Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring Break!

I wish I could say I'll be sitting on a beach like this having a relaxing vacation, but sadly, that won't be the case. Still, a girl can dream, right?

I'll be back in a week or so. I am hoping to have connectivity while I'm away, but I'm not sure. If the rest of you wouldn't mind slacking off on your blog posts while I'm gone, I might have a hope of catching up when I get back. (Fat chance of that, I'm sure!)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Kushiel's Dart

Phèdre lives in an alternate version of Europe, in which the country we know as France is called Terre d'Ange ("land of the angel"). Jacqueline Carey weaves elements of Christianity into the religion of Terre d'Ange, a place whose denizens are literally descended from angels, and where religion is part and parcel of their actions and culture.

As a child, Phèdre is left by her parents to be raised by one of the houses dedicated to Naamah (basically a sophisticated, faith-sanctioned brothel), where she is apprenticed in the ways of the Night Court. However, she has a flaw - a scarlet mote in one of her eyes - which makes her ineligible to be a full-fledged member of any of the houses. Until one day someone sees her "flaw" and understands what it truly is - she has been chosen by Kushiel, one of the deities of Terre d'Ange, and she bears his mark. And the course of Phèdre's life changes forever, as she is raised by an intelligent, powerful man with a hidden agenda, taught to be not only a courtesan with gifts unique in the world but to observe, remember, and think. Phèdre becomes a weapon in a hidden war of court politics and intrigue, and eventually finds herself in the possession of knowledge that could bring down the nation.

This paperback novel has more than 900 pages, and I've only scratched the surface of this rich, sensuous tale. The story starts out slowly, taking its sweet time to build Phèdre's intricate world, to introduce its vast cast of characters, including Phèdre's dearest friend, the irrepressible gypsy urchin Hyacinthe. In the beginning, the story may seem to meander, but the background is important, and seemingly irrelevant details told in passing resonate later on in the story. The tale is told from Phèdre's point of view, and the strength of her voice carries the narrative, relating an exciting, moving, riveting tale that gains momentum from chapter to chapter, making it a book that is dangerously difficult to put down.

Carey's writing is excellent, her dialog spot-on, her characterizations subtle, with depth and humor. And her descriptions are masterful. She creates such a vivid world that I found myself blinking dazedly at my surroundings whenever I (sadly) had to close the book, slightly surprised (and a bit disappointed) at finding myself in 21st-century Virginia. I read this book when it was first released, as well as the two sequels, and I think I enjoyed it even more this time around. There is explicit (but not gratuitous) sexuality, which may make some readers uncomfortable. I found it was deftly handled, skillfully woven into the mythology of Terre d'Ange in an unforgettable way. Phèdre is a truly lovable heroine, and I'm looking forward to rereading the next volume in this series. Fans of Anne Bishop's Black Jewels books would, I think, particularly enjoy this series.

Books in the Kushiel's Legacy series:
1. Kushiel's Dart
2. Kushiel's Chosen
3. Kushiel's Avatar
4. Kushiel's Scion
5. Kushiel's Justice
6. Kushiel's Mercy
7. Naamah's Kiss
8. Naamah's Curse

Kushiel's Dart (#1 in the Kushiel's Legacy series) by Jacqueline Carey (Tor, 2001)

Also reviewed at:
Adventures in Reading: "Kushiel's Dart far exceeded my expectations and while I feel no inclination to rush out and find a copy of the next book...I did enjoy the time spent in Terre d'Ange and will likely return for another visit to the intrigue of Phedre's world."
For Your Leisure: "It’s not a light read by any stretch, and I have to say I found it absolutely riveting."
Lusty Reader: "Basically reading Kushiel’s Dart was a mixture of hard work – getting my brain to think in terms of this world – but also so much enjoyment of the depth of characterization, thrilling action plot, and mythology in the story."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vögelein: Old Ghosts

This sequel to the lovely graphic novel Vögelein: Clockwork Faerie continues Vögelein's story where the first book left off. While each book is a self-contained story, it is best to read them in order to avoid confusion - and to fully appreciate the way in which characters change and grow.

Vögelein is a clockwork faerie who has achieved awareness beyond the mechanical movements envisioned by her creator, and she depends on others (humans) to wind her with the key she always carries with her. In the first book, she took some important steps toward developing relationships with humans in which she is on a much more even footing with them, as opposed to the more patronising relationships of her past.

As much as she is delighting in her current freedom, however, she is plagued by dark memories of her past and a promise that she was unable to keep. She confides in one of the humans she has come to trust, a young musician named Mason. He listens carefully and does what he can to enable Vögelein to set her old ghosts to rest. Meanwhile, a young fairy-obsessed woman who lives near Mason has caught glimpses of the clockwork faerie as she comes and goes and determines to try to capture her. Vögelein is usually careful, but her worries are awfully distracting.

This book is a lovely sequel to the first one, and the detailed black-and-white artwork conveys the emotional intensity of the story in an evocative and compelling way. It is a pleasure to watch Vögelein learning to take responsibility for her own safety and happiness as she navigates the joys and dangers of her newfound independence. While I enjoyed the book very much, I was disappointed not to learn more about Vögelein's connection to Faerie that was alluded to in the first volume. I hope Irwin will continue with this series - there seems to be a wealth of material to explore in Vögelein's world.

Books in the Vögelein series:
1. Vögelein: Clockwork Faerie
2. Vögelein: Old Ghosts

Vögelein: Old Ghosts (#2 in the Vögelein graphic novel series) by Jane Irwin (Fiery Studios, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Fantasy Theater: "There are a couple of brief bits of conventional action, but for the most part the drama is internal, beautifully conveyed by Irwin's expressive artwork."
Twisted Librarian: "The artwork is beautiful, and far more detailed than most black and white comics. Should appeal to fans of fantasy, slice-of-life, and relationship comic fans alike."

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dragonsong

The Harper Hall trilogy, which I discovered when I was in the sixth grade, was among the books that not only cemented my love of reading, but gave me a passion for the fantastical and otherworldly in literature, a passion that I still feel very much today. I read and reread my library's copies of these books, until one day I took my savings to the book store and bought my very own copies, which I still have so many years later. What joy to read this book to my children and have them adore it just as much as I did (and still do)!

Despite the miniature dragons fluttering about the cover of the book, this book is science fiction, not fantasy. It is set on a planet called Pern, and other books in the series detail the settling of the planet and the history of the enormous firebreathing dragons that are instrumental in protecting the planet and its inhabitants from dangerous spores called thread. Thread falls from the sky whenever the orbit of the rogue planet known as the Red Star causes it to pass too close to Pern.

Menolly, our heroine, lives in a remote fishing village. Her father is the leader of the village, and he is a hard, practical, unimaginative man. He disapproves of Menolly's love of music - she should be working with the other women in the hold, gutting fish and taking care of tasks that will feed people, not mess about twiddling on her useless instruments. Petiron, the sea hold's harper, is the only one who truly understands her, but as the book opens we find out that Petiron has died. Menolly has lost her only ally, and while she is allowed to teach the children their songs and ballads (education is an oral tradition on Pern, with harpers teaching important lessons through music) until the new harper arrives, she is expected to give music up once and for all after he comes. Not only that, but her father worries that if the new harper finds out that the children's education was taken on by a mere girl, it will disgrace the sea hold - so Menolly is kept far away from him, busy with cooking and cleaning and taking care of querulous oldsters.

Finally matters come to a head, and Menolly can take it no more. She leaves the hold in the early morning and finds herself a place of her own, where she can make music and live without the constant criticism and scolding. Before she realizes what's happened she finds herself surrounded by near-mythical beasts called fire lizards, miniature versions of the enormous, intelligent beasts that protect Pern during threadfall. Menolly is skilled at surviving on her own, but one day a disastrous miscalculation brings unimaginable consequences.

Part coming-of-age tale, part survival story, full of that magical sense of wonder that remains with a reader long after the book has ended, Dragonsinger gives us a strong heroine with plenty of flaws and uncertainties who takes action to secure her own happiness. Menolly is a dreamer, but she's also disciplined, intelligent and hard-working, and it is heart-wrenching to see how little valued she is by her own family because they see no worth in her innate skills and talents.

I had such a fantastic time reading this to my children. They are nine and eleven years old now, and I have to say that had I not read all the Pern novels, it might have been a bit too difficult for them. But as I was able to explain threadfall, dragons, and the unfamiliar terminology such as weyrs, holds, and Impression, it was smooth sailing. McCaffrey doesn't pull any punches as far as vocabulary goes, which was great - they learned a lot of excellent words along the way, and we had a fabulous time talking about life on other planets, and how the environment can shape the way people live in unexpected ways. Best of all, though was being able to share a story that touched me so deeply when I was close to their age, and see it touch them just as much.

Books in the Harper Hall trilogy:
1. Dragonsong
2. Dragonsinger
3. Dragondrums

Dragonsong (#1 in the Harper Hall trilogy) by Anne McCaffrey (Atheneum, 1976)

Also reviewed at:
The Bookshelves of Doom: "If you know kids who love the Protector of the Small series, they'll almost definitely dig this."
Fifty Book Challenge: "It was yet another efficiently and effectively spun tale. There was an element of frustration caused by Menolly's situation that made me race ahead to find out what happened at the climax, but the ending was satisfying enough to compensate."
Sine Nomine: "The Harper Hall trilogy was one of those book series that made up my childhood, and it's one of those stories that never gets old."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Schwa Was Here

Anthony "Antsy" Bonano, the eight-grade narrator of this delightful tale, makes friends with an unusual kid in his class at the beginning of this book. The kid is Calvin Schwa, known in an almost urban-legendy way simply as "The Schwa." He's a kid who blends in - to the point of disappearing - so much so that people don't even notice he's standing right next to him until he says something. Antsy notices that it's even a slippery sort of experience thinking about the Schwa - somehow the mind veers around him and finds something else to focus on.

While the other kids think the Schwa is weird (when they notice him at all), Antsy is fascinated by him. As the middle child in a busy, boisterous family, he knows what it feels like to be overlooked, if not to the extreme that Calvin is. Inspired by the teachings of the scientific method as school, Antsy begins a series of tests to see exactly how far Calvin's invisibility (which he calls "the Schwa effect") can extend. It turns out, pretty far. They set up a business at school, taking money for services, bets and pranks, as Calvin infiltrates the teacher's lounge and other previously inaccessible places.

Antsy soon comes to regret his casual acceptance (as the Schwa's business manager) of a dare to infiltrate the home of Mr. Crawley, an extremely wealthy, grumpy old man who lives above one of the restaurants in his neighborhood. Rumor has it that when some kids once egged the old man's house, and he was able to pull strings so that not a single egg was available in any of the local stores in retaliation. The Schwa effect does not work around Mr. Crawley, and Antsy and Calvin find themselves forced to do "community service" to atone for their trespassing - which involves walking Mr. Crawley's many Afghan hounds and, later, serving as escorts for his granddaughter (an assignment they are only too happy to have). Antony falls for her, hard - but so does Calvin, as she is one of the few people who always realizes he's there.

This is a character-driven book, carried along by Antsy's strong, honest voice and powerful narration. He uses colorful language that creates vivid images and often made me laugh. The plot is fast-paced, and the dialog brings the characters to life. No one is perfect, and everyone is looking for something to make their lives better in some way, although most of them are floundering around as they move through their lives. Antsy does not think of himself as smart - his grades are nothing compared to his older brother's - or his younger sister's. But as the story progresses, he discovers firsthand that there are several kinds of smart, and he just might have more to offer than he realized. He makes mistakes - all the characters do - but they learn from them, changing and growing in surprising and moving ways.

This is the second book I've read by Neal Shusterman - and I have no doubt that I'll be reading many more. He narrates this audio book himself, and he does an excellent job, giving Antsy a sympathetic, believable voice, Brooklyn accent and all. I felt a definite sense of loss when it comes to an end - but happily, I've learned there is another book featuring Antsy and his family, Antsy Does Time, and I am excited to spend some more time with them. This is a wonderful book - it addresses so many important things, offers up so much food for thought, not to mention characters to care about; it's funny, exciting, moving, and should have equal appeal to teen boys and girls alike. I highly recommend it!

The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman; narrated by Neal Shusterman (Listening Library, 2008)

Also by Neal Shusterman: Everlost

Also reviewed at:
Becky's Book Reviews: "The novel was funny in many places, yet it addressed serious issues as well. I rank this as one of the best books of the year."
The Retort: "Shusterman makes original choices and takes surprising veers through his story in a way that even I — a jaded, blackhearted cynic — found moving."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Once Upon a Time Challenge!

I know spring is just around the corner when I see the Once Upon A Time Challenge posts popping up on everyone's blogs. Hooray! I love this time of year, and I'm excited to immerse myself in my very favorite genre (and get tons of great recommendations from all the other participants as well). I'm so pleased that Carl is once again hosting this challenge, and he has picked a lovely image for the banner as well. I'm looking forward to learning more about the artist and her work as the challenge progresses.

I always do Quest the First, since I read so many books that fall into the fantasy genre, so I will sign up for that. Plus I have very much enjoyed doing Quest the Second in the past, in which participants read four books, each from a different category: one fantasy, one folklore, one fairy tale, and one mythology. It is fun to think about books in different ways, trying to figure out which one best fits which category - and I often find myself reading something unexpected and new when I do this challenge. I like that! So I'll be doing Quest the Second as well, and I also love the idea of Short Story Weekends, in which particpants read short stories over the weekend and post about them, too. I have yet to write a post on more than one story during any one challenge, but hope springs eternal.

I usually do not make up reading lists, at the risk of making the challenge feel like a chore (I have way too many other lists in my life with items that desperately need to be crossed off without adding a list of something that's supposed to be fun). But I do have some things I'm thinking about. I've been meaning to reread Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy series - I've read the first three but need to reread those to continue through to the rest of the series. That would be a great one for mythology, since the series has such a rich mythological background. As far as the others go, I still have to decide - which is of course half the fun. I look forward to reading about everyone's potential choices and also the reviews as they are posted. I have discovered some of my favorite books through this challenge - can't wait to see what goodies I'll be adding to my list this year.

If you love fantasy as much as I do, you really should check out the Once Upon a Time Challenge - it's a ton of fun. And if you're interested in trying out this amazing genre, you can do short stories or simply Quest the First, which is simply to read one fantasy book of your choice. Stop by Carl's blog, Stainless Steel Droppings, for more information.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Hunger Like No Other

So yeah, the cover is pretty cheesy, and I probably wouldn't have picked this up based on a first impression (being the superficial, judgmental reader that I shouldn't be but admittedly am). I put it on hold at my library based on the recommendation of Carolyn Jean from that most excellent blog, The Thrillionth Page, and I admit I was a bit surprised its appearance when it came in. I suppose I've become accustomed to the dark, edgy urban covers on such books, typically featuring either a cropped portion of an athletic, kick-ass heroine or an evocative, stylized symbol.

A year or two ago, I put together a list of the series I've been working on, mainly as a way to remind myself what I've fallen behind on and to help keep up with my favorites as they are published. I had asked readers to comment with suggestions or input about their favorite series (I'm still open to suggestions!), and Carolyn was surprised not to see this series listed, saying it' s her absolute favorite. So I added it to my list, the way you people are always making me do.

At first I was a bit unsure about the whole thing. Our heroine, Emma, is on her own for the first time in her life, trying to track down clues in Paris about her mysterious vampire father. Emma is part vampire, part Valkyrie (at first is isn't clear exactly what that entails, but little by little, the full picture emerges). She does have to drink blood in order to survive, but she has never taken it directly from the source, so to speak - in fact, she has been warned by her adopted Valkyrie aunts never to do so.

Meanwhile, a Lykae (a sort of werewolf) named Lachlain has been captured by vampires, and has been withstanding torture by fire (immortal beings can withstand unthinkable amounts of torture) for decades. Lykae are destined to be with one single soul mate, and Lachlain has pined for centuries, hoping to find the One. When he catches scent of her (Emma, of course) somewhere in the city above his prison, he manages to do something (at vast expense to himself, physically) that he hasn't been able to for over a century: he escapes.

Lykae and vampires are mortal enemies, so it is understandable that Lachlain would have mixed feelings upon discovering the identity of his true soul mate. Emma is terrified of him; Cole walks a fine line with his overbearing, violent behavior at first - his years of torture and imprisonment have left him on the brink of insanity, which nearly had me setting the book down. But I'm glad I kept reading, because I found Emma's world - particularly her upbringing with the Valkyries, who are crazy, strong, delightful women - to be fascinating, and while Lachlain never really stole my heart, the relationship between him and Emma certainly did, as well as Emma's growth throughout the course of the novel - her side of the narrative is very much a coming-of-age story. Complicating their steamy relationship is a brewing war, with various powerful supernatural creatures taking sides and making alliances.

All in all, I found this to be interesting and enjoyable, with a cast of unusual characters with fascinating problems. The story was more complex than I expected, particularly the rich background of the various mythological beings and their relationships with each other. There were moments of delightful humor as well as some dark and disturbing moments. I love dark and funny, so that combination is always a welcome element when I'm reading.

Books in the Immortals after Dark series:
1. A Hunger Like No Other
2. No Rest for the Wicked
3. Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night
4. Dark Needs at Night's Edge
5. Dark Desires After Dusk
6. Kiss of a Demon King
7. Pleasure of a Dark Prince
8. Demon from the Dark

A Hunger Like No Other (#1 in the Immortals after Dark series) by Kresley Cole (Pocket Star Books, 2006)

Also reviewed at:
All Things Print: "This was my first book by Ms. Cole and it was... meh. Not bad, but not great either. I, of course, loved the Alpha male Lachlain."
Book Whispers: "This story ended up being more complex then I could have imagined a silly PR being. All of this is accompanied by Cole's great sense of humor, and she had me laughing out loud. I love it when I book can be funny and balance the dark and gritty elements."
Ciara Sweetheart: "I really liked Emma. She has amazing personal growth through the book, changing from a shy girl who lets people push her around to a brave woman who stands up for herself."

Monday, March 15, 2010

xxxHolic, Vol. 6

Watanuki, the unsuspecting teen who, in the first volume of the series, wandered into the mysterious shop of Yuko, the Space-Time witch, discovers even more fantastical things in this volume of the xxxHolic series. As with previous volumes, the book is divided into several short stories, and the first one finds Watanuki and his friend Domeki taking part in a mysterious ceremony called the Hayakki Yako. We learn in the ever useful notes in the back of the book that the words mean "pandemonium" in Japanese, but the phrase is composed of Chinese characters that mean "a hundred demons moving in the night." And that there is a series of paintings by the same name that depict Japanese demons moving under lantern light.

When the magical creatures discover that there are two humans walking among them, Watanuki and Domeki find themselves in very hot water.

Below, in case anyone is interested, is one of those paintings. It is called "Hyakki Yako" by 19th-century Japanese painter Kawanabe Kyōsai, and it is in the collection of the British Museum. One of the things I love about this series is that I always learn something interesting about Japanese culture, folklore or mythology.

The second story involves a very sad but kind woman who befriends Watanuki when she sees him doing yard work outside Yuko's shop. She is grieving for the loss of her son, and because Watanuki still grieves the loss of his parents, he and the woman become good friends. But there is something odd about her and her effect on him, and even though he fears his friends are right when they voice their concern about what is happening to him, the woman is so sweet and sad that he continues to spend time with her...and with Yuko away on an important assignment, things quickly get out of hand.

This story brings the often funny relationship between Watanuki and Domeki to a more serious, thoughtful place, and we begin to sense that there is much at stake, and that the way their relationship progresses will have an enormous impact on their lives.

Once again I have enjoyed my reread of another volume in the xxxHolic series. The artwork is lovely, particularly the detailed illustrations at the beginning of the individual stories. The falling leaves that accent the panels involving Watanuki and the sad woman are incredibly evocative, giving the story an autumnal flavor that complements her sorrow and their bittersweet relationship. The stories are intriguing and surprising, the characters continue to change and grow, and the enticing questions raised make me impatient to continue to the next volume - even though I've read most of them before!

xxxHOLIC, Vol. 6 by Clamp (Del Rey, 2005)

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know, and I'll add a link to your review here!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Red House Mystery

This classic novel by beloved children's author A. A. Milne presents an intriguing murder mystery as well as a cast of colorful, memorable characters. While the novel is not very well known today, it was immensely popular when it was first published. Raymond Chandler called it "an agreeable book, light, amusing in the Punch style, written with a deceptive smoothness that is not as easy as it looks."

Set in England in the 1920s, the book opens with a letter announcing the arrival of a visitor to the elegant country home of Mark Ablett, who is none too happy to hear of the imminent arrival of his black-sheep brother. When our hero Antony shows up at the Red House later that day, looking for a friend who is staying there, he happens across a highly unusual situation: a dead body in a locked room, the victim shot in the head, but no gun at the murder scene.

Antony is a young man who has worked at various professions as dictated by his whims, and he is capable, intelligent and curious. He decides that amateur sleuth will be his next profession, and he asks his friend Bill if he's willing to play Watson to his Holmes. Bill enthusiastically agrees, the two friends set out to solve a baffling mystery. Milne's unique voice is what raises this book from a fun, puzzling mystery to a thoroughly rewarding read. The skillful characterization and the narration, along with the careful clues and surprising discoveries, combine to make this an engaging, if sedately plotted, tale.

I was surprised when I read, in several bloggers' reviews of this book, that there was the following dedication in their editions, from A. A. Milne to his father:

Like all really nice people, you have a weakness for detective stories, and feel that there are not enough of them. So after all that you have done for me, the least I can do for you is to write one. Here it is: with more gratitude and affection than I can well put down here.
A.A.M.


The lack of this lovely dedication, combined with the many typos scattered throughout this edition of the book (by Bookjungle), prompts me to suggest that interested readers find themselves a copy by a different publisher, one that has taken more care to present the work in its originally intended format. Note that the cover pictured here is not Bookjungle's - their edition has even changed the title on the cover simply to The Red House. I looked for a copy of their edition to use for this review at their website (http://www.bookjungle.com/), but their search engine did not return any results; nor did the site allow me to browse their collection).

At any rate, I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy a classic locked-room mystery, as well as to those who spent childhood hours with Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh, because A.A. Milne's prose is a delight to read, no matter his intended audience, and his narrative style is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne (Bookjungle, 2009; originally published 1922)

Also reviewed at:
Fleur Fisher Reads: "Milne wrote lovely prose and the stately place and understated humor made this book a lovely read for me, though the style wouldn’t suit everyone."
A Fondness for Reading: "There are some interesting plot twists, but it's a light-weight and fun mystery."
Novel Insights: "It’s an entertaining journey trying to figure out has happened, and it’s possible to guess at least half of the situation from the clues while being kept in the dark enough to be surprised. What really makes it a joy to read though is Milne’s unique voice."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Slave to Sensation

Sascha lives in a world that is populated by humans (although we don't really see much of them in this book), changelings (people who can shapeshift into animal forms), and the Psy. The Psy are people with various psychic abilities, but what unifies them all is that they are connected to a vast mental network. Generations earlier, the Psy, in an effort to combat the disturbing number of sociopaths and serial killers among them, began a conditioning program known simply as Silence.


Silence conditions Psy children not to feel any emotions at all, so that with rage, fear and frustration - not to mention all other emotions - gone from their minds, the Psy are creatures of cool logic and efficiency.


Sascha, however, is not like the rest of the Psy. She does feel emotions, and she has developed impressive mental shields to hide her disability. If it is discovered, she knows she will be subjected to procedures that will leave her a mindless automaton. Her mother is a powerful member of the ruling Council, and as the book opens, Sascha is given an assignment in their family business. She is to work with a local group of changelings - wereleopards - toward completion of a real estate deal. Sascha is immediately attracted to Lucas, the leader of their group, but of course she hides it beneath her cool, icy exterior, as she hides everything else so well. The more time she spends with him, though, the more difficult it becomes to maintain her reserve.

When she discovers that a young woman from a neighboring changeling pack has been abducted, and that the abduction is only one in a long string of kidnapped, tortured and murdered changelings, she is stunned when she is told that a member of the Psy is responsible. As impossible as it seems, though, she becomes convinced that the changelings are telling her the truth. As she risks her own exposure, searching the PsyNet for the clues, she comes closer and closer to revealing her disability to the powerful council. She must find a way work with the changelings, deal with their mutual distrust of each other (not to mention her illicit feelings for Lucas)r, in order to save the girl's life before the changelings declare war on her people.


I have heard so many good things about the Psy-Changelings series, and while I hardly need to become addicted to yet another series, I evidently have very little will power where these things are concerned. To be honest, I doubt I'd have picked up this book based on the cover, which isn't terribly appealing to me; nor does it capture the evocative otherworldliness of Sascha's life. The novel itself offers many surprising and unique elements, such as the entire Psy world with its machinations and politics, not to mention the unique way in which the Psy are all connected. That part of the book, along with the deft characterizations, the growing sexual tension between Lucas and Sascha as contrasted with the chilly interactions between Sascha and her fellow Psy - even her own mother - made for a compelling read. The changeling groups and their culture and politics were fairly run-of-the-mill in contrast, in the vein of Laurell Hamilton, Patricia Briggs, Kelley Armstrong, etc. The rest of the book was so intriguing, though, that I didn't mind - the narrative held my attention the whole way through. I'm looking forward to the next book of this promising new (to me) series.

Books in the Psy-Changelings series:
1. Slave to Sensation
2. Visions of Heat
3. Caressed by Ice

4. Mine to Possess

5. Hostage to Pleasure

6. Branded by Fire

7. Blaze of Memory

8. Bonds of Justice

9. Play of Passion


Slave to Sensation (#1 in the Psy-Changelings series) by Nalini Singh (Berkley Sensation, 2006)


Also reviewed at:
The Book Lush: "Slave to Sensation is a intense story about two unlikely people finding each other, emotions run high and it was a thrill ride to read."
Medieval Bookworm: "I am of two minds about this book. Half of me loved it and the other half of me didn’t like it so much. Most importantly, I think, is the fact that I was really intrigued by the world."
Reading Adventures: "I really liked both the characters of Lucas and Sascha. Lucas gradually realising that he is going to have to learn to trust someone else, and Sascha learning to trust her emotions...really, really good!! And it didn't hurt that Lucas was hot either!!"

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Binky the Space Cat

Binky, unlike other cats, has a purpose. He is a space cat, sworn to defeat alien enemies (which look like bugs because they are bugs, of course - too bad humans have such tiny brains that they haven't been able to figure this out yet). Binky tries defeating alien bug enemies in many different ways, but he doesn't have much luck until he finds something very interesting at the bottom of his kitty food bag: a card that asks, "Want to stop aliens? Then become a SPACE CAT today!!!"

He is very excited when his space cat package arrives from F.U.R.S.T. (Felines of the Universe Ready for Space Travel). It even comes with an official Space Cat badge. Now he can be a real space cat and protect the humans (one big, one small) that he lives with. He works feverishly at building his rocket ship, anxious to blast off into space and battle all those pesky aliens. Except when it's finished, he realizes there is only room for one passenger: Binky. How can he leave his big and small humans behind? Binky has some serious thinking to do.


What a delightful graphic novel! The whimsical illustrations and tongue-in-cheek tone offer amusement to big and small human readers alike, particularly cat lovers. Despite Binky's interest in fighting off alien invaders, Binky is 100% cat, and it is his very catlike ways, combined with his slightly unorthodox behavior, that make it all so sweet and funny. His point of view is all cat, and he is so very serious about everything, which just makes it all that much more hilarious.


Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires (Kids Can Press, 2009)

Also reviewed at:

Maw Books Blog: "The book is energetic, clever, and simply entertaining. And one that parents will enjoy reading together as well."

Back to Books: "This is a truly adorable book! I enjoyed every single frame of it. The story has an amazingly full plot for such a short number of pages."

Young Readers: "I found Binky The Space Cat to be funny and charming. I loved the illustrations and the text. Binky is a character that I just loved."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta

It's always an exciting day when a famous author comes for a school visit, and Dee, Terrence and Hector cannot wait. Hector is particularly excited to bring his beloved copy of Lewis Scribson's famous Flippy Bunny book so the author can sign it.

But instead of the friendly, engaging man the children expect, Scribson turns out to be a dour, grumpy fussbudget, who is particularly annoyed when he finds that he will be signing books in the gym rather than the library. He even refuses to sign Hector's book because it the cover is ripped. Hector is crushed.

Lunch Lady, secret superhero and user of fine food-related crime-fighting gadgets, is immediately suspicious of him when he turns down the freshly baked cookies she offers him. "I only eat gourmet food," he snobbishly declares.

When the school's gym teacher disappears on the heels of Lewis Scribson's visit, the children suspect the grouchy author is somehow involved. A little research shows the author leaves a trail of vanished people in his wake, and between the kids and the Lunch Lady, they are determined to get to the bottom of the suspicious writer's actions. When they infiltrate the author's house, they are shocked by what they find there...

Once again, Krosoczka delivers a funny, exciting and satisfying tale featuring the fearless Lunch Lady and her inventive sidekick, Betty. I am a sucker for real and imaginary gadgetry, and this volume's wonders include stylish hamburger headphones, a mustard-bottle-shaped grappling hook, and my favorite: taco night-vision goggles. These books should be very appealing to fans of Baby Mouse and Captain Underpants, as well as to those who just enjoy a quick and simple, funny and exciting read. We cannot keep these books on the shelf at the public library where I work - the kids really eat them up. (Pardon the pun!)

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)

Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta (#3 in the Lunch Lady graphic novel series) by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Jen Robinson's Book Page: "Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta is an excellent addition to the Lunch Lady series, sure to please young graphic novel fans"
The Joys of Reading: "I love the Lunch Lady. These are the perfect books for reluctant readers."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Flirt

When Laurell Hamilton was working on the most recent book in her Meredith Gentry series, a story about Anita Blake kept niggling at her mind, and she was unable to focus on the Meredith story until she gave in and dedicated some time to Anita as well. The story she wrote is Flirt, a short mystery/fantasy/suspense novel involving a day or two in Anita's life, which of course includes plenty of mayhem, not to mention zombies and some sexy shapeshifters.

Anita's day job, when she's not out fighting big bad vampiric, were, or psychopathic villains, is as an animator. She raises people from the dead, usually to resolve a dispute about a will or other legal matter. She is a necromancer, unlike many of her animator colleagues, and word has gotten around that the dead that Anita raises are so revived that they are indistinguishable from regular, living people. For a while, that is. Other reanimated bodies typically resemble movie zombies, so Anita can command fairly high prices for her services. And if she doesn't approve of the reason someone wishes to reanimate someone, she simply will not do it.

One such refusal puts Anita's loved ones in a tight spot, however. She is cornered at a restaurant by a couple of unfamiliar shapeshifters and told that she must raise someone from the dead, or risk having several of the people she loves most killed. Anita finds that her reputation is a double-edged sword, and her captors seem ahead of her every step of the way, knowing way too much about her supernatural abilities. Fortunately for Anita, however, they don't know everything she can do...

The Anita Blake series is so long and complex, and so much has happened along the way, that each book tends to focus on one narrow aspect of her life - her relationship with Jean-Claude, the vampire Master of the City, and the complications that arise from it, or her role as leader of the wereleopards, or a hunt for a supernatural serial killer that needs her special brand of expertise. I enjoyed going back to Anita's original job, particularly as she has become a very different woman from the one in the early books. It is fascinating to see how she has been shaped by previous events - and how she, in turn, is shaping the events around her, always venturing into morally ambiguous areas, but never backing down from tough decisions.

The author's note at the end offers a fascinating glimpse into her writing process, and the comic strips at the end of the book are delightful. There were some minor issues with plot turns that seemed the tiniest bit too convenient, but as always, I am more interested in the emotional development of the characters, not to mention the breakneck action, and I enjoyed this brief sojourn in Anita's world very much.

Books in the Anita Blake series:
1. Guilty Pleasures
2. The Laughing Corpse

3. Circus of the Damned

4. The Lunatic Cafe
5. Bloody Bones

6. The Killing Dance

7. Burnt Offerings

8. Blue Moon

9. Obsidian Butterfly

10. Narcissus in Chains

11. Cerulean Sins
12. Incubus Dreams

13. Micah
14. Danse Macabre

15.
The Harlequin
16. Blood Noir

17. Skin Trade
18. Flirt

Flirt (#18 in the Anita Blake series) by Laurell K. Hamilton (Berkley Books, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
Book Series Reviews: "The worldbuilding, the complexity of the relationships, the complexity of the metaphysics - all of these things make this a really interesting series. Some of the books are better than others though, and this one was not one of the best."
The Drabbler: "And though Flirt is only a side step in the overarching tale Hamilton has been telling throughout the series, I’m still left wondering (for the last three books to be exact) where is she going with this story. It’s been many books since there has been significant interaction with the characters who made the series compelling in the first place..."
The Good, the Bad and the Unread: "I liked Flirt because it had a beginning, middle, and end. It’s a short novel, or a novel-length short story that deals with loss and love. There is some redemption in the story, though it’s a darker redemption as is appropriate for the setting."

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Malice

There are all kinds of rumors about a mysterious comic book called Malice. Most kids say the comic book doesn't exist, but everyone feels a chill creep up their spine when they talk about "the ritual." When Luke tells his friend Heather that he actually has a copy of the book, she doesn't even want to see it. But when they look inside, they read about horrific, frightening things. Heather tells Luke to put the book away, and he sees that she really is scared. He teases her for believing the all the stories, and just to prove it all is false, he performs the ritual, and repeats six times: "Tall Jake, take me away."

Nothing happens immediately...but rumor has it, Tall Jake waits until you're all alone...

When Luke vanishes without a trace the following day, his friend Seth suspects that Malice is involved with Luke's disappearance. He confides in his friend Kady, and together they set out to bring Luke back. Their search leads them to a seedy comic book shop where a creepy man works, and they have a feeling that he knows more than he's letting on. When Seth sneaks out with a copy of the fabled Malice in his hands, and he and Kady open it, they are shocked to see their friend Luke depicted in its pages. The rumors are true - Tall Jake has taken Luke into the dark, cruel world of the comic book, and they watch helplessly as, terrified, he is pursued through its panels by nightmarish creatures.

Malice is an arresting book, with its red embossed cover featuring the foreboding figure of Tall Jake, and the book itself has the sturdy heft of a textbook. I was initially a bit worried that the clever cover might be designed to distract from a less substantial story, but I'm happy to report that it the text and illustrations are a perfect fit. Teen fans of horror should have a lot of fun with this one, particularly with the alternating segments of text and comic book panels that give an occasional firsthand glimpse into the dark world of Malice. There isn't much character development to speak of, but Seth and Kady are sympathetic characters that will quickly gain the affection of readers. The story is fast-paced and intriguing, with tantalizing puzzles and clues, and while the world of Malice at first seems like a purely horrific place, we learn that it there is more to it than cruelty and violence. The book is only the first part in a two-volume series, and while there is a fairly satisfying conclusion, it is clear that there is more to come, and many issues remain unresolved. I am looking forward to Havoc, the concluding volume - and also to trying some of the many other books that Wooding has written. Lovers of dark fantasy are sure to have a great time with this one.

Malice by Chris Wooding; illustrated by Dan Chernett (Scholastic, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Bookshelves of Doom: "In other hands, I think the switches in format -- from text to comic and back again, as well as some playing with font size and text placement -- could have felt gimmicky and annoying, but because of the storyline and because Chris Wooding can write, it all worked."
A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy: "Wooding once again does a fabulous job of creating a complex other world, with geography and mythology fully formed but never fully revealed."
Today's Adventure: "I'm not usually one for reading graphic novels, but I really enjoyed the comic book portions of this book. The drawings were great for bringing the bizarre new world into focus, and the darkness of them built up the suspense factor in a way words couldn't have done."
Utter Randomonium: "The art, unfortunately, is pretty poor, to the point where I was having trouble distinguishing between the characters. I was a little disappointed in the ending as well, which is more or less a cliffhanger to be (presumably) resolved in the next book."

Friday, March 5, 2010

Wyrd Sisters

Granny Weatherwax is truly a maven among witches. Although she's a bit suspicious about this whole coven nonsense, she decides to humor the young witch Magrat, who makes up in enthusiasm what she lacks in experience, when she asks them to form a group. Which is why Granny Weatherwax, Magrat, and Nanny Og happen to be standing together on the hillside when a soldier rides up with the infant son of the recently assassinated king of Lancre. Granny Weatherwax has reservations about meddling in the affairs of kings, but an infant in need is an infant in need, prince or no, and something must be done.

When she finds the little boy a home among some traveling players, she thinks that things have been well taken care of. But it turns out that the land of Lancre isn't thrilled about its new king - neither are the people, but it's the land itself that is dangerously displeased - and it makes its displeasure very clear to Granny Weatherwax. Once again she finds herself obliged to meddle - and when she breaks the rules, she does it dramatically and unforgettably. And if she isn't quite sure exactly what she's doing, well, she'll never let on to anyone else.

With its homage to Macbeth and to theater in general, this book is a delight from start to finish. I adore the witches, their relationships with each other, and the impressive way they employ "headology" to get things done. As always, I grinned, giggled and chuckled my way through the book, which is full of all kinds of twists, turns and delightful surprises. I look forward to continuing my way through this wonderful series. These are the kind of books that make me happy just to see them sitting on my bookshelf, because I know that with the simple turn of a page, I can stop back to visit any time I please.

Books in Discworld series:
1. The Color of Magic
2. The Light Fantastic
3. Equal Rites
4. Mort
5. Sourcery
6. Wyrd Sisters
7. Pyramids
8. Guards, Guards
9. Eric
10. Moving Pictures
11. Reaper Man
12. Witches Abroad
13. Small Gods
14. Lords and Ladies
15. Men at Arms
16. Soul Music
17. Interesting Times
18. Maskerade
19. Feet of Clay
20. Hogfather
21. Jingo
22. The Last Continent
23. Carpe Jugulum
24. The Fifth Elephant
25. The Truth
26. The Thief of Time
27. The Last Hero
28. Nightwatch
29. Monstrous Regiment
30. Going Postal
31. Thud
32. Making Money

33. Unseen Academicals

Wyrd Sisters (#6 in the Discworld series) by Terry Pratchett (HarperTorch, 1980)

Also reviewed at:
A Book a Week: "The deeper I go into Discworld, the happier I am to be there"
Carly's Bookshelf: What you will find is civic unrest, personal spite, international politics, romance, and every other human folly staged with the deft control of Shakespeare and the brutal criticism of Swift, only much, much funnier than either."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Born in Death

Eve Dallas, hard-as-nails cop in a futuristic New York City, has her hands full in this installment of the long-running mystery series. She is called to investigate a murder involving the deaths of two employees at a prestigious accounting firm. She can't help but be distracted, however, by the baby shower she is hosting, not to mention the childbirth classes that her best friend, Mavis, drags her and Rourke to. Eve and her husband Rourke have agreed - internally kicking and screaming every inch of the way - to be labor coaches for Mavis, who is nearing the end of her third trimester of pregnancy. The thought of attending the childbirth makes Eve's knees turn to water. She'd far rather contemplate the double homicide. At least with that, she is confident in her abilities to track down the murderer.

Further distractions ensue when Mavis's friend from childbirth class, also near to her due date, mysteriously disappears. Mavis begs Eve to find her. At first Eve thinks that there must be an easy, logical explanation for Tandy's absence from the baby shower. But soon it appears that Tandy was taken against her will. They are desperate to find her before she delivers the baby because they fear that, if the baby is the reason she was abducted, her life will be forfeit once the child is born.

The mystery was fairly interesting, but events in Eve's personal life were far more compelling to me in this installment. The grim events of the murders, and the depths to which people are willing to descend in order to obtain wealth and power are relieved by the humor and witty dialog portrayed in the personal side of Eve's life. There were strands of the mystery that seemed a bit too contrived for believability, but as usual, I was too immersed in the fun of the story to care very much about that.

As always, Susan Ericksen narrates the stories brilliantly, creating even more vivid images in my mind than when I read the books to myself. I love the accents and voices she does, particularly Eve's partner Peabody's - she just makes me want to give Peabody a hug every time she's in a scene. I did have to laugh, though, at the voice Ericksen gives Trina, as I believe I've mentioned before - it really brings to mind Roz from the movie Monsters, Inc. And Dallas's computer's voice sounds almost exactly like the voice of Plankton's computer wife in SpongeBob Squarepants. Yes, I'm totally mature and sophisticated. I suppose there's a good reason I'm a children's librarian!

I do enjoy the mystery element of this series, but it is the characters and their relationships with each other that have truly won my heart. Robb has created a wide-ranging cast of characters and brings them to life with consummate skill, so that over the years I've been reading this series, they have become very dear to me, and I look forward to spending time with them each time I open one of these books.

Books (and short stories) 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
Remember When (spin-off book with section featuring Eve)
18. Divided in Death
19. Visions in Death
20. Survivor
in Death
21.
Origin in Death

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

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

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

Also reviewed at:
Breeni Books: "Another witty Eve Dallas novel, Born in Death creates possibly the most humorous setting yet for the hardened cop."
Confessions of a Bibliophile: "I liked the way the cases wrapped up, and Eve’s discomfort with Mavis’s pregnancy is just icing on the cake."
Dear Author: "As always, there is a good police procedure story at the core. It’s a pleasure watch Eve Dallas unravel the mystery."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

When You Reach Me

The moment I heard about When You Reach Me, I went immediately to my library's website and put the book on hold. I had heard that it was an homage to A Wrinkle in Time, one of my favorite books as a child, and also that it involved time travel and some fabulous twists and surprises. That's all I needed to know.

I was even more excited when I heard that it had won the Newbery Award - and became doubly impatient for my copy to arrive. When it finally came in, I decided to read it to my daughters (nine and eleven years old), because it seemed like a good fit. It was better than a good fit - it was a perfect fit. They were mesmerized by the story; they loved Miranda; they enjoyed her evolving relationships with her friends and her family, and they absolutely adored the twists and surprises. It is the kind of book that offers a lot of fodder for discussion - fun discussion, not obligatory class-type discussion, and we had a great time talking about the book when we weren't reading it, speculating about what was going to happen, and about what certain events might mean.

It seems almost redundant to write a review of a Newbery winner - there are hundreds of reviews out there, and it goes without saying that it is well written, meaningful and moving. Still, I reviews what I reads, and I has fun doing it, so here it is. Feel free to skip the rest and go find a copy of this book. You already know more than I did when I opened the book, and I think the less you know, the more fun you'll have.

For those of you who are still following, I still won't tell you much about the plot. The book is set in New York City in the 70s. I would have been just about Miranda's age back then, which made the book extra fun for me (and also for my kids, who enjoyed hearing about my memories of the time as they related to Miranda's life). Miranda is writing to an unnamed person, for an unknown reason. She has received some mysterious notes, which at first seem random and unbelievable, but eventually convince her that she has a role to play in preventing the death of someone close to her. It is a puzzle, something she needs to figure out while still navigating the pitfalls and revelations of friendship and family relationships.

The story is a wonderful and compelling mix of genres - it's a coming of age story, and a mystery, a problem/friendship book, with a little romance, and a science fictional element that will make you stop in your tracks and say, ''Oh, I get it." And then you'll want to go back and read the story all over again. Which is exactly what my nine-year-old is doing - she picked the book up the day after we finished it and is reading it over from the beginning, appearing to enjoy it every bit as much as she did the first time around.

Miranda is very real, and her narration is evocative and skillful - and never, ever strays from her very distinct twelve-year-old voice. And even though a girl is telling this story, there is plenty here for boys to relate to, and I think any initial resistance to reading a "girl story" will vanish within a few pages. It isn't necessary to have read A Wrinkle in Time before starting this book, but having read it will give readers that satisfying feeling of being in the loop when Miranda talks about her favorite book in the world. Those who haven't read it are sure to want to as soon as they've finished When You Reach Me. In fact, my eleven-year-old came home from school with a copy of A Wrinkle in Time to reread the day after we finished this book!

I am so happy this novel has received the recognition it has - it is an unforgettable tale, moving and funny and bittersweet. I highly recommend it, to children and adults alike. For best results, read it together!

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Becky's Book Reviews: "If I were trying to sell this book--book talk it if you will--I'd say that it was a loving tribute to the children's classic, A Wrinkle In Time."
Jen Robinson's Book Page: "The plot keeps readers guessing, and eagerly turning the pages for more clues, while certain passages will make them stop and think."
Maw Books Blog: "It’s also the type of book that as soon as you close the very last page, you want to open the first one again and start all over again."