Monday, April 19, 2004

East--Edith Pattou

It's so nice to be reading good books instead of crappy books. It's not often that I read multiple good books in a row! Yay!


East is a retelling of a classic fairy tale called East of the Sun, West of the Moon. It's a little bit like Beauty and the Beast--a man has been transformed into a White Bear and a human girl eventually falls in love with him. But it's so much more than Beauty. There's an evil Troll Queen who isn't really evil, she's just misguided. She really does love this man and the rest of her misdeeds are shared by her entire race, so it's not like she stands out in her evilness. The trolls steal humans to be slaves and drug them with a powerful drink to be submissive. They treat them like animals. But they all do it, not just the Queen. She fell in love with a softskin (human) boy, and took him without her father's consent and her father freaked out and transformed him into the bear. She could only have him if certain conditions were met. She went of her way to make sure these conditions would be met, meddling in the affairs of the softskins, and nearly succeeded. But Rose, the beauty in this story, turned out to be a lot more resourceful than the Queen bargained for.

Of course there's a happy ending, it's based on a fairy tale, but I don't want to give too much away. The story is captivating. I had to finish it one night--reading way past my bedtime because I just couldn't put it down. There's adventure, love, trickery, fantasy. It's just great. Rose is not a typical "damsel in distress." She's tough and strong and capable of taking care of herself.

The story is told through multiple viewpoints--Rose's, her father, her brother, the White Bear, and the Troll Queen. This is effective--although the Troll Queen is the bad guy--you can see that she really does love the White Bear/Man, she just doesn't know how to show it without drugging and brainwashing him. None of the characters are perfect, they all have flaws and do something that they shouldn't that has far-reaching consequences for everyone else. But that's okay, because they seem more human that way. The author did a good job.

Just Finished Reading: East--Pattou
Reading: Hmmm.....
On My Nightstand: Whale Talk--Lynch; Truth About Forever--Dessen


Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Sign of the Qin (Outlaws of Moonshadow Marsh 1)--L.G. Bass

What a great book. I hope we don't have to wait long for the next one!

Prince Zong is born on a miraculous night, heir to his Emperor father's throne but is denied his position because of a curious birthmark on his face--the Sign of the Qin (pronounced Ch'in), the mark of the outlaw. Seeing the birthmark enrages his father. Emperor Han blames his wife and banishes her from the Forbidden City. He refuses to acknowledge his son as Prince and Heir, instead plotting to kill the child. But the child is not ordinary, he is a Starlord, a direct descendant of the first Starlord, Emperor Hung Wu, and is prophecied to change the world. He grows miraculously fast, able to walk within a month, and although he cannot speak, he does understand all that happens around him. With his monkey guardian he flees his murderous father and leaves the Forbidden City to learn the ancient art of Kung Fu.

While this is going on, the outlaw brothers White Streak and Black Whirlwind, leaders of the Sign of the Qin, are battling their own demons, there are demons and immortals, good and bad, and they all have a part to play in the upcoming battle.

There's so much in this first novel, so many characters and so much going on, but it's not confusing. I can't wait to find out what happens to the young Starlord and his monkey guardian! There aren't many YA books based on Chinese legends; it's refreshing to see a story that's not Eurocentric. This will definitely be popular, particularly with boys.

Just Finished Reading: Sign of the Qin--L.G. Bass
Reading: Dunno yet
On My Nightstand: Tons

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Friday, April 09, 2004

Breaking Point--Alex Flinn

Paul is an outsider. He's been homeschooled most of his life and doesn't have much contact with people. His mother has kept him isolated, moving the computer to the family room so he can't spend time in any chat rooms talking to anyone else. She means well, she truly does love him and want to protect him, but her overbearing need to keep him close just makes him rebel. He is drawn to the wrong crowd, refusing to see their dangerous behavior as anything bad. He is so blinded by his need to fit in and to be popular that he cannot see how he is nothing more than a tool. The enigmatic charming leader of the group, Charlie, uses Paul's insecurities and vulnerabilities to make him do the unthinkable--blow up the school. Charlie is very persuasive, but Paul has the chance to refuse, numerous times, and ultimately fools himself into thinking that it would be okay, that no one would get hurt.

Charlie Good is not a good guy. He is cruel and manipulative. But Paul is almost worse--he has a conscience, he knows the difference between right and wrong, but decides to ignore it so he doesn't lose his "friends." Peer pressure is a powerful force, but everyone has the choice to say No.

All in all I enjoyed this book, although Paul's stubborn blindness and stupidity became annoying. This is Flinn's second novel examining a "bad guy" and showing both sides of the story without giving anyone excuses. As in her first novel, Breathing Underwater, Flinn shows how a good kid can make the wrong decisions and why his life experiences might lead him there, but in the end he is the responsible party. Just because we can understand what led up to Paul's decision, doesn't mean that's an excuse or that his actions were okay.

Just Finished Reading: Breaking Point--Alex Flinn
Reading: I think I'll start that Qin book
On My Nightstand: Same as before!

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Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Walking Naked--Alyssa Brugman

16 year old Megan Tuw (pronounced two, or too, or to ;-) ) is one of the popular girls in school. She is a founding member of an exclusive club in her Australian high school. Manipulative, insecure & sometimes cruel, Megan crosses path with the school's Freak-- Perdita. Perdita is intelligent but misunderstood. She refuses to go along with the crowd, but is oddly drawn to Megan. When the two spend a week of detention together, away from the prying eyes of "the group", they connect and begin to see each other outside of school. Although Megan begins to see Perdita as more than a freak, her shallow need to belong prevents her from showing her friendship in public. When she's "caught" and must choose between her new friend and "the group", she's too weak to stand on her own. The consquences are tragic for all involved.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, reading it in one sitting. Okay, so I got up and had some jello, but that only took 10 minutes. Megan is not a positive character--she's mean and manipulative, but somehow we sympathize with her. She shows the potential for being a better person, and although it takes a tragedy, she does learn her lesson. Megan is not the "bad guy" and Perdita is not the "good guy." They are both flawed. Perdita doesn't deserve the ridicule her classmates give her, but she doesn't stand up for herself either. She intentionally tries to freak Megan's friends out, giving them more ammunition against her.

This is definitely a YA book, but I'm not sure if it's middle school--YA or 9th grade and up--YA. I don't know if a middle schooler could relate to the cliques and the quest for popularity and the rather dark consequences of Megan's betrayal of Perdita. It may however, be an important book for middle schoolers to read before they separate themselves into superficial packs.

Just Finished Reading: Walking Naked--Brugman
Reading: Probably Breaking Point which needs to be done before Friday!
On My Nightstand: Breaking Point--Alex Flinn; Sign of the Qin--LG. Bass; Truth About Forever--Dessen

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Saturday, April 03, 2004

A Different Kind of Beauty--Sylvia McNicoll

Here are my choppy notes for my latest top shelf rejection:

Girl raises guide dogs and gives them up. Obsessed with wrong boy. Older sister pregnant, split up with alcoholic boyfriend and moves back home

Boy is diabetic, goes blind. Angry, resists help. Hates dogs. Winds up in hospital twice--gets drunk and goes into some kind of diabetic coma; gets hit by car walking after dark. Obsessed with wrong girl.

Boy meets girl and dog, instant dislike on both parties. Naturally, boy winds up with girl's dog as a guide dog. Hint of possible future romance--boy wants to keep girl in dog's life.

Good, but nothing great. Nothing special. Not Top Shelf. Doesn't stand out. Not best of the best.

Just Finished Reading: Duh
Reading: Don't know yet.
On My Nightstand: Truth About Forever--Dessen, whatever I bring home today.

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Thursday, April 01, 2004

Grammar is a Gentle, Sweet Song -- Erik Orsenna

I don't know where to put this book. It's a good book--clever and witty and intelligent and intellectual and literary. It celebrates words and language and all the things we librarians hold dear. It's marketed as a kids' book because it reads like a fable, but I really don't think it is a kids' book. It takes an appreciation that middle schoolers just won't have. Grown-ups will enjoy it. English majors, librarians, teachers. Middle schoolers, I don't think so.

Two kids, 10 year old Jeanne and 14 year old Thomas are shipwrecked and wash up on a strange, magical island. Words have lives of their own--they have tribes. Nouns and articles are always together, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, all have their own tribes. Occasionally a noun and adjective will marry, but nouns are fickle and will want a new description before the ceremony is even over. Jeanne and Thomas have lost their words because of the violent hurricane that swept them out to sea. They rediscover their voices with the help of the strange island dwellers and magical word-beings.

Translated from the French, there are a couple of words and phrases that made my eyes pop out. In addition to an implied remedy for impotence, there's a store that sells insults. One of the insults is a doozie-- c-u-n-t watcher. Now, I can deal with the "shithead" that follows, but the c-word is pretty big. That's professional insult territory, and I don't think it belongs in a book for kids or middle schoolers. That alone is enough to make me not consider it for Top Shelf. I think the audience is definitely an older reader, one who can appreciate the complexities of language.

Just Finished Reading: Grammar is a Gentle, Sweet Song -- Erik Orsenna
Reading: A Different Kind of Beauty--Sylvia McNicoll
On My Nightstand: Truth About Forever--Sarah Dessen

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