Saturday, October 27, 2012

Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvatar

Hot dang, you guys! This was one heck of a book. It was a literary fantasy with some of the best use of tension and slow reveal that I have ever encountered.

We begin the story knowing that magic is real. At least that psychic ability is real, so there is no question as to whether or not things are happening. They are happening. We can trust that.

I really enjoyed the slow build up. We know that one of the main characters really wants to find the "ley line" a sort of magical line where a king who can grant a wish is supposedly buried. We don't know what drives him. We don't know why his friends are so driven along with him, but slowly and delightfully and ever so creepily we find out.

Characters were really strong. Blue, our girl who will kill her true love with a kiss (though luckily this doesn't occur in this first book), was strong, unique, and essentially the catalyst for this entire book. Blue has several interesting things about her. One is that she doesn't know who her father is (a mystery of the ley line?). Two, although she has no psychic ability of her own she makes "magic" for lack of a better term, stronger. Three, um, well, her true love will die if she kisses him.

There is a lot of playing around with the imagery and meanings of ravens too. There is an elite private boarding school and the students are known as "Raven Boys." Ravens are symbols of magic, one of the boys manages to adopt an actual raven. It really leads you to wonder why the school has the raven as its mascot. Is there a deeper meaning?  How does it all tie in?

There was also a lot of "class" issues in this book. Adam, a poor kid scholarship student who wants badly to make it on his own on his own terms. Gansey, an incredibly wealthy kid who also wants to make it on his own terms (although for very different reasons). At times the friction between those two characters and their class issues detracted from the story (I mean, give me a break Adam - Gansey is right all help is not charity). Adam's choices later in the novel gave me some pause (mostly with the teacher - but I assume these will be dealt with in the next book).

There is also Ronan, who has psychopathic tendencies and whom I really wanted to know more about. He was so interesting. I mean at the very end when he says where he got the raven I think I screamed! And poor Noah. Poor smudgy Noah.

The magic in this book was equal parts neat and totally creepy. I don't know how much they can trust it. They don't know how much they can trust it. The trees can talk! But they talk latin! I mean it is just such an imaginative book.

In comparison to some of the other titles we're reading, I would say that it holds up in comparison. The language was lovely and the author had some really neat turns of phrase that were beautiful and made this more than "just" a fantasy. The characters and plotting were extremely well done and as I said earlier, the tension in this book was top notch. You can feel it building from the first page.

Obviously the author has quite a bit planned, but I do wonder if this could have been concluded at the end of this title. That might be the only thing giving me any pause. Would this have been a stronger book had it been a standalone? Maybe. I'm not sure you can hold that against this because of that though, as it was it was still a really strong book. I can't wait until the sequel.

Book Source = Borrowed Copy

Friday, October 26, 2012

General News and Things

Wow! Has it been a month? About that. Time is not my friend lately and I haven't been posting about books like I'd like to be.

What have I been doing? Blogging for work, for one thing. What's awesome about that is you can actually do it on work time! You can see my posts here (and follow those if you'd like! I am experimenting writing about storytime and as always promoting our excellent Adult Craft Night).

Also Pinterest is a total time suck.

Another thing I've been doing is reading a ton of books for our annual Mock Printz. And we've finally decided on all 10 of our titles.

1. The Fault in Our Stars - John Green
2. A Certain October - Angela Johnson
3. Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvator
4. Brides of Rollrock Island - Margo Lanogan
5. Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein
6. Every Day - David Levithan
7. Bomb - Steven Sheinkin
8. Never Fall Down - Patricia McCormick
9. Ask the Passengers - AS King
10. The Drowned Cities - Paolo Bacigalupi

What isn't on there that I sort of wish was? Well, Seraphina of course. And Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson. I LOVED every second of Tiger Lily, but hadn't read it recently enough to really recall all of its excellent details.

Look for reviews of the 10 mock titles soon. I just finished Raven Boys and was absolutely blown away. So. Freakin'. Good.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

It surprised me to see Patricia McCormick's name as a finalist for this year's National Book Award. I missed this book when it came out earlier this year so I was excited to read it. Patricia McCormick books tackle tough and unusual YA topics so something new from her always piques my interest. I loved Purple Heart and here she is with another war story.

Never Fall Down takes place in Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields in the late 1970s. The book is based on the experience of Arn Chorn-Pond who narrates the story. (See video below.)

In the Hunger Games kids are forced to kill kids for survival, but here in this book we have a real historical event of children forced to join an army. The only chance for survival is to join the Khmer Rouge where they are used as bait to flush out the Vietnamese. It's horrifying, brutal, and graphic. Arn reflects on how quickly he learns to adjust to the constant death, the constant threat of death, and witnessing and assisting the death of others. One boy accidentally shoots himself with his new gun and stands there, shocked, trying to put his guts back into his body as he is dying. Arn holds the boy as he dies and becomes covered in his blood.
I think maybe I should wash it, get rid of it. But I think maybe it can protect me, this boy's blood on my body, so I paint myself with it--wipe it on my face, my throat, my arms. I take his gun also and strap it across my chest, two guns on me now.

I go see Phat, the Khmer Rouge boy who say I'm not real soldier. So he can see what I am now. (p 122-123)

Since this is Arn's story, the novel ends better than I expected had it not been a true story. There a few moments of humor, particularly at the end when Arn gets a Star War comic and learns the phrase, "Let the force be with you!"

The end of the book includes an epilogue, author's note, and acknowledgements. Then National Book Awards Ceremony is November 14.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What We're Reading at Our House

The 9 year old discovered Bruce Coville.  Okay, not on his own. I picked out My Teacher Is an Alien to add a little funny sci-fi to his reading. I also wanted to introduce him to another series. He loves reading series books.

He really liked those books and started the Alien Adventures series. I never read Coville myself but so many of my students and librarian friends loved him.

Additionally, I started him on Rick Riordan's 39 Clues. This is his first exposure to Riordan and he devoured the books. He completed the first series and moved on to the Cahill vs. Vespers series. Rick Riordan is golden. Thank goodness he is a publishing machine.

The Almost-4-Year-Old and I discovered Tucker the dog. He's by Leslie McGuirk who wrote one of my favorite books last year: If Rocks Could Sing. We love that the Tucker books are small - 6"x6". It just adds to the cuteness.

 As a family we all enjoyed Dragons Love Tacos.  See that cover below? That sums up taco night at our house. Mmm. Tacoooos. Unlike dragons, we love spicy salsa.
The only thing dragons love more than parties or tacos, is taco parties (taco parties are parties with lots of tacos).
If you want to have some dragons over for a taco party, you'll need buckets of tacos. Pantloads of tacos.

Recently I read Summer at Forsaken Lake by Michael D Beil. Not as much fun as his Red Blazer Girls, but still a good mystery. Speaking of RBG, the new one just came out.

I also finished the excellent and award winning No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. The combination fact and fiction worked really well for me. It was serendipitous timing to read this right after The Mighty Miss Malone. Two perspectives on overlapping time periods. Two fascinating characters.

Lastly, a quick mention of adult books. I finally read Gone Girl. Great writing and a great example of disliking every single character in a book. I had to cleanse my brain afterwards with Next Best Thing.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

Like my previous post, say hello to a beautiful cover. It is so compelling that I can't imagine someone walking by it and not wanting to pick it up. Yeah, she says, do I have a story to tell you.

This is Deza Malone, age 12, of Gary, Indiana. She had a presence in Christopher Paul Curtis's 2000 Newbery Medal Winner Bud, Not Buddy. I honestly don't remember her character as it has been years since I read it, so while this is considered a companion to Bud, Not Buddy, I read it without influence of that book.

Deza excels at school. She has loving and supportive family (mom, dad, older brother who kept reminding me of Sammy Davis, Jr.) and a best friend. The story takes a drastic turn for the worse when Deza's father is involved in a suspicious boating accident and leaves Gary for Michigan to find work. This starts a chain of events that eventually find Deza and her mother fleeing a Michigan Hooverville camp.

There are some tough passages on poverty. Deza's family eating oatmeal that has bugs in it is one. Another striking passage comes when Deza meets two young boys just arrived in the camp with the goal trying to hop a train west so they can pick fruit. They came alone. No adults. If she is 12 and they are younger..?  11? 10? 9, my son's age? Cue heartbreak.
I still had my family, and like Mother always says, without a family you're nothing but dust on the wind.
I hoped he'd find kindness somewhere, but even  with my exploding imagination, I couldn't figure out where that would be. (p. 204)

The author provides a lengthy afterward on boxer Joe Louis and poverty, mentioning that even today we have 15 million poor children in this country. Expect this one to pop up in award conversation as the year ends.

[on a personal note: The book takes place in Gary just before my father was born there. This summer we drove through it. I wish I would have read this before our trip. The book also mentions Jacksonville as part of music's Chitlin' Circuit.]

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Long Lankin by Lindesy Barraclough

Doesn't this have a great cover? I love the tree hanging with objects, which I didn't notice at first as I was so focused on the two girls and the chilling tag which reads
Said my lord to my lady,
As he rode away:
"Beware of Long Lankin
That lives in the hay."

Oh goody! A fairy tale/nursery rhyme retelling. I love these books. Recently I went on a Margo Lanagan binge in anticipation of her new book. I also read the adult novel Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce, which was good but not great.

Which is what I can say for Long Lankin as well. I so wanted to love it. The 1950s English countryside, the two sisters with an MIA mother and a dad who just can't take care of them sent off to live with a recluse great-aunt in a sinking old mansion out in the marsh, the adorable neighborhood brothers Roger and Pete who befriend the sisters Cora and Mimi, the abandoned old church and graveyard with the message Cave Bestiam (beware of the beast) carved all over it, a family curse, ghosts of little children and, of course, this creepy singsong rhyme about Long Lankin. Recipe for a chiller!

The book's 448 pages became a chore to get through and I will admit that at 2/3 through I started skipping to the end to get to where we finally get Long Lankin. In a horror/scary story I don't want to get bogged down in narrative. I want to be compelled to keep reading even into the dark and scary night. It was good, but not great. I do think that teens who love chilling reads and don't mind 400+ pages will enjoy it.