Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Most Frightening Book of the Year

It could be, it really, really could.


(Thanks to Joanna for finding this atrocity)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

Beatrice has moved once again. This time to Baltimore where her father has started yet another professorship at yet another University. It sucks to be the new person all the time and Bea has pretty much figured out how to survive on her own. So much so, in fact, that her mother has dubbed her “Robot Girl” for her seeming lack of emotion. Then she meets Jonah, Ghost Boy, someone who’s also retreated from interacting with people altogether and they strike up a friendship. It will change everything.

There is much to like in How to Say Goodbye in Robot. I loved the quirkiness in the story, the late-night call in talk show, the strange regulars who believed in time-travel and Elvis and magic carpet rides. I loved the jaunt to Ocean City and the anti-prom. And I especially loved Bea’s mom who is obviously on the edge of a breakdown and is trying to save herself with chickens (for dinner, for curtains, for shirts, even for rear-view mirrors). And hello! The author included references to John Waters’ films, a must for any book set in Baltimore.

I was terribly wrong about the direction the book was heading. I was convinced that Jonah had completely made up his twin brother, that he was an evil manipulator that was going to hurt Bea. When this turned out to be not the case, I still couldn’t shake my distrust of him. I started disliking his and Bea’s friendship – it was uneven, he treated her poorly. Yes he was hurting, and on one level I understood this, but on the other I wanted to shake him (after an equally hard shaking for Bea of course).

I had such a hard time connecting to the characters. I think partly this may be that I’m just burnt out on reading and need to take a breakso that I can fully dedicate myself to watching the rest of Battlestar Galactica (I. Am. Obsessed.). Whatever the reason, I had to make myself finish. Many other people seemed to really love this title, so'd I'd recommend giving it a go if you think it sounds up your alley.

Book Source: Publisher Review Copy

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

We first met Lonnie in Locomotion, a novel in verse. Peace, Locomotion picks up close to where the previous left off, but instead of verse Lonnie is writing a series of letters to his sister. I’ve heard some grumblings about the epistolary nature of this book, but it didn't bother me at all. I sort of took it that for granted that Lonnie used the letters as an excuse to journal his feelings.

That’s what it really what this book felt like to me – a journal. Perhaps he would one day give the letters to his sister like he says is his intention, but it seems much more likely that this was his just his emotional outlet, his way in which to quietly explore his feelings. Because, let’s face it, Lonnie’s got a lot of things going on in his life.

He’s still figuring out his place within his foster family, which only gets harder when Miss Edna’s injured son comes home from Iraq. He’s got school issues, he misses his sister desperately, and he is still coming to terms with the death of his parents. Wilson is a powerful writer and she can write emotion like nobody’s business. I had tears come to my eyes repeatedly when reading this book. Occasionally Lonnie and his friend Clyde would sound a little too mature for their years, but overall Lonnie’s voice is believable.

It is really a book about how love is a powerful and unlimited resource.

Book Source: Library Copy

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

First thoughts here.

I loved this book just as much on the second read as I did on the first. Just wanted to get that out!

I won’t spend too much time recapping the plot synopsis, but what we’ve got here is a high fantasy set in a world that is not our own. 1000 years ago Magicians made some mighty big mistakes and in their greedy insane quest for more power they pretty much almost destroyed the world. They needed the Clanfolk to help clean up their mess. The Queen, fostered among the Clan to learn their ways now has complete power over her kingdom. The magicians are under her control. The Clan make and control the magical amulets that the wizards need. Basically it is a system with checks and balances. Until now, that is. Things are afoot and it doesn’t look like things are going to end well.

It is a fantasy told from two perspectives. We’ve got Han, a reformed thief, who is trying to make an honest living to support his family. He’s street smart, tough, and has a way of being in the wrong place at the wrong time drawing him into events he’d sooner avoid. He’s a bit of a stock character (he’s very much the loveable rogue type), but his character is so well developed I think he moves past that. He clearly struggles with the guilt from the consequences of his actions and this is part of what rounds him out.

We’ve got Raisa, the princess heir who is trying to be more than just another empty headed princess. She’s tougher than her small stature would indicate, independent, and willing to do what it takes to make her kingdom a better place for all its citizens. What I liked most about her was that we see her struggle against expectations and barriers to learn things. She’s got to fight for everything. She also makes more than her fair share of mistakes, but she manages to learn from them.

The secondary characters, while rich and varied, were not as well developed. It didn’t bother me. I think that Chima has endowed them with enough humanity, especially the villains (although perhaps not the main one - Mr. Big Bad Wizard I’m looking at you) to make the development of them in sequels possible. As they become more important to the storyline I have every belief that they will become more developed.

It is a suspenseful plot driven book. I loved it even on my second reading. I can’t wait for the next one in the series.

Book Source: ARC provided by publisher

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

I finished this book quite a while ago, but I kind of had to mull it over. After such a build up (I saw the illustrations in April), I think my expectations might have been out of whack. It's not that I didn't like it, more like it wasn't what I was expecting and without the sequels, I'm not completely sure how much I like it. Anyway, here's more of a review.

In an alternate history of WWI, the world is divided into Darwinists, who use gene manipulation to create animals to help with everyday tasks, and Clankers, who use machines for the same purpose. England, the US, Russia and most of Western Europe are Darwinists, while Germany, the Middle East and most of Eastern Europe are Clankers. At the start of the book, we meet Alek, the son of Duke Ferdinand of Austria, the famous duke whose assassination was the catalyst that led to WWI. In Leviathan this assassination was perpetrated not by Serbians but by Ferdinand's own family and people, in order to cause the war. So Alek must flee Austria with four of his father's most trusted men and hope to return in the future.

Meanwhile in London, Deryn (known as Dylan) has disguised herself as a boy and entered the Air Service to feed her love of flying. Through a series of strange circumstances, she finds herself aboard the Leviathan, England's greatest airship (and a modified whale). Soon Alek and Deryn meet and their fates intertwine.

I really liked Deryn and Alek, as well as some of the side characters, especially the Count and Dr. Barlow. It was so cool that there was a thylacine (tasmanian tiger) in the book; I want my own sniffer dog, too! Even the walkers and warships were pretty fascinating.

I liked the illustrations, but had two problems with them. First, while the map on the endpages was great and beautiful, I would have appreciated if one of them was more realistic than stylized, as it made following the action kind of difficult. Also, in all of the illustrations, both Deryn and Alek seemed much younger than 15, maybe closer to 12. That was a bit misleading....

While I really enjoyed the word-building of the story and I always love a gender-bender, this novel felt more like a set-up for future installments. So, maybe I'll wait to decide whether I liked it or not.

Reviewed from friend's copy. Thanks, Michelle!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are
Directed by Spike Jonez
Written by Spike Jonez, Dave Eggers, and Maurice Sendak

I finally saw this movie. I loved it.

I loved how Max’s family’s troubles are mirrored in the Wild Things. I loved that Max was thoughtful & loving and aggressively reckless. Aren’t kids like that at some point? Max could deal out the pain (encouraging and enjoying the torturing of Alexander during dirt clod war) and suffer from it. That’s his journey. The inclusion of the globe from his dad with the inscription “To Max Owner of This World” was a great theme.

Max looked for his place in his family and found it waiting… at home… where it was still hot.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Create Your Own Picture Book Cover

100 Scope Notes is celebrating book covers this week. He's done the YA book covers and now he's doing picture books.

Here's mine. Kinda cool, if I do say so myself! Click here to see the original picture.

Here's what you have to do to make your own:

1 – Go to “The Name Generator” or click

Click GENERATE NEW NAME. The name that appears is your author name.

2 – Go to “Picture Book Title Generator” or click

Click CREATE TITLE! This is the title of your picture book.

3 – Go to “FlickrCC” or click

Type the last word from your title into the search box followed by the word “drawing”. Click FIND. The first suitable image is your cover.

4 – Use Photoshop, Picnik, or similar to put it all together. Gettin’ creative is encouraged.

5 – Post it to your site along with this text.

Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor

Lips Touch: Three Times
Laini Taylor; illustrated by Jim Di Bartolo
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009

Among the surprises in the Young People’s category at the nominations for the National Book Award was Lips Touch by Laini Taylor. While what makes the NBA lists is generally a surprising mix of books, at least the other books on the list were ones I had read about previously. Additionally surprising, this is a collection of 3 stories, not a single novel. I had not read Laini Taylor’s Blackbringer, but I had heard great things about this fantasy writer. I was very intrigued.

Lips Touch, as you might guess, is a rather sexy collection of stories. Kudos to the NBA committee for that. The book jacket of my ARC copy says “three stories about the deliciousness of wanting and waiting”. There’s truth in that advertising. Deliciousness is a very appropriate choice of words. These stories are rich. The sad thing with the ARC is the lack of (Mr. Laini Taylor) Jim De Bartolo’s illustrations. It did contain several pages of illustration for the first story, but none for the rest.

The first story is the shortest at about 40 pages. The next is about 20 pages longer and the last encompasses about ½ the book. Preceding each story is a 1 page teaser. It’s the author, a storyteller, talking to us, setting the stage. I thought it a great addition.

After a little bit of thought, the first story “Goblin Fruit” stands out as my favorite. It is short, the teen girl dialogue is razor sharp (and hilarious) and the ending extremely satisfying if also a little shocking. After that, I knew these were going to be my kind of stories.

“Spicy Little Curses Such as These” (fantastic title) sets itself in India. I went out for Indian food this weekend, not exactly by coincidence. The story contains a character referred to as the Old Bitch who is the Ambassador to Hell. Add that to the list of things that make me like this book. While I enjoyed this story very much, I found it not as lasting on my mind as the first and third.

“Hatchling” is an epic of a story. The author flips chapters between different stories until they finally intersect. There are shape-shifters (mostly person-wolf so add this to your fangs vs. fur booklist), horrific monsters, demons, eye-plucking, a Queen who keeps little girls as pets, a mysterious benefactor, a mother with secrets, and the 14 year old girl who links it all together. This could have been a novel, but I am glad she pared down to the essentials to keep it a story.

The second and especially the third stories are about children. I can’t help but wonder at the influence of the birth of the author’s own child in the creation of these stories. The 3rd story pulled exceptionally strong at my own experiences as a mother. When I first started reading “Hatchling”, I did think about how teens might connect with such a strongly maternal story. In the end, though, it is such a strong fantasy story about love (loving, being loved) that I feel that’s more my personal projection on to the reading.

A highly recommended collection for short story & fantasy readers. And, because it is so sensual, give it to your romance readers.

Check out the Laini’s blog. If you like babies, it’s full-o-baby cuteness!

Source: ARC sent by publisher to a coworker

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Liar by Justine Larbalestier

I have read Liar three times. Three times! I really want to know the truth of the story. I can’t help it. It is the same reason I love mysteries – I just like to know how they end (and I love to see how I was deceived along the way). So after three reads, I can’t actually say that I for-sure-absolutely-without-a-doubt know what happened, but I can say this is an amazingly well-written book. It holds up on each re-read because of the insane quality of the writing. It is a masterfully interwoven story with hints dropped, truths uncovered and then quickly covered back up, the truth is in there it is just hard to find. Frankly, I am wowed by it.

And now...let the SPOILERS begin.

I am definitely in the camp that Micah is in jail and is recounting her tale to a psychiatrist/therapist. She is an affirmed liar and gets great enjoyment out of lying. Everything she mentions in her “school history” sections (or perhaps more accurately, what little she mentions) shows the school as a jail/psychiatric unit. There are bars on the windows, it was built by the Quakers, it used to be a prison…I feel like It is probably a long-term psychiatric center.

I waffle back and forth on whether or not her brother Jordan was real. Today I’m leaning towards the he was real side, only because the vehemence with which she discussed him seemed too real to be completely invented. I find it hard to truly decide – she says at first he was born when she was 7, then he was born when she was 2. He is alive (and stealing Zach’s sweaters out of her room), he died when she was 12. Micah sneers at the idea that she was resentful of her brother, but it seems to me as though this is the case. I think she thought she could “accidentally” bump him off and all her parent’s attention would revert to her. How disappointing that they still celebrated his birthdays – how awful that she had to pretend not to be glad he was dead. I think this sustains her anger. Their attention should be solely on her.

As for Zach, I believe she was his “after-hours” girlfriend. I don’t think Zach was a good guy. He had an official girlfriend and he had girls on the side. Micah was one of his girls on the side. The feeling I got was that she was sort of obsessed with him. She wanted him, but more importantly she wanted him to want her more. Perhaps she killed him in a jealous rage after discovering him in his hidey-hole love spot in Inwood Park with another girl, but it is also likely is that he rejected her – broke it off with her, or wouldn’t break it off with the other girls. I do believe she killed him. I found it interesting that it is almost to the end of the book (p. 370 arc) where she finally says that she was harassed by lawyers and that there was a trial. The fact that she only mentions it once makes me believe the trial is a "true" thing.

I think it was possible Micah was born with a light covering of fur. Because babies sometimes are – especially if they are premature. It is called Lanugo. My own son had furry ears for a month or so. Or maybe her family suffers from hirsutism, which is a real condition where women suffer from excessive growth of facial and body hair. It can be treated, in part, with birth control pills.

Honestly though, I find it most likely that she made up the whole thing. Did she really have a survivalist Grandmother living in upstate New York? I don’t know. All I know is that I think she made up the entire werewolf thing. I think it made for a great story, one that distracted from the truth – that she killed Zach. Or if not distracting from killing Zach, explaining it away, attempting to reason why it happened, why it isn't actually her fault. Here’s the thing that convinced me the most. In Zach’s training journal Micah finds “punishing inconstant heart” written in someone else’s handwriting (p. 72 arc) – she never says it wasn’t her own although she leads you to think that with comments about how she could compare it to Sarah’s writing. Then much later (p 320 arc) she says “he didn’t miss me the way I missed him. He didn’t love me the way I loved him. There was nothing constant about his heart. Not like mine.” The use of the same word, the anger, that is what finally convinced me

Or maybe I’m completely wrong! I kind of want to hold the author hostage and make her tell me exactly what happened. Hmmm…is she coming to TLA?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder: My Life on the Dork Side by Julie Halpern

Jessie is having some problems. The school year is about to start and her two best friends have decided to go punk. This wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t involve using Jessie to glom onto her older brother’s group of friends…And in particular, Van, Jessie’s long-term crush.

Jessie’s voice occasionally sounds a little young (she’s in grade 10), especially with some of the subject matter dealt with in the book, but overall I really liked her. She’s the younger, not as cool sibling (her brother is so effortlessly cool he is punk and yet not a school outcast), she is quirky – she makes her own skirts out of novelty fabric to match every occasion, and she is a little unsure of herself. She listens to audio books as she sews (which was some great YA like Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snoggings or Life as We Knew it) and is really into school. She’s always been the quieter, not in the spotlight, person in her trio of friends. Which, I think, is why it doubly hurts when her friends start pursuing her crush.

A lot of Jessie’s soul searching has to do with where she fits in. She knows she’s not part of the popular crowd, she’s not a punk like her brother, but neither does she consider herself a full-on nerd. So when she starts looking for new friends it is a little bit discomfiting to her that she’s drawn to some of the “nerdiest” people at school. Luckily for her (and the reader) looks can be deceiving. Jessie meets some really great people who aren’t at all like she thought they would be.

The cover is going to draw in a lot of girls and you’ll notice what at first glance might seem like diamonds are actually, upon closer inspection, Dungeon and Dragon dice. I thought the cover represented the book very well, there is some renaissance looking dress on the cover, the D&D die, and a cute home-made skirt on the back cover. A really sweet book.

Book Source: Tayshas Review Copy

Monday, November 2, 2009

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

A long time ago, in the spring before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamed he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere.

This dream propels Finnikin to pledge to be Lumatere’s protector. Although not fully understood until much later, this pledge would change the course of his life. Short months after his pledge, in Finnikin’s ninth year, the unthinkable happens. His country is invaded and brutalized, an Imposter King takes the throne and his country is cursed as a women burns to death at the stake, on display for all to see. Lumatere is shut off from the world by an impenetrable fog and those lucky enough to escape spend the next ten years in refugee camp rife with fever and violence. The people of Lumatere find it impossible to fully settle in new lands and unable to forget their homeland.

Enter Finnikin, under the care of the King’s First Man, on a never-ending journey to attempt to secure a new homeland for the exiles. On the power of another dream they visit the cloister of a Goddess in hopes that the Lumatere heir survived and is in hiding. It is Evanjalin, a novice who walks the sleep of the exiles, but perhaps more importantly, she walks the sleep of those still inside Lumatere.

I loved this book. I must admit I found it a bit hard to get into at first. And I think my two paragraph summary speaks to that point. There is a lot going on in this book, a lot for readers to wrap their heads around (and the names of those cities and countries…ugh). I think there is almost too much explaining at the beginning about this world where Lumatere is located, it is a bit bogged down. (However, even though I am an avid fantasy lover, this does tend to be something of a personal problem - as in I dislike weird names and lots of setting up - I just want to get to the story people! So I do think for others this may not be an issue.) There is also some weird jumping from characters perspectives – the book is third person, but for most of the book Finnikin is clearly the focus, then oddly, for a couple of chapters near the end it jumps to two other characters, then back to Finnikin. It jarred.

So I could see some readers putting this one down, which would be a shame because these are some kinda characters. They are fierce, brave, human in ways that will break your heart and make you want to sing their praises. The dialogue is outstanding – it is some of the best dialogue I have ever read. Hands down. And that is saying a lot, but I absolutely mean it – I met some of my favorite characters ever in this book: Finnikin, Evanjalin (especially her, my god), Perri the Savage, and on and on. These were fully fleshed characters, even the ones we meet briefly.

My only other comment is that it is a darkly realistic book. What one imagines would happen when a country is invaded does. There is bloodshed, there is torture, there is rape. Marchetta doesn’t dance around these issues – they are in there, they are prominent, and I think they make the book stronger because of it. This is a fantasy, there is prophecy and magic, but it is a fantasy that is extremely rooted in both the basest and greatest parts of human nature.

The Australian edition of this book won the Aurealis Award in 2008 for the Best Young Adult Novel category. Well deserved.

A final note on the cover. It is beautiful, but more than a whif of King Arthur don't you think?

Book Source: ARC provided by publisher