Saturday, February 27, 2010

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce

“You need to try and make some friends.” Liam’s dad tells him. But Liam prefers his online friends in the game World of Warcraft:

The point about World of Warcraft is that the other players don’t know how tall or short or fat or thin you are, they just accept you for what you are – namely, in my case, a highly skilled Night Elf with healing powers. (28)

This means a lot to Liam, who has trouble fitting in with his classmates because at 12-years-old he already has facial hair and is really, really tall. Most people – car salesmen, the clerk at Newz and Booze, even his headmistress – mistake him for a grown-up. Instead of being bothered by this, Liam uses his height as an advantage for seeking out adventure, much as his online buddies seek out quests. Often this means pretending his classmate, Florida, is his daughter, and heading into town to, you know, test drive cars…

Luckily, Liam has a dad who cares. A dad with a phone that is linked to Liam’s so he can see Liam’s location whenever necessary.

But Liam is Gifted and Talented. He manages to pose as his own father and enter a contest to win a trip to Infinity Park in China, where founder Dr. Drax boasts the Biggest Thrill Ride in the History of the World – The Rocket. When he is chosen as a winner, Liam talks celebrity-crazed Florida into going with him as his daughter, and lies to his parents about taking a field trip instead. Thus the stage is set for the biggest adventure of Liam's life: riding The Rocket? No…being a dad.

Remember how you felt at the end of Field of Dreams, when Ray and his dad have a catch? This book captures that feeling and pairs it with a with a humorous space adventure. Add the well drawn characters and the references to World of Warcraft (which you don’t need to be familiar with to enjoy) and the result is a quirky yet unforgettable homage to dads everywhere.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Megan Whalen Turner Is Awesome

March 23 marks the release date for A Conspiracy of Kings. For those of you unfamiliar with this series, you have ample time to go to your library and check out The Thief, The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia and read them before #4.

This series sat on my To Read list for three years. While I wish I had read these books ages ago, I did have the benefit of plowing through all 3 one after the other. AND book #4 is due in less than a month. Hardly any waiting! Hooray!

Fans of the series, did you know that you can read a few chapters on HarperCollins' site?

As an impatient reader, I really had to slow myself down to read these books. If you like puzzles and hidden clues and getting to a crucial point in the book and realizing "Oh snap. That was why we heard about that ... 2 books ago, 5 chapters ago" this is the series for you. Megan Whalen Turner rewards the careful reader. Looks, names, seemingly minor events all matter. Deliciously rich. Undoubtedly brilliant. And the romance. Yes, of course. It's not what the series is about, but I found it very Austen-like in the total sexiness of people who don't touch each other. Or look at each other. Or frankly much like each other.

Now shoo. Go put these books on hold. I envy your reading experience.

*also, here's the article Amy may mention in the comments.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk

I have a policy of not reading cover flaps of books. I don’t read them because, all too often they give away salient plot points. Not all the time, but often enough that I’m irritated to the point of ignoring them completely. This was one of the cases where the cover flap had some pretty pertinent information that wasn’t exactly spoilerish, but told about aspects of the story that completely came out of left field for me when I was reading the book. I don’t know which is better – knowing beforehand or thinking the book you’re reading did a complete 180 and turned into another story. Not that I minded the 180, it was totally enjoyable, I just wonder if I would have read the first half differently had I known it was coming.

Anyhoo onto the story - Will Halpin is deaf. He is also sick of all the drama at his deaf school (as in he’s sick of having to prove he’s deaf enough and picking sides) and starts the new school year at a mainstream school. He’s understandably a little worried about how he’ll do. There won’t be any interpreters or closed captioning system for him, which is probably ok due to his superior lip reading skills. But he’s also thinking that it might be hard for him to fit in with his fellow students, with the difficulty of communicating. Lucky for him there is someone who knows some rudimentary sign language.

I really liked this book. I enjoyed Will’s voice (even though I could have done without some of the self-depreciating fat comments). He was funny, he was insightful, his voice was really fresh. I especially enjoyed how the author included both a family mystery and a wider mystery (that was the 180 people – I had no idea there was a mystery in this book!). I think most readers will be relatively sure at who did the crime, but the author did an awesome job at throwing just enough doubt into the mix that other people look like potential suspects as well. I was impressed. I also enjoyed the insights into deaf culture.

I could have done without Will writing sometimes inane information about his schoolmates into his notebook. I liked his nicknames (Jimmy Porkrinds for his bus driver cracked me UP), but the little notes seemed over the top and unnecessary and the sort of thing one would save for a stay-at-home-in-the-hidey-hole type of journal instead of one you carry with you. Small complaints for a really fun first novel.

Book Source: Library Copy

Monday, February 22, 2010

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

It was a happy day last week when this new graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier arrived in my library delivery. I read several glowing reviews and this little post here will be another.
Smile is an autobiographical story. 11 year-old Raina takes a spill during a fun game of chase with her friends and causes serious damage to her front teeth. The story follows her for the next 6 years as she deals with her teeth, school (middle/high school), friends, crushes, and her own self confidence. At one point in middle school she has to wear a retainer with false front teeth. I would have died. DIED.

This is such a charming story. A truly perfect middle school addition for realistic GN. It's a little dated (gasp! historical?!) since it is autobiographical, but hey, Mario Bros is a huge hit in my house and Little Mermaid worship has never ceased. So late 80s-early 90s references appear, but not overwhelming. There is one spread where we see Cover Girl NailSlics, Teen Spirit deodorant, Noxema, an EPILADY, and ex'cla-ma'tion perfume. It only lacked a Kaboodle makeup organizer and it was pretty much my exact middle school experience.

Raina's story, with the exception of the dental drama, is an every-girl story. She's not into clothes and makeup. She's still a Girl Scout and acknowledges she's not as "mature" as her other friends. She likes video games and plays the flute. She has great, loving parents. I cannot imagine a middle school (and even high school) not having this in their collection. If your students like her Baby-Sitter's Club GNs, this is a perfect next step up. (And in one spread, young Raina is reading BSC along w/ Calvin & Hobbes and For Better or For Worse.) This will be on my best of list for 2010.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Delphine is sent along with her two younger sisters, Fern and Vonetta, to Oakland in 1968 to visit their estranged mother for 28 days. Pa has been a loving parent to them, but feels it is time they get to know their mother Celeste. Big Ma (their father’s mother) has always told Delphine Celeste “lives on the street,” and Delphine doesn’t know what to expect as they fly toward “a boiling pot of trouble.” They soon learn that their mother is not a warm person - not the mommy type that gets you a glass of cool water for your bedside. She is a poet, and shares her printing press (somewhat grudgingly) with the Black Panthers to print a newsletter. The girls end up at a summer camp run by the Black Panther party, and each girl begins to see the world, themselves, and their mother, in a slightly different light.

The voice of the main character is very strong and clear. When she uses a metaphor, it is always something from her experience, making it more powerful and believable. For example: “like Big Ma throwing a pinch of salt into the cake batter.” (46) And “Cecile knew she had us baffled and took control of the talk like she had grabbed both the ball and the jacks.” (78)

Sometimes the writing is brutal and honest:

We made a picture. Us looking up at her and her looking down at us. In the animal kingdom the mother bird brings back all she’s gathered for the day and drops it into the open mouths of each bird squawking to be fed. Cecile looked at us like it didn’t occur to her that we would be hungry and that she’d have to do what mothers do: feed their young. (30)

And at other times beautiful, terse, and transparent:

Mother is a statement of fact. Cecile Johnson gave birth to us. We came out of Cecile Johnson. In the animal kingdom that makes her out mother. Every mammal on the planet has a mother, dead or alive. Ran off or stayed put. Cecile Johnson-mammal birth giver, alive, an abandoner-is our mother. A statement of fact. (14)

The theme of “we knew the same things” – whether it’s the outrageous things that happened to the people of color in Oakland, or just sharing the role of being a big sister – runs throughout the novel, linking the families together. (178; 139)

This is one to know about. We should have it in our (APL) collection soon.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Evil at Heart by Chelsea Cain

Evil at Heart is the third installment in this series, so there are bound to be some sort of spoilers in here, even if they are unintentional.

I saw this one on the staff recommendations shelf at work and snatched it up like it was chocolate covered candy. Which it totally is. I am a little surprised that a) I picked up the first book in the series b) have read all three so far c) will totally read more in this ridiculous yet incredibly fun series.

I mean, it is about a detective who was tortured by a serial killer, but lived (she actually saved his life...twice) and he is way messed up because she totally gets him hot (and we're subjected to this information quite a bit. Luckily we are not subjected to too many euphemisms for his "love").

So in this installment we get a twist away from the Gretchen murders, Archie puts himself in danger to get tortured a little more (wee!) and then Gretchen escapes. Instead there are copycat murders. There are potential devotees to the cult of Gretchen. The plot thickens. Archie's "relationship" with Gretchen moves onto a new level where he might not get all worked up every time they are near each other.

I must say that I can only read these books because the violence is so over the top I simply can't believe it. I mean, this is a woman serial killer who likes to remove people's spleens with an exacto knife and then sew them back up. She also likes to make you drink draino. She does so much crazy stuff that it just gets to be comical, like she's already operated on this person, carved a heart, pulled their intenstines out their big toe with a crochet hook, what exactly is she going to do next? How exactly will she top that?

I love these books. They are fast reads, they are suspenseful, and they don't keep me up at night wondering if anyone is creeping around at my windows. I can't wait until the next one.


Book Source: Library Copy

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Where I then make up for my lack of "Reviewyness"

A bunch of short reviews squeezed into one post. Enjoy!

Pop by Gordon Korman

Marcus moves to a new town and tries out for the football team. They have just had a perfect season and don’t want anyone new on their team to change their dynamic. So Marcus trains with some dude he meets in the park. He gets even better than he was before. Football drama ensues! This was a solid football book.

We all know about how hard football is on a player’s body, but I was only sort of aware of the damage it does to player’s brains (and only because I know how hard boxing is on a boxer’s ‘noggin). It was an enjoyable read and is on this year’s Lone Star List.

Blessing’s Bead by Debby Dahl Edwardson

An intergenerational tale set in Alaska about an Inupiaq family. We first meet Nutaaq and her sister Aaluk. Sisters who attend an annual trade fair that will change their lives forever. Fast forward three generations and we meet another Nutaaq (the great-grandaughter) and follow her on her journey of self-discovery. This one was a bit of a sleeper from 2009, which was too bad because it was a really beautiful story. It is sort of wedged right into the older J younger Y so maybe that is why it got looked over.

A final note is that in Canada, the word Eskimo is considered an insult – instead people self-identify as Inuit. It always strikes me how different the U.S.A and Canada really are. For instance, you would never call someone Indian in Canada – you would say they are First Nation. That really is neither here nor there, just something I noticed while reading.

Dawn by Kevin Brooks

I don’t have much to say other than the use of The Jesus and the Mary Chain lyrics did not work for me. The conclusion didn’t either. I liked the intrigue with the two girls befriending Dawn, but most of the book fell flat. Disappointing since I am such a huge Kevin Brooks fan.

An Unspeakable Crime: The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank by Elaine Marie Alphin

This book was hard to read because it is so disturbing what happened to this man. It was such a miscarriage of justice, such a disgusting and base display of the ugliness of mankind. Leo Frank was Jewish man that was convicted of the rape and murder of a 13 year old girl in 1913. He was innocent. This didn’t stop a mob from gathering outside the courthouse and it didn’t stop his murder by lynching two years later (he was kidnapped from the prison). Frank’s court case and subsequent lynching was a seminal moment in American history leading to both the creation of the Anti-Defamation League as well as the re-emergence of the KKK. This is a really strong, well-written non-fiction title. I highly recommend it.

Book Sources in order: Library Copy, Borrowed Copy,
Library Copy, Publisher Review Copy

St. Martin's Press is My New Favorite Publisher

They are going to be releasing a Sweet Valley High book for grown-ups. Click here to see the deets. I can hardly wait for 2011...and no, I'm not embarrassed. :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

2010 Want List

I'm kind of out of the loop, but here is a good start.

GREEN WITCH by Alice Hoffman (Right now this is my #1 WANT)
SMILE by Raina Telgemeier
THE DEAD-TOSSED WAVES by Carrie Ryan (kind of glad Mary ain't in this one. or so it seems.)
THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Don't have time to read it online for free. See Naomi's post.)
THE CARDTURNER: A Novel About Imperfect Partners and Infinite Possibilities by Sachar
FAT VAMPIRE: A Never Coming of Age Story by Rex (I'm already laughing)
HUNGER GAMES 3 by Collins (DUH. Hoping for ARCs at TLA.)
FORGE by Anderson
THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
THE DREAMER by Pam Munoz Ryan
THE NIGHT FAIRY by Laura Amy Schlitz
ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia

I am finally starting to read THE THIEF by Megan Whelan Turner so I can get all hyped up about A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS. I feel that not having read this series a librarian flaw. So I'm on it.

What's on your list? What have I forgotten?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Yurei Yokai to Kyuketsuki, desu ne?! (Ghosts, Demons, and Vampires, oh my!)

Recently I seem to be obsessed with ghost stories and Japanese monsters. Been reading things like Bleach, Tactics, and Yokai Attack! Been watching Ghost Hunt, Saiyuki, and mainstream Japanese horror. So, here are two of the paranormal stories that caught my eye.

The Waking Book 1: Dreams of the Dead by Thomas Randall

I was a bit worried when I started this one. It is a Japanese style paranormal mystery written by an American. It had all the chances of just becoming a manga and anime-influenced rehash of Japanese culture with no real ideas of how modern Japan functions or grasp of Japanese culture. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

Kara is a 16-year-old girl from Boston who moves to Kyoto prefecture with her father, an English teacher at a prestiguous Japanese high school. They have both always wanted to live in Japan and, after the death of Kara's mother, the move is both wanted and needed. Along with worries about fitting in, Kara faces the trauma and stangeness of several suspicous student deaths that appear to be caused by the murder of a student in the Fall. Is it supernatural? Or is it only the victim's sister trying to get revenge?

The strongest parts of this story are Randall's ability to evoke the beauty of Miyazu City, his well-drawn characters, and his obvious grasp of Japanese folklore and love of horror. Kara details her love of the city and the people who live there in simple but striking language. She references both anime and American cultural standards (Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz) but doesn't only see the world through pop culture eyes. She is also a good judge of character and a normal teen; she doesn't like everybody and she questions here choices in friends, fashion, and behavior, especially in a country where propriety is everything. I love that Randall refuses to use both the American and Japanese stereotype characters and instead creates characters that are foremost teenagers and secondarily Japanese.

The folklore, of course, was one of the main draws for me as well. Was it a ghost? A monster? and if so, what kind? Japanese monsters are very different from American ones. I was genuinely surprised by what the outcome was. The plot was well thought out and masterly crafted. The bullying was important, but not simple. The monsters were both supernatural and human.

I look forward to the next installment in this trilogy, Spirits of the Noh.

Ghost Hunt by Fuyumi Ono and Shiho Inada

Now for a manga with similar topics.....

Mai Taniyama is a typical teen in high school. When Shibuya Psychic Research comes to her school to investigate a possible haunting, she becomes an assistant on the team after causing the usual assistant (Lin) to be injured and destroying an expensive camera. The school also hires a Buddhist monk (Takigawa), a Shinto miko (Ayako), a Catholic priest (John) and a psychic medium (Masako). This becomes their first case together and the series continues with multiple cases of varying creepiness and validity.

Mai discovers that she has her own paranormal power (dream prognostication) and has an unhealthy crush on the head of the company, 17-year-old Kazuya Shibuya (Naru the narcissicist, for short). After the case, she is also hired as an office assistant. This mainly involves making tea....

In any case, the cases are fascinating and some of them are quite scary. Japanes folklore and paranormal science intertwine in every case, as the team uses whatever is available to them to help their clients. Occasionally, the plot is a bit formulaic, but that is to be expected in an episodic manga such as this.

Originally, this story was a series of "light" novels in Japan. That is what they call their YA. It was highly popular and was later adapted into manga and anime form. The manga is still being written and is supposed to follow through to the end of the novel series. The anime is complete and ended before the end of the current manga volume.

So, a creepy time had by all? These two are a great pick for your horror lovers out there, especially if they would like something a little different. And they both promise to serve up plenty of yurei, yokai, and kyuketsuki!!!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Finn knows nothing of his past. He was a teenager when he woke up without a memory within Incarceron’s vastness. Those that die are absorbed and reborn. No one enters. No one leaves. No one, that is, save Sapphique. Although it is not known how much of his story is true and how much is legend. Claudia is Outside. She is the prison warden’s daughter. She is promised in marriage to the prince. She will find a key that will change everything.

So, Incarceron...

It isn’t a spoiler to say that Incarceron appears to have some sort of intelligence. At first, when the characters would describe the prison and how it is always watching, reacting, and changing I felt like they were anthropomorphizing it. The prison is awfully sinister, I could see how they would fear it and the ever present red eyes (aka cameras). However, that wasn’t the case. Incerceron is actually aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiive, y’all! And it seems to have gone rogue. At times I rolled my eyes (some of the things it said was a bit over the top), but all in all I think having the prison as a character worked. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out in the sequel.

I found that I quite enjoyed the characters – although I wouldn’t say there was a ton of character development. Pretty early on we can guess Finn’s true identity and I think that was the author’s intention. I really enjoyed Claudia – a spirited young lady willing to take risks and stand up to the most powerful people, even if at times she stretched believability. Keiro is probably the most interesting character. He’s Finn’s oathbrother, he’s clearly Scum (which is the name of bad prison gang folk) and I think you could say he is probably little ‘s’ scum too. His motivations and true loyalties aren’t clear, I was simultaneously convinced that he was going to betray Finn at any moment and that he would never ever betray him (he just was tricky and complex, you know?).

There is a dual narrative. We switch back and forth from Finn and his quest to escape to Claudia who is stuck in a prison of her own sort in the Outside. In truth, neither of them are free. We’ve discussed the prison, but life Outside is just as, if not more interesting.

At some point in history after the Years of Rage, the king at the time decreed, “We will choose an Era from the past and recreate it. We will make a world free from the anxiety of change! It will be paradise.” And so they did. It is like they’re playing court constantly, everyone caught in the web of Protocol. This is a society that had incredibly advanced technology. Now that technology is non-Era and illegal. For me, this was some of the most interesting world building in the book. I loved thinking about how they are forced to act as though they are in Regency England or something, but have holograms and spying devices that look like butterflies. It was very fun.

I really thought I was going to go crazy in love over this one and I didn’t – starred reviews by all the major publications anyone?! I enjoyed it, but there were things that jarred me out of the storyline (which I’ll keep to myself unless you want spoilers – and if you do just ask!). I thought it was a good book, but I didn’t fall head over heels for it, if you know what I mean.

Book Source = Library Copy

Best YA of 2009

Check out the booklist that several bloggers, myself included, made on Flashlight Worthy Books. I did struggle with what book to recommend, but I ended up deciding on The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima.

Anyhow, it is a nice varied list. So take a look!

Monday, February 1, 2010

How I Finished Battlestar Galactica and Got Back to my Life

Do not read if you are concerned about Spoilers. I am going to talk about the ending. ***SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS***

I finally finished. And I felt perhaps a small tickle of dissatisfaction at the ending. Don’t get me wrong, there was much to love and much that I expected, but some of the major items were not clearly resolved, or perhaps more accurately, not resolved to my liking.

Item 1. Who/what was Kara Thrace?

Was she an Angel come back to guide humanity to a new beginning? Clearly she died and was reborn/reissued, that was established. So why did the cylon hybrid and Sam go on about her being the “harbinger of death.” Were we to understand that as the harbinger of death to the bad cylons? Because she was a part of that, but Racetrack and her nukes were probably more directly responsible, weren’t they?! Or the harbinger of death to technology and the Caprican culture? I don’t know. I’ve read some theories where they speculate that Kara is the daughter of a human mother and a rogue #7 that escaped (the Daniel model that we never met). And I like that idea, even if it wasn’t verified by the finale. To paraphrase Starbuck herself, I don’t know what she was, but she’s certainly not an angel (at least not in my book).

One definition of harbinger according to the OED is to “One sent on before to purvey lodgings for an army.” Which certainly does make sense. But why then of death?

So, yes, in case you’re wondering, I did want someone to say, “kara is the harbinger of death because…” some things should be spelled out for me.

Item 2. Gaius Baltar.

I loved Gaius. He added some great comic relief and totally propelled the plot along. What I did not love was that the Six he saw in his head turned out to be some sort of angel vision. Or that Caprica, “his” six saw some sort of extra douchy “Gaius Angel” in her head. Can angels be douchy? Here, the answer is apparently yes, although had anyone consulted me I might have answered no. I don’t need them to be in white flowy glowy togas, but please, not that. Truthfully, I really really really would have preferred them to be imagined visions instead of Godly messengers, simply because it raises problems for me. I can accept a God who doesn’t get involved and isn’t on “any one side”, but by sending angels to direct behavior he certainly got his fingers dirty in this one. Obviously religion played a huge role in this series from the beginning. I just didn’t like the way it was wrapped up. I thought it was messy and perhaps a little preachy.

Hera is the Mitochondrial Eve for humanity. Excellent! Loved this! It was an awesome answer as to why Hera was so important. One thing bothered me though, either life started in Africa and spread out (with the help of Hera and her progeny) OR the survivors spread out and repopulated the planet separately (as they did in the show – because it seemed like they were dropped off and/or walked to separate places). I can’t reconcile those two things. And the inter-breeding thing with earth’s residents wigged me out. It seemed sort of strangely racist like we’ll breed with the savages and bring them up to our level. Yuck.

Item 4. Techology is Eeeeevil.

Yes, it turns out that in order to live in a state of grace we need to relinquish technology. Because if we don't, then we'll just build us a new cylon race...or something like that. This bothered me. Technology is only as bad as the way it is used. Getting rid of the Battlestar and the fleet? Yes! I think that was great. No way to run away from the inevitable problems that will arise. Getting rid of medical advances? Ack! Getting rid of technology to build appropriate shelters? Egad!

Why didn’t they use their knowledge and tools to create a better society? And I’m not talking about some utopia – because where there are humans there are those messy human emotions. I’m talking about using your technology to live better within the environment. Living in a sod hut on the prairie does not make a person/society better. It makes a person cold and probably bug infested.

And then that montage of Artificial Intelligence that was real? I love me a happy ending, and I don’t mind that everything that has happened will happen again because yes, history repeats itself. But gag me. So, um, this entire series was to warn us that we are building our own cylon race and will have to start this entire thing all over again? Sigh. Disappointing and trite.

And now the real question. Do I have it in me to watch Caprica? Only time will tell!