Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Enemy by Charlie Higson

One year ago everyone over the age of sixteen contracted a strange disease that rots away their bodies and destroys their minds. Now small groups of children fight to survive as the grown-ups they once depended on become the enemies who seek them as food.

The book follows three storylines: the Waitrose group (and Morrisons later), Small Sam, and Callum. The Waitrose group occupies the Waitrose supermarket in a mall in North London. They are led by Arran and Maxie and contain around 30 kids at the start of the story. This group later combines with the Morrisons group, from another supermarket in the neighborhood, to travel to Buckingham Palace, where there is a "safe" house.

Small Sam is abducted by a group of grown-ups in the first pages of the book. Everyone now believes him dead, but he escapes and now must try to reunite with his group. Callum is the only member of Waitrose who decides to stay behind. He is extremely xenophobic and plans to enjoy the new peace and quiet of having the store to himself.

The action is non-stop but believeable. People die, the journey is fraught with danger, but the violence never seems like too much. Oh, and the politics. In some places, I was reminded of Lord of the Flies, but not in an overt way. The "zombies" are still alive and the children are definitely traumitized.

My favorite character is Small Sam, who is only 9-years-old. He is so freaked out by his situation, but perserveres by imagining he is a character from a story, Sam Gamgee or Sam the Giant-Slayer. Yet, he has his weak moments, times when he just wants to go home and have his family back, to be held by his mother, to fight with his little sister.

And ultimately, that is what makes this story really work for me. The children, while forced to "grow up" and survive, are still children. They miss iPods, TV, and junk food. They sing TV themes and commercial jingles to cheer up. They even occasionally play.

So far, this is my favorite book this year!
PS I could only find a picture of the British cover. The American one is different. To be published in May.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Infernal Devices by Philip Reeve

This is the third book in the Hungry City Chronicles and is sadly the weakest of the bunch. Roughly 15 years have gone by since Predator’s Gold ended. Hester and Tom have a daughter named Wren. She finds her life in Anchorage stifling, boring, lacking in any and all adventures that her parents seem to have had. So when some Lost Boys secretly visit her town it is easy for her to romanticize their life of danger and thievery and she agrees to help them steal a Tin Book from Anchorage’s library. Of course it all goes horribly wrong and the far-flung pieces of this drama are drawn inexorably closer.

I’m not quite sure where to begin my discussion. Perhaps just expressing my disappointment is a good place to start. Gone is the wonderful characterization that helps the reader root for the characters. This installment has so many characters and angles that it was probably difficult to stay with any of them long enough to develop them into people the reader cares about. Hester, I’m looking especially hard at you. The same insecurities that were so wonderfully explored and developed in the first two books just seem tired, and dare I say it, lazily written here. Yes, Hester, we know you are damaged, but the fact that you still fear the exact same things you did in the first book means you haven’t matured as a character. What is understandable in a teenager is just pathetic in an adult.

Tom isn’t much better. When faced with the evidence of Hester’s sociopathy again and again (and I think it is fair to say that if Hester isn’t a sociopath she certainly could play a convincing one on TV), he just weeps and gives in. His humanity which has always been endearing and something of a strength, turns into a dismal show of personal weakness. I’m not sure which one I wanted to choke more. Hester, for no longer being kick-butt in a good way, or Tom for not having any balls.

There were still some bright spots and some genuinely funny laugh out loud moments which were generally aimed at the artistic class. Like an opera called “Diana, Princess of Whales.” Or the fact that that a town celebrated Mime-Baiting Day “When Brightonians were allowed to get back at the city’s swarms of irritating street performers.” Very funny stuff. But the sharp social commentary that was so present in the first two books seems to have petered out a bit. Instead Reeve just relentlessly drives the story forward without the finesse that made the first two such compelling reads. I was still excited about the over-arching plot progression, but am disappointed that it didn’t live up to my expectations.

I didn’t have strong memories of this one and now I know why, I must have wanted to block it out. I can’t remember anything about the final book (does that mean I didn’t read it? I'm shocked and ashamed to realize that it might be the truth) so I’m hoping that the extra time spent building up all these different story lines pays off in a big way.

Fever Crumb

Book Source: Library Copy

Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves

Hanna is what most people consider crazy--semi-treated bipolar and occasionally hallucinating. After her father dies, she heads to East Texas to find the mother who never wanted her. But Portero, Texas is a place even stranger than Hanna....

I wasn't sure what to expect with this book and it kept me guessing for quite a while. It is definitely fantasy/sci fi with a very unusual heroine. at times, she seemed like anything but heroic. However, I like that she is flawed and not in that "Bella Swan" way; she has her issues, but she ain't taking nothing from nobody, not even her Mama or the all-powerful town Mayor! Make this girl angry and she might just hit you over the head with a blunt object.

I wasn't as taken with the Mortmaine, the protectors in this strange town. Of course, I think that is exactly what the author was aiming for. I did like the romantic interest/hero, though. He was pretty believable and multi-faceted, too, although not as complex as Hanna.

My only problem with this book is that it felt a little drawn out and maybe a bit too violent. Granted the violence and sexuality are a big part of the story, but sometimes it was a bit too much.

However, I highly recommend this book for those Twilight fans who are looking for something new, something grittier, something where people actually die and the ending isn't so pat.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Conversation about Megan Whalen Turner’s A Conspiracy of Kings


Patti: So...I'm onto Conspiracy. Sophos is a slave and is having dream meetings with, I assume, Moira. About 50 pages in I guess. I'm trying to savor (unlike the first 3 that I flew through on my re-reads)

Joanna: Oh good! Do you want to know if you are right?

Sure! But no more. If I'm right - I've been noticing quite the plan of the Gods for these 3 countries to work themselves together. If I'm wrong...I don't know what the heck is the driving force.

Joanna: You are correct.

Patti: Oh good. I was almost positive I was. Obviously there must be a plan from the Gods orchestrating this whole thing.

Joanna: Which is interesting for you to say because I think that helps me figure out books 5 & 6. Potentially.

Patti: Cool! I want to know what those are, but I'll wait to ask when I'm done. But my suspicions are that it is all a big set up to get the 3 countries in tandem to fight off the Medes.


Patti: He’s just shot Heklkjlkjljk (whatever his name was) and shot the Mede and found out there are 10,000 Mede soldiers!!! I am enthralled!

Joanna: Long live the lion king of Sunis!

Patti: Now I’m to the point where he finds out it was Moira (after he has to fix the insult to Eddis)

Joanna: Almost done…

Patti: Done! Gen is king of kings!

Joanna: Gen is a mastermind, but I’ve been thinking a lot about your theory of the gods. He said that Attolia told him where Sophos’ army would be, but I’m thinking that’s Moria again b/c she also told the Mede ambassador at the end of Queen of Attolia? When he “rescued” her from Gen’s kidnapping. So book 5 from Eddis’ perspective? Someone in Mede?

Patti: Gen is definitely being pushed in certain directions. They all are. I think Eddis would be nice to be next, or it might be someone not as central – like Costis was. But a Mede would be interesting too. Maybe that slave that was serving Sounis, but betrayed him and is now in jail? It does have to be someone who has access to Gen because he’s where the action is. I can’t wait! I loved when Sophos was a slave – that was my favorite part of the book – watching him come into his own. Fabulous!

Joanna: I also thought that part/his slavery wasn’t nearly as brutal as I anticipated. His kidnapping was brutal (as was the idea that his family burned under the house) but his treatment was generally good. I liked how he often thought of his situation in reference to when Gen was the Thief on their trip and how he wasn’t gutter trash like they assumed. He also entertained with stories – only myths and not poetry. Very interesting line between the two characters on their paths to being leaders. And I thought that those slaves from that guy would become part of Sophos’ guard. Like he would go back, free them and have them work for him. But yes, Sophos is great. When he shot the Mede I cheered! I also love how he commented that he hated the Mede Ambassador’s cheap hair oil – just like Attolia! See, that’s where the author is so skilled. Keeping up with the backstabbing and spying is tough. But that’s what makes it so good.

Joanna: AND I love the ridiculous ending with the conversation between Sophos and Gen. Something like “I didn’t mean for you to shoot him!” “But you gave me the gun!” Ha ha ha we’re friends. The End.

***LATER when we’re discussing Joanna’s Top 10 YA Books***

Patti: So are you going to use a Turner for one of your Top Ten picks? I really liked the comment about how the King of Attolia is really YA. I think if I had heard that (or thought about it more) I would have picked it.

Joanna: I was thinking about Thief, but my favorite might be Queen of Attolia.

Patti: I liked that one a whole bunch too.

Joanna: I really love her [Attolia] She's an interesting character. How she came to the throne, for sure! Murderess!! That's she's smart - brilliant - but has no interpersonal skills because of who she is. And that she is really really funny! But keeps that stoic stone face. Like we see that she can't be who she really is, even she doesn't know so much. As opposed to Eddis who wears pants and has short hair.

Patti: I love her and Gen together. They have a great give and take. A ying and yang. Totally different perspectives and approaches which complement each other. I also love how Attolia hates Eddis BECAUSE Eddis didn't have the same situation as her. Oh so good.

Joanna: She is so deep. So many levels that are SLOWLY uncovered and almost NEVER spelled out. You have to infer, see the clues.

Patti: yes. yes. yes. totally. Nothing is ever dumbed down.

Joanna: For Sure Weetzie Bat. Another one is This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen.

Patti: it was really hard. I do think my latest faves were perhaps a bit too much in my conscious, but what are you going to do.

Joanna: your runner ups are good reminders. I'll probably have How I Live Now.

Patti: Well, it wasn't easy to pick and there were so many where I was like, I loved it, but did I ever think about it again?

Joanna: Exactly. And there are those that I was thinking about from when I was a teen and wondering if I read them now how would they hold up? I think the YA YA YAs posted about that.

Patti: yes, how she re-read one and it totally fell apart. I did like Christopher Pike, but I couldn't remember any individual titles, except for one where the sister gets really skinny because she doesn't eat anything but carrots. And looking back I think, "why didn't she turn orange???"

Joanna: Ha! Or have x-ray vision!

Patti: Or grow whiskers!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Predator’s Gold by Philip Reeve

We pick up the story two years after Mortal Engines finished. Tom and Hester have been flying around doing odd jobs here and there, generally just enjoying each other and keeping out of trouble. All that changes when they accept to transport Professor Nimrod Pennyroyal. An author who has written many books about his extensive adventures in America including Rubbish? Rubbish! (which cracks me up every time I see it. Every. Single. Time.). Not that his first name wasn’t enough to get me laughing. The Urban Dictionary schooled me on what nimrod actually means, who knew bugs bunny was so influential!

Pennyroyal is a scoundrel. He has very little interest in anything that goes beyond having a good time (nudge-nudge-wink-wink-say-no-more), grossly exaggerating his exploits for fame and fortune, and saving his hide. In one scene where Pennyroyal discusses America he states it was, “Discovered in the year 1924 by Christopher Columbo, the great explorer and detective.” *snicker*

I appreciated how Reeve was able to expand his world building so organically through Pennyroyal’s books. Through Pennyroyal’s collections of stories, rumors, and folklore Reeve is able to take the story in new directions. Many of Pennyroyal’s “adventures” are proven false, but more are based in some sort of truth. Such as the parasite towns that secretly attach themselves to the bottom of traction cities.

Pennyroyal would have you believe that they kill everyone on board (except, of course, the beautiful young ladies that they sell as slave sacrifices to appease the Gods). In reality, these parasite ships do exist but they are only interested in sneaking around and robbing you of your valuables so that they can take them back to Uncle. Uncle is a mixture of Big Brother and perhaps a bastardization of the 1950’s Father Knows Best TV show where the father could be relied upon for sound advice and the family was idealized and loving. Just a warning though, Uncle does not know best even though he tells you otherwise.

There was plenty of action, but this book had a fair bit of setting up too – introducing us to characters that will play important roles in later books. I didn’t notice as many cultural references, certainly not as many music ones – but it could also be the true that I just whizzed by them because I didn’t recognize them.

Once again I’ve found Hester to really the star of the show here. She is, in a word, awful. A girl ruled and afflicted by her insecurities. A girl who can pretend, but underneath it all she is truly her father’s daughter. A person who would betray a friend. A person who could kill. A person who wouldn’t even feel all that bad after. I think it is very impressive how Reeve can take such an unlikeable character and still have the readers empathize with her situation. Yes, her actions are rather appalling, but at the same time you understand exactly why she does what she does. Tom, on the other hand, is still very sweet, still relatively naïve, and still acts as an anchor of decency that Hester clings to.

Next up: Infernal Devices.


Book Source: Library Copy

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Top Ten Favorite YA Books

So Persnickity Snark is compiling everyone's top ten YA books of all time ala Fuse #8. You have until April 30th, I fully expect you to play and to post yours too so we can all discuss!

I luckily have lists of everything I've read for the past several years. The early ones are color coded, lately I've relaxed some and they are just in a spreadsheet alphabetical by author. I thought pretty hard, although I didn't spend all afternoon on it, but I did weigh out my thoughts on why I wanted to put certain books on my list.

I tried to pick things that I had read more than once – although there are a few on there that I haven’t. I picked those because even if I haven’t re-read them, I’ve thought about the books over the years, I figured if I think about them then they probably stuck with me for a reason. If the book was in a series, I decided I had to have read all the other books in a series – there are plenty of first books that I’ve loved, but not enough, apparently to keep reading the rest of them as they are published. And occasionally if I loved the other books published by the same author, I just picked the one that made me cry more, or made me laugh more.

After I had compiled it I wondered what my list says about me. This is what I found: I like fantasy and science fiction the best and I also like to laugh, especially if the humor is dark. One might also see that I have a major soft spot for books set in Winnipeg. I like books with strong female characters. I like books where the guys are insecure and sarcastic, but come into their own (and smoke lots of...stuff…apparently). I like violence – but only violence that is right vs. wrong. And as always I like it when characters die. I really don't think there is anything too out of left field except maybe my #10 pick.

So without further ado, here is my list:

1. How I Live Now - Meg Rosoff. 2004.
2. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks - E. Lockhart. 2008.
3. The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness. 2009.
4. The Year of Secret Assignments - Jaclyn Moriarty. 2004.
5. Mortal Engines - Philip Reeve. 2001.
6. Rats Saw God - Rob Thomas. 1996.
7. Sabriel - Garth Nix. 1995.
8. The Book Thief - Marcus Zusak. 2006.
9. King Dork - Frank Portman. 2008.
10. True Confessions of a Heartless Girl - Martha Brooks. 2003.

Runners up:

The Thief – Megan Whalen Turner. I would have put this on there, but I thought it might be considered Middle Grade. I waffled. If I hadn’t over thought it? It would have been #1 or #2.

An Abundance of Katherines – John Green. Almost on there. Hassan is one of my favorite characters of all time. I picked King Dork instead.

Dairy Queen – Catherine Gilbert Murdock. Oh D. J., your voice is one of the all time best voices in teen lit. But I haven't read the third book yet, despite it being on my library's shelf.

Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jack” Faber, Ship’s Boy – LA Meyer. What I wrote about D.J. goes the same for you Ms. Jack.

Feed – M.T. Anderson.

Skin Hunger – Kathleen Duey. I live in anticipation of the third book.

Godless – Pete Hautman. Just completely amazing in every way.

Luna – Julie Ann Peters

Far From Xanadu – Julie Ann Peters. I identified so much with Mike. That sibling relationship was so amazingly written.

If you Come Softly – Jacqueline Woodson

Honey, Baby, Sweetheart – Deb Caletti

Friday, March 19, 2010

Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan

A guest author inspires a classroom of 4th grade children to write. Think you’ve seen this book before? Not like this. It is so spare – this early chapter book (galley) has 113 pages and is full of dialogue. Yet much is packed into few words, and MacLachlan never shies away from sticky subjects. My favorite moment is when the class is discussing their dislike for their younger siblings, and the guest author, Ms. Mirabel, admits to disliking her younger brother as a child. A student assumes that Ms. Mirabel loves him now, but Ms. Mirabel communicates that no, she does not, and he is not a nice person. I so appreciated this honesty. MacLachlan clearly respects her young readers enough to write an adult character with layers.

What more can I say without spoiling this gem? There is a library on Long Island that has a collection of books that is called “skinny but good.” This is where that book belongs.

Oh, and Word After Word After Word is a dream for folks planning a Mock Newbery discussion! It will be fun to compare it to books for older readers or works of non-fiction in terms of the Newbery criteria.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

After finishing Fever Crumb last week I was inspired to re-read Reeve’s Hungry City Chronicles. I tore into Mortal Engines. This series begins hundreds (thousands?) of years after Fever Crumb’s time. I was specifically looking for people who showed up in her story, mostly though I wanted to see if any of the characters were related to Fever Crumb herself. I didn’t get a sense of that at all, but who knows what I’ll pick up when I re-read the rest of the books in this series.

Municipal Darwinism is a way of life – it is a city eat city world. Cities have lifted themselves off the ground and become roaming aggressors. Those that actually live on the ground (Ack! the horror!) are referred to as Mossies (from the *ahem* old saying, “a rolling town gathers no moss”). Anyhow, Tractionists and Mossies – also known as Anti-tractionists don’t get along.

Insert a fan girl squee for that, because this is what it really boils down to for me: the ingenuity of what elements of modern life Reeve chooses to insert and adapt into this distant dystopian future. It is brilliant and I loves it. Reeve is obviously something of a music buff. Fever Crumb having numerous Bowie references and the music references don’t disappoint in Mortal Engines either. Airships have names like 13th floor elevator, My shirona, and Idiot Wind.

We start the story off by meeting Tom Natsworthy, a third class apprentice Historian who has been assigned pit duty after London eats another city. There he meets up with Valentine – the Historian Guild leader and his daughter Katherine. He’s in heaven – a beautiful girl and his hero hanging out and shooting the breeze. It is fantastic. At least until Hester Shaw shows up. She is a horribly disfigured girl who attempts to assassinate Valentine. A chase ensues, Hester jumps down a garbage chute to escape and much to his surprise(and total dismay) Valentine pushes Tom down after her. You pretty much hold your breath from there on out, the action and suspense never slow down.

One of the things that I most enjoy about this series is that it unapologetically kills off important characters. Another is that it is kind of gross.

“What are they doing?” asked Katherine. “What is that stuff?”
Miss Valentine,” said Nimmo, sounding proud. “Effuent. Ejecta. Human nutritional
“You mean…poo?” said Katherine, appalled.
“Thank you, Miss Valentine; perhaps that is the word for which I was groping.” Nimmo glared at her. “There is nothing disgusting about it, I assure you. We all…ah…use the toilet from time to time. Well, now you know where your…um…poo ends up. 'Waste not, want not’ is the Engineers’ motto, Miss. Properly processed human erdure makes very useful fuel for our city’s engines. And we are experimenting with ways of turning it into a tasty and nutritious snake. We feed our prisoners on nothing else. Unfortunately they keep dying. But that is just a temporary setback, “I’m sure.”

I think we’re all allowed a barf break after reading that quote. I mean, they're feeding people poo y'all!!!

The final thing I love about this book is that its heroes are so unlikely. Tom takes a long time to come around from being a staunch supporter of Tractionism. He’s young and naïve and doesn’t want to believe that he might have spent his life being lied to. But, if I am to be completely honest, I think Hester is the star of the show. She’s a realist of the most unfortunate kind (you know, the kind that learn what’s up because they’ve had the raw end of the stick once too often and then had their face disfigured with it). Hester is vicious and insecure and unapologetic about it. She’s in a word, awesome.

Can’t wait to re-read the next one!

Book Source: Library Copy

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Rough Compilation of the Flurry of Emails that the FIRE vs CALPURNIA TATE BoB elicited:

Which can be found here.

Joanna: What has she been reading that she hasn’t found a happy family? Nancy Farmer on Calpurnia: “There are so few books anymore that portray a happy family. I think children need to know that not all families are riddled with divorce, infidelity, child abuse and drug addiction, the favorite topics of children’s books today.” Happy? Wasn’t the mom drinking all day because her kids drove her nuts? LOL!

Patti: I was really surprised that Nancy Farmer was so hard on Fire. I thought it was a really good read with great characterization. I liked Graceling better, but still I really enjoyed Fire. And on Calpurnia: Not only drinking, but horribly repressed!

Sally: “What I particularly like is the unstated (yet clear) love the characters have for each other.” Yes. Love comes oozing out of every door and window of the Tate house. Uh-huh. Calpurnia has many fine qualities, but portraying a happy family is not really one I’d attribute to it. Just sayin’.

Patti: I know! And the mother was pretty much self-medicating with booze. I can’t even see how we read the same book!

Sally: Yeah—some call it “headache,” others call it “hangover.” Perhaps you and Nancy didn’t read the same book! Maybe the judges just gave Nancy a copy of Little Women with Jo March’s name changed to Calpurnia Tate! I declare a conspiracy!!!

Patti: Ha! Now that would be something.

Patti: I can’t help but feel Cashore is going to be crushed. Farmer writes some dang good fantasy. I’m sure Cashore looked up to her. Maybe at some point Farmer just stopped reading and now it is all, “those blasted problem books being written, bah humbug.”

Joanna: I thought Fire was dismissed thoughtlessly. I have not read Nancy Farmer, but I understand her to not be shy of violence. I haven’t read Fire, but I thought it did deserve a better discussion by Nancy Farmer. I was surprised by how short she was with it. She came across as terse. We’ll see how long Calpurina goes, especially since she’s up against Charles & Emma next. I LOVE battle of the kids books!

Joanna: “Viola is an especially interesting character, caught as she is between slavery and freedom. She never forgets her or anyone else’s social standing, but is loyal to the Tate family. Her personality is vivid and intelligent.” But also dismissed?

Patti: Good point Joanna. I wasn’t as happy with the way the book dealt with race.

Joanna: Oh man, now I am going to be addicted to this!

Sally: I confess, I’ve read neither Graceling nor Fire, so I can’t really comment on either one’s possible superiority or inferiority to Calpurnia. But the Battle’s still fun to watch.

Sally: I really do love Calpurnia. But it’s easy to smack about, what with the accolades it’s racked up, you know?

Joanna: And it didn’t help that Fire was so completely slammed that we had to stick up for it!

Patti: You know we weren’t really making fun of Calpurnia so much as we were strongly disagreeing with Ms. Farmer’s notion of Calpurnia.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve

“Fever was the youngest member of the Order of Engineers, and the only female. Engineers did not have wives or children. But one evening fourteen years before, Dr. Crumb had been called out to a dig on the Brick Marsh by an archaeologist named Chigley Unthank who wanted an opinion on some Ancient artifacts which he’d unearthed, and on his way back he had heard crying coming from an old weed-grown pit close to the road. There, among the bramble bushes, he had found a baby in a basket with an old blanket laid over her and a label tied around her wrist, upon which someone had written just four words: Her Name is Fever. “

And so we are introduced to Fever Crumb, a girl with mysterious origins, on her first assignment outside the Order of Engineers in London. A London that has not yet raised itself up from the ground. What the heck does that mean Patti, you might ask. Well, this here, is a prequel for Reeve’s most excellent Hungry City Chronicles. The first of which, Mortal Engines, is apparently being secretly adapted by Peter Jackson for the big screen (Good God, let this be so).

So like I said, this story is set in a London that is unaware that it is on the cusp of becoming a traction city. 15ish years previous, Skinners (Homo Sapiens) overthrew their Skriven (Homo Superior) overlords. All Scriven were killed, although the fear that some escaped instead has never been far from the thoughts of Londoners. When Fever gets lost in the marketplace she is noticed by a woman who proclaims her to be Scriven (Fever has mismatched eyes). This propels all sorts of things into action. A long-retired Skinner returns to duty. Londoners are whipped into a frenzy of fear and hate. Secret Archeological digs become most important. All this, as the Movement (refugees or invaders depending on which newspaper you read) nears London.

I love how history is treated in these books. Technology is both agonizingly primitive due to forgotten knowledge (no telephones or even radios, for example) while simultaneously being incredibly complex and advanced (traction cities! Robots/ human hybrids! Assassins made of paper!). The Ancients had amazing technology, but most of it has been lost in the passage of time and destroyed in wars. Now people dig for it, it is priceless, some is still used and yet the understanding of it is all but lost.

What trickles down is a muddied history. Nothing is really known and yet you can feel it brimming just below the surface. Some of what Reeve winds into the story is obviously humor for present day readers, like when Fever stumbles across a religious procession in robes and pointed hats that are celebrating an old-world prophet named Hari Potter. Or even favored curse words, such as “cheesers crice,” which is totally nonsensical unless you recognize what it evolved from. Another curse word is "blogger" as in, "you stupid blogger." Another curious stand in. Mr. Reeve are you trying to tell us something? Hmmm?

This is a breathless ride. Fever is rational, as all engineers are trained to be. She aims for reason and emotionlessness in all things. Impossible, obviously, and it leads to many internal struggles as she faces the irrational world outside her sheltered home.

It has been awhile since I’ve read those books, so I inevitably missed things that I shouldn’t have. I couldn’t tell if Fever’s story happens before or after the Sixty Minute War, as there was no reference to it, I assumed before. How far before, I don’t know. I do know that we learn of Grike the Stalker’s origins in this book (WOW! What a payoff), and I suspect more of these characters showed up in the Hungry City books as important historical figures, but I really can’t remember the details of those earlier books. Time permitting I am going to re-read those suckers. Reeve is a genius. His writing is pretty much unparalleled. I’ll leave you with this quote:

You could see how he’d suffered there by the pained, rheumatic way he walked. You could hear it in the steady wheezing of his breath, and the cough that rumbled endlessly down in the wet cellars of his lungs.

Immaculate world building and wordsmithing. These books are a step - more like a league - above the rest. If you have a moment, read Frank Cotrell Boyce’s review. He caught many references that I wasn’t familiar with not being a David Bowie fan.

Book Source: ARC swiped from colleague

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork

Pancho has a goal. It is a secret goal. It is something that he’s unlikely to share with any of the other kids who happen to live at the orphanage he’s just moved to. His sister has just died, the police ruled it accidental – but Pancho knows otherwise. D.Q. already lives at the orphanage and has since he was around nine. He’s 17 now and has cancer. It doesn’t look too good for him. Pancho is given the job of looking after D.Q. and gets to accompany him on a medical trip to Albuquerque. This trip is essentially a pilgrimage. D.Q. and Pancho both hope to find their deepest desires there. For D.Q., a girl, for Pancho, his sister’s murderer.

There were a few coincidences that were perhaps a little too convenient. D.Q.’s medical treatment is in Albuquerque and it just so happens that Pancho’s murderer lives there too. And wouldn’t Pancho like to come along? D.Q. might be a little too deep for a seventeen year old boy – but he has had an unusual life, so perhaps not.

All in all, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this story. It is all about love and the effect people can have on one another. It is about anger and redemption and choosing to live a life worth living every day. It is about friendship and choosing the right way, not the easy way. It shows how someone can be damaged, but that being damaged does not determine your destiny. It shows how when people open themselves up, anything is possible. It explores the value of life, while also respecting a person’s right to choose how and when and even if they receive medical treatment. The language is gorgeous. The characters nuanced. It is simply wonderful.

This is the first book I’ve read this year that I really think has a shot at the Printz.

Book Source: Publisher Review Copy

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Audiobooks: A Drowned Maiden's Hair & The Red Blazer Girls

My first audiobook of 2010 was 2007's recording of A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz. In anticipation of the author's new book for 2010 (The Night Fairy) I remembered I had wanted to read this one.

Alma Cuervo gives a fine performance as the reader. I love the complex and rich characters, the melodrama, the seances, and Maud. A great, suspenseful read for 8-12 year olds. Maud is a voracious reader and there are a number of turn-of-the-century (20th century that is) works mentioned, especially those featuring orphans who overcome. This story was a nice send up to those classics and I appreciated the author's nod to them. I cannot imagine a young reader not getting swept up in this deliciously gothic story. Thumbs up.

I'm almost finished with The Red Blazer Girls: the Ring of Racamadour By Michael Beil and I am loving it! It is a 2010 Texas Lone Star Reading List title which means it will get all the exposure it deserves as every middle school & public library in the state will think about purchasing it. Tai Alexandra Ricci's gives a solid performance with her pitch-perfect girl voices. But I have to hand it to (private girls' school) teacher Michael Beil for his amazing grasp of the preteen girl in all her over-the-top emotional wonderfulness. Sophie is spot-on. Love her. He must be one amazing teacher.

My one concern for the audio is that the puzzles the girls work on can be a challenge to imagine by the descriptions alone. I'm sure there are plenty of 10 year olds who know geometry far better than me, but I kept thinking it might be confusing to someone who has never figured out the Pythagorean Theorem before. Even still, put this on your booklist now. Hooray for mysteries! Hooray for the sequel! Random House, please have ARCs at TLA next month. Thanks!

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrations by Angela Barrett

A night fairy is born just before midnight on the night of a full moon. Her wings are beautiful but, unfortunately, they attract the attention of a confused young bat. He mistakes her for his dinner and grabs her, crumpling her wings and rendering what little remains useless. Hurt, afraid, and angry, Flory decides she will become a day fairy to avoid bats altogether.

Flory finds a home in an abandoned birdhouse in an old woman’s backyard. The daylight begins to grow on her: she befriends a young squirrel who will do anything for a snack, and she enjoys watching the colorful bird swoop from tree to tree. But what she longs for more than anything is to ride upon the back of a hummingbird. When she finds a mother hummingbird trapped in a spider’s web, Flory recognizes the opportunity to have the hummingbird’s eternal gratitude.

With an economy of language that is astonishing, Schlitz develops a character that is flawed almost in every way. Flory is selfish, self-righteous, proud, often bitter, jealous, and rude - a most satisfying young heroine! Yet she is also resourceful, brave, and smart. She grows throughout the story with a reluctance we can all believe and relate to.

There is also big adventure in this book! Bat attacks, squirrel rides, a scary spider confrontation, and the footsteps of the giantess who fills the tubes with bird seed and sugar water. This is a fairy book for the reader who likes their action served with a little side of spooky.

I must mention the book is beautiful. Each illustration by Angela Barrett is more breathtaking than the next. The depictions of the garden at night are particularly gorgeous, and I appreciated that Flory looks just as if she belongs to the evening sky.

Stunning and delightful!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Independent Comics and Uninhibited Cuteness

Today I attended the sixth annual Staple! Independent Media Expo for small press and independent comics. I went with a friend of mine who hopes to one day be animator, so it was enlightening on many fronts. I'll admit, my understanding and knowledge of American comics is a lot weaker than Asian ones. But there were some here that I really love.

Paul Benjamin and Alan Porter of Boom Comics! and Marvel Adventures fame were nice to visit with. Alan revealed at least two more Cars comics are in the works. Colleen AF Venable of the Bearded Ladies let me flip through her new comic, Guinea Pig Pet Shop Private Eye, which I already plan to purchase for the library. She also revealed future collaborations are in the works for her at First Second, one of my favorite comics small presses. Guy Davis (B. P. R. D) and Chris Schweizer (Crogan's Adventures) were also in attendance, though I didn't get a chance to speak with them.

The most exciting part for me was the Q & A with Andy Runton. I absolutely love Owly! And Andy is such a nice guy. He freely discussed his decision to do"cute" comics as a personal choice (he tried action, super-heroish stuff and hated it). He also revealed a lot about the publishing process and the years of hard work that being an independent comic involves. When asked why Owly is silent, he admitted that he "...is just bad at dialog." But that is okay with us!

Andy's perspective on all ages comics was refreshing and you could tell that he really loves what he does. And there will be more Owly! And two Owly picture books! Oh, we also got to see the new clip he and Sprite Animation are shopping around in hopes of an animated series. Check it out!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Librarian Confessions

My post about Megan Whalen Turner reminded me about writing a post about librarian confessions. That is, what have you not read? What books, as a librarian, are you secretly ashamed of not having read? Perhaps books that you unabashedly recommend to youth in your library as "Oh this is good. You should check this out." When infact you have not read it. Fess up in the comments!

Here's my list of YA Fiction*:

1. Meg Cabot. (I swear I have not read one of her books. She just sits on my To Read list.)

2. Gossip Girl, The Clique, The A-List, Drama High, etc.

3. Lloyd Alexander

4. Robert Cormier

5. Karen Cushman (and her books are maybe 200 pages)

6. The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld

7. Eoin Colfer / Artemis Fowl

8. Neal Shusterman

9. T.A. Barron

10. Avi

11. Nancy Farmer

12. S.E. Hinton (Maybe 2 decades ago I read her. It's fuzzy.)

(*perhaps I'll post a juvenile fiction list in the future.)