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I’ve had this happen a couple of times now.... I read a book with my boy and we both enjoy it. Then I meet the author, rave to him (always a him) about how we loved it… bring my son over to Meet the Author!, and he has no memory of the book. Sigh. This one I went back and re-read with him after the incident, and he begged for the sequel.

Mail Order NinjaMail Order Ninja by Joshua Elder. Illustrated by Erich Owen.

Timmy McAllister has a tough life. He’s bullied on the way to school, rich mean girl Felicity Huntington makes the life of anyone who isn’t willing to be her toady miserable there, and at home, his bratty little sister is determined to make their parents declare her their favorite. What’s a boy to do? He orders famous ninja Yoshida Jiro from the Jacques Co. catalog. (Timmy is familiar with Jiro from reading the manga series about him.) With Jiro backing him up, bullies are no longer a problem, and Timmy is cool enough to defeat Felicity in the race for school president, making the school safe for nerds everywhere! In volume two, though, Felicity orders a whole evil ninja clan from the same catalog and takes over the town. Jiro is defeated, the adults all brainwashed, and it’s up to Timmy (and the bratty sister and his best friend) to save the day. The whole thing is filled with references to things like classic sci-fi that will make adults smile without being inappropriate. It’s illustrated with expressive and perky manga-style drawings. These hilarious, high-action books are perfect for elementary school-aged boys, but it’s safe to say they’d find fans with a much broader audience. Sadly, they are out of print, so check your local library or order your second-hand copy now.
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The Name of This Book Is SecretThe Name of This Book Is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch. Read by David Pittu.
This is first in a series of five books all named to discourage the reader from opening up the book. It’s a fun concept, and I’d been meaning to get around to them for a while. Pseudonymous Bosch is a very prominent narrator throughout the story, and he (or she!) spends a great deal of time at the beginning explaining that the setting of the book and the names of the characters are all meant to be non-specific, to protect the people involved, and most importantly, to protect us, the reader, from the horrors that might befall us if anyone found out that we know the secrets. Then we get on with the story, which is adventure, mystery and a little fantasy. Our heroes are Cass and Max-Ernest, both of whom have trouble fitting in at school. Cass lives with her overprotective mother and spends a lot of time with two older men she calls her grandfathers, who run an antique store in an old fire station. Max-Ernest lives with his parents, who are divorced but live in separate half of the same house, refusing to acknowledge each other’s existence. The adventure begins when a real estate agent brings a pile of boxes from an estate house in to the antique store. In one box, Cass finds a fascinating box called the Symphony of Smells, which contains hundreds of tiny bottles of different scents. She learns that a fire burned only the kitchen, and, it is presumed, the owner of the house, an old magician. Cass and Max-Ernest go to explore the house and find a secret room. They barely escape with the magician’s old journal just as a creepy-looking couple, including a woman whose beauty and stiffness are both unnatural. When the same couple – Dr. L and Ms. Mauvais - turns up at their school the next day and a boy with synesthesia from the school goes missing at the same time, Cass is highly suspicious. Unfortunately, she’s of such an openly suspicious nature that now, when it really matters, no one will believe her. She goes off, followed by Max-Ernest, to solve the mysteries: what happened to the old magician? Why have series of talented children with synesthesia gone missing over the years? Why does the spa known as the Midnight Sun keep itself so very secret? Doom is predicted at every turn, but with somewhat less depressing results than another popular series with a prominent narrator. As in The Calder Game, there are a number of puzzles for Cass and Max-Ernest to solve, which the interested reader can solve along with them. There’s just a hint of magic as Dr. L and Ms. Mauvais are (shh!) searching for the secret of immortality. There's even some character development, which one doesn't necessarily expect in an adventure/mystery type book. The boy and I listened to this, narrated by David Pittu. He quite enjoyed it; I liked it fine, if it didn’t particularly grab me. That may be me just being jaded about danger levels, finding the dangers in the book not nearly as dire as the narrator foretold. So maybe better for kids than adults, but still a lot of fun.


Cross-posted to http://library-mama.dreamwidth.org and http://sapphireone.livejournal.com .
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Giants Beware!Giants Beware! by Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre. Graphic novels aren’t my favorites for reading aloud, but I was so excited about this one that I read it aloud to my son. (I read about it on Charlotte’s Library as well as PW.) Even the toddler, normally impatient with my reading to Brother instead of her, was captivated by the bright, vivacious drawings. Active Claudette is incensed when she learns that the hero of her small town did not kill the baby-feet eating giant that plagued it in years past. Even though the giant has been banished to the mountains and the city is safely enclosed within walls, she decides that it’s up to her to slay the giant. She’s the kind of kid who makes up her mind first and thinks through the problems second, if at all. Her first task is convincing her best friend, Marie, a would-be princess, and her little brother Gaston, a chef who dreams of being a sword smith, to come along. This she does by telling them that their ambitions will of course be fulfilled if they come along. They must all then get around Claudette and Gaston’s father, Augustine, the local sword-smith, crippled from a fight with a dragon years ago, and his assistant, the massive, wise and black Zubair, whose words about the foolishness of monster fighting go right over Claudette’s head. Their journey leads them through the Forest of Death, over (or perhaps also through) the Mad River, and up into the mountains. Meanwhile, the Baron of the village, Claudette’s father, leads a party of reluctant villagers in pursuit of the children, while Augustine and Zubair take up a more enthusiastic chase, though slowed by Augustine’s wheelchair. Each one of the children finds that their particular skills will be needed to get them out of one scrape or another along the way. By the end, the quest is accomplished, even if the goal has changed along the way. Claudette has also learned important lessons about the usefulness both of force and telling the truth. These are clear without being preachy or getting in the way of the fabulous adventure. Giants Beware! is a great counter-example to the truism that boys will only read about boys – yes, Gaston is a boy, but Claudette is clearly the reckless adventure-seeker here, and her drive kept my boy enthralled. This is going to the top of my list of good all-ages graphic novels to give both to people who love them already and to people (I keep finding them) who aren’t yet convinced that real literature can come in graphic form.
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The Scottish PrisonerThe Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon. It must have been my very first year as a librarian, nearly ten years ago now, when a patron I was talking to put her hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eye, and said, “You have got to read the Outlander series. They are the best books in the world.” Well, I’m too fond of having lots of books to call any one series the best in the world, but for once, I took her advice and started the series. The books are addictive, long and involved, such a tight blend of historical fiction, time travel, and romance that the publishers originally decided to market them as romance mostly because romance had the biggest audience, though at the library, we shelve them in SciFi/Fantasy. Gabaldon now has a spin-off series and has done a graphic novel featuring the story from the first book from the point of view of the other main character. I haven’t kept up with all of these – I have a hard time justifying reading everything in a series as a librarian – but considering the volume of the output, I think that missing just one of the main series (which came out the same time my daughter was born) and one of the spin-offs is doing pretty well. Given all that, I was shocked to realize that I couldn’t find that I’ve ever reviewed a Gabaldon book here. However, there is again no way to review (or read) this book without massive spoilers for the first couple of those books.

This book is somewhere between a spin-off and a main series book. It stars Jamie, the hero of the main series, and Lord John, the hero of the spin-off Lord John mysteries. It takes place during the time covered by the third series book, when our heroine Claire is back in her present day. That makes it a little lighter on romance than most of the other books, though Jamie does spend a lot of time thinking about her. Anyway, as our story begins, Jamie is serving parole at the estate of Helwater for his crimes of being on the wrong side at Culloden (being a Highlander and all). Lord John found him this position, where he’s technically a prisoner, but working as the master of horse under an assumed name. What is a secret even to Lord John is that the current heir to the estate and title, Willie (aged two) is actually Jamie’s son. While the story of his conception and his mother’s death was covered in one of the other big novels, this was the first time to my recollection that we get to see Jamie with his son, as affectionate and protective as he can be within the confines of his role. His peaceful retreat begins to break down when one of the maids sends him a message to meet with someone up in the hills, someone who turns out to be Quinn, an Irishman and Jacobite who previously fought in the war with Jamie. He brings news of a second Rising and begs Jamie to help lead it. Jamie refuses, though he cannot tell Quinn that he refuses because he knows from Claire that the Rising is doomed to failure, and more attempts will only mean more suffering and death. Quinn is quite determined, and follows Jamie even when soldiers come to take him to London. Meanwhile, Lord John has received a last request with a packet of documentation from a recently deceased friend – use the documentation to convict Lord Siverly, a high-ranking military official of some dark and evil deeds. Siverly is currently holed up in Ireland, and John’s brother Hal decides that Jamie, coming closer to speaking Irish than anyone else he knows (I think this is the reason, anyway) is the best person to accompany John on the journey to fetch him back to England where he can be court-martialed.

Got that? There’s two separate strands of twining political intrigue, between the politics of the original crimes and the second rising. There are lots and lots of characters that I wasn’t sure if I’d met before or not, only that it was challenging keeping track of them all. This is par for the course, really. Beyond the tangles, the story is about Jamie and Lord John being forced back together after their friendship exploded back in Ardsmuir prison when, among other dramatic events, Lord John made a romantic advance on Jamie and was rebuffed with horror. Can they find a way to trust each other again? Will their friendship ever recover? And how will Jamie balance his desire to keep Scotland safe from a second Rising with the need to protect those he cares about from implicated in the plotting currently occurring? Even though I felt that rereading the first couple of books might have helped me feel less lost, this is still addictive Gabaldon, with strong characters and immersive plotting. And yeah, if you haven't read her before, start at the beginning, with Outlander. The audio books are famously well done, too.
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Leave It to ChanceLeave It to Chance. Volume 1: Shaman’s Rain. by James Robinson and Paul Smith with Jeromy Cox. “Why aren’t there more Nancy Drew-style books anymore?” the creators of this book asked themselves, and set out to create one. Well, kind of. These people are comics types, so this is a graphic novel. And they seem to like fantasy, too (fine by me.) Chance is the 14-year-old daughter of a famous modern-day magician whose job is protecting the town of Devil’s Echo. She thinks she should be learning to take over the family business, but her father, shattered by the loss of his wife several years back, has decided that only boys should do magic. Refreshingly, Chance’s preferred clothes are pretty gender-neutral, so that even though her gender is central to her motivation, there isn’t a lot of girliness that would turn boys off of reading it. That’s great, because Chance’s adventures are top-notch. She frees a small dragon from being sent to a possibly hostile dimension. Naturally, he escapes, and chasing him down leads her straight into trouble, as well as a cute and powerful sidekick. Chance finds a dead body, perhaps related to the vicious mayoral campaign underway; overhears a gathering of very disgruntled sewer goblins; and decides to try to locate the kidnapped daughter of a local shaman. She teams up with a Hispanic female police officer and a reporter, and ends up solving bunches of interrelated mysteries while always managing to stay just out of danger herself. The art style is clear and vigorous and shows plainly that Devil’s Echo is diverse in the normal human sense in addition to its magical denizens. This is just right for elementary-aged kids looking for straight-up excitement. While there are definitely shady characters, there isn’t any graphic violence and our heroine always manages to squeak out of even the tightest situation without harm. My love brought this home from the library for us, and as it’s out of print, that may be the easiest way to get it in general. There are two more volumes that I haven’t seen, but may yet track down.

Ruby Red

Jan. 11th, 2012 02:43 pm
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book coverRuby Red by Kerstin Gier. Translated from German by Anthea Bell.
16-year-old Gwyneth (Gwendolyn in the original German book) has grown up living life as a normal kid, except that she now has to keep an eye out for her cousin Charlotte. Charlotte, glamorous and sophisticated, has been trained all her life to prepare her to be a time traveler. Except that Gwyneth turns out to be the one with the time travel gene, something she never wanted. Time travel is dangerous unless controlled – Gwyneth ends up in the same place but a different unknown period in the past for an unpredictable length of time, with only a few minutes of nausea and dizziness for preparation. To counteract them, the secret organization known as the Guardians trains time travelers and owns the Chronograph, a clockwork machine that can send time travelers to a planned place for a planned length of time. For that reason, Gwyneth’s mother takes Gwyneth to the Guardians, despite a distrust she hasn’t explained. It turns out that Gwyneth is the Ruby, the last of twelve known time travelers, each represented by a jewel. The other time traveler in her generation is handsome 18-year-old Gideon de Villiers. The previous two time travelers, close friends with Gwyneth’s mother, fell in love and are hiding in the past with the only other existing Chronograph. The Guardians want to send Gideon and Gwyneth on missions to get blood samples from all of the previous time travelers, which were lost when the original Chronograph. When all twelve samples are present, something will happen – but what? Should Gwyneth trust the Guardians, or Lucy and Paul, the couple she’s never met but whom her mother trusted? Though it’s fairly clear that Lucy and Paul are Good Guys, Gwyneth and her best pal and research buddy Lesley, have yet to figure out why Lucy and Paul distrusted the Guardians enough to give up their lives in the present. There’s a slowly percolating romance between Gwyneth and Gideon, which helps nicely to make Gwyneth’s choices harder, as Gideon has no reason to distrust the Guardians.

German book coverDespite the dangers of time travel and the potential evil nature of the Guardians, the book never gets bogged down in heaviness. (I think the German cover conveys this better.) There’s the romance, more fun than fraught; Lesley and Gwyneth’s friendship, and – I really loved this part – costumes. The Guardians hire a full-time French costume designer, whose sole job is to make historically accurate clothing for each of the trips back in time, which are all described in detail. I really liked the original German covers, but I guess you can’t have everything. This is the first of a trilogy, all of which are now published in Germany but which I guess are taking some time to be translated. The translation is done by the inestimable Anthea Bell, who also translated the Inkheart books as well as tons of others. The time travel, romance and history combined to make this a quite lovely book for me, and I’m now anxiously waiting for the next installments to arrive.
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book coverGoing Bovine by Libba Bray. Read by Erik Davies Sixteen-year-old Cameron Smith is a disaffected loner/stoner teen trying to skate through life with minimum effort. He knows he’s a disappointment to his family and doesn’t care much about the people he hangs out with at school. The place he feels most at home is Yubi’s, the record store in town, but even there he collects CDs from an artist that he finds ridiculous. Then his life takes a turn towards the grim and scary. As he’s biking home one night, he encounters fire giants and meets a dark and malevolent knight. Further, he’s diagnosed with mad cow disease. Soon he’s in the hospital struggling to stay alive. Apart from a few incongruities like having teens on the same corridor as senior patients, these hospital scenes and the run-around with doctors seemed all too familiar. Where was the humor and adventure I remembered from the reviews I read when this was first published a few years back? Then Cameron is visited by Dulcie, a punk-rock angel who had appeared to him without talking a couple of times previously. Dulcie tells him that the world is about to end – the fire giants and the black knight have come through a wormhole created by the mysterious Dr. X, who vanished some years ago. Only Cameron, with his rogue prion-influenced brain, can find Dr. X and convince him to close the wormhole and keep reality from ending. To get there, he’ll need to follow clues on billboards and personal ads and use his intuition. He’ll also need to take the patient from the next bed with him. He’d met Gonzo, a Mexican-American hypochondriac video-game obsessed dwarf at school. Dulcie gives him the temporary health he needs for the trip, and Cameron and Gonzo are off. The already somewhat trippy story gets crazier yet as they have one adventure after another. They meet a garden gnome who claims to be the god Baldur under a curse, join a happiness cult, and more. Every so often, the story flips back to the hospital, so that it’s not clear if the adventure is really happening, is a product of Cameron’s failing brain, or if we’re looking at parallel realities. Music from multiple fictional artists weaves in and out of the story, along with Disney world, snow globes, and the Buddha Cow. Going Bovine is hilarious, extremely profane, filled with adventure, deep thoughts, and some sex. It won the Printz award for teen literature when it came out, and rightly so. I was blown away by all the strands woven together to make a story that so perfectly captures both the beauty and the tragedy of life. I listened to this on audio. Erik Davies had a perfect sounding teen voice for Cameron, though his girl’s voices were somewhat less convincing. For the most part, though, the narration was convincing enough to suck me right into the story.

Cross-posted to http://library-mama.dreamwidth.org and http://sapphireone.livejournal.com .

Leviathan

Jul. 6th, 2011 02:33 pm
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book coverLeviathan by Scott Westerfeld Australian YA author Westerfeld of Uglies fame takes a turn toward a steampunk alternate history with this first in a trilogy. The year is 1914. Prince Alek, son of the Archduke Ferdinand, is woken in the middle of the night by his tutor, who takes him for what he thinks is a midnight training ride in one of the two-legged walkers that Austria-Hungary is becoming famous for. Except that it turns out not to be training. His parents have just been assasinated, his people have turned against him, and Alek must run for his life. Meanwhile, Deryn Sharp is posing as a boy so that she can join the British Air Service, where genetically engineered ecosystems of animals create large dirigible-like ships that float through the air. Unlike Jacky Faber, Deryn finds the constant jockeying for position among the midshipmen wearing, but she is already experienced in the air, brilliant and courageous. She ends up serving on the Leviathan, a very large airship that is carrying Dr. Nora Darwin Barlow and some precious cargo on an urgent diplomatic mission to the Ottoman Empire. The world is on the brink of war between the Darwinists and the Clankers – can two young people from opposite sides prevent it? The action is non-stop, the characters a delight, and the technology intriguing. We have it in teen, but so far I haven’t seen anything in to make it inappropriate for middle graders, while it’s deep enough to work for adults as well. I’ve already devoured the first two books and am now waiting for book three to come out in September.

Vimanarama

Mar. 9th, 2011 01:35 pm
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book coverVimanarama by Grant Morrison and Philip Bond This is a short and wacky adventure story loaned to my love from our friend David Carter. Ali is an older teen of Pakistani descent in the town of Bradford, England, whose father runs corner stores. Ali is about to meet his fiancee for the first time, and is feeling quite existential about the whole thing – it might mean that both God and his father hate him if she turns out to be ugly. And then things start to get crazy – his toddler-age nephew wanders through a hole in the floor to ancient ruins buried under the city and manages to release an ancient and otherworldly evil. Ali meets Sofia, his intended, looking for the nephew, who turns out to be both beautiful and intelligent. It’s up to them to find the toddler, the corresponding ancient Indian god-like superhero team, and save the world. I could almost hear the Bollywood background music. There’s a brief, not too explicitly drawn suicide attempt, which I think is why it’s rated for mature readers. This is fast, furious, fun and trippy.
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book coverThe Iron Duke by Meljean BrooksThis is going further into my exploration of the steampunk genre. Once again, we are in quasi-Victorian England. However, no Queen Victoria, but a young king. England (and the rest of Europe) was, some time ago, taken over by the Mongol Horde, who used radio-controlled nanoagents to control the population. England is now free, however, due to the actions of former pirate and now Duke Rhys Trahaern. In the present time, the nanoagents are necessary for survival, as they clean the pollutants from the lungs in the heavily coal-operated country. Society is now divided into “buggers” and “bounders” – those with nanoagents and those who fled during the occupation and returned afterwards, sans nanoagents. Once again, my explanation might make it seem as if there is no action, but anything but. Our heroine, Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth, is in a somewhat precarious position as the daughter of nobility, but obviously born of a Horde-induced Frenzy, and thus subject to open hostility in the streets. As the story opens, she is called away from a ball to investigate a frozen body that has landed seemingly from nowhere on the front steps of Duke Trahaern. There is of course instant attraction followed quite some time later by Hawt Sex and novel description of steampunk-style personal pleasure devices. There is action and adventure involving chasing down airships and escaping from zombies. There is political intrigue and some reflection on how mores and the roles of women would be changed by generations growing up under the Horde Occupation. It is a darker steampunk world than usual – certainly lacking the lightheartedness of Soulless - but still absorbing, with enough action to satisfy those frustrated by pure romance and enough romance for those looking for that.

Crossposted to http://sapphireone.livejournal.com and http://library-mama.dreamwidth.org .
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book coverSky Masters by Dale Brown Brown is a popular and fairly prolific author in the action-adventure category. As a former U.S. Air Force Captain, he brings his inside knowledge of the action and technology of the Air Force into his books. In this book, a conflict over a small island between China and the Phillipines brings the U.S. Air Force into play with new, secret and superpowerful planes and miniature, nearly invisible sattelites. The technology is described in detail, and the action moves rapidly from one locale to another with cinematic precision. Those who love tales of military action with a focus on the plot and the machines will blast through this and come back for more.*

*My loyal readers may note that this description does not match my typical reading profile. Indeed, I am trying to broaden myself as a librarian by reading outside my usual comfort zone. Someday, I will be able to connect this book with a reader who will love it and that will theoretically make the pain of reading this worthwhile.
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book coverThe Unwritten Vol 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey and Peter Gross Metafiction! With action! Tommy Taylor is the star of a Harry Potter-like series, only it’s even more popular. And Tommy Taylor is not grateful that his father made the real Tommy Taylor star of a fictional series, making the fictional character close enough to the real that some die-hard fans believe him to be the boy wizard. But his father disappeared years ago under mysterious circumstances, leaving Tommy penniless. Now, suddenly, evidence turns up that Tommy might not really be his father’s son. A young woman calling herself Lizzie Hexam might have some answers – if Tommy can survive that long. While the excerpts of the Tommy Taylor stories as presented don’t seem like they would actually rival Harry Potter, the fiction within fiction and fiction crossing the borders to the real world is fascinating. It’s an exciting story, filled with references to other great works of literature for the discerning reader. Fans of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books, which have more humor and less reflection on the capricious nature of fame and fan worship, may enjoy this as well.

Beauvallet

May. 5th, 2010 10:56 am
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book coverBeauvallet by Georgette Heyer Heyer has the reputation of being the mistress of romance, perhaps even the mother of the modern romance novel. I must confess that I’d not read anything of hers before now. This is quite different from the modern romance. The modern romance (as I alluded to in my last post about the genre) has very strict rules regarding the characters, the plot outline, and the ending. The point of the modern romance book is building a strong relationship, with setbacks and romantic interludes at regular points along the way. I would say that Heyer breaks nearly all of the rules, except that it’s more likely that they just hadn’t been articulated yet. It is a journey between two people who find themselves highly attracted to each other in the beginning. There is a happy ending. But the middle is quite different, and there are no love scenes.

So much for what isn’t there, and on to the book itself. The book opens with a sea battle between a Spanish merchant ship and an (in)famous English privateer. The Spanish captain has deliberately antagonized the privateer, Beauvallet, in hopes of impressing the beautiful and single lady whom he is carrying from the colonies to Spain, with her ailing father. Naturally, he fails. Nicholas Beauvallet meets the lady, Dominica Rada y Sylva. There are instant sparks which they both know to be inappropriate (so far following the Basic Plot). Beauvallet sets the rest of the Spanish crew of on a boat to the nearest island, but vows to carry Dominica and her party to Spain, despite the risk to his life. On the journey, they fall more deeply in love. Nicholas says that he will journey back to the heart of Spain to win her hand; Dominica says that he shouldn’t risk his life to do so, but that if he does get there, she will come back to England with him. All of this takes place at the beginning of the book. Then, Nicholas goes back to England to get permission from the Queen to leave the country again. The rest of the book is his Daring Adventure – alone but for his manservant – to make his way into Spain to kidnap the willing Dominica. Matters there have gotten more complicated as well. Dominica’s father has died, leaving her in the care of her noble but impoverished aunt. This lady plan for gaining Dominica’s fortune for her own use is to have Dominica marry her simpering son. The aunt is a delightful villain, lazy and agreeable. When Dominica tells her, for example, that she cannot marry the son because she does not love him, her aunt tells her that marriage will give her the freedom to take all the lovers she wants, but Dominica must marry her son. The whole story is told in beautifully flowery and authentic-sounding language, as like to what I’ve seen less skilled authors try as real fragrant roses are to plastic. On the whole, this is much more like The Princess Bride, with all the swashbuckling but a somewhat toned-down sense of humor than your typical romance book. Dominica manages to be high-spirited while retaining behavior believable to the time period, a very fine line that Heyer walks brilliantly. There manages to be a lot of romantic tension with nothing more than the occasional kiss exchanged, but this is almost more adventure than romance and enjoyable by fans of both genres.

Rex Libris

Apr. 17th, 2010 10:59 am
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book coverRex Libris: I, Librarian by James Turner Some libraries have gone soft, allowing talking, hanging out, even tolerating overdue books. Not at Middleton Public Library, where Rex Libris and Circe are in charge. Middleton may sound average, but it has rare books from all over the universe, and is situated on a convergence of ley lines that allows fictional characters to wander around the library from time to time. Hard-hitting sesquipedalian librarian Rex Libris is on the job, preventing evil samurai from destroying the library and journeying to outer space (assisted by his gun-happy chickadee) to retrieve overdue books from space emperors. I have read more than once that comic books use higher vocabulary than regular fiction, but this uses the highest proportion of erudite words I have ever seen in a non-scholarly text. It’s also highly self-aware, with editor’s notes from a fake editor at the beginning of each issue (several bound together in the book) and the occasional nonsensical intrusion from the editor, which Rex must take a break from the story to protest before the story can continue. The one downside is that the book has such dense and tiny text (was it shrunk down to fit the paperback?) that it took focus and holding the book up close to read. Still, this is good adventuring for book-lovers with a sense of humor.

Larklight

Apr. 6th, 2010 08:28 pm
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Many thanks to my love for discovering this book, which Lightning Bolt and I listened to in the car.

book coverLarklight by Phillip Reeve. Read by Greg Steinbruner. Larklight is set in an alternate Victorian world, where the British Empire spans the solar system. Our narrator, Art Mumby (eleven or so, I’d guess), and his proper teen-aged sister Myrtle live in an ancient and remote manor house, Larklight, that orbits the earth past the moon. When their home is attacked by giant white spiders, Art and Myrtle escape to the moon, where they are rescued from the fearsome wildlife there by the young pirate Jack Havock. Art, Myrtle, Jack Havock and his crew of aliens then embark on a quest to save the solar system. I found a whole lot to like about this book. There is the wonderful Victorian-flavored prose, with both the floweriness and schoolboy slang. As part of this, the wooden ether ships are powered by the alchemical wedding which naturally occurs not in an engine room but in a wedding chamber. Many of the characters are archetypes twisted just enough to be self-aware – the Plucky British Schoolboy, the Very Proper Young Lady in Search of Love, and the Pirate with the Heart of Gold. Despite the unreality of wildlife that can survive in the ether and on the moon, the vast distances of the solar system seem much more accurately represented here than in much of sci-fi: Mars is the farthest regular British outpost. There are aliens and a few humans on the moons of Jupiter, but Saturn is farther than humans have ever managed to go. I really enjoyed Steinbruner’s reading of the text, his British accents as Art appropriately youthful and plucky, but the print book is also lovingly illustrated, so you can take your pick. My library has this shelved in teen, but I can’t see why – it seems more appropriate for children’s fiction. If you love this (and why wouldn’t you?) there are two more books in the series.
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book coverUnder the Jolly Roger by L.A. Meyer. Read by Katherine Kellgren Several years ago, I read the first book in this series, Bloody Jack, a rip-roaring tale of adventure on the high seas, as Mary “Jacky” Faber, street orphan, disguises herself as a boy so as to make an honest living as a ship’s boy. I read it in print at the time, which was fun. Now my love and I are rediscovering the series on audiobook. I think that someday soon I will have to write Katherine Kellgren a fan letter, because she is such an amazing reader. The books are full of people and accents from all over, from Jacky’s Cockney to Irish to Jamaican and American, which Kellgren brings beautifully to life. There are also a number of folk songs, and Kellgren not only has a fine voice for singing them, but also manages to make the different character’s singing voices different. This series is winning her all the major audio book awards, and rightly so, but I also loved her work on the Enola Holmes series, where Enola putting on a Cockney accent still sounds different from Jacky in this one.

Under the Jolly Roger is the third book in the series. Jacky has made her way back to England in search of her beloved Jaimy, from whom she was parted for all of the second book. She has only just found him again, disguised as a boy again, when she is caught by a press gang. This time, the ship (Wolverine) is captained by a lecherous man who refuses to let her go even when she reveals her female nature. Events move quickly, if increasingly improbably, as Jacky works her way from Midshipman (a rank she earned in the first book) up to Lieutenant in the Navy, then captures her own ship and gains a letter of marque so that she can operate as a privateer. We do not care about the improbability, though, any more than we care about the improbability of Indiana Jones, because this is about adventure, pure and simple. Well, with some music and romance thrown in, too, because even though Jacky is broken-hearted about Jaimy in this book and vows to live single, she always has a very hard time resisting a pretty boy, and there are several on the Wolverine. This is a great sea-faring romp for teens and up. It will be good in print, too, but listen to the audio if you possibly can.

Zorro

Jan. 27th, 2010 10:12 am
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Long ago, in my grandparents’ basement, among the boxes of old toys and china, I found an ancient paperback pulp novel of Zorro. I took it home with me and read and reread it. So dashing! So handsome! And thus began a life-long love for the original masked avenger.

book coverZorro by Isabel Allende. Read by Blair Brown.
Zorro Vol.1 by Matt Wagner, Isabel Allende, and Francesco Francavilla

I am a little slow in reading Isabel Allende’s book – the hardcover book came out in 2005. I am grateful to my love for discovering that my home library (as opposed to the one where I work) has the book on audio – a format in which I’m much more willing to take on longer works these days.

Rather than telling the stories of his adventures in Alta California, as did the original novel I read, Allende’s version is an origin story, starting with Zorro’s parents. Alejandro de la Vega, Zorro’s father, is a Spanish soldier turned landowner, while his mother, Regina, is a half-Indian half-Spanish woman, formerly the Indian warrior Toipurnia. The young Diego’s milk brother, Bernardo, is from the same tribe as his mother, so despite the class differences from the Spanish point of view, they consider themselves full brothers. Diego and Bernardo study with Diego’s Indian grandmother, the tribe shaman, and eventually travel to Spain, where Diego studies with a legendary sword master. The tale is beautifully told but a little on the verbose and slow-moving side; there is action, but on disc 9, Zorro is still traveling back from Spain. The original story, lends itself well to this Alexandre Dumas-style pacing, and to the racial and sexual equality themes that are there in plenty. Blair Brown does graceful work narrating the audio book, with fluid pronunciation of the many Spanish words. This is a noble and engrossing effort from Allende.

graphic novel coverMore recently, based in large part on the Allende novel, but drawing on other Zorro retellings as well, comes the comic book version. (This is what first attracted my love to the Allende.) Allende’s basic story is there, somewhat simplified, but where Allende tells the story strictly in chronological order, the comic book series intercuts the stories of Diego’s early years with the adventures of the grown Zorro. This, together with the painted artwork, makes the comic feel more exciting than the book. The book is narrated by a character we meet halfway through and are not sure is the narrator until the end, while the graphic novel is clearly narrated by Bernardo from the very beginning. I wouldn’t want to miss either of them – but if you have to pick for yourself, the Allende version will give you a more nuanced, literary version, while the Wagner will go straight for the swashbuckling adventure.
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book coverSilver Phoenix by Cindy Pon Ai Ling was a scholarly girl who mostly stayed properly home with her mother. Then, her father gives her a jade pendant before leaving for a month at the emperor’s palace. Months later, their family finances dwindling, Ai Ling decides that it’s time to go find her father. It’s not easy for a girl of marriageable age to travel alone in China, but Ai Ling finds herself facing one demon after another, recognizing them from the book that she’d thought her father forbade only because the stories were so frightening for a young girl. Early on, she is rescued by the handsome and exotic Chen Yong. He’s travelling in search of his real parentage, a secret even from his adoptive parents. They start travelling together, and are joined on the way by Chen Yong’s adoptive brother, the openly flirtatious Li Rong. Their straightforward journey to the palace takes unexpected turns as mountain paths lead them to strange lands mentioned only in the classical texts that Ai Ling and Chen Yong have read. Eventually, they are given a deeper quest by the Goddess of Records. Ai Ling is a delightful and sympathetic heroine. Though she finds the courage she needs to fight off the demons attacking her, she also never develops Amazing Martial Arts Prowess, instead finding her own magical abilities. She also has a refreshingly large appetite, which gives plenty of opportunity for vivid descriptions of the food. This was a delightful adventure with a Buffy meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Graceling

Jan. 7th, 2009 02:17 pm
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book coverGraceling by Kristin Cashore I started this because it was on Booklist’s best youth and young adult Fantasy and Science Fiction of 2008 list. And wow.

Katsa, the king’s niece, is Graced, and the world knows it, because her eyes are different colored, one green and one blue. In her kingdom, children with Graces are given to the King, in case the Grace turns out to be useful. Katsa, at eight, killed a man who was trying to molest her with one blow, and has since then been trained as used as the king’s assassin and public torturer. She might not have much in the way of ordinary social graces, but Katsa has a keen sense of justice and started, secretly, a Council to help subvert the often cruel and capricious whims of kings, both her own and those of neighboring realms. As the book opens, she’s on her way to rescue the grandfather of one of the few peaceful kingdoms, who’s been kidnapped for no reason. Though I paused for back story here, the book starts bang in the middle of a cracking good infiltration and fight scene. Near the end of this, she runs into a handsome young prince with one gold and one silver eye, the only person she’s ever met who’s even close to as good at fighting as she is.

The Reader, of course, will have no difficulty ascertaining that this man, Po, will be our Love Interest, and the Reader will be correct. But Katsa coming to admit that she could be attracted to someone is only a small part of the story, though her struggle to find a way to love and retain her independence is rare for teen portrayals of romance. The romance itself takes place in the shadow of Katsa and Po trying to discover what massive and tangled political forces were behind the kidnapping of Po’s grandfather and trying to find out if Po’s aunt and cousin, wife and daughter to yet another king, are safe. Katsa also begins to wonder about her Grace for the first time – both how she has always used it and if it really is killing. There’s an amazing amount of personal growth combined with an impressive and fast-moving adventure, with a plot that moves in quite unexpected directions. This is one we’ll be buying for friends and re-reading ourselves.

Nation

Nov. 10th, 2008 02:21 pm
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book coverNation by Terry Pratchett Once upon a time, perhaps a two hundred years ago or so, in a world very but not quite like ours, a young boy left his boy soul on the Island of Boys and prepared to go back to the Nation in the canoe he had made. Back at home, there would be a feast. He would be given the tattoo that said he was a man and he would have the soul of a man. At the same time, a ship with an exceptionally devout captain and a mutinous first mate sailed to the remote Mothering Sunday islands to take a girl to her father. And then there was a wave, which left Mau and Ermintrude the only survivors on what the boy called Sunrise Island. Mau is thrust into new doubt – how could Imo have let this happen to his people? But even though he now believes that people invented the gods, he hears the voice of Locaha, the god of death, talking to him, and the Grandfathers telling him to put back the god anchors and start bringing them their offering of beer again. Ermintrude, meeting Mau, decides to introduce herself as Daphne. She starts hearing voices too - and both Mau and Daphne find reason to stay alive helping the other. But they are not alone for long, as Sunrise Island was the biggest of a tiny chain, and the straggling survivors from all the islands start coming, looking for refuge. Mau might be possessed by a demon, since he left his boy soul behind and never got his man soul. Daphne is just a trouserman girl, too pale to look normal. Still, the demon boy and the ghost girl, struggling to learn each others languages, are the ones rebuilding the new, tiny Nation. My one frustration with the book, really, was that it was clear that they were speaking different languages to start with and gradually learning to understand each other – but there was no difference in language or typeface to tell you which language was being used at any given point. In the hands of anyone but Terry Pratchett, this story could have been depressing, preachy, or worse. But the compelling action and the thinky questions never really answered keep it from being preachy, while Pratchett’s signature humor keeps it from being depressing. This is a great book about the meeting of cultures and the meaning of religion. While it’s written with teen protagonists, there’s a lot here for adults as well.

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