Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ship Breaker!

I didn't even stop to eat dinner last night, as I had to see what would happen. Nailer, the protagonist in the story, who has the soul of a Gladiator, must fight to stay alive on the shores of Bright Sands Beach where he disembowels old ships for sheet metal in order to eat. Sustaining himself on a mere starvation diet and avoiding his abusive father are his two daily challenges until he finds a clipper ship worth enough to buy his freedom from the slave-like life he leads.
While scavenging the ship with his friend Pima, Nailer stumbles across a remotely alive young woman who he and Pima decide to save; albeit against what their own best interests and common sense tell them to do.
The story really begins to gain steam as Nailer and "Lucky Girl" (the saved young woman), disembark on a journey to return her to the now underwater city of New Orleans. They must fight half-man, hop trains, swim through oil infested waters, and go against Nailer's drug addled father in order to save Lucky Girl and reclaim her position in the commercial world at large.
This book is fast paced and contains all of the elements of a good story: adventure, broken familial ties, friendships, and even a bit of romance. Mature teenage boys will particularly enjoy this great book (Bacigalupi's first YA novel), but females will also identify with the themes and characters and find themselves salivating to find out what happens next.
Although some of the characters could have been rounded out more, on the whole, "Ship Breaker" is a book that aims to please---and does.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Steampunk Westerns

Steampunk Westerns: Flaming Zeppelins & The Buntline Special

The Buntline Special: A Weird West Tale by Mike Resnick (Pyr/Prometheus Books, $16 paperback, 9781616142490/1616142499, December 7, 2010)

Flaming Zeppelins: The Adventures of Ned the Seal by Joe R. Lansdale (Tachyon Publications/IPG, $14.99 paperback, 9781616960025/1616960027, October 25, 2010)

The gunfight at the O.K. Corral was a real-life historical event that swiftly became one of the iconic moments in the mythology of the western--for many audiences, it is an instantly recognizable drama, and its contours are well-known. How, then, to make the story fresh? Filmmakers can cast a new generation of actors, or execute the narrative in a new visual style, but literary variations are, for the most part, more subtle. Unless, that is, you take Mike Resnick's approach and turn the whole thing into a steampunk fantasy.
In the alternate 19th-century of The Buntline Special, Native American shaman leaders like Geronimo have managed to hold back the United States at the Mississippi, save for a few outposts like Tombstone. Thomas Edison has relocated here from Menlo Park, setting up shop with Ned Buntline (better known historically as a writer and self-promoter) to produce an array of technological marvels, from electric street lamps to mechanized animatronic prostitutes. The Earp brothers are hired to protect Edison from both the Clanton gang and the Indians; much of the novel unfolds from the perspective of their deathly ill comrade, Doc Holliday.
Resnick doesn't do that much to the actual story, just serves it up with some cosmetic twists: Bat Masterson is cursed by Geronimo and becomes a vampire; Johnny Ringo is a zombie; Doc and the Earps are outfitted with bulletproof armor (nicely displayed in J. Seamas Gallagher's interior illustrations). Though the stage is set for a sequel, this steampunk shootout is essentially a curious set-piece: the characters (Holliday especially) are entertaining, but there's still a sense that they're going through the motions.
The real-life personages that populate Joe R. Lansdale's Flaming Zeppelins, on the other hand, are much more looser and free-wheeling. In "Zeppelins West," the first of two novellas published in limited editions earlier this decade, Buffalo Bill Cody (his head kept alive in a jar until scientists can grow him a new body) takes his Wild West Show (including an anachronistic Ned Buntline) to Japan--with a secret, second agenda to liberate Frankenstein's monster from the Shogun. Though many are killed during the escape, Cody, Wild Bill Hickock, Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull are rescued by "Captain Bemo" of the "Naughty Lass," who takes them to the island of "Doctor Momo," whose half-man, half-animal creations deliver some of the story's funniest scenes (including a side-splitting encounter with Dracula).
This first adventure seemingly ends with everybody dead (or safe in another dimension), but Ned, a seal who has learned to read and write, shows up on Spain's Mediterranean coast at the beginning of "Flaming London," making friends with Mark Twain and Jules Verne just before the Martians from The War of the Worlds begin their invasion. Lansdale's bawdy characterizations preserve readers' impressions of the well-known historical and fictional characters while adding a layer of unpredictability lacking in Swanwick's tale, even though the core elements of Lansdale's yarns are as familiar as the OK Corral. Both novels are entertaining in their way, but one is a comfortable diversion while the other is a madcap excursion.--Ron Hogan

Monday, December 20, 2010

Did you like "Invention of Huge Cabret?"......

Scholastic has acquired the new book by Brian Selznick, author of the bestselling The Invention of Hugo Cabret. His new novel, Wonderstruck, is scheduled for a simultaneous release on September 13, 2011, in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. According to the publisher, it will feature more than 460 pages of original drawings and will intertwine two stories set 50 years apart.

Hugo Cabret, Selznick's first novel, was published by Scholastic in 2007 and went on to win the 2008 Caldecott Medal. (Selznick had illustrated a number of picture books before creating Hugo Cabret.) Like his new novel, Hugo Cabret ambitiously combined narrative with illustrations; it told the story of a 12-year-old orphan who lived in a Paris train station at the turn of the 20th century. In Wonderstruck Selznick uses words to follow the story of Ben, who is living in 1977, and relies entirely on pictures to tell the story of Rose, who is living in 1927. Both characters are beset by loneliness--Ben's mother has just died and Rose lives alone with her father--and each makes a separate discovery that will change their lives.

Hugo Cabret has been published in 29 languages, and was optioned by Martin Scorsese for a film adaptation, which is currently in production. The movie is scheduled for release by Sony Pictures in December 2011.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

NPR's Top Teen Picks

I read a lot of young-adult novels. I also read a lot of adult-adult novels, and I'm always after the same experience, whether I'm reading Philip Roth or Philip Pullman: a book that sucks me in from chapter one, makes me think and, above all, makes me feel. I want to finish the book a slightly different person than I was when I started it.

Lately, I've found that this transcendent reading experience I so crave seems to occur more often with young-adult novels. Maybe it's because YA books — like the adolescence they depict — are so often about transformation, told through the lens of universal issues like grieving, war and first love. Or maybe it's because at heart I'm an emotionally stunted 17-year-old. Or maybe it's because so many talented authors are choosing to channel their talents into writing YA. Whatever the reason, 2010 brought a bumper crop of fantastic books, including these gems.


The Sky Is Everywhere

By Jandy Nelson, hardcover, 288 pages, Dial Press, list price: $18
Seventeen-year-old Lennie has always lived in her vibrant older sister Bailey's shadow, the "companion pony" to Bailey's racehorse. When Bailey dies suddenly, Lennie's grief is explosive: "It's as if someone vacuumed up the horizon while we were looking the other way." But in the altered post-Bailey landscape, Lennie finds herself thrust into center stage of her own life and grappling with some confusing feelings — sexually attracted to Bailey's fiance, and falling in love with Joe, the ebullient new boy at school. Speckled with a colorful cast of supporting characters (a grandmother who judges Lennie's well-being based on a houseplant; a stoner arborist Lothario uncle) and set in a hippie-dippie Northern California town that is a character in and of itself, Sky is both a profound meditation on loss and grieving and an exhilarating and very sexy romance. The book deserves multiple readings simply to savor Nelson's luscious language, on display in the snippets of poetry that grief-stricken Lennie leaves scattered around town, which precede many of the chapters.


Before I Fall

By Lauren Oliver, hardcover, 480 pages, Harper Teen, list price: $18
High school senior Samantha Kingston is a typical mean girl. She and her popular troika of friends cavalierly treat the lesser students like dirt because they can. Early on in the book, on Feb. 12, Sam is killed in a car accident on the way home from a party with her friends. But instead of floating away to some afterlife, Sam wakes up in her bed to find it's the morning of Feb. 12, and she must relive the last day of her life over. With the rules upended, Sam tweaks her actions (seducing a teacher, ditching school to spend the day with her little sister, attempting to help a deeply unhappy "loser," kissing the boy she maybe should have been kissing all along). This may sound like Groundhog Day meets Afterschool Special, but it's actually a subtle, layered and ultimately ethical book. As Oliver widens her lens, Sam comes to understand not only the butterfly effect of kindness but also the cumulative effect of cruelty: "If you cross a line and nothing happens, the line loses meaning. ... You keep drawing a line farther and farther away, crossing it every time. That's how people end up stepping off the edge of the earth." By the end, Sam's (and the reader's) understanding of herself and of her friends is so complete that the bitches from chapter one have become complex, even sympathetic girls.


The Things A Brother Knows

By Dana Reinhardt, hardcover, 256 pages, Wendy Lamb Books, list price: $17
On one level, Reinhardt's third novel is a subtle and affecting work about the hidden cost of war — which might explain why it has flown under the radar. And that's a shame because this isn't a War Book. The protagonist isn't a soldier, but rather 16-year-old Levi, who has spent his whole life playing slacker underachiever to older brother Boaz, he of the hot girlfriend, the Ivy League acceptances. When Boaz eschewed college to join up with the Marines, it was both a shock ("But people like us don't do that," his girlfriend said) and yet another way for Bo to one-up Levi. Two years later, Boaz is back from fighting in an unnamed Middle Eastern desert country, a hero ("Welcome home, Bay State High Graduate ... American Hero" reads the sign above the local Boston area high school) and an utter mess. Hiding in his room, unable to communicate, or even drive in a car, Boaz spends his days devising a secretive plan that Levi susses out with a bit of computer spying. When Boaz leaves on his mission, Levi, with the help of hilarious sidekicks Zim and Pearl, intercepts him. The two brothers travel on foot to Washington, D.C., meeting other veterans and families of servicemen, and begin to unpeel each other's layers. Like Levi, this novel is neither pro- nor anti-war. What it is is solidly pro-soldier in its steadfast compassion. It is also grippingly entertaining, funny, romantic (yes, Levi finds a girl) and, in its surprising conclusion, intensely moving.


The Mockingbirds

By Daisy Whitney, hardcover, 352 pages, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, list price: $17
Daisy Whitney's powerful debut opens with high school junior Alex waking up in a strange boy's bed, a bad taste in her mouth, and, upon spying two opened condom wrappers, a worse feeling inside her gut. With little memory of the drunken night before, Alex soon realizes that she has had sex for the first time — and that it happened without her consent. What follows is a pitch-perfect examination of Alex's emotional journey — her desire to forget, vacillating with her thirst for justice; her self blame; her fear of bumping into her attacker, all rendered with small, telling details that give the book an almost breathless immediacy. The title (not to be confused with Mockingjay or Mockingbird, two other excellent 2010 YA titles) refers to the underground justice system at Themis Academy, Alex's elite progressive boarding school that "builds tomorrow's leaders," as one student explains it, and therefore refuses to acknowledge that said leaders can do bad things. With the Mockingbirds' protection and own brand of justice (less vigilante than Law & Order) Alex comes to terms with her rape — even rises above it, as evidenced by the budding romance she begins with a fellow student named Martin. Alex tells Martin: " 'I want to kiss you right now,' I say, feeling something a bit like bliss about getting a say in the matter."


Anna And The French Kiss

By Stephanie Perkins, hardcover, 384 pages, Dutton Juvenile, list price: $17
On the surface, the perfect romantic comedy seems so easy: Take lovers, add drama, serve hot. Once you deconstruct a book like Stephanie Perkins' delectable debut, you realize what a trick such a concoction actually is: love interests whose chemistry sparks off the page, tantalizing pacing, sparkling repartee, vibrant supporting characters, and a setting like Paris never hurts. Against her will, Anna Oliphant is dropped at an American boarding school in Paris for her senior year. Her initial misery and discombobulation — she speaks no French — start to give way as she makes friends, in particular with the gorgeous, sophisticated (and flawed) Etienne St. Clair. Anna and Etienne's friendship provides the foundation of their romance, and its blooming mirrors Anna's unfurling: her growing comfort in the city (aided by trips to local cinemas) and her confidence in herself. Two of the most romantic interludes take place during Thanksgiving and Christmas break. In the first, Anna and Etienne, alone at school, wander Paris alone and spend chaste nights together in Anna's bed. In the second, a continent apart, they provide telephonic soft shoulders for each other. "This warmth over the telephone. Is it possible for home to be a person and not a place? Maybe St. Clair is my new home," Anna wonders. This may be teen love, but it is true love, hard won, richly emotional and deeply felt — like the novel itself.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Live Chat (!) with Ally Condie--the Author of "Matched"

From Ally Condie's Blog:

Tonight, I’ll be participating in a live online chat with the Mundie Moms (I’m very excited about this). Click here for more information about the chat. It will take place from 9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m. EST (or, if you are on MST like me, from 7:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.). I’ll be answering questions about MATCHED and it should be a lot of fun!

Also, MATCHED will be featured on Alan Cheuse’s holiday book recommendations on the National Public Radio program All Things Considered. I’m so excited about this, and my husband is completely geeking out (he adores this program and NPR in general). I’ve been told that the holiday book recommendations will be on at about 5:20 p.m. in all time zones, so tune in to NPR tomorrow night (12/15)! *Please note that this is a change from the original post–NPR e-mailed me the afternoon of the 13th to let me know that the program will be on Wednesday, the 15th instead of the 14th.

I’m also hoping to post pictures of the book launches soon and then, after that, at some point, I think I’m going to get back to talking about writing and books in general. The holidays are upon us and I haven’t finished my Christmas shopping yet BUT I’M NOT SCARED. Because I’m brave like that.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The ELLEments of Style.....

As you know, I'm a stinker for anything to do with fashion. I've had this book on hold for months (and had it in my shopping cart on Amazon), because if nothing else, I wanted to see what the pictures looked like. I actually find most fashion/photography books to be displeasing once I open them; often the pictures are too few and far between, or a bit grainy, or the fashions depicted are too outrageous to even consider for a life lived in the "real world."
This book is unique in that it combines many glossy fashion pics with a bit of biography on the 25 personal icons depicted in it--including: Lea Michele, Padma Lakshmi, Olivia Wilde, Dita Von Teese, and Alicia Keys (to name a few). It's hip, it's fun, and I know that any young woman between the ages of 12-18 (and so on), would get a kick out of it. Perfect couch reading. Take a peek.

Your librarian and style guru,

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dark Water by Laura McNeal

This book was recommended to me by the CCBC at a recent library conference and I've been consuming it over my lunch breaks and other free time. Yes, it's good. The story is about 15 year old Pearl Dewitt, who lives with her mother in Fallbrook, California where her uncle owns a grove of 900 avocado trees. Uncle Hoyt hires migrant workers regularly, but Pearl finds one of the workers particularly appealing. Amiel.
From the moment she sees him, she is drawn to his dramatic and mysterious ways; a young man who appears to be mute yet seems to know so much. As Pearl and Amiel get to know one another, the two fall into a forbidden romance that makes the basic plot of the book.
Then wildfires strike in California and Pearl has to make a decision whether to warn Amiel or not--as his family doesn't own a television or radio. As Pearl slips away from the safety of her family and heads towards Amiel's hut, she gets caught in the crossfire.
This is a haunting novel and beautifully crafted. Highly recommended for lovers of good writing, a bit of romance, and most importantly, a well-told story.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Zoe's Book Reviews

Zoe is a teen (like yourself, who loves to read and then blogs about it. You can visit her and read her reviews here:
Here's one that sounded great that I thought I'd share with you today~

Tuesday, November 2, 2010
The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

Some schools have honor codes.
Others have handbooks.
Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds.

Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way--the Themis Way. So when Alex is date raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps her, or enlist the Mockingbirds--a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow peers.

In this honest, page-turning account of a teen girl's struggle to stand up for herself, debut author Daisy Whitney reminds readers that if you love something or someone--especially yourself--you fight for it.

Wow. I am speechless. Daisy Whitney is a debut author who will make a fantastic name for herself with this book. The Mockingbirds is something to watch, this book is making my Top 10 2010 books. Throughout reading, I’ve noticed that books that discuss the topic of rape either take it too lightly (Fade by Lisa McMann) or are so intense that I couldn't read it in one sitting (Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott). The Mockingbirds is the perfect balance between the two. The topic is taken seriously but you want to keep reading. It took me about two days to read, and all the while I was emailing back and forth with Daisy telling her how much I loved it.
I was fortunate enough to be the first teen to read the book. Right away, I knew it was something special. I can practically recite the beginning of chapter 2 because I love it so much. The wording that Daisy used illustrated what the main character was going through really well.
Looking back at the email I wrote Daisy immediately after I finished reading The Mockingbirds, I would like to share with you some of what I wrote to her. “Let me start off by saying it is the first book where I have actually read it when my teachers aren't looking. All through the school day I was sitting there staring at it in my backpack wanting to read it.” This is completely true, when I wasn't reading The Mockingbirds, I was thinking about reading The Mockingbirds. I would wake up in the morning looking like death because I had been up all night reading it.
The characters in this book were strongly written and had gumption. There were a few characters that made me want to drop into the book and slap them (hard, in the face). There was also some very interesting people that I couldn't have been more excited to read about. The Mockingbirds is a book you won’t want to miss. The emotions that the main character has are ones that you know are true. I couldn’t help but sympathize with her. Daisy Whitney wrote an original, truthful, engaging novel that readers are sure to love. This will easily be one of my favorites, if not the favorite book of mine that I've read this year. I can't give this book an amount of praise that will do it justice. I think that everyone should read it. Really, it will change your life.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The 10 p.m. Question....

The mysteries of family and friendship
Web exclusive
Review by Heather Seggel

The 10 P.M. Question is a wonderful study in opposites. At just 12 years old, Frankie Parsons has an idyllic kid’s life: great best friend, amazing pet cat and more cake than one boy can reasonably eat alone. He’s also saddled with responsibilities to his eccentric family that most grownups would juggle with difficulty, and a whopping anxiety disorder weighting his shoulders. Has the cat given the whole family worms? Did everyone get their flu shot? Every bug bite holds the potential to blossom into full-blown cancer in his overactive imagination. At 10 p.m. each night he visits with his mother in bed, and she helps to dispel his anxieties . . . but she may be at the root of them, too.

When a new girl comes to Frankie’s school, she immediately adds to his list of things to worry about. Sydney asks questions that blow the lid off Frankie’s highly ordered universe and force him to begin taking care of himself, but she’s not without her own issues and complications.

Kate De Goldi has created a lush, loving world in The 10 P.M. Question. From the fat aunties to the even fatter cat, a father called “Uncle” and best friend Gigs, it’s just a pleasure to spend time in the family home with its attendant, and obviously affectionate, chaos. For a kid with too much on his mind, Frankie is at least in good and supportive hands when things come to a head.

An additional treat for this reader was the book’s New Zealand setting. The unfamiliar landmarks and subtle cultural differences just add another layer of lushness to the backdrop, a fourth auntie in the family, as it were. After Frankie has what his sister calls a “nut-out,” we see that a happy ending isn’t possible for everyone in the story, and that to settle for contentment sometimes must suffice. But the family pulls together in the wake of the crisis, and there’s great hope in this story of one boy slowly conquering his fears.