well as the interesting comments from others about when and where, why and why not they love audio books. I don't know what I'd do without them at this point; they've become such an enormous part of my daily routine. Mind-numbing chores like folding laundry and doing dishes become much more fun when someone's telling me a fascinating tale while I work. And my entire family enjoys listening to stories together in the car when we are driving long distances.

Last week National Public Radio's Morning Edition featured a short piece narrated by Neil Gaiman about audiobooks. You can read and/or listen to it here - and don't neglect to scroll down to the bottom, where there are other links relating to Neil Gaiman and David Sedaris, another favorite writer and audiobook narrator of mine who is interviewed by Gaiman in this segment. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Libyrinth

I first heard about this book when I was at WorldCon last summer and attended a panel on writing for teens. When the author briefly mentioned a few things about the book (the heroine can hear the "voices" of books, and it's set in a library that is so vast that people can get lost in it), I knew I had to give it a try. How could I resist?

The setting is a planet far from Earth, thousands of years in the future. Our heroine, Haly, lives in the Libyrinth, a library so enormous that they have yet to catalog all the books. Haly is a clerk to one of the Libyrarians, a young woman named Selene. Their entire purpose is to catalog and protect the books, which contain information that was lost in some sort of apocalypse many years earlier.

The story opens with a book burning. The libyrarians are just one of the groups that inhabits this world. There is another group the libyrarians call the Eradicants, who hate and fear books, believing the words contained within them to be dead and somehow dangerous. They believe in preserving knowledge orally, through song, and because they are more powerful than the libyrarians, they demand a sacrifice every year, a massive burning of books.

It is a tragedy for all the libyrarians to witness the burning, but for Haly it is particularly painful, because she can hear the voices of the books calling out as they burn. One passage she hears is "Wilbur liked Charlotte better and better each day. Her campaign against insects seemed sensible and useful." Haly learned long ago not to speak of her unusual ability, however - therefore, when she "overhears" a letter telling her its contents and learns that someone has betrayed the Libyrinth and its mission, she is unsure how to act on that information. When she confides in her one good friend, they act to save a legendary book that contains crucial knowledge. Their decisions takes them far from the Libyrinth, on a dangerous twisting road full of mystery and revelation.

I enjoyed this book for so many reasons. I loved the premise of Haly's unusual ability - and how it was actually explained (somewhat) in the book, instead of just being a lucky (or unlucky) fluke. I loved the imagery, the fantastical world in which she lives, the people in it as well, who are well-developed and complicated characters. The motivations for their actions are clear and believable because their culture and beliefs are well portrayed. I particularly enjoyed the fact that, rather than taking the easy way and making the Libyrarians good and virtuous and the Eradicants evil, narrow-minded book burners, there are shades of gray here. No one is good or evil - the situation is much more complex than that, which makes it a much more interesting and powerful story, particularly as relationships between various characters and their beliefs and assumptions are explored.

I found the the mythology of Haly's world to be evocative and compelling, and the odd technology that they use is unusual and surprising. I also loved the snippets of books that talk to Haly throughout the course of the novel. The use of Anne Frank's diary was such a powerful choice, perfect for this book. The quotations from the many books are not usually identified - the books' voices just kind of float out to Haly's ears as she passes by, so she doesn't always know where they're from. I was delighted to find, at the end of the book, a guide to the quotations that cites their sources. Many thanks to the author for including that!

As a librarian, I found myself drawn to one of the main themes of the book, which is the question of information and censorship: the power of information to those who control it, and the way it enables them to shape the world to their liking. This is a topic that is increasingly relevant today - and this book would be a fascinating supplement to a high school social studies class in that context - or even a library school class. First and foremost, however, Libyrinth is a story about people, set in an intriguing world where fascinating things happen.

The book ends with a satisfying conclusion, but I did find myself wanting to know more about Haly's world and its past, as well as wondering what would happen to her next. I was pleased to discover that this is just the first book in a trilogy, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Libyrinth by Pearl North (Tor, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Charlotte's Library: "It's good stuff--the sort of girl gang adventure where smart and strong young women face down people that want to oppress them, in a fantastical place that gives the story room to grow in fantastical ways."
Stella Matutina: "I loved the way the book felt. It reminded me of the sort of fantasy/science fiction hybrids I sometimes read in junior high; older novels from a time when the gap between the two genres was much smaller."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Soulless

Alexia Tarabotti is an unusual woman. She's a spinster, not terribly attractive, yet intelligent and intellectual - but that's not what sets her apart from others in this alternate version of Victorian London in which vampires and werewolves live openly among humans. What makes her so different is the fact that she does not have a soul. She is a preternatural, which means that should she touch a vampire or a werewolf, she drains it of its supernatural powers for as long as that contact lasts.

When she comes across a vampire while sneaking off to the library during a party, and that vampire seems to have no idea who or what she is, persisting in attacking her until she is forced to kill it in self defense, Alexia becomes embroiled in a mystery that involves the vampires and werewolves of London. She is in a unique position to discover why so many of them are mysteriously disappearing, but when she finally does stumble across the truth, she finds herself in well over her head. Along the way she butts heads with Lord Maccon, Alpha to the London werewolves, and the evolution of their love/exasperation relationship is truly entertaining.

As I went through the bookblogosphere, searching for my usual review links to post at the end of my review, I was struck by the wide variety of opinions I found. Thea and Ana from The Book Smugglers were highly annoyed by the similarities between the main characters of this book to the characters in Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series. Others adored it without reservations. Still others felt they would have enjoyed the book more had they not had certain expectations from a book that is labeled as horror and/or steampunk.

Because I love to approach a book knowing as little as possible about it as I can, I did not have expectations of any particular kind. All I knew was that it was historical novel involving a female lead, vampires and werewolves. That's pretty much all I need to know about a book before I begin it. I thought it was a fun, funny, lighthearted romp. Alexia is a product of her time, in that she is completely caught up in fashion and social expectations, even if she is flaunting them, but behaves in a way that makes her seem like a modern heroine - sneaking out at night, entertaining men alone in her house, in rooms behind closed doors - the sort of thing no one would bat an eye at these days, but that would have irreparably ruined her reputation back then. So even though her behavior in the context of Victorian society was not particularly believable to me, the book was fast-paced and entertaining, and the concept of the soul as being integral to the way supernatural powers work was fresh and new. I did wonder about the ramifications of the fact that Alexia lacks a soul - she does not seem to wonder what that bodes for her in the afterlife, which puzzled me a bit, but perhaps we will learn more about her soulless state as the series progresses.

Alexia would definitely not be called a "kick-ass" heroine, which is, I think, what we've come to expect of our supernatural leading women in series books these days. She is at times irritatingly passive, and at others impulsive and a bit thoughtless. Still, her heart is in the right place, and she is rather new to the concept of an exciting life of supernatural mystery and intrigue. This is the very first book of a series, and I think it is wise to allow it and the characters room to grow and change - and I will definitely be on board to see where the events of Alexia's life take her next.

Books in the Parasol Protectorate series:
1. Soulless
2. Changeless
3. Blameless


Soulless (#1 in the Parasol Protectorate series) by Gail Carriger (Orbit, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
The Book Smugglers: "Even though I found myself less than impressed with the writing, the mislabeled genre, and the eerily familiar characters, I cannot deny that there was something in this novel that kept me reading."
Booklust: "The writing absolutely sparkles. It is witty, it is sassy, it is wonderful. Not only the dialogue between characters, but also the internal dialogue."
The Discriminating Fangirl: "The mystery is fun and interesting, but I think my favorite part of the story is the budding romance between Alexia and Lord Maccon. It is also in the vein of Peabody and Emerson, and nothing lights my fires like a good love-hate relationship."
Heidenkind's Hideaway: "There were parts of Soulless that I definitely enjoyed (basically all the scenes with Lord Maccon), but there weren't enough of them for me to like the whole book. I can see why others people liked it--it's definitely likable--but the lack of story telling and characterization beyond clothing put me off, and the hipness quotient wasn't enough to make up for it."