Friday, October 29, 2010

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

I am a rebelious reader - even against myself. It seemed the more I wanted myself to read the juvenile genre and finish the list of books I wanted to read - the less interested I was in reading them. I guess that's a strategy that just won't work. I love finding new books and I love the library (which is why I never read anything I buy - weird problem I have).
I found Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel in the list of new books at the library and tucked it under all the other books I wanted to read. With the book due Saturday, I finally picked it up and started it yesterday. Cassandra Clare is such a great storyteller. Her plots are thick and full of action. There are a ton of twists and turns (many you don't expect at all). She mixes fantasy, horror, romance and action into a runaway train - once you start you just can't stop. To my dismay, I finished the book today after starting it less than 24 hours ago (all 476 pages). She writes her books in trilogies so no problem - all get the next one except it's has yet to be published (drat).
For those not familiar with Cassandra Clare - her first series was the Mortal Instruments which introduced the world of the Shadowhunters - warriors created by angels to hunt demons. The books were amazing, in fact I am considering re-reading them just to get my fix until books 2 and 3 come out in her newest series The Infernal Devices. These books are "prequels" of a sort. They are set in 1878 and follow Tessa Gray as she discovers what she really is. In this book - she comes to London from America to find the brother who sent for her is missing. She, also, discovers that she can become anyone. She is rescued from the evil Dark Sisters by the Shadowhunters and it just goes from there.
Tessa just wants to be a normal heroine like the ones she reads about in books. She wants to be swept away by a dark and brooding hero and be happy. She never expected to have to fight demons to save herself and her brother. It's an interesting mix and really thought provoking concept - in this first book Tessa has her entire world turned upside down with no sign of it ever being righted. She is talking with another character about her discovery that she is not human and he replies "You've always been what you are. That's not new. What you'll get used to is knowing it." I like this idea - She's not different but her knowledge of herself is different - makes you think it can be applied in so many ways.
I really recommend this book and I'll even recommend it's sequels - I have that much faith in them.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Book of Dragons by E Nesbit

The first story in this collection answers the question I asked previously about The Book of Beasts by E. Nesbit (it was that story). I couldn't understand why a picture book was included in juvenile reading lists. The reason - the story was originally published as a juvenile story. The Book of Dragons is a great collection of dragon stories. I was even more impressed to find that E Nesbit wrote these stories in 1899. They are timeless tales. The language never felt odd like some stories written in times past.
The dragon stories are varied from tales of St. George to a story of siblings who set off to find the north pole (it felt as if it could be modern day). Any child who loves fantasy stories will enjoy this book.
I am picking up another E Nesbit book and can't wait to share that with you.

Friday, October 15, 2010

School's Out by Wanda E Brunstetter

I have not read anything by Wanda E Brunstetter prior to this book but I know she is a very popular author in our area (I can't speak for anywhere else but her books always have waiting lists at the library). This is her first children's book and I must say it was good. It's the first in a series.
This book follows Rachel Yoder while on summer break. Rachel is a nine year old girl who's famliy is Amish. I have read a few Amish books so I have a basic understanding of a fictional version of that society (having never met anyone who is Amish - I can't say whether or not they are accurate). This book didn't really require an understanding of the culture. Wanda E Brunstetter made everything understandable in a way that didn't feel like a lesson. The Amish have their own language - sort of a German-English hybrid. I liked how the author gave a translation without it feeling like a translation.
Rachel Yoder is a very likeable character. She wants a skateboard for her birthday, would love to be able to wear pants and drive fast in a convertible. She's a typical nine year old girl who lives a unique life. I highly recommend this book and look forward to another edition.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gingerbread Cookie Murder

This book consists of three stories by three authors - Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine and Leslie Meier. I am a huge Joanne Fluke fan so I couldn't wait to read this book (if you haven't noticed I have gotten a little bored with juvenile books). Last time I got one of these sorts of books with Joanne Fluke I just read her story and returned the book to the library. However, what I have waiting for me is juvenile literature so I thought I would read the remaining 2 stories. They were wonderful.
Joanne Fluke writes the Hannah Swenson cookie books. All the mysteries center around Hannah's Cookie shop in small town Minnesota. I love the character and the included recipes are always a happy bonus. Hannah is a woman after my own heart. She spends her day surrounded by cookies (and a few kookys), believes that chocolate can solve anything and is courted by 2 of the most eligible bachelors in town. They are great guys who appreciate Hannah for who she is and they even deal with each other. She's a real character. Her family is a fun addition to the stories. In this story, Hannah has a neighbor who bought his condo after winning the lottery. He is found murdered in his apartment when the police come to get him to turn down his Christmas music and laser light display. I won't say this was my favorite story because it was so short. As a fan of the books, I felt there was something missing but that was due to the length of the story not that it wasn't well written.
The second story by Laura Levine followed Jaine Austen who was visiting her parents in a retirement community in Florida. I really enjoyed this introduction to Jaine and her life. Laura Levine was amusing and engaging. This was a nice compliment to Joanne Fluke's story.
But before we could die from tooth decay because the stories are so sweet Leslie Meier sweeps us into a slightly darker Christmas tale of a boy who is kidnapped. Where the other stories remind us that families are quirky, this story reminds us that family is important. This somber tale was quite enjoyable and really left me feeling more sentimental than the other two.
I really look forward to reading more by Laura Levine and Leslie Meier and now have to wait for Joanne Fluke to put out another book (why can't authors write faster - really).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Discworld Graphic Novels by Terry Pratchett

I am not sure I am going to become a Terry Pratchett fan but this book was enjoyable. I find his imagination to be fun and full of adventure. I have yet to read one of his novels (I have seen a couple of films based on his works).
This story follows Twoflower as he goes on vacation. That is a very funny idea for a book because his vacation becomes a huge adventure but he never stops being a tourist. He meets Rincewind, a failed wizard who has a great spell stuck in his head. They go on this great journey to all sorts of faraway lands and meet all these people. Rincewind has to save the world from crashing into the sun but doesn't really want to be a hero.
I can't really share much more since it's a graphic novel. The pictures are fascinating. The concept of discworld is amazing. The world is a flat land that rests on 4 elephants all standing on the back of a large turtle. This is a no holds barred story and touches on all sorts of mythology and concept. I think I may try a novel in the near future and see where it goes.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Gypsy Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

I was a little disapointed with this book. It was obviously written long after the first book so some of the language had changed (the same language that had made the first one a little outdated) but there were also some subtle modernization. The first book was obviously set in time it was written so to have the book go from the 1960's to the 1990's was a little unsettling especially since I read them back to back. Most children may not pick up on these things but as an adult reader it was a little distracting.
With that said, however, the plot was still just as good. The Gypsy Game kind of faltered for the children as a real life drama took over but the book never let down the reader. I especially liked Ms. Snyder's discussion about what Gypsy life was like and the hardships that particular group of people have faced. I like the realism and the hidden education in the book. This would be a great book to talk about prejudice and oppression.
There are so many themes in this book that make it wonderful. This time you meet Toby's father who is a very eccentric artist. It's an interesting contrast to his best friend Ken who's parents are practical and well-to-do. The two ends of this spectrum are nicely balanced and really are more subtle. There is no beating the reader with a cause. Ms. Snyder talks about homelessness when Toby runs away and ends up living in an abandoned house with three homeless people.
This is a really powerful book and a great sequel.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Two things ran through my head as I read this book 1). I had read this book as a kid and 2). this book was on the 2009-2010 banned books list for occult themes. I didn't exactly remember the book but there were little passages that caught at my memory. The biggest thing was I had read the book during the same time "Walk Like an Egyptian" was popular - which also caused that song to pop into my head at random times as I re-read the book.
As for the banned booked issue - I found that really sad because this is a really good book. It doesn't encourage children to suddenly worship the devil (or Egyptian Gods), it encourages imagination, play and learning but I'll get more into that in a moment.
The book I have in my hand says the copyright date is 1976 but has a note about being a 1968 Newberry Honor. I don't know when it was first written/published and the only importance about that is that some of the language is a little odd, especially since one of the main characters is a Negro girl. Negro is just not a word you hear all that often in modern literature. Aside from a little language "barrier" you would not guess that this book wasn't a modern book. The kids don't own cell phones or play on the computer but then so many fun tales omit this part of our culture anyway (Harry Potter wasn't looking up spells on Google).
The story follows twelve year old April as she is forced to live with her Grandmother in an apartment in some place that is not exactly disclosed but doesn't seem to have snow. April's mother is a starlet in the making and has sent April off so she can make her career. April has an amazing imagination and makes fast friends with Melanie, a girl in her apartment building.
In exploring her new neighborhood, April (and Melanie) discover a magic land (okay it's the yard behind an antique store). This yard is only accessible through a broken part of the fence. In the yard, the find a bust of Nefertiti which sends the girls on an adventure starting at the local library. They learn everything they can about Egypt and play act it out in the yard with Melanie's 4 year old brother Marshall.
I can see where some people might think that pretending to be ancient Egyptians is occult like but the truth is everything they play is rooted in fact. They pretend to be Priestesses and even include a few other kids from the neighborhood. They don't believe it's real. Every story must have a climax and this one begins when a child in the neighborhood is murdered and everyone believes it's the old man at the antique store. The kids are stuck between trying to be safe and continuing a game that makes these children feel at home.
It's a really good story and I am so glad that Ms Snyder wrote a sequel which I will be picking up next. I was a really imaginative child and having people who understood that imagination would have been the best treat I could ever have had - not all of us are so lucky to have friends who would recreate a world with you. For those who might be concerned - at no time do the children believe it's real, however when they add in the Oracle, they begin to wonder if they have gone too far.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Warriors (manga) by Erin Hunter

I, originally, tried this book in paperback form but I just couldn't get into it. The books are fine and the writing is good - I just could not connect with a main character that is a cat. It just boggled me.
I was interested to see how the Manga version would work (manga=graphic novel). I enjoyed it. This format gave me the images my mind just would not produce. I don't think it would be my favorite but then they all can't be.
This short book follows Graystripe as he tries to escape from the Twolegs who have captured him (he was captured by an animal shelter and then adopted to a family). He takes another cat with him as they try to return to his clan in the forest.
I can't help but empathize with the family of twolegs he left behind but maybe that's because I really am a cat person. I, also, found some fault with the story line but most of the target audience should be fine with the story.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hellboy - Seed of Destruction

I love the Hellboy movies. I am a huge Del Toro fan (the man who directed the movies) but even more so I love the character that is Hellboy. He's witty and human despite the fact that he's a demon from Hell.
I can guess that this is the book that inspired the first movie. The plot is not exactly similar but enough that you can put two and two together and get about 3 1/2. The book shares some of the origin of Hellboy and follows him as he tries to uncover what happened to his "father". The story includes Abe and Liz but they are so secondary that you are left wondering why anyone bothered with them in the first place - they really are just tools to move along the plot.
I have to say I prefer the movie but then graphic novels really have a problem when it comes to development. I love graphic novels but they don't have the same character insight and they really have a far more basic plot than a book or movie. They are similar to tv shows in that they rely on longevity. Graphic Novels are never meant to stand alone (with a few exceptions).
With all that said, I can't really share the plot with you because it's such a small plot that anything I share would ruin it. I did love it. Hellboy is still Hellboy and I look forward to future stories and future movies now that you mention it.

The Dark Tower - The Gunslinger Born/The Long Road Home

I was looking forward to The Dark Tower graphic novel series. The original books are quite good (The Gunslinger is a little dry for me but had some great passages). This story is right out of Wizard and Glass when Roland tells his ka-tet about his beginning as a gunslinger and his great love Susan Delgado. This is that story. If you have read Wizard and Glass then there will be no surprise. However, the pictures are worth the time to re-read the story. This graphic novel gives Roland's story more depth and humanity.
For those not familiar with the Dark Tower books, this story is about an ambitious 14 year old boy, Roland Dechain. He is training to be a gunslinger. In this world, time has passed and reverted to a strange time of kingdoms where knights are gunslingers. Relics of the old world include tanks and oil fields. There is a great war going on between the Affiliation and John Farson. John Farson is a great and evil man who appears to be a tool for the Crimson King. Through this story, all this is hinted at. You learn about John Farson but the real story behind the war is fairly muttled.
Roland is goated into testing to be a gunslinger by his mother's lover. Her lover is no other than the Man in Black who will be Roland's nemesis through the entire series. The plan was that Roland would be killed or exiled, allowing the bad guys to have one up on the good guys. Instead Roland is successful, so much so that his father worries he will be killed and sends him and his friends on an errand to count horses in a neighboring kingdom. This is not a fools errand but is suppose to be seen as such - the boys are there to see if John Farson is tapping into the oilfield there.
It's a good introduction into this world. It's quite different from the books which start sort of in the middle and work both ways. The graphic novels are suppose to be the back story that is only hinted at.
This story is continued in The Long Road Home. I found myself struggling to remember this story only to find that this part of the tale was never told in the books. I like this. As I said these novels are the back story (I didn't know that until I read the second book and the really interesting commentary from those involved). These back stories can only add depth to an already deep character. Roland comes across as heartless in the books only to surprise the reader with his compassion. These graphic novels will tell the reader why Roland is so hard and how he came to be on the journey he is on.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Kick-Ass by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr

This was one of those books I picked up because I had seen the movie. It was rather entertaining. I am not sure I really liked it because I really liked the movie and they are not the same. The movie had more of a happy ending (though how can anyone say that ending was happy). The plot line of Big Daddy and Hit Girl was rather sad in the book. Instead of being a cop on a mission, he turned out to be a really sad comic book nerd who taught his daughter how to be a superhero just for fun. I think the movie did it more justice by making their story more heroic.
I, also, was a little saddened by the fact the hero did not end up with the girl in the book. Granted, the book was more realistic - the movie was more romantic and followed a more superhero theme (the hero always gets the girl even if he can't be with her).
In either form, this is a great story. The idea that a normal person can be a superhero and the realistic view of what that means. Dave becomes a superhero only to end up in the hospital after his first attempt at heroism. He talks about why there aren't superheros because of this exact reason. He also talks about the addition being a superhero is. It's a really touching story that opens doors up to the average person. I don't recommend donning a costume and beating up bad guys but you don't have to turn a blind eye to the crime in your neighborhood. Perhaps it's my small town naivete that leads me to believe that if we all looked out for each other the world would be a better place but then again no one said it was wrong.

30 Days of Night by Steve Niles & Ben Templesmith

I didn't really like the movie 30 Days of Night and now there is a sequel coming out. I saw the book at the library and thought maybe there would be something else about the story that made is so popular (it has a huge following).
I still don't get it. While the premise has so much promise - the story fell flat. In fact I think the movie might have done it more justice. In really great horror movies you find a connection to the characters - whether it's with the hero or the villian. There is something that draws you in and makes you want to follow the story. This story I just wanted to end. There were strange sub-stories that went nowhere - perhaps they are meant to have more meaning in future issues. The real disappointment is that you don't care about any of the characters. The sheriff had the potential to be a great hero but you don't know anything about him. His role in the book is really flat and you don't care that in the end he sacrifices everything to save the town.
You don't even like the villians - well that's not true, you just don't care. Who are they? Yes they are vampires and have come up with this great idea to play for the 30 days when there is no sun in this Alaskan town. There is a build up - that V is coming. Who cares? Who is V - by the time he shows up no one cares. He hates the idea and thinks everyone is stupid - and he's right because we don't care about them either.
What's really sad is that this has a following. The pictures are confusing and I can't really tell one character from another. The plot is flat even though it could have been great. I understand that there is a need to seperate the girly vampire stories from the scary vampire stories but please - this is just ridiculous. I am looking forward to a vampire story worth my time (okay there are some out there I read but the vampire is really losing it's reputation).

Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

I actually read 2 of these graphic novels - Welcome to the Jungle and Storm Front Vol 1. I had read Storm Front in paperback a year or so ago and had not found myself really wanting to read more. It's funny how a graphic novel can change that. I now find myself wanting to read another Dresden File book. I can't remember what I didn't like about Storm Front but it could have been more about my mood than the book it's self.
Welcome to the Jungle is a pre-quel that Jim Butcher wrote exclusively for graphic novel. It's an introduction to Dresden. We follow him track a supernatural killer who has blamed the murder of a zoo security guard on a gorilla. I appreciate Jim Butcher's ability to craft a story. You really feel like Harry Dresden is just a normal person who happens to be a wizard.
In Storm Front, you learn more about the man behind the magic and you really see him as a PI. He's hated by all (why is that a popular theme in PI stories) but he doesn't really let that stop him. Storm Front is not for the faint of heart - the story centers around the murder of lovers who have had their rib cages explode (for a lack of better description). The pictures are a little graphic but I can guarantee the written word was more so.
I had that graphic novels don't always complete a story and now I have to wait to see if the library gets more (and I remember what happened in the first book).

Pinocchio Vampire Slayer by Van Jensen & Dusty Higgins

I needed a break from Juvenile fiction and jumped at the chance to read a bunch of new graphic novels from the library.
This books is cute in a way. The idea of Pinnochio as a vampire slayer is really an interesting idea. The book is drawn in black and white giving the story an old fashioned feel.
I love stories that play with your idea of what a character should be like. In this version, Pinnochio never got to be a real boy. Guipetto was murdered by vampires leaving a very bitter wooden boy who uses his nose to stake the very monsters that took away his father. He's not alone - he has a team consisting of The Blue Fairy and Mr Cherry a carpenter.
Because graphic novels are so short there's not really much I can say about the plot that wouldn't be telling.
I highly recommend this little treat.