Friday, November 28, 2014

The Different Girl Review

The Different Girl

Book talk: Veronika, Caroline, Isobel, and Eleanor have lived on a deserted island for as long as they can remember.  The four girls do everything together and look identical except for their hair color.   Irene and Robbert tell them that their parents all died in a plane crash and do their best to take care of them and provide them with an education.  Despite their tragic circumstances they live a relatively happy and normal life.  Or at least that's what they always believed.  Then one day a very different girl appears on the island who makes them question everything.

Rave:  
I know the language will turn a lot of people off but I absolutely love books that are written in a stylized way or in dialect.  The story is narrated by Veronika and her inability to understand figures of speech and use metaphor is part of what is so intriguing about her character and what makes the narrative so unique.  Her limited knowledge and belief that she is normal creates a delicious tension as little hints are dropped which left me constantly guessing and trying to extrapolate to figure out what was going on.  It's clear from the beginning that something is off both with the world at large and these girls particularly but exactly what is never entirely revealed--even at the end.  It's wonderfully atmospheric and combine that with the science fiction angle and it reminded me of The Twilight Zone.  It makes perfect sense that Veronika talks the way she does and even though it does feel stiff and strange it is hauntingly poetic at times.  What starts as a quiet, introspective novel turns into a tense thriller as the novel approaches its climax and the stakes are raised.  This is not your average YA dystopian thriller.  It is something quiet different and wonderfully refreshing.

Rant:  
none

Every book its reader:  
Fans of psychological science fiction like the Twilight Zone will love this story.  The difficult language will draw some in and turn others off.  Read the first chapter to get an idea of whether or not you'll like it or see the quotes below for a taste.  Content wise I'd say it's fine for 5th grade but the writing style makes it more likely to be enjoyed by teens.  

Bonus Quotes:

“I hope what I’m telling is what really happened, because if it isn’t--if I’ve forgotten things or lost them--then I’ve lost part of myself. I’m not sure how old I am, mainly because there are so many different ways to tell time--one way with clocks and watches and sunsets, or other ways with how many times a person laughs, or what they forget, or how they change their minds about what they care about, or why, or whom.”

“But we learned she was listening to how we said things, not what, and to what we didn’t talk about as much as what we did. Which was how we realized that a difference between could and did was a thing all by itself, separate from either one alone, and that we were being taught about things that were invisible.’

“I didn’t like everyone looking at me like I was different--because their looking made me different--"

“Her absence extended in lines of numbers made of smoke, backward in memory and forward in futures never to occur.”

Source: ebook from public library

The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

After the End Review

After the End (After the End #1)

Book talk:  When World War III ravaged the world a small group managed to survive in the remote Alaskan wilderness. Juneau is one of the children of these survivors and has learned how to live off the land and tap into the heart of nature to work magic. When her tribe is taken while she's out hunting she ventures out of the safe zone for the first time and what she discovers shakes her to the very core: a whole city, completely untouched. Is everything she was ever told a lie? But her tribe is still missing and she must find them. Now she has to survive in an environment she is completely unprepared for in a world where she has no idea whom to trust.

Rave:  This story is told in the alternating perspectives of Juneau and Miles.  Plum does a great job making Miles unlikable at first.  She contrasts the serious problems Juneau is dealing with to Miles's melodramatic reaction to having to work in a mail room after being caught cheating on a test.  When Juneau first meets him she sizes him up with the quip "a fortunate life, unfortunately for the rest of the world."  At first Miles just plays along with her so he can earn points with his dad for turning her in but as anyone who's ever watched a high school rom-com will be able to predict he soon starts to fall for her.  Despite being a bit cheesy it's nice to watch him gain empathy for Juneau and start to grow as a person and expand his world view (although it would be nice if he could have had empathy for someone without having to fall for them first.)  The pacing is quick and fans of Katniss will enjoy the capable Juneau.  An added supernatural element as Juneau works her nature-based magic will draw additional fans as will Juneau's pets including dogs and a wild bird.  

Rant:  
At one point Miles says "Suddenly, and randomly, I have this flashback to history class, when we learned about how afraid the Native Americans were when they saw the European explorers’ rifles for the first time, calling them magical ‘fire sticks.’" Juneau's group also refers to shoes as 'moccasins' but has no stated connection to any native peoples.  I found it odd and problematic to have these brought up without any commentary or other mention of native peoples.

Juneau uses homeless individuals as a conduit for her magic and I have torn feelings about it.  On the one hand it's clear that Juneau treats them with kindness, values their help, and is saddened by the way society treats them.  On the other hand the author always depicts them as insane, alcoholic, or both: “A hat sits in front of him with coins inside, and empty metal cans with BEER printed on them are scattered around him. I approach. His odor is pungent. Rancid.”

One final warning that the book ends on a complete cliff hanger.  Plum easily could have ended the book a chapter or so earlier and left on a good note while still leaving curiosity over the sequel.  Instead she chose to go on so that it would end on the most dramatic scene possible.

Every book its reader:  I'd recommend this to fans of supernatural and survival stories.

Extras:

Amy Plum has plenty of extras on her site including a guide to post apocalyptic fashion and interviews with herself and her characters.

Source: ebook from public library

After the End by Amy Plum: buy it or check it out today!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dangerous Review

Dangerous

Book talk:  When Maisie's father gave her the middle name 'Danger' he thought he was being funny. He didn't know how apt it would turn out to be. Maisie has wanted to go to astronaut camp ever since she was a little girl, so when she sees the contest on her cereal box she figures that it couldn't hurt to apply. She is shocked to win and even more so when she's selected to be part of an elite group that gets to visit the space elevator built by the eccentric genius who runs the camp. But what starts as a prize loses its luster when things go horribly wrong. All of their lives will be changed forever as they come to grips with new abilities and try to decide who, if anyone, they can trust.

Rave:  Aliens, superheroes, cool gadgets, and epic fight scenes: this book has it all.  This book breaks the mold in many ways.  The characters excel in science but spout off memorized lines of poetry.  They are multilingual and diverse and resist easy categorization into good and evil.  Maisie actually has a good relationship with her parents and they are willing to drop everything to help her (plus the Dad has a fondness of puns that won me over.)  There is a strong romantic element and a bit of a love triangle but the triangle is quickly dealt with instead of drawn out. Cheesy pick up lines are properly rebuffed (" Do girls usually respond to that kind of talk?"/"You'd be easier to woo if you were dumb.") in favor of emotional engagement and banter involving references to Greek mythology, poetry, and science.  Now that's a trend I can get behind!  ("You be Europa, and I'll be your Jupiter" is my favorite pick up since Eleanor & Park's Bobba Fett analogy)  Even the supporting characters show surprising sides like the muscle-bound head of security singing Opera in a faux soprano when he's alone.

Rant:  A few characters are still disappointingly two dimensional like the stereotypical greedy villain willing to go to any length for a profit.  There are some issues brought up that I wish Hale had spent more time with like the abuse in the back story of one of the supporting characters. There were moments where characters die or other horrific things happen that I felt should have had more of an impact and emotional weight than they did because we didn't get to know the characters well enough or the context was sped through.  These were probably sacrifices made to keep the plot moving quickly which plenty will appreciate but given the choice I'd have preferred a more thoughtful examination of these elements even if it meant a slower pace.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of science fiction and super heroes looking for a fast-paced thriller.

Extras:

Shannon Hale has her own website with more information on the book including a great post on neutral characters and relating to the specific and another on the book's history.

The publisher made a teaser trailer for the book with an endorsement from James Dashner that impressed several of my students:



Bonus Quotes:

"The afternoon was yellowing around the edges like old paper."

"I am looped in the loops of her hair."

"Cheddar is as gouda cheese as you can hope to try. But it’s nacho cheese, so leave my provolone."

"Poetry reminds me of looking at things through a microscope...I examined things I thought I knew--a strand of my hair, a feather, an onion peel. Seeing them up close, they changed."


Source: ebook from public library

Dangerous by Shannon Hale: buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Brief Reviews Fall 2014 part 2

Lilith Dark and the Beastie TreeLilith Dark is one of the toughest and most adorable monster slayers I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. She reminds me of Calvin with a stuffed dinosaur for her Hobbes.  Together they act out elaborate and gruesome fantasies and sometimes they are depicted as Lilith sees them and sometimes the artwork shows that the dinosaur is really stuffed after all.  But thanks to the longer format these fantasies can be much more elaborate and follow a full adventure cycle.  Nothing is what it seems in this world where a cute kitten turns into a monster and a hideous creature ends up being a friend (Spoon, pictured at the left on the cover is actually my favorite character in the comic.)  Lilith of course proves her courage while the babysitter proves clueless and a stinger at the end leaves the truth of the events up in the air in classic fantasy adventure fashion.  While some elements are reminiscent of other stories the comic as a whole stands out.  A treat for those of all ages with a macabre sensibility. Lilith Dark and the Beastie Tree by Charles Dowd: buy it or check it out today!


Second chances: true stories of living with Addison's diseaseI bought this book when someone close to me was diagnosed with Addison's Disease.  I had some basic knowledge of Addison's because our family dog growing up had it but I was still shocked, saddened, and scared when I heard.  As a librarian naturally my first instinct was to research and read everything I could about it.  It was easy enough to find medical facts but I wanted to know what to expect from the future--what living with Addison's looks like after the initial crisis passes.  This book accomplished just that.  Reading the first-hand accounts of 16 very different people not only provided practical advice but helped give me perspective and imagine what the future may now look like.  Hearing from people who had lived with Addison's for decades and found ways to keep doing the things they loved was a great comfort and even reading about the struggles turned them into something concrete that could be planned for and overcome instead of an unnamed lurking fear.  The quality of the writing style varies greatly from chapter to chapter but every story shared something that I found helpful.  I wouldn't recommend this based on literary merit to a casual reader looking for a memoir collection but for those who want to learn more about life with Addison's this is a valuable resource and I'm deeply thankful to Carol McKay for putting it together.  Second Chances: True stories of living with Addison's Disease edited by Carol McKay: buy it

Anna Dressed in Blood (Anna, #1)I had a few problems with this book.  First of all Cas's cockiness did not win me over.  He acts like a jerk but he believes his actions are completely justified.  Secondly a big deal is made about how Anna is a super powerful ghost and yet she still cowers behind Cas when baddies show up.  Apparently even a practically omnipotent supernatural woman needs a mortal man to protect her when things get scary.  The mortal female love interest at one point complains to her male companion that everyone has some sort of power to fight the ghosts except her and is comforted not by being reassured that she can fight too but by being told she's "the voice of reason." Cas is sometimes compared to Buffy and unsurprisingly he has a low opinion of the iconic, powerful woman and takes it as an insult even when it's meant as a compliment.  Even his mother who is a witch mostly just contributes by washing the special knife and cooking and mixing herbs. It is entirely possible that I am overthinking things but things like this just kept pulling me out of the narrative and prevented me from enjoying it.  Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake: buy it or check it out today!

MaddAddam (MaddAddam Trilogy, #3)"There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too." I was glad I read the third installment of this trilogy so soon after I read the second.  It wrapped things up nicely while bringing up even more interesting questions to ponder.  The theme of storytelling is strong in this installment as the characters are constantly retelling the stories of what they've been through to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and help the survivors learn who they are and where they came from.  Sprinkled throughout the social commentary, various literary styles, and thought-provoking scenes are bursts of humor like the made-up band names: "Luminescent Corpses" and "The Bipolar Albino Hookworms"  if one of these doesn't become a real band name I will be sorely disappointed!  But there's nothing disappointing about this book.  If you haven't read the series start with Oryx and Crake.  MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood: buy it or check it out today!

The Forbidden Library (The Forbidden Library, #1)I found several aspects of this book problematic.  For one thing even for a magical world the internal logic is sketchy at best.  There's one creature for example that is described both in writing and pictures as being like hard tennis balls with long, hard beaks.  They can bounce and roll easily but I'm not sure how--it seems like such long beaks would get in the way.   In this world power is acquired by killing other creatures that then become your minions.  One of said minions points out Alice's hypocrisy in saying that she doesn't want to be mean to her own saying "They’re already your slaves, how much crueler do you need to be" Alice comforts herself by thinking "It wasn’t like slavery, though. Not really. The swarmers didn’t even exist when she didn’t call on them, so it wasn’t like they were waiting around and getting bored. It’s more like...having a dog. One of those clever dogs that can herd sheep and do tricks when you whistle" which misses the point entirely.  This issue is then dropped and Alice continues to use her minions and place them in danger because it's too inconvenient to do otherwise.  Hopefully this will be addressed further in future books but slavery isn't an issue I'd casually mention then drop after coming up with a lame justification.  On top of that the book isn't particularly original or well-written.  There's plenty of stories where books turn out to contain actual magic and the themes of power corrupting and resourceful orphan girls have been well trod.  Even the names are unimaginative from Alice getting lost in the wonderland of the library to the villains Mr. Black and Mr. Wurms.  Having so many of the characters be soulless servants bound to the will of their masters doesn't exactly lend itself to rounded character portraits either.   The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler: buy it or check it out today!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cruel Beauty Review

Cruel Beauty

Book talk:  Before Nyx was born her father made a deal with the ruler of their cursed kingdom.  He has many names such as the Gentle Lord or the Sweet Faced Calamity, but despite his handsome face he is centuries old and rules the kingdom through terror and tricks.  Only the desperate or the foolish bargain with him because it always ends in tragedy.  Nyx knows this all too well.  The price of her father's deal was that one day Nyx would marry the Gentle Lord.  While Nyx's sister grew up coddled and loved Nyx was raised as a weapon crafted to destroy the Gentle Lord when her wedding day finally came.  So Nyx steeled her heart to her purpose and prepared to marry a monster.  But when she finally comes to live in his enchanted castle killing him proves harder than she expected and the Gentle Lord is not the monster she anticipated.

Rocks my socks:  I love a good Beauty and the Beast story and have long been a fan of Greek Mythology so I was glad to see them combined in such a creative way.  The tension between the Gentle Lord and Nyx is palpable and their banter all I could hope for.  Speaking of the Gentle Lord is it just me or is he basically Benedict Cumberbatch? ("Sharp nose and high cheekbones framed with tousled, ink-black hair and stamped all over with the arrogant softness of a man just out of boyhood who had never been defied.")  The twists of the enchanted castle and the plot provide an interesting puzzle to solve while the characters struggle to overcome their pasts and see the world complexly.

Rocks in my socks:  
Sometimes I wanted to shake Nyx by the shoulders and say "We know!  Move on already!"  Her life growing up was legitimately messed up but after a while I grew tired of hearing about it and the constant mention of the word 'monster' and how she's bound to a monster or married to a monster or eating breakfast with a monster grated on my nerves.

Every book its reader:  
I'd give this to fans of fantasy, romance, greek mythology, and fairy tales retold.  Fans of Beauty and the Beast will particularly enjoy the dynamic between Ignifex and Nyx.

Extras:


The author has a website  and the publisher has made a trailer for the book:


Bonus Quotes:
"No honest people ever bargained with the Kindly Ones...Only the foolish. The proud. The ones who believed they deserved the world at no price."

"I had been the bride of the Gentle Lord for half a day already, and there had been strikingly little torment."

"They avenge the wronged, when it suits them. Strike bargains with the desperate, when it suits them. They love to mock. To leave answers at the edges, where anyone could see them but nobody does. To tell the truth when it is too late to save anyone. And they are always fair."

Source: ebook from public library

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge: buy it or check it out today!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wandering Son Review

Wandering Son: Volume One

Book talk:  When shy Shuichi meets the outgoing Yoshino both their lives change.  Yoshino's mom is always buying dresses that she doesn't want while Shuichi secretly longs to try his sister's clothes on.  Then Yoshino gives Shuichi one of her unwanted dresses and it starts them both on a journey to self discovery.  This sweet slice-of-life comic follows their ups and downs at school and home as they learn to embrace their identities and find the strength to share them with the world.

Rocks my socks:  First and foremost this is a great school story following two fifth graders as they navigate the emotionally fraught waters of puberty.  Their relationships with friends and family are shown with great humor, realism, and empathy.  Additionally it tells a story that doesn't get much attention in the media--what it is like to be a transgender youth.  This is particularly remarkable because it isn't a special episode of a show that has one narrative arc and is finished or something happening in the background to a minor character.  Both the main characters are transgender and the comics go on for many volumes portraying many different types of stories and allowing a more natural pace instead of one artificially simplified and condensed to fit a short story line.  This quiet but powerful comic touched my heart and its characters will stay with me.

Rocks in my socks:  Several of the characters look similar and distinguishing between them can get a bit confusing.  It got much easier with each volume though as the personalities become more clear and I got to know them better.

Every book its reader:  I'd recommend this to anyone looking for a sweet slice-of-life school comic.

Source: school library

Wandering Son by Shimura Takako: buy it or check it out today!


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Brief Reviews Fall 2014 part 1

The StorytellerFans of The Storyteller tv series or anyone who enjoys folklore and comics will like this collection of new, old stories.  Each story tells a classic tale with the distinct style of Jim Henson's Storyteller and his faithful dog.  The style of writing and artwork varies from one story to the next but they are all of good quality.  I especially enjoyed the extra artwork with quotes from the original series.  My favorite part of the collection was the final story based on an unproduced Storyteller script.  It's a delightfully disturbing Russian folktale about a witch baby.  Another highlight was the gorgeous artwork in the Puss in Boots adaptation.   Jim Henson's The Storyteller edited by Nate Cosby: buy it or check it out today!

Jane, the Fox, and MeI enjoyed this evocative Canadian comic about a lonely girl who finds solace in Jane Eyre.  Helene struggles to survive school while being teased by her former friends.  Then her class goes to nature camp which holds even more horrors in store.  There she meets a fox and befriends another girl relegated to the fringes.  Most of the story is told in shades of brown and black except for the scenes from Jane Eyre.  The art is simple but expressive. The most detail is to be found in the portrayal of nature in the backgrounds.  The end isn't of the Hollywood variety but it is happy in a quiet and realistic way which makes it all the more moving.  Jane, the Fox, & Me by Fanny Britt & Isabelle Arsenault: buy it or check it out today!

The Reason for DragonsThis comic builds tension by walking the line between fantasy and reality leaving the reader guessing if the characters have really seen fantastic creatures, if they're delusional, or both.  Northrop has a lot of fun playing with the conventions of Renaissance fairs and it shows up in creative touches like the faux brochure at the front of the book.  The artwork is gorgeous and the color palette does a great job creating atmosphere. The Don-Quixote like knight provides plenty of humorous breaks.  There's some fun short stories at the end by guest writers and authors.  It's a nice quick read for fans of fantasy, humor, and ren faires.  The Reason for Dragons by Chris Northrop and Jeff Stokely: buy it or check it out today!


Boxers & Saints Boxed SetThis work of historical fiction examines the Boxer Rebellion from two perspectives.  Not only does it do an excellent job of educating readers about an event that usually gets very little attention in American history classes but it does a fine job entertaining them as well.  The characters are rounded and intriguing, the pacing quick, poignant moments are balanced with humorous ones and some scenes are evocative of super heroes in a way that is sure to draw many readers in.  Whether you're looking to educate yourself or for engaging entertainment this two-part series is an excellent choice!  Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang: buy it or check it out today!




Cleopatra in Space #1: Target Practice (Cleopatra in Space, #1)The premise for this comic is absolutely absurd but its execution is so darned delightful that I do not care.  A young Cleopatra sick of studying plays hooky with a friend and ends up accidentally time travelling to the future.  She was apparently expected by some sort of shadow government made up of talking cats.  Cleopatra quickly acclimates to her new life in outer space and starts getting in the kind of harmless hijinks you'd expect from any outer space school story.  Of course it turns out that she's a crack shot and withstands unreasonable tests of her ability with grace while insisting that she's not the savior everyone thinks she is fated to be.  The plot is standard but its juxtaposition with such a unique setting made it enjoyable.  The charming artwork and sassy cat sidekick might have played a big part in why I liked it so much. A quick, light adventure story for anyone who ever wondered what famous historical figures would look with a ray gun.   Cleopatra in Space by Mike Maihack: buy it or check it out today!