Monday, February 28, 2011

Trickster

Trickster is a graphic collection of Native American folktales featuring tricksters in one form or another.  Each tale was written by a Native American storyteller and paired with illustrations by artists selected by the authors.  And what a wonderful book it is!

The stories come from many different parts of the country and are told in different styles, some in a traditional narrative style, others using more modern language.  The stories are as varied as the artistic styles.  There are creation tales, such as the opening story, which features coyote and the story of how the stars came to be.  And there are classic trickster stories, such as how rabbit tricked the alligator, who wouldn't let any of the animals near the river to drink.  Clever rabbit makes sure that the alligator gets what's coming to him!


This is a fantastic collection of stories.  The artwork is fabulous, and there is a wide variety of styles that truly suit the tone and subject matter of each tale.  I was surprised and delighted to see a tale included that is from Hawaii, where I used to live.  Native Hawaiian culture is so often overlooked, and last year when one of my children had a class assignment to research a Native American culture, she was disappointed that she wasn't allowed to do native Hawaiians.  (Native Hawaiians do not have specific rights comparable to many other native peoples - if you're interested in learning more about it, click here).  Hawaii has such a rich cultural heritage, so it was great to read the story, set on the Big Island, of the very clever dog Puapualenalena.


I would have loved a little snippet at the beginning of each story that told a little bit about its history and where it came from.  I did like that at the back of the book there was an informative biographical paragraph about each author and artist.  I'll definitely be looking up more work by the talented contributors to this collection.


My library shelves this book in the adult section, which I suppose is good because it makes it available to adults who might not normally pick up a graphic novel.  But it is certainly appropriate for younger readers, as well.  Both of my daughters read this before I did (as often happens with graphic novels, they grabbed the book and ran off with it before I could read it - and honestly, I love when that happens!), and they both enjoyed it.  Some stories teach a lesson, and some tell how things got to be the way they are today; some are funny, some a little sad, some full of action and adventure.  What's not to like?

Take a look at this last image below - doesn't it remind you of Charles de Lint's books?  Maybe he'll do a graphic novel some day - I'd love that.  At any rate, this is an excellent collection of Native American trickster tales, and I highly recommend it!


Trickster edited by Matt Dembicki (Fulcrum Books, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
American Indians in Children's Literature:  "I like the book very much, with one quibble...The designer didn't provide information about each story's origin with the story."
Amy Reads:  "...these Native American tales don’t all have a moral, and I liked that. it was interesting to read these short, simple trickster tales and have the trickster come out on top sometimes." 
Capricious Reader:  "Many of these stories have some of the most incredible art I’ve seen in any such collection or comic book or graphic novel." 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I Shall Wear Midnight

I feel like popping open a bottle of champagne when a new Discworld book is published, and when, to add to the glory, it's a Tiffany Aching book, that is real cause for celebration! 

This is the fourth book in the series (which is part of the larger Discworld series) that features the young witch, and her life is still as exciting as ever.  She's grown up a lot since the first book - she is now a teenager, and she takes her responsibilities as witch very seriously.  She helps deliver babies, takes care of the elderly, helps cure people's illnesses, and even, as happens as the book opens, saves a very injured girl from her abusive father.

Despite all the good things that witches do, though, they make people uncomfortable.  Witches are needed, reflects Tiffany, but people don't really like having to need them.  And lately something seems to be changing the way people think about witches, and something is definitely worrying the Kelda of the nearby Nac Mac Feegle clan.  When Tiffany has to head to the city of Ankh-Morpork to deliver some bad news to Roland, the Baron's son, things go from bad to worse.

I loved this book - which is saying a lot, because the anticipation for this one was tremendous.  Tiffany is such an engaging character, and she has grown so much since the first book.  She is far from perfect - she has flaws and makes mistakes, but she really does try to learn from them and do the right thing, even when it's really, really hard to make herself do it.  This story is a bit darker than the earlier ones, as it does deal with some serious issues - but there is so much humor woven in that the unpleasant things never become too much to handle.  There are some old favorite characters that turn up for a visit, which was fabulous, and there are some new characters who were delightful.  The only thing that was ever so slightly disappointing was that the Feegles didn't have as strong a presence here as in some of the earlier books.  This was fitting, really, because Tiffany is able to handle things (mostly) on her own now, but I just love the Feegles and found myself missing them a bit.

This is one of the best series for young readers that's out there - and there is a whole lot here to appeal to teens and adults as well.  I particularly recommend the audio versions, as read by the brilliant Stephen Briggs - he does a fabulous job.  My library offers this as a downloadable audio book, but I went ahead and purchased my own copy from Audible, because I know that my children and I are going to listen to this one again and again.  If you haven't tried this series - or any of the Discworld books - the first Tiffany Aching (The Wee Free Men) is a great place to start.  It's also the perfect listen for a family car trip - I'd say ages eight and up would be perfect for the first book in this series.  I enthusiastically recommend Terry Pratchett's books to all discerning readers - they are beautifully written, thought provoking, and positively delightful.

Books in the Tiffany Aching series (part of the Discworld series):
1. The Wee Free Men
2. A Hat Full of Sky
3. Wintersmith
4. I Shall Wear Midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight (#38 in the Discworld series; #4 in the Tiffany Aching sub-series) by Terry Pratchett; narrated by Stephen Briggs (Harper Audio, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
Books before Bed"Again I found myself just marveling at how astute Terry Prachett was able to identify human nature. He does a superb job of making characters real and putting them in real situations."
Fyrefly's Book Blog"I enjoyed listening to every second of this book (Stephen Briggs did a wonderful job with the narration, as always), and am now really sorely tempted to go back to The Wee Free Men and start over."
Just Add Books:  "Mr Sir Terry Pratchett has a very deft touch, and he weaves together elements like the sheer absurdity of the Nac Mac Feegle and the darker elements so well that there's nothing jarring in it at all."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Paranormalcy

Evie is a teenager who works for a group called IPCA, who police paranormal activity and neutralize any paranormals who are behaving in ways that are dangerous to those around them.  Such paranormals include (but are not limited to) werewolves, vampires, and faeries.  Evie is an orphan who was discovered as a child by IPCA operatives, who quickly realized she possessed the unique ability to see through glamours.  After a difficult life in foster care, Evie was only too happy to live at IPCA headquarters, where she was educated and groomed to be a very successful operative.

She works for IPCA, and she lives there, and while she adores her best friend (a mermaid - but not at all the stereotypical kind), and many of her co-workers, Evie wishes she could live the life of the teenagers she sees on television.  She thinks it must be amazing to go to an actual school, have friends and go through the kinds of dramatic situations she sees on her favorite TV shows, maybe even have a boyfriend of her own.

Then a situation arises in which IPCA security is breached - and Evie is the one who catches the culprit.  She's probably the only one who could have, because the creature is able to take on the shape of anyone, male or female, but of course Evie can see through his disguise.  Her curiosity about him leads to clandestine visits to the cell where he is being held.  A friendship between them develops, and as Evie gets to know the young man (Lend - who turns out to be a teenager, too), he shares information that makes Evie suddenly question her status at IPCA.  Is she a valued employee?  Or a prisoner?  Suddenly matters spin out of control as IPCA - and other paranormals - are attacked by a mysterious being that leaves scores of paranormals dead in its wake.  The faeries seem to know more than they are letting on, but no one seems to take Evie's worries and warnings about them very seriously.  And when she comes face to face with the mysterious, deadly being, everything changes.

I enjoyed this one - which turns out to be the first in a series - immensely.  Evie is a thoroughly sympathetic and believable character.  She is strong and confident as far as her abilities to bag and tag paranormals are concerned, but she has a lot to learn about the regular, teenage parts of life.  She is brave and resourceful, but she does make mistakes.  Lend is an interesting and likable character as well, and their developing relationship is handled very nicely. 

Potential spoiler alert: 
 The one thing that didn't work so well for me in this book was the faerie element.  The premise is that, if you know a faerie's name, that faerie must do your bidding - but he or she will of course try to work around the wording as much as possible in order to follow personal agendas.  Evie is having issues with a faerie, whose name she knows.  He is withholding important information from her, and he downright terrifies her - so why doesn't she command him to freeze?  To tell her all he knows re. a particular topic?  To stop behaving in a certain way?  She is so strong and combative that - despite her past with this particular person - it didn't make sense to me that she wouldn't try harder, or come up with a more successful way of dealing with him.  The fact that she does not is serviceable to the plot, but not to her character.  This is a minor quibble, but it did bug me.
End potential spoiler.

I also need to mention how very funny this book is - Evie has such a great attitude and sense of humor, and while much of the book is dark and violent, this spark of humor lightens things a bit and makes the book that much more enjoyable.  The paranormals are not only the typical ones readers might expect to see in this sort of novel - there are many kinds, and several of them are particularly surprising.  The book comes to a satisfying conclusion, but there is much left to be explored in Evie's world, so I am very much looking forward to the sequel, Supernaturally, which is due to be published next year.  I highly recommend this one - I'm sure it will be among my favorite YA reads this year. 

Books in the Paranormalcy series:
1. Paranormalcy
2. Supernaturally (January 2012) 

Paranormalcy (#1 in the Paranormalcy series) by Kiersten White (HarperCollins, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
Beyond Books"The book made me laugh, gasp and even shocked me with sadness which I wasn’t expecting. Everything about the book felt real emotion-wise."
Coffee Stained Pages: "I found Evie to be a very likable heroine, she’s honourable, witty and brave while still being very believable as a lonely sixteen-year-old girl unsure of her place."
Steph Sue Reads:  "...not your typical YA paranormal read: indeed, it has more in common with an elaborately written adult urban fantasy series."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The End of the World Club

Max and Lola, the teens who teamed up in Middleworld, the first book in the Jaguar Stones series, are back.  In the previous book, Max made a deal with the ancient Mayan lords of death, which didn't seem like a great idea at the time, but it was the only way he could think of to save his parents from a truly horrible fate.  Now it is time to pay up, and now Max is in the unenviable position of having to perform an action that could, in fact, end the world as we know it.  Perhaps all the hype about the Mayan calender predicting the end of the world isn't too far off base.

At first Max believes he must head back to Central America - but it turns out the lost yellow Jaguar Stone is in Spain.  He meets up with Lola there, along with the reincarnated Mayan Lord 6-Dog and Lady Coco (still inhabiting the bodies of Lola's pet howler monkeys), and they are off on an adventure that includes lost pyramids, underground crypts, headless phantoms, slavering hellhounds, and journey to the Mayan underworld.  If Max delivers the yellow stone, it will mean the end of the world - but if he doesn't, it's the end of the line for Max and his parents.

There are a lot of elements in this novel that are sure to appeal to young readers.  There's over-the-top action and adventure, plenty of bodily function humor, creepy villains, and an unforgettable setting.  The fantasy elements are surprising, creative and often surreal. 

As with the first book, I did have some problems with the characters.  There is zero character development here, and Max just isn't terribly interesting.  He's kind of sweet, but he just doesn't seem to be very bright.  He's awfully gullible, and he is buffeted around by events, always reacting, never really taking any sort of initiative.  Lola is by far my favorite character.  She is bright and brave, and in the end she is the one who figures things out and saves the day - even though Max is supposed to be the main character.  And sadly, there wasn't nearly as much Lola in this book as I would have liked.

This is one of those books that almost hits it.  If the characters were more complex, and the plot more streamlined and less episodic and meandering, it would be just right.  There are lots of things that work, and frankly, I am probably much more critical than the book's intended audience.  In fact, my daughter's friend adored the first book, which I passed on to her once I'd finished, and she's waiting anxiously for this one.  I'll be interested to hear what she thinks.  There are enough interesting and intriguing elements to make me curious to see how things go in the next book of the series. 

Source:  Uncorrected proof received from publisher

Books in the Jaguar Stones series:
1. Middleworld
2. The End of the World Club 

The End of the World Club (#2 in the Jaguar Stones series) by J & P Voelkel (Egmont, 2022)

Also reviewed at:
Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog"...it was made clear in this book that Max is the true hero and Lola is just the woman behind him. Really? Why can’t Lola play a bigger part? Even the baddies got more screen time than Lola did!"
Charlotte's Library: "Max also got a lot more screen time in this book than Lola, which was a disappointment--I find her a much more interesting (and intelligent) character!"
One Librarian's Book Reviews"Still, I think kids will love the action and the disturbingly gross Mayan gods, without being bothered by some of these other things."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Moving Pictures

This graphic novel for adults is set in France during World War II, as the Germans occupy Paris.  Canadian Ila Gardner is a curator at an art museum, and she is trying to catalog and hide the artwork of the museum, to keep it out of the hands of the invaders.  But German officer Rolf Hauptmann arrives, with the same goal in mind - but for the German Military Art Commission.  The book opens as he's interrogating Ila about missing artwork, then the narrative skips back in time to the events that have led up to this point.

Ila has a relationship with him, even though they are on different sides, wanting different things, and it is difficult to tell what the true feelings and agendas are.

There were plenty of things to like about this understated graphic novel.  The stark black-and-white artwork is an atmospheric backdrop for the events of the story, and it was very effective.  The story is related almost entirely through dialogue, and when characters are working at cross-purposes, their words cannot be taken at face value.  So there is a lot of reading between the lines as the story progresses.  The characters often have closed, unemotional faces, and there is a lot of verbal sparring.  I loved the role that artwork played in the story, too - particularly the way Ila and her friends spoke about it and interacted with the museum pieces.

I did find the story, at times, to be a bit too ambiguous and understated.  I think the downside of having characters that keep their emotions so much in check is that the reader may not be able to connect with them. I appreciated Ila's dedication to saving artwork (and to the pieces themselves, even the small, "unimportant" ones), but I didn't find myself experiencing much emotional resonance as far as the story went.  I also had a lot of trouble telling the characters apart - Ila and her friend (or her sister?  With the skipping around in time, it was hard to tell if they were the same or different people), the two men in the story - they physically resembled each other so much that I found it a bit confusing (although that might just be my own personal foible - I have the same problem with the characters in the Scott Pilgrim books).

The book itself is a lovely thing, with a thick, handsome cover and creamy, substantial pages - compliments to Top Shelf Productions.  I found Moving Pictures to be an atmospheric, thought-provoking read, and I look forward to seeing the next project from this talented husband-and-wife team. 

Moving Pictures by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen (Top Shelf Productions, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
Comics Alliance:  "...a sparse, bleak experience that moves with slow, deliberate steps through a world of deep, ambiguous shadow." 
iFanboy:  "It's all about inference. Which makes for compelling reading with a very steep learning curve. I was reminded of the crisp, if sometimes cryptic dialogue of David Mamet or even Hemingway."
Neverstated"It was a story I felt.  That is one of the highest praises I can offer any story, that it made me feel.  This story did that for me."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Five Flavors of Dumb

Piper is having a rough time of it during her senior year of high school.  Her best friend has moved away, her little brother, a freshman, keeps getting into trouble, and to top things off, she has just discovered that her parents have used her college fund to pay for her deaf baby sister's cochlear implants - implants that have enabled her to hear.  Which leaves Piper as the only deaf child in the family, and now she's not even sure that she'll be able to go to college.

Then, somehow, she ends up becoming the manager of a band called Dumb.  The members are classmates of hers - people she's certainly not friends with - and they have won a local high school battle of the bands.  Initially she thinks that maybe she can make some money to help pay for college, but soon it becomes clear that, while the band have their occasional moments where it all comes together brilliantly, more often they are bickering and not even listening to each other play.  Then the lead singer brings a beautiful but talentless guitar player into the band, clearly because he wants to go out with her, and things go from bad to worse. 

Piper considers giving up on several occasions, as she makes mistake after mistake, and so do the members of the band.  But gradually she begins to see how she can take charge and really make a difference.  An anonymous comment on their website leads them on a musical pilgrimage around Seattle, and even though Piper can't hear the music all that well, she begins to understand it on a more visceral, fundamental level.  She had been feeling invisible to everyone around her, but only now does she begin to see how many things were invisible to her, not just the members of the band, but teachers, her little brother, even her father.

I adored this novel!  The characters are so real, and their relationships grow and change in realistic, believable ways that occasionally had me blinking away tears.  I especially loved Piper, who is going through such a difficult time.  She has a bit of a temper and a tendency to jump to conclusions, but she learns from her mistakes and takes time to do the right thing, even when it's difficult.  I enjoyed the family dynamics, which were so realistic, particularly as seen through Piper's eyes.  She is a feisty and determined young woman, and I do hope there will be further stories about her to come. 

I highly recommend this one - it should have a wide appeal. Fans of rock music - or music in general - won't want to miss it, as well as those who like contemporary school stories.  Although the protagonist is female, boys who could be convinced to give it a try would find a lot to to like.  There's also a wide age-range appeal - I have recommended it to an adult friend who loves rock music, as well as to my daughter's 11-year-old buddy, who particularly enjoys books that "make you cry in a good way."  There's a little romance, a lot of friendship, and I almost forgot to say how funny it is!  Do yourself a favor and pick this one up soon. You'll be glad you did!

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John (Dial Books, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
All About {n}"This book was AWESOME!  Piper is one hell of a leading lady."
Becky's Book Reviews:  "I also loved how surprising the novel was--for me. I found it warm and satisfying, in all the right places, as the relationships develop and the plot unfolds."  
TheHappyNappyBookseller:  "This is one of those books where everything comes together so well and all I wanted to do was keep reading. I was pleasantly surprised by how emotionally charged it was, getting beyond the superficial."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit

Lunch Lady, secret superhero of an elementary school cafeteria, returns in the fifth installment of her comic book adventures.  This time she's working to solve the case of the missing bake sale goodies.  Proceeds from the bake sale are to support the class field trip, and when the desserts disappear, the field trip must be canceled - unless Lunch Lady and her fearless sidekick Betty can solve the case. 

Dee, Hector and Terrence are doing their best to help solve the mystery as well, but they are impeded every step of the way by their fellow student, safety patrol officer Orson.  Who could be the culprit?  Mr. Kalowski, the janitor, who hates all the crumbs that inevitably result from bake sales?  Brenda the bus driver, who cannot stand the mess that kids with food leave on the bus?  Mrs. Calahan, who is forever lecturing about the evils of eating sweets?  Or someone else? 

Just as the kids feel like they're about to discover the perpetrator of the heinous deed, they are kidnapped and whisked off school property.  Looks like it's...Lunch Lady to the rescue!

What a fun series this is, so reader-friendly and funny, and of course there are all the fun food-related gadgets (although not quite as many in this book, disappointingly) that Lunch Lady and Betty use to solve crimes.  These books are so appealing to kids, boys and girls, and I can honestly say I have never, ever heard a kid tell me that he or she doesn't like Lunch Lady books.  Their faces light up when I pull one off the shelf at my library as a suggestion, and no one has ever turned one down (unless they've already read that particular one and are looking for a different book in the series).  They come back for more - and when they've run through this series, they often ask for other suggestions, which I love, and from there there's no stopping them.  Hooray for Lunch Lady! 

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

5. Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit

Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit (#5 in the Lunch Lady series) by Jarrett Krosoczka (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
Book Aunt"The Lunch Lady books are aimed squarely at the second grade crowd and are consistently fun and funny."
Outside of a Dog: "Expect your usual batch of laughs and bamfs (an appropriate word for comic book explosions involving a monster school bus called Buszilla and a mac & cheese cannon)..."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cast in Secret

This is the third book in Michelle Sagara's Chronicles of Elantra, and it continues the story of Kaylin Neya, who grew up an orphan on the fiefs, the dangerous, poverty-stricken side of the city, but is now a member of the Hawks, who serve the Hawklord (who in turn serves the dragon emperor) in upholding the laws of Elantra.

In this installment, Kaylin is called to investigate the theft of a small box from a mysterious place that seems to hold the source or balance of magic in the kingdom.  The theft of the box has had repercussions among the city's oracles, who indicate that the city will be destroyed in a matter of days if the situation is not changed.  Then a child goes missing, a child belonging to the Tha'alani, a race of beings that Kaylin has always hated and feared, because of their mind-reading abilities.  She'd like her thoughts and secrets to remain her own, and the idea that they could be pulled from her against her will is terrifying to her.  But she has a notorious weak spot for children, and as she investigates, she begins to understand the true nature of the Tha'alani people.

I continue to truly enjoy this series, which is unlike any others that I read.  Elantra is a place where vastly different species co-exist, and in this book there are hints of how that came to be, particularly where humans are concerned.  There are dragons (who can shape-change into human shape), winged Aerians, humans, Tha'alani, and others, each with different cultural identities and standards, not to mention magical abilities (or lack thereof).  Sagara has created an incredibly complex world, and each book delves further into the history and society of Elantra, as well as revealing a little bit more about the mysterious tattoo-like markings that appeared on Kaylin's body when she was a child.

I'm finding Kaylin's lack of education and unwillingness to learn about certain things becoming rather tiresome, though.  If she is serious about wanting to be an effective Hawk, she needs to grow up, suck it up, and get the background information she needs to do her job.  Her companions roll their eyes at the deplorable lacunae in her knowledge and fill her in, particularly when she makes gaffes because she doesn't fully understand the culture she is dealing with.  Still, I adore her character - she is loyal and strong, and is not afraid to make difficult decisions or tough sacrifices in order to set things right the best she can.

One thing I love about these books are the leaps of imagination that Sagara makes.  She is willing to imagine the unimaginable and describe the indescribable, which can be a bit confusing but creates such a sense of wonder that I become completely engrossed in her storytelling.  Although I couldn't begin to explain some of what happens in these books, I still somehow understand them on a gut level, and I like that Sagara is willing to take these risks.  She writes about cultures and beings that are so foreign to us that it makes sense not to feel like I have a complete grasp of how they work.

At any rate, this one is on my list of very favorite series, and while I haven't read any other books by this author (who also writes as Michelle West), I will move on to those once I've finished with this one.  Highly recommended.

Books in the Chronicles of Elantra series:
1. Cast in Shadow
2. Cast in Courtlight
3. Cast in Secret
4. Cast in Fury
5. Cast in Silence
6. Cast in Chaos

Cast in Secret (#3 in the Chronicles of Elantra series) by Michelle Sagara (Luna, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Beyond Books" I had trouble following some of the elemental magic storyline, but over all I liked what was discovered."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Anonyponymous


Anyone who loves words and interesting historical anecdotes is sure to adore Anonyponymous: The Forgotten People Behind Everyday Words.  I discovered this one through my library's Wowbrary newsletter, which I continue to love.  The book was so fascinating and funny that I found myself reading most of it aloud to my husband as we both laughed.  Did you know that the cardigan sweater was named after James Thomas Brudenell, the seventh Earl of Cardigan - who also happens to be the man who led the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade?  Or that the Italian term paparazzo comes from a character in a Fellini film who was named after an actual person?  Read this book to find out how and why!  It is a slim and entertaining volume, and I may just have to buy myself a copy.  My very favorite entry is for the word galvanize, named for the 18th-century Italian physician Luigi Galvani because of an incident involving a scalpel, a dead frog, and an electricity machine.  Go on, you know you want to find out more.  Pick up this book!

Anonyponymous: The Forgotten People behind Everyday Words by John Bemelmans Marciano (Bloomsbury, 2009)

White Crow

This teen novel is the creepiest book I've read in ages!  The story opens as teenage Rebecca and her father arrive at their new house in the small English coastal town of Winterfold.  There is a mystery surrounding the reason for their move, but whatever the reason, it has clearly created tension in Rebecca's relationship with her father, and she is not at all happy about having to live in this sleepy small town.

Winterfold is an isolated place.  Once it was a thriving town, but as the years have passed, the sea has gradually been reclaiming it.  The cliffs are eroding, a grave or two in the cemetery washes away with each storm, and the walls of the old buildings as well.  This feeling of perpetual decay and loss permeates the tale.

The story is told through alternating points of view.  First, there is Rebecca's story, told in the third person.  Then, there is the first-person narrative of teenage Ferelith, who befriends Rebecca shortly after she arrives.  And then there is another third-person narrative, told from the point of view of the man who was the rector of Winterfold in 1798.  He is a disturbed man, obsessed with images of hellfire and damnation, and while he can easily envision the torments of hell, he is unable to imagine the joys of heaven.  His obsession leads him to become involved with the French doctor who arrives at Winterfold Hall, another man consumed by thoughts of the afterlife.  Together they embark on a series of twisted experiments involving a mysterious apparatus in a hidden room.

As the narrative switches from one character to the next, tension grows as the events of the past gradually connect with those of the present.  Rebecca is very alone, and while Ferelith is odd and unsettling in a way that Rebecca cannot quite articulate, she is, at least, a friend.  Ferelith is a fascinating character, and while my sympathies were mainly with Rebecca, I couldn't help but feel for Ferelith, whose mother has died, whose father has left her, and who is so very alone.  Rebecca is rather annoyingly passive at times, but again, she is desperately lonely, so it was easy to forgive her.  The girls' characters were skillfully drawn, with great complexity.  The rector, on the other hand, is not nearly as interesting, character-wise.  He is the typical zealous, hypocritical, ends-justify-the-means villain.  But his story is mesmerizing because each installment is a puzzle piece that leads the reader (or in my case, the listener) one step closer to discovering the horrible truth of the experiments being conducted at Winterfold Hall.

Let me take a moment to tell you about the audio production of this book, and how effectively Teresa Gallagher reads this story.  Each of the three plot strands is told in a slightly different voice, and there is a creepy echoing effect at times that really made shivers go down my spine.  There is atmospheric music that adds to the spooky mood, and the scenes are related so vividly that, when the book was over, I felt as though I'd seen a film rather than read a novel.  At one point while I was listening to this story, I was out late at night taking the dog for a walk, and honestly, I ended up taking a shortcut back home because I was so creeped out.  I highly recommend the audio book for this one, but only for those of you who are feeling particularly brave...  (Cue spooky music here.)

I highly recommend this dark and disturbing tale.  It would be a great choice for a book club - of teens or adults - because anyone who reads it will wish they had someone to talk about it with afterward.  It's that kind of book.  This is the first book I've read by Marcus Sedgwick, and I'll definitely be coming back for more.   

White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick; narrated by Teresa Gallagher (Orion Publishing Group Limited, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
The Book Smugglers: "In the end, in spite of my misgivings with one part of the story (but I think they had to do more with format than actual content) White Crow provided me with a few good hours of reading till its truly, deeply, disturbing ending."
Rhinoa's Ramblings"Ferelith is such a sinister character and when I finished reading this in bed I have to admit to flicking to the end to check how it ended. I was scared I would have nightmares and wanted to see it turned out ok!"
Serendipity:  "I loved this book. It was dark, it was creepy and it really was a modern Gothic thriller."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Smile

This memoir in graphic novel format is a coming-of-age story that focuses on the extreme dental work that the author underwent in middle and high school.  Young Raina sees herself in the context of her braces, her fake teeth, her embarrassing headgear, focusing on that to the extent that she forgets about all the other elements of herself and her life that make her who she is.   

Smile relates her journey through the often difficult years of middle school and high school, and it is told with heartfelt honesty and humor.  The color panels are vivid and energetic, and the artwork depicts the characters' emotions beautifully.

I truly enjoyed this book, and so did my 10-year-old and 12-year-old daughters.  And it was fun to see how much their friends who have read it enjoyed it as well.  On several occasions when friends came over to our house and saw me reading it, or saw the book on the end table, their faces just lit up as they exclaimed, "I loved that book!"  One told me that she's read it several times, and she loves it more each time.  This is one that's great for kids - and adults - who have been interesting in trying out graphic novels but haven't yet taken the plunge.


This is a great graphic novel for middle school students - and would be perfect in a middle school library.  Younger kids and adults will certainly relate to it equally well, particularly those who have suffered through braces and other orthodontic adventures.  It's an engrossing school story, particularly the way it so effectively explores Raina's relationships with her friends, and I highly recommend it.



Smile by Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic Graphix, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
Back to Books:  "A story that really grabs you from the beginning, un-put-downable, with a main character who is a joy to meet and get to know."
Carrie's YA Bookshelf:  " It's beautifully illustrated and is one of the best coming-of-age stories I've read in a long time."
Fyrefly's Book Blog:  " If you suffered through braces as a kid (or have them now!) and/or like memoirs in graphic novel form, you’ll probably enjoy this book."

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Reflections on my e-reader


So it's been a little over a month since I got my new e-reader, a color Nook, and I have to say (loving books and gadgets as I do) that it's been a positive experience so far.  Pictured above is my new case, which is great because aside from protecting the device, the case acts as a stand, which makes for easy hands-free reading.

Here are some of the pros that I've been thinking about as I read through my first e-books:
  • I can increase/decrease the text size easily as I read, which came in handy one night when I took my contact lenses out but didn't have my glasses with me.
  • I can look up the meanings of words simply by highlighting them with a touch of my finger.
  • I can also look things up in Wikipedia the same way - so today, for example, while I was reading The Three Musketeers and the narrator was going on and on about Queen Anne of Austria's ravishing beauty, I found myself wondering what she actually looked like.  A couple taps later and I had a nice portrait of her, thanks to Wikipedia.  I love it!
  • I can read in the car, at night, without a book light.  I'm sure my husband is thrilled. :-)
  • I could read after it got dark during the power outage we had last week.  Luckily, I'd just charged the Nook.
  • I can load up tons of books on it when I go away, so I won't have to overpack books the way I usually do. If I ran out of books, I could easily download a new one from the library or buy one.
  • I can hold the book in one hand and turn the page with that same hand (keeping, say, a mug of hot tea in the other).
  • I can play music on it - either through the speakers, which are pretty loud, or through earphones - while I read.
  • I can "check out" books from my library on it - plus download public domain e-books, and what's better than free books?!
  • Barnes and Noble offers a free book every Friday.  So far none of them have tempted me, but they did get me to shell out 99 cents for a promotional deal on the first book in a series I've been meaning to try (by Lilith Saintcrow).  It appeared on my Nook as soon as I purchased it - talk about instant gratification!
  • I can put in multiple bookmarks with the touch of a finger, highlight passages and make notes on them.
  • I can buy newspaper and magazine subscriptions (and view them in color) - they just magically appear on my Nook when a new issue comes out.  This is convenient, paperless, and cuts down on the clutter of stacks of magazines waiting to be read or recycled.  B & N also offers a free 2-week subscription to any of their magazines.  Plus I can buy just a single issue of anything to read without committing to a subscription.
There are, of course, some cons to the e-reader:
  •  The battery doesn't last that long - just a few days, depending on how intensively I'm using it.  I understand that the black-and-white Nook has a longer-lasting battery, but I much prefer the interface of this one - plus color, well, it's just more fun.
  • It's pretty heavy - heavier than a paperback, and heavier than most hardbacks - about the weight of one of those textbooks with the mysteriously weighty pages.  But it's easy to prop up - or put in the stand.
  • It doesn't have that yummy book smell.  To be fair, it doesn't have a stinky mildewy book smell either, but still.  I like how books smell.
  • I worry about it getting stolen in public places.  I can't just leave it on the table at Panera while I go refill my cup of iced tea the way I would a regular book.
  • I can't leave it in the car - I worry about it getting stolen, or that extreme temperatures could hurt it.
  • If I were to load all the books, magazines and newspapers I wanted to read while I was on vacation, and not take any regular printed books, I would worry about the Nook malfunctioning!
  • If I don't have a wireless connection, I can't connect to many of the cool features the Nook offers. 
I'd have to say the pros outweigh the cons, and I'm so happy I got the Nook for Christmas this year.  The best part is that I do not have to choose between paper books and e-books - I can continue to read both, switch back and forth, and enjoy the advantages of both.

What about you?  Do you have an e-reader?  What do you love or dislike about it?  Or are you stubbornly digging your heels in and sticking to your beloved paper-and-ink books?  What is it about their format that you prefer?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Scumble

I was so excited when this book, the sequel to Savvy, arrived at my library. I adored Savvy so much that I read it over again, out loud to my kids, and they enjoyed it, too.  We were a little disappointed to discover that Mibs, who tells the first story with such a distinctive and engaging voice, is not the narrator of Scumble.  This story is told by Mibs' cousin Ledger, and the story is set nine years after Savvy.

Ledger is on the brink of his thirteenth birthday, the momentous day when he will discover what his savvy is - in his family, everyone has a unique magical ability, and it typically manifests itself the day a child turns thirteen.  Ledger's mother has the excruciating ability to make people do exactly what she tells them.  His grandfather's savvy enables him to move mountains - literally.  His grandmother was able to capture radio transmissions and save them in jars - just loosen the lid, and the sound from decades earlier comes out.  Ledger is hoping that his savvy will make him the fastest runner ever.  But of course, life is not that easy.  Ledger has a powerful savvy, all right - so powerful that his parents end up leaving him at his uncle's ranch in Wyoming until he learns to "scumble," or control, his savvy.

Ledger's savvy gets him into one pickle after another - and when he meets Sarah Jane, a thirteen-year-old self-styled snoopy reporter, she witnesses some of the special things his family can do.  How can he keep her quiet when everywhere he goes his savvy makes itself known in spectacular ways?

I really missed Mibs, but I did like Ledger.  He tells the story in a less colorful way, truer to his own character, and the story is exciting and enjoyable.  For some reason, though, my daughters simply did not connect with this book the way they did with Savvy.  When reading time came, they were never that enthusiastic about continuing the story, and after weeks went by with no one really getting very excited about the book or asking to read it, I finally suggested we set it aside and try something else. 

I was surprised when they readily agreed - I wanted to know what was going to happen to Ledger, but they just didn't seem to care.  They saw me finishing the book on my own, and neither of them even asked me what happened!  Maybe they didn't connect with Ledger, and they sure didn't care much for the snoopy Sarah Jane, who was pretty obnoxious and kept blackmailing Ledge and lying to him, and he really let her walk all over him.  I didn't connect with her, but I loved the the story, Ledge's family, his relationship with his cousins and his little sister (who, with her helmet fixation, I kept imagining to look exactly like the little helmet girl in Officer Buckle and Gloria).

If you enjoyed Savvy, give Scumble a try.  While I didn't love it as much as Savvy, it's still a fun, exciting, enjoyable book.

Books in the Savvy series:
1. Savvy
2. Scumble 

Scumble (#2 in the Savvy series) by Ingrid Law (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
Book Nut"It's another incredibly sweet, heart-warming (but without being overly smushy) book from Law. Creative, well-written, and thoroughly engaging, you can't help but want to be a part of their family."
Bookshelves of Doom:  "Like Savvy, it's got colorful characters, an engaging plotline, and despite some hurdles to be overcome, fears to be faced, and tears to be shed, it's a pretty gentle adventure."
One Librarian's Book Reviews:  "A hilarious and unique family story filled with old-fashioned good fun."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Beautiful Creatures


This teen novel, the first in a series, is a supernatural Southern Gothic coming-of-age story featuring teenage Ethan, a boy who seems to be exactly like every other teenager in small-town Gatlin.  But Ethan is different - he can't wait to go to college, to get out of the small town, away from the small-mindedness of his classmates, and away from the vacuum that was left in his life when his mother died.  His father is holed up in his study, rarely coming out, as he works on his new book.  If it weren't for Amma, his housekeeper/almost grandmother, Ethan would be completely lost.

Lately, though, strange things have been happening to him.  He has vivid and upsetting dreams, and when he wakes up he finds that the dirt or water from the dreams has come back with him into the waking world.  He is haunted by a song that plays on his iPod but vanishes when he looks for it.

Then the new girl walks into the school, and he is utterly and hopelessly lost.  Lena Duchannes is like no one the town of Gatlin has ever seen, and Ethan is captivated by her.  The rest of the students despise her because of her difference, especially when they find out that she's related to the town's recluse - and living at his "haunted mansion." Ethan feels a connection with Lena, and he casts everything aside in order to find out what it is, even as it becomes clear that Lena is in a hopeless, dangerous situation, part of a world that Ethan has never imagined could possibly exist.

I really enjoyed this teen novel - Ethan is a wonderful narrator whose words bring small-town Gatlin and its residents to life.  There is a dramatic, angsty element to the book that will definitely appeal to fans of the Twilight series, but I felt it was handled more skilfully here, as the relationship between Lena and Ethan grows in a believable, healthy way so that I found myself rooting fervently for them. 

Ethan's voice and the way he describes things was one of the things I liked best about the book.  Here is what he says when he finds himself thinking about Lena all the time:
Maybe it was the way she wore that crazy necklace with all the junk on it, as if everything she touched could matter or did matter to her.  Maybe it was the way she wore those beat-up sneakers whether she was wearing jeans or a dress, like she could take off running, any minute.  When I looked at her, I was farther away from Gatlin than I'd ever been.  Maybe it was that.
I also loved the pervasive southern flavor of the story - the way the setting was such a part of the entire story, and the way that Ethan and Lena's story was connected to their families and the larger community.  Ethan's elderly aunts were wonderful characters, and it was fun to watch Ethan interact with them. Here is a part that made me smile:
  "What the heck are those?" I said without even thinking.
  "Ethan Wate, you watch your mouth, or I'll have ta wash it out with soap.  You know better than ta use profanity," Aunt Grace said.  Which, as far as she was concerned, included words like panties, naked, and bladder."
  "I'm sorry, ma'am.  But what is that you've got in your hand?"

The characters and the story would have held my attention even without the supernatural aspects, which were interesting if not unique or surprising for the genre.  There was some withholding of information on the part of the adults that didn't make a whole lot of sense to me - it served to heighten the tension and sense of mystery as the plot progressed, but looking back, I couldn't see why her family chose to keep Lena in the dark about so many things.  I enjoyed having a story with romantic elements told from the point of view of the boy for a change, and told so believably.  I adored the library and would like to work there some day (although would that mean I'd never get a day off, given how the library works?), and I'm looking forward to reading the sequel.

Books in the Beautiful Creatures series:
1. Beautiful Creatures
2. Beautiful Darkness
 
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (Little, Brown and Company, First eBook Edition, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Beyond Books"There is suspense, humour, tragedy, awkwardness and magic all rolled up into one fantastically told story."
My Friend Amy:  " I struggled to get into at first because the writing seemed really...plain. Not very descriptive or something. But I did really like the setting and the world.."
The Story Siren:  "Writing was outstanding, pacing was right on, I could not get through the pages fast enough! The whole story was just fascinating, I just loved it, every small aspect. It just worked."
The Written World:  "On the one hand I really liked it, but on the other hand things about it really bothered me to the point where I had to put it down and get some distance from it. I liked the story, but the characters drove me crazy."