Thursday, February 23, 2012

Clover

I bought this book for my 13-year-old daughter for Christmas this year, because she and I have both enjoyed Clamp's xxxHolic series so much.  This is a very thick book, and it contains all four volumes of the series that went out of print for a while, and I was excited to see it was available again.  My daughter read it first, and she enjoyed it, but she said to me that she was looking forward to having me read it, so I could explain what had happened.  That piqued my interest, and as soon as I started reading, I could see what she meant.

The story is a disjointed one, and there is no narrator to help explain things.  It is told through traditional comic panels, as well as images and words that are simply displayed on the pages.  The speech bubbles are round; sometimes it's difficult to tell who is speaking.  There are song lyrics that appear again and again, and it becomes a bit repetitive after a while.  The scenes often appear out of sequence, so it took me a while to tease a linear narrative out of all these apparently random scenes and images.  And to tell the truth, if I hadn't read the blurb at the back of the book, I would have been even more confused.

Still, there is a compelling story here, and while it took some time for me to understand the story, it was an interesting one, with characters who, true to Clamp's style, have a lot going on beneath the surface.  The setting is a world that is governed by people with telepathic powers, called Clovers.  Each level of power is represented by a leaf on a clover, and the ones who govern have three.  When a Clover is born with four leaves, their powers are tremendous, and that person must be isolated from society. If they were to decide to wrest power from the governors, there would be no one powerful enough to stop them.  I found this premise to be untenable in the context of the story, but I went along with the tale quite happily because it was an interesting one.


The first part of the book was the most enjoyable, as far as I was concerned.  The last part is more a prequel to the events that happen first, so it felt to me that it was telling a story that had already been told, which sucked out any narrative tension that there might have been.


My favorite part of the book is definitely the illustrations.  I have always loved Clamp's artwork, the amazing detail, the art-deco-esque approach they take to so many of the drawings.  No one does clothing like Clamp, and the cover plates that are included at the end of the book are a visual feast.


This is not my favorite work by the collective manga author/illustrator team known as Clamp. But it was a worthwhile read, and it is always interesting to look at earlier works by a favorite author. And I think that rereading the book would bring out new and different details that would add to the picture created by fitting all the various narrative and pictorial puzzle pieces together. My daughter and I had a lot of fun discussing the book after I finished reading it, and she had some excellent insights. 

I would definitely not recommend this to young children - it is far too confusing for that - nor to people who are looking for a good introduction to manga or graphic novels in general. It's a little too confusing and might be frustrating.  But for readers who enjoy the out-of-sequence narrative, fans of manga, particularly Clamp, and those looking for an unusual, non-predictable science fiction/romance/adventure story, pick up Clover. I'd love to know what you think.

Clover by Clamp (Dark Horse Comics, 1997)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Maze of Bones

I've been meaning to read this series for ages, but there are so many books on my list that it has taken me a while to get to it.  I love the premise: it's a mystery series that tells the story of two treasure-hunting siblings, and each book is written by a prominent author of children's books.  This first installment is by Rick Riordan, of the popular Percy Jackson series.

The book opens with 14-year-old Amy Cahill and her 11-year-old brother Dan at the funeral of their beloved grandmother, Grace Cahill.  The will offers a million dollars to certain members of her ancient and powerful family.  Those who wish to accept her challenge, however, and enter the hunt for a mysterious treasure that will make its finder the greatest Cahill in history, must renounce the million dollars.  Amy and Dan both want the money, but they end up taking the plunge and accepting the challenge of discovering the 39 clues, which turns out to be a very dangerous proposition.

They are nearly killed that first day, but they survive and, in the company of their skeptical au pair, end up traveling first to Philadelphia, hot on the trail of a Benjamin Franklin clue, and then to Paris.  Along the way they are beset by various relatives who are unscrupulous and determined to find the treasure, and they encounter danger and confusing clues every step of the way.

I can see why this book is so popular at my library that the books are constantly falling apart and need continual replacing.  It's very exciting, full of peril and set in interesting locations.  I enjoyed the historical nature of some of the clues - the fascinating details are sure to spark the imaginations of some young readers and lead them off on a search for further information.  The audio book was a great way to be introduced to the series.  Although the reader, David Pittu, is male and reads from both Dan and Amy's points of view, he modulates his voice so it is easy to tell whose story was whose.  I found some of the situations to strain my suspension of disbelief, and there were times I wanted to knock the two main characters' heads together, but I doubt most kids will have that same issue.  It was a light, exciting read, and I will be interested to see how the next installment, this one written by Gordon Korman, will continue the story.

Books in the 39 Clues series:
1. The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan
2. One False Note by Gordon Korman
3. The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis
4. Beyond the Grave by Jude Watson
5. The Black Circle by Patrick Carman
6. In Too Deep by Jude Watson
7. The Viper's Nest by Peter Lerangis
8. The Emperor's Code by Gordon Korman
9. Storm Warning by Linda Sue Park
10. Into the Gauntlet by Margaret Peterson Haddix

The Maze of Bones (#1 in the 39 Clues series) by Rick Riordan; narrated by David Pittu (Scholastic Audio, 2009)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Welcome to Lovecraft

I was so excited when the upgrade to my Nook came out so that I could read graphic novels on it (one of the main reasons I wanted the color Nook in the first place).  I saw this graphic novel offered at a great price at Barnes and Noble, so I immediately downloaded it and started reading.  I found it a little cumbersome to read on my device at first - the print is a little small for these aging eyes, and the zoom isn't as elegant as it is on my iPad, but after the initial adjustment period, I settled in to enjoy this atmospheric, creepy tale.

I chose the book simply because of the word "Lovecraft" in the title, fully expecting a tentacly, Cthulhu-inspired tale.  Instead, I got a horror story that was an unsettling mix of realistic serial-killer violence combined with eerie supernatural elements.

The book opens with the brutal murder of a high school guidance counselor, which leads to his wife and three children moving back to Keyhouse, his family home, in Lovecraft, Massachusetts, in order to start a new life and get away from the horrific memories of that terrible day. Lovecraft is an old house that has secrets, and the youngest child, Bode, discovers them first. When he talks about them to his older brother and sister, they don't believe him. The killer who murdered their father breaks out of prison and heads up the coast to Lovecraft, bent on a mission to retrieve one of Lovecraft's secrets - at any cost.


Wow, this was such an atmospheric, creepy story. The artwork is nothing short of spectacular, a perfect complement to the growing sense of peril and tension as the story unfolds. There is a rather large cast of characters, and the story involves each one of them. Despite the relatively short amount of time spent with each of the characters, Hill manages to give them a sense of individuality and depth, so that as the plot progresses, the tension does as well because the reader can't help but care about these people and what happens to them.


I did not realize at first that this was as series, and that I was suckered in to it with the great price on the first volume - the others all cost double!  But I'm in, and I've already purchased the second book, which I'm looking forward to reading with high expectations.  This series is definitely not for children - seriously bad things happen, and it's the kind of unsettling violence that particularly gets under this reader's skin.  But it's a gripping tale, and I have to know what's going to happen next.  Fans of the Sandman books and other dark, atmospheric fantasy will be sure to enjoy this graphic novel.

Books in the Locke & Key series:
1. Welcome to Lovecraft
2. Head Games
3. Crown of Shadows
4. Keys to the Kingdom
5. Clockworks

Welcome to Lovecraft (Volume 1 in the Locke and Key series) by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriquez (IDW Publishing, 2008)

Source: Purchased ebook for my Nook

Also reviewed at:
Little Red Reviewer "If you are looking for an engaging, intriuging haunted house story, definitely pick this up. Just don’t expect the first volume to give you nightmares."
Reading Thru the Night: " I love that Hill incorporates both a crazy killer...with a haunted-spirited filled mansion. It's like the best of both worlds for the spooky."
Top 5 Comics:  "You want something spooky? Has character depth? Humorous? Has a great story? If the answer to any of those are yes, then seek out Locke & Key. "

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Supernaturally

This second installment in Kiersten White's Paranormalcy series picks up fairly shortly after the first book left off.  Even though I had read the first one less than a year earlier, it took me quite a while to remember enough about Evie and her world to get back into the flow of the story. As always, I do my best to avoid spoilers, but as this continues the story that began in Paranormalcy, you might want to read that review instead, if you are interested in a fun YA paranormal series.

Evie has (mostly) broken her ties with IPCA, the organization where she grew up and worked, using her unique ability to see through supernatural glamours to help IPCA police the supernatural community and keep the regular world a safe (if ignorant) place.  Now Evie is trying her hand at living like a regular person, going to school, spending time Lend, the boy she's crazy about, and working in a restaurant.  She's finding things a little boring, though, with Lend at college, and school not being quite as entertaining as she thought it would be.  When she gets the opportunity to do a little side work for IPCA, she takes it - even though Lend and his father are adamantly opposed. Because of her involvement, she learns that something odd is afoot in the supernatural community, and the more she learns, the more secrets she has, and soon things start spinning out of control...

I enjoyed this one, but not quite as much as the first.  Too much of the tension centered on Evie keeping secrets that, really, weren't such a big deal in the first place but served to really mess things up for her.  She does find out some answers to questions that were raised in the first book, which sets things in a different light, and it will be interesting to see what direction Evie goes from here.  This book felt to me like the second book in a trilogy - a transitional book, with a main plot that served more for allowing Evie to discover things than a true, important, stand-alone sort of plot.  I still enjoyed this one, though, and I'm definitely looking forward to the next installment.

Books in the Paranormalcy series:
1. Paranormalcy
2. Supernaturally
3. Endlessly (July 2012)

Supernaturally (#2 in the Paranormalcy series) by Kiersten White (HarperTeen, 2011)

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Rowan

Anne McCaffrey is the writer who first hooked me into reading science fiction, back when I was a kid.  I've read just about all her books (aside from some of the many collaborations she wrote in the later part of her career, which were sometimes a bit disappointing.  I read this one in 1990 when it was originally published, so it wasn't very fresh in my memory.  I listened to the audio version of this one, and while I enjoyed it, it was certainly different from my hazy recollection of it.

The story is set in a world in which powerful telepaths are instrumental to space travel, including essential deliveries of cargo.  Three-year-old Rowan is an orphan, the lone survivor of a natural disaster, whose mental calls for help when she was trapped were so strong that they were heard by telepaths on other planets.  Because she has no living relatives, and she is such a strong telepath herself, Rowan is trained to be a Prime, the most powerful of all the telepaths, who will one day be in charge her own planet.  But the distressed three-year-old has a long way to go before she'll be ready for such a responsibility, and there is a terrible alien menace headed toward her unsuspecting star system.

I enjoyed revisiting this series through the audio version of this book.  It was funny, though, that this time around I had an entirely different reaction to the love interest. I vaguely remember him being dashing and romantic - and Rowan clearly thinks he is.  But this time I found him to be sexist and patronizing, especially in the beginning, and I wasn't entirely convinced that he was deserving of the Rowan's love.  The Rowan was also a bit moodier and more self-indulgent than I remembered.  Those are minor quibbles, though.  I find Anne McCaffrey's science fiction to hit the spot when I'm in the mood for a character-driven story that takes its own sweet time in the telling.  Her Pern books are still my very favorites, but as far as I'm concerned, any Anne McCaffrey novel is a good one.

Books in the Tower and Hive series:
1. The Rowan
2. Damia
3. Damia's Children
4. Lyon's Pride
5. The Tower and the Hive

The Rowan (#1 in the Tower and Hive series) by Anne McCaffrey; narrated by Jean Reed Bahle (Brilliance Audio, 2007); originally published in 1990.

Other reviews of books by Anne McCaffrey:
Dragonsinger
Dragonsong
If Wishes Were Horses

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Personal Devil

The first book in the historical mystery Magdalene la Batarde series was one of my favorite new series books that I discovered last year.  As usual, I was a little worried about how the second one would go, since my expectations were pretty high. But I need not have been concerned - the second one was just as good, if not better than, the first.  This is my favorite kind of mystery series, where the characters and the events in their personal lives are just as interesting and compelling as the mystery element itself.

I recommend starting with the first book of the series,  A Mortal Bane, to avoid spoilers about the first mystery that are mentioned in this second novel.

The murder in this installment involves the very nasty wife of one of the Old Priory Guest House's clients, Mainard. He is a very kind man with a severe facial deformity who is hopelessly in love with Sabina, one of the whores who works in the Guest House.  She could care less about his disfigurement because she is completely blind, and when he asks her to come live in the apartments above his shop, Sabina leaves her employment with Magdalene and moves there, enjoying Mainard's company as she can.  While Mainard's wife wants nothing to do with him, she is furious that he keeps a woman, and makes herself even more unpleasant than usual. When his wife is murdered, Sabina is frantic with worry that suspicion will fall on her beloved Mainard, and she begs Magdalene to help find out who the real killer is.  Magdalene enlists the help of Sir Bellamy, the attractive man who helped her solve the mystery in the first novel, and together they work to unravel the strands of a puzzle that is difficult to solve because so many people thoroughly disliked Mainard's wife and wished her dead.

This is a top-notch historical mystery, with memorable characters and an interesting puzzle to solve.  The historical details lend a rich background to the tale, and I look forward to reading further books in the series.  I'm a little sad that there are only four, and I hope that in future books we will learn more about the tantalizing bits and pieces mentioned in passing about Magdalene's mysterious past.

Books in the Magdalene la Batarde series:
1. A Mortal Bane
2. A Personal Devil
3. A Bone of Contention
4. Chains of Folly

A Personal Devil (#2 in the Magdalene la Batarde series) by Roberta Gellis; narrated by Nadia May (Blackstone Audio, 2005)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Page by Paige


This book caught my eye at my library - I'd never seen it or even heard of it before, but what an appealing cover!  I picked it up and flipped through it, and was immediately charmed.  Once I brought it home, my thirteen-year-old daughter scooped it up and started reading it right away, and she was so taken by the artwork that every few minutes she'd come over to show me one of the panels. Here is the first one she showed me:


Gulledge tells the story using metaphoric images, such as the one above, that beautifully depict the feelings of the main character, along with concrete, realistic panels that describe the actual events of the story.  The graphic novel is actually the diary of teenage Paige, who moves to New York City, leaving her friends behind.  She is enchanted by the big city, but it's a big change, and she feels very alone and unsure how she is going to fit into her new life.


Paige buys a sketchbook for her diary, where she draws and writes, trying to sort things out on paper.  She uses her art as a way to explore her feelings, and as she meets people at school and becomes involved in new activities, she records everything, as honestly as she can, in her sketchbook.  She makes some mistakes along the way, and learns a whole lot of new things about herself, her new friends, and even her family.

Gulledge captures that feeling of intense passion and uncertainty that are so characteristic of the teen years, and relates Paige's experiences with humor and empathy.  I love the risks she took with the artwork - it is such an arresting and effective way of telling this story.  My daughter and I loved the book so much I ended up buying her a copy so she'll have it to read through again and again, both for the engaging story as well as the gorgeous art. Just sitting here, flipping through the book as I wrote this review, I ended up getting lost in the story all over again.



Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge (Amulet Books, 2011)

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Westing Game


I had been meaning to read this book for years, but despite the fact that I have so often recommended it to young readers at my library looking for a good mystery, I just never got around to it. Then my eleven-year-old daughter started reading in her reading group at school, and she was enjoying it so much that she asked me to read it along with her. So I picked up a copy from my library, and she had a copy from her school library, and we had a fantastic time reading it in tandem and talking about the clues and what they might mean.

The Westing Game won the Newbery Medal in 1978, and I have to say, it was not at all what I expected from a mystery targeted at children. For one thing, the book is told from multiple points of view, and many of these characters are adults, with very adult cares and concerns. There are a few younger characters, and we quickly come to identify very closely with one child in particular, a feisty young girl named Turtle. But the book read very much like a traditional mystery novel for adults, and I think it would be a fantastic choice for a parent/child book club - or a group read in school.

The book is a puzzle mystery, and the premise is that Sam Westing dies, leaving the potential to inherit his fortune to sixteen people who all live in the same apartment building. Each person has some kind of connection with the rich old man, and whichever of them discovers who among them is the murderer stands to inherit the fortune. The will pairs up the various heirs into teams, giving each team certain clues, and the contest begins. The reader sees the clues as the characters discover them, and has the opportunity to put together the puzzle as the characters try to sort things out. Complicating matters are other events that occur during the novel, bombings and burglaries and other mysterious goings on. While the book focuses heavily on the mystery puzzle, bits and pieces about each of the characters are revealed, and as we learn more about their backgrounds and concerns, the mystery becomes much more than a simple game. The Westing Game is an excellent mystery story, full of fun twists and turns and surprises and I highly recommend it.

Reading this book was part of my resolution to read all the books my daughters recommend to me, and so I've created a new label called "kid recommended" where all future kid-recommended reads will be filed.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (Dutton, 1978)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Jellicoe Road

I had heard so many wonderful things about this book that I'd put it on my list, but at the same time I could tell by the little I knew about it that it would probably be a difficult read emotionally.  I've sounded off probably more than anyone would care to know about my aversion to books that are overtly emotionally manipulative, and I admit to being a bit concerned about that in this case.  When a friend at work recommended this one to me several times, finally pointing out that he had read several things that I'd recommended, and he really thought I'd enjoy this one, I decided to take the plunge.

And he was right.  It's an amazing book, and I'd put it among the very best that I read last year.  Certainly, it's not an easy book to read at times, but it doesn't play any sneaky emotionally manipulative games either.  It starts out with the very worst thing that could happen, and it lays it out there and doesn't linger on it to make the reader suffer.  There is a car accident, and it kills several people, and the rest of the book is about the consequences of that, the ramifications, and the healing.  Fellow wimpy readers out there, you can read this.  You will cry, but it's the good kind of crying, not the kind that leaves you depressed for days afterwards wishing you'd never opened the book i the first place.

There are just so many things that I loved about this book.  The structure, for one thing.  The book is like a puzzle, and it's told from multiple points of view, in various time periods, and at first it's very confusing.  I, personally, enjoy this sort of thing.  I loved The Sound and the Fury and When You Reach Me for that same kind of intricate unraveling of a complex plot as the book progresses, and it was funny that I read The Westing Game right after this book, which is very unlike Jellicoe Road in tone and theme yet presents a similar kind of puzzle for the intent and curious reader to grapple with.  After a while I began to have my suspicions about what was going on, and for the most part I was right - but there were still some interesting revelations, and it was impressive to watch this story unfold in an unconventional way that packed a powerful emotional punch.  (A good one.  Honest.)  Readers who prefer a more straightforward approach to their storytelling may not enjoy this aspect of the book as much as I did, and while this book is in the YA section at my library, I think that it would be most enjoyed by older teens who would likely find the structure less frustrating.

I also loved the characters.  Tough and vulnerable Taylor.  Mysterious Hannah, whose disappearance sets Taylor searching for clues from a buried past no one seems to want her to disturb.  Jonah, moody and handsome, who seems to know much more than he's willing to let on.  As I read I also found myself reminded of Looking for Alaska, another powerfully emotional boarding school story.  I hesitate to say much more about the book, because the less the reader knows going in, the better the payoff.  This would be a great choice for a book club (teen or adult) - it's the kind of book that you just want to sit down and talk about afterwards.  Highly recommended.

Jellicoe Road (aka On the Jellicoe Road, Australian edition) by Meline Marchetta (HarperTeen, 2006)

Also reviewed at:
Dear Author"It’s a rare book that seems so seamless when I finish it, that takes such complete hold of me with its magic."
Presenting Lenore: "I think a book is fundamentally flawed if you have to read it twice before you can really get into it."
Steph Sue Reads "JELLICOE ROAD reads like someone laughing through tears."
What I Felt About...:  "I have never really encountered something like Jellicoe Road in terms of structure. The structure of this one is flawless."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Explosive Eighteen

In this eighteenth installment of the screwball comedy/mystery series featuring Stephanie Plum, Stephanie returns to Newark from a trip to Hawaii, and once she gets home she finds a photograph in her carry-on bag.  Beyond noticing that the man in the picture is pretty good looking, she shrugs and tosses the photo in the trash.  The next thing she knows, all sorts of people, from thugs to sobbing widows, come out of the woodwork wanting to get their hands the picture.  It turns out the man she was sitting next to on the plane was murdered during their stopover...

Once again, Stephanie is up to her neck in trouble, and this time her troubles include her disastrous trip to Hawaii, which we gradually learn about in retrospect as the book progresses, her typically inept (but becoming slightly less inept) attempts to catch FTAs, and, of course, all the people who want the photo but refuse to believe she threw it in the trash.

I always enjoy a Stephanie Plum novel, and that is probably because my expectations are targeted at exactly what they are: fun, escapist, silly and action packed.  I did think that it might have been more rewarding to actually witness the events that occurred in Hawaii, rather than hearing about them piecemeal, related after the fact from off stage.  There was also a moment that surprised me a bit, but in a good way, that happens when Stephanie and her friend Lula are talking.  Lula is often little more than a caricature, way too over the top to truly be believed, but of course I adore her, so when she makes an offhand comment that suddenly sucked the humor right out of the moment and made her into a real, vulnerable person, I was a little surprised.  But I liked it.

At any rate, I have yet to see the movie, but I intend to, and I will try to keep my expectations reasonable.  And I'm looking forward to the future adventures of Stephanie and her Trenton friends, because they never fail to brighten my day.

Books in the Stephanie Plum series:
1. One for the Money
2. Two for the Dough
3. Three to Get Deadly
4. Four to Score
5. High Five
6. Hot Six
7. Seven Up
8. Hard Eight
9. To the Nines
10. Ten Big Ones
11. Eleven on Top
12. Twelve Sharp
13. Lean Mean Thirteen
14. Fearless Fourteen
15. 
Finger Lickin' Fifteen
16. Sizzling Sixteen
18. Explosive Eighteen

Explosive Eighteen (#18 in the Stephanie Plum series) by Janet Evanovich (Bantam, 2011)

Also reviewed at:
Book Series Reviews:  "The basic plot wasn't that bad, it was the execution of the plot, and the silly shenanigans getting there, that were the problem."
Dru's Book Musings: "This was another romp in the life and antics of Stephanie and I had a fun time seeing where she was headed."
Lesa's Book Critiques:  "There’s all the familiar humor, the familiar situations, and the characters readers love in this latest novel. But, an introspective Stephanie, one who actually stops and thinks, is a refreshing change of pace."