December 30, 2013


Good news for readers! We're just two days away from the announcement of the 2013 Cybils Award finalists--eleven fantastic shortlists in categories ranging from Book Apps to Young Adult Fiction, carefully read and judged by enthusiastic teams of volunteer bloggers from around the kidlitosphere: teachers, librarians, readers, authors, and more. I, for one, cannot wait to begin reading the finalists for YA Fiction, where I'm a Round 2 judge this year. Meanwhile, Tanita is just finishing up her exhausting responsibilities as a Round 1 judge in YA Spec Fic. We are big Cybils fans around here, but even more than that, we're fans of quality books for young readers (and older readers who love the younger readers AND their books). So stay tuned and visit the Cybils blog on New Year's Day for the announcement of shortlists. (And if you've got any shortlist predictions you're just dying to share, feel free to leave a comment and speculate away!)

One more bit of good news for readers--but this won't surprise you, I'm sure. Of course reading is good for your brain, but now science has confirmed it: reading a gripping novel boosts your brain function FOR DAYS after you're done reading. Check out the article, and then next time someone accuses you of constantly having your nose in a book, you can quietly and smugly rejoice in the fact that you're making your brain happy while they foolishly court senility!

December 28, 2013

CYBILS REVIEW: Across A Star-Swept Sea by Diane Peterfreund

This book is a 2013 Cybils YA Speculative Fiction nominee.

Last year, when I reviewed For Darkness Shows the Stars, I said that I wasn't sure if I could take another classic novel reboot. But, authors and filmmakers persist in doing these reboots because we love the original stories enough to make them classics, and so we go on.

I was about eleven when I first struggled through a 1940's version of THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL. The only name on the unadorned and very old spine was Baroness Orczy - which I thought was a pseudonym,but you'll be impressed to know that Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála "Emmuska" Orczy de Orczi was a Hungarian-born British novelist, playwright and artist of noble origin. I loved the book, I loved the creaky old 1934 version with Leslie Howard, and egads, let's not talk about the 1982 version with Anthony Andrews. That was THE high school go-to feel good movie for my eldest sister's friends, and I loved it, too (though I was not quite as enamored of Jane Seymour with that big hair. I mean, sister had BIG hair.) Now, we know the basic premise - the tale of a spy during the French Revolution - and I wondered what magic Diane Peterfreund was going use - along with her retelling of PERSUASION - to make it into a story I loved.

Well, she didn't. She made a whole new story to love. Which is the best kind of alchemy of all.

There was a lot of drama regarding the cover of FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS, alleging white-washing, because the main character was meant to be of Pacific Islander descent - but from the far future or whatnot. I appreciated the author and the publisher sticking to their guns - as this is fantasy, and who knows what "ethnic" will look like in the future? - and also I disliked the instant hostility from some who hadn't even read the book or considered the issues. I am sure that the author and design team stand by this cover as well - an island girl with bleached dreadlocks and a foofy dress that looks a lot like water and stars is exactly as described in the book, and after reading it, you may feel the island girl is a bit pale, but it's important not to try and categorize someone's ethnicity by some unstated set of rules. This is an artist's conception of an Albion girl - whatever else she is, we can at least agree on that.

Concerning Character: In this novel, we're introduced to another bright, strong-willed girl: Princess Isla. After the unexpected and accidental death of her father and elder brother, she's ascended the throne of Albion, holding it for her infant brother. He must have a kingdom to rule in twenty years time, and so she grits her teeth and does what she must. Of course, women in Albion shouldn't be in a position of power. They're only role is to be ornamental, and to marry well... but things have changed. Isla is battered by older courtiers and Lords, bullied and bossed. Does no one take her seriously?

With her bleached dreadlocks and her frothy outfits, nobody ever takes Persis Blake seriously. In the six months since she's dropped out of school, she's carefully camouflaged the fact that she's brilliant and strong-willed, but that's how she likes it. As one of Isla's closest friends and her lady in waiting, she's got a job to do. On the neighboring island kingdom of Galatea, where the Reduced were held in slavery and the aristos ground them under the heel of their rule, the peasants have revolted... and are revolting in their treatment of their former masters. They're drugging them to destroy their minds. SOMEBODY has to do something. Not every aristocrat is guilty and deserves death... actually, Persis isn't sure who deserves death, and who deserves life, but she knows those decisions shouldn't be in the hands of just anyone. Isla's hands are tied -- she cannot start a war on behalf of people not her own. But, the Wild Poppy - spy, provocateur, savior - can act in her stead... mostly in her stead, anyway. When Isla knows what she's doing, anyway. Something has changed with Persis, and she's taking bigger and bigger risks. She's going to get herself killed - and then what will Isla do?

Justen's whole life and family line has been about helping to free the Reduced from their circumstances, but now that the former slaves are in charge, Justen cannot countenance what's being done to their former masters. Not as a future doctor, whose task is to save. Not as a Galatean. And, not as a human being. Hiding in Albion seemed like a great idea at first, but the safety of his sister, and of his country isn't something he can turn his back on... He MUST find the spy known as the Wild Poppy, or the lives lost could include his own.

The islands of New Pacifica know their past - the world was almost destroyed, once, through stupidity and greed. There's no way that they could plunge back into that darkness again... is there?

Fast-paced, fraught with suspense and painful misunderstandings, this book will be a treat for lovers of The Scarlet Pimpernel films, and hopefully give impetus for new discovery of the book.

Book received from publisher for Cybils. You can find your copy of ACROSS A STAR-SWEPT SEA by Diane Peterfreund online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

December 27, 2013

CYBILS REVIEW: Crewel, by Gennifer Albin

This book is a 2013 Cybils YA Speculative Fiction nominee.

Spinster. It has multiple meanings. One who spins, yes, but one also who is destined never to marry.

Crewel also is a word which, in an onomatopoetic sense at least, has multiple meanings. Crewel is freestyle embroidery done with thick, wool threads that produces a raised pattern. It's been done since the 17th century or before... and of course, there's the word cruel which is pronounced the same way. Cruelty often leaves its own thick, raised scars... There are multiple plots, multiple secrets, and multiple villains as well in Gennifer Albin's debut novel, CREWEL. While sometimes the pace is a little too fast, and the emotions aren't quite believable, this series may be another winner series for the dystopia series enthusiast.

As well-used as the metaphor is in the title, I have to admit that I find the covers of all three versions of this book a little oddly bereft of metaphor or subtlety. There are a number of ways weaving time and space could be interpreted, and any number of spider or web or even loom-weaving or embroidery illustrations which could be brought into play. The generic slice of pretty-girl face surrounded by out-of-focus swirls of ...fiber optics? on the U.S. cover, and the anonymous British looking model with the striking eyes seems a boring choice, though I will admit freely that I'm pleased to see an unusually rounded and less model-looking face on the UK cover. However, the worried-looking thirty-five year old woman depicted on the ebook cover makes the book look a little less than YA, but I suspect that few people actually pay attention to the "covers" on ebooks anyway. In any event, we'll probably find that the trilogy covers will have some sort of emerging theme, as the series unfolds.

Concerning Character: It begins simply in a neighborhood on the world of Arras, where a teen girl lives a predetermined life. There are Protocols in place - the types of clothes she can wear - modest - the types of people with whom she can interact - other girls - and the types of things she can do - go to school and prepare to be a good, obedient Western wife. It's a little life, until a certain, magical time. Teen girls are tested at a certain age to determine if they have it within them to be a Spinster. Spinsters, employed by Manipulation Services, under the auspices of the Crewler, are the spinners of the world - they determine what the people of Arras eat, where they live, and when their children come. They weave time, with matter. In the loom of life, spinners keep the threads bright and tightly woven.

Spinners also remove any weak threads and snip out any loose the Guild's discretion

And the Guild is made up of men who order the lives of the Spinsters, and while they're cushioned in a soft, perfumed, adorned life... it's all on the surface.

It's a life that few ordinary Arras residents know about, and Adelice was never meant to know. Her parents have trained her all her life to fail the spinster test, to not take her place as a weaver, but just once, out of pride, and a yearning to touch the threads... she made a tiny mistake. They have come for her, and dragged her into her new world -- drugged and in handcuffs.

I found it somewhat disingenuous that Adelice didn't figure out that her parents' treasonous activities meant that they were part of some resistance movement. What struck me as most noticeable is that she didn't follow-up on it. Despite the number of people who crossed her path who were clearly not with the Guild program, asking her questions about her parents, someone asking her about the hourglass symbol on her wrist, she never wondered anything. She never pondered, she never thought; she was merely an observer, a painted puppet, who stared at those around her with wondering eyes and watched as they took risks for her, were disappeared, or died. Her smart mouth and difficult behavior may have seemed like a type of resistance, but it didn't seem to actually change anything much...

Her inauspicious beginning with the Guild is the least of Adelice's worries. Her family is gone - maybe dead. With nothing left to live for, Adelice refuses to keep a low profile and answers back, refusing to be cowed. But the Guild deals with an iron fist, and soon Adelice is bruised, friendless, and nearly broken.

Adelice is the girl with something everyone wants. The Guild is the organization longing to control her, and all she represents. After all, she's only a woman, and someone older, wiser, and male like the Guild Ambassador, should be in control of her many talents. Her position at the Guild tenuous, only Guild Ambassador Patton, who frequently reminds her that he could have her terminated at any time, keeps her alive. Maybe Adelice should be grateful?

Or, maybe it's time to find out the limits of the Guild's power - and where hers begins.

Book received courtesy of the publishing company for the Cybils. You can find your copy of CREWEL by Gennifer Albin online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

December 26, 2013

Reviews in Brief: Dark Futures

Happy Boxing Day! As my gift to you, please accept these quick mini-reviews—and, of course, many good wishes for happy family times and much relaxation (perhaps at the same time, perhaps not).

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. Technically, this one isn't published for a YA market, but with a tween/teen protagonist and a strong coming-of-age theme, it crosses over very well. It's what I'd describe as a gentle, literary post-apocalyptic novel, if such a thing is possible. The earth's rotation has begun to slow, throwing the entire world into subtle—and not-so-subtle—disarray, including the life of the narrator, Julie, trying to grow up in a world that won't stop changing. A quite profound statement, really, since that's the case for all of us, whether the entire world is changing or just our own smaller worlds. It's really quite lovely, but it's also got just enough detail (I think) to satisfy fans of more traditional sci-fi (if you ignore a few nagging questions from time to time); that is, while many of the science aspects are left mysterious, it's nevertheless a step beyond magic realism—in fact, it's all too believable. It's about the happy and the sad; the things we can't control and the things we can; how life changes and how it doesn't change even when everything around you is constantly shifting.
Review copy source: Library ebook | Buy from Indiebound

Allegiant (Divergent #3) by Veronica Roth. I don't know why I insist on writing about books that I can hardly describe without spoilers, but oh well. I'll try to say a few things without sounding like fluffy jacket copy; how's that? I suppose what's noteworthy is that I've heard some divergent (heh heh) opinions about this final volume of the series and how things are wrapped up and explained. Like any popular series—like Mockingjay, for instance—people are going to have very strong opinions and expectations about how the various strands should be wrapped up. I guess it's all part of how we as readers give the story life in our own minds, and therefore it's a reflection of the reader's relationship with the story just as much as it is a reflection of the writer's success in concluding it. I enjoyed the unfolding discoveries about the truth of Tris's society, which she finds out after leaving it behind—honestly, I was waiting for that "what's outside the fence" moment for a LONG time, and the truth had the excitement, suspense, and shock value I expected. It was after the big reveal, though, that I had some mixed feelings and questions. Still, as a completist who has to know how it all ends, I was excited to read it.
Review copy source: Purchased ebook | Buy from Indiebound

More Than This by Patrick Ness. Here's another one where I'll have to be careful not to give away too many spoilers. Sci-fi suspense can be like that sometimes. I was really eager to read this one, since I thought the Chaos Walking trilogy was brilliant and unputdownable (even though it was also very emotionally difficult to take, wrenching and devastating). This one, too, was a page-turner, but for different reasons—specifically, I couldn't stop reading because I had to know what happened, what was happening, and what was going to happen to narrator Seth. His very existence at the beginning of the book is a mystery, because as far as Seth knew, he was dead. He knew that much because he'd felt himself drown and get dashed on the rocks of the ocean. But he wakes up…somewhere. Or IS it somewhere? Is it all in his mind? Is it like The Matrix and he's in some virtual place? Or did his previous life ever exist at all? The fact that this book raises more questions than it answers for much of the early part of the story kept me from putting it down, but ultimately, I wanted more out of the ending. It may seem like reader greed (it may BE reader greed) but I found it very mysterious and I wanted answers. (Sequel? Please? Maybe?) A good read, though, if you can tolerate some ambiguity.
Review copy source: Library ebook | Buy from Indiebound

December 24, 2013

CYBILS REVIEW: The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White

This book is a 2013 Cybils YA Speculative Fiction nominee.

With the exception of the awesome Theodosia books and a recent Esther Friesner duo, I hadn't seen any newish YA tales that deal with the labyrinthine relationships of the Egyptian gods. Given the whole incest/fratricide thing (chopping your brother into fourteen pieces...? Nice), maybe they're not the best topic... but Kiersten White's THE CHAOS OF STARS gives it a shot anyway.

I love the cover of this book - the sort of bronzed looking font over the backdrop of glitter-on-black is elegant and eye-catching. However, I had trouble connecting with this story because Isadora is meant to be an Egyptian - but she's the most generic and culture-free Egyptian you'll ever meet in fiction. We get no sense of where she's from, what her life/home is like (I mean, she has a TOMB, for heaven's sakes) and the smoothness of the transition between that life and San Diego is far too uneventful. Further, the novel is framed as a destiny-driven love story, and the inevitable romance with The Cutest Boy In The Whole State (who is also the most ridiculously patient) is front and center, but the protagonist's struggle with the idea of owing her parents worship, her fear of living in the present, and her inability to comprehend the scope of a mortal's lifespan could have been developed more, to deepen the plot and slow the pace, and to help make the rest of her struggles more believable.

Concerning Character: Sixteen-year-old Isadora sometimes feels like just another in a line of Mom clones. Her mother, Isis, has named every one of her daughters after her in some variation, and while once, that was something delightful, now Isadora feels it's just another example of smothering mothering, and Isadora is determined to be nothing like her mother, and nothing like her family, at all.

Her family, it must be said, is kind of nuts. It goes with the territory, being Deities. Her Uncle once murdered her father - and her mother resurrected him. Her uncle still comes over weekly. Isadora's aunt follows her mother around like a timid, dark shadow. And, her son, Anubis... wow, talk about not right in the head. Isadora's always known that her mother's attention span is short where she's concerned, and lately she feels like she's going to be pushed out of her whole life. When her mother's crazy dreams convince her to send Isadora to live with her brother, Sirius, in San Diego, she's over the moon. Even finding out that her mother has arranged a job for her, as a volunteer docent for a small museum can't dim Isadora's joy.

At last, Isadora is free, free, free to live the way she wants to -- even free to crush on the gorgeous, blue-eyed poet, Ry, if she wants to. Not that she's interested - Isadora knows how short love lasts. Her own mother has lost interest in her; there's no way Ry's really serious about her. She's not falling for that again.

Even far from home, glimpses of the past haunt Isadora. Avoid it as she might, home and family are still at the forefront of her mind - and in her subconscious. When she finally pays attention and stops being vexingly petty and angry, it's almost too late...

While not a favorite of mine, this might be an entertaining novel for someone who isn't at all familiar with Egyptian myth, and likes a Meet Cute story with plenty of gorgeous people in it and wants to read it on a beach.

More Egyptian myths in YA lit can be found here.

You can find THE CHAOS OF STARS by Kiersten White online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

Friends and Family. Strangers. Solitude. Company. Parties. Books. Trips. Staycations. Anything You Want This Year.

December 23, 2013

A Winter Links Roundup

I have to admit--my online activity has slowed to a trickle this past week, after going on a quick trip out of town and then juggling family and friends' holiday parties over the weekend--AND, on top of all that, having to wrangle car-related issues. Rather than sound like a constant bummer online, I went into hermit mode instead, and tried for some much-needed down time. (In my case, apparently, that means a bit of hiking and walking and copious amounts of eating.) But you're used to my occasional online silences, aren't you? Yes, I'm sure you are. I am not someone who's afraid to take a technology holiday.

But I did encounter some goodies on the 'tubes this week, which I hereby share with you:

First, Jen Robinson (who I sadly did not get to visit this past week due to aforementioned car troubles) tweeted about an interesting post by Laurel Snyder, lamenting the lack of illustrations in books nowadays. Couldn't agree more!

I was thrilled to bits to see that Tanita and I were both included on Kelly Jensen's list of Green Light YA Reads: A Flowchart over on BookRiot, which is a great site to begin with, but Kelly is all kinds of awesome and I have an unholy love of flow charts, so YAY. And another YAY--The Latte Rebellion got a mention on the NPR blog Code Switch in a post called Seeking Wonderful Young Adult Novels That Deal With Race. The first thing I thought when I saw this was EEE! They said my book is wonderful!! The second thing I thought was, OMG, I am on a list with Sherman Alexie, Heidi Durrow, and Gene Yang!! That really made my night. (Night, because I was reading NPR on my iPad before bed...)

Lastly, a couple of fun ones from the BBC. Thanks to this article, now I really want to read me some French detective novels. (And I already have The Elegance of the Hedgehog waiting on a to-read shelf.) And last but not least, "James Bond is an 'impotent drunk,'" reports a medical analysis of his daily alcohol consumption. On that last one, however, I have to quote my friend Scott's response from when I posted the article to Facebook: "The point about James Bond is that he is an extraordinary person who does not succumb to the normal downfalls of average people. I'm certain his liver and libido would simply scoff at the mere notion of this 'study.'" Yes, I am sure that is correct.

December 20, 2013

CYBILS REVIEW: When We Wake, by Karen Healey

This book is a 2013 Cybils YA Speculative Fiction nominee.

I was shocked when this book wasn't nominated first out for the Cybils. Published in March of this year, it was discussed as a disturbing book by a lot of SFF blogs - and, while disturbing and post-apocalyptic go hand in hand, there were probably a lot of people who couldn't shake off the chill of a book on cryogenics to discuss it further.

Also, it's just heartbreaking, in some spots. As in, I could not cope with this heartbreaking. Karen Healey does here what she does best, drag the reader backwards into all kinds of emotional questions, and then, leave them gasping, with answers they must come up with themselves.

Fans of books like THE SUMMER PRINCE, by Alayna Dawn Johnson, THE WATER WARS, by Cameron Stratcher, ARTICLE FIVE by Kristen Simmons, and THE CARBON DIARIES by Saci Lloyd will some similar themes in this novel. Some people have felt it's a readalike for Beth Revis' ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. Um... no. Karen Healey's organic inclusion of diversity is masterful; someone mentioned they'd read this novel, and there were "a couple of Muslims" in it. The characterization is subtle, but there are also two Somali boys - love interests, several Muslim women, lesbians, and a transperson, as well as characters of a variety of ages, cultural understandings, and beliefs.

But, did I mention that it's sad? Not sad, as in tissues-required. It's sad, as in, twists-your-gut-rips-at-your-heart-but-leaves-it-beating/bleeding. Because, the main premise is that, once upon a time, there was a girl who had everything... and then, it was gone...

Concerning Character: True story: I started this novel twice. I couldn't read it the first time I started it, because, people, there is a such thing as Dystopia Overload. I took a Happy Book Break so I wouldn't run into traffic, and tried again: Teeg, as Tegan likes to be called, is sixteen, finally, finally getting all the signals right and the cues lined up with her brother's best friend, finally on the way to having the boy she's crushed on since forever. She's going to a protest with him, and her pushy best friend, doing her bit for the environment and all she cares about. She does care, too -- she's just starting to imagine a world beyond 2027, and it feels good. So much feels good...

And, when she wakes in 2127, everyone she felt good about, and felt good with is gone, and she remains stranded in time. That's not the worst part -- the worst part is that social media has über-morphed into this gaping maw of constant updates and flying cameras and everyone in the world wants a piece of the Living Dead Girl, feels like they own her, and are perfectly okay to dive beneath her skin and ferret out her every thought. Caged, frantic and grief-stricken, Tegan she wants to have her life - or her death - back, and her privacy. Worse, because she put that little sticker on the back of her driver's license, her body belongs to science - in the Frankenstein sort of way. As in, they own it. Teeg argues that she gave her dead body to them, not her whole life, but the military has different ideas. MUCH different ideas. They're exploring cryogenics, to explore resurrecting combatants killed in action. That's creepy enough, but Teeg is able to dismiss that. After all, her father died in the war. She would have done anything to see him live again. It's a good cause, donating your body for science. In spite of everything, the lack of privacy, the batteries of tests, the hordes of doctors, the grief, the fear, the constant, invasive, grinding pressure - Tegan is glad she did it. Usually. Mostly.

Of course, not everyone agrees. There's a religious cult who feel that Tegan's soul has left her body - and that she needs to embrace returning to the embrace of God through suicide. As a devout Catholic, Tegan is not about to suicide - but she's also a little scared about the state of her soul. (And here Healey scores on diversity of thought - Tegan crosses herself and goes to Mass, though few in her new time understand her actions, or even believe in God). Anti-military folk protest Tegan being resurrected before their solider children, and critics of environmental waste aren't sure that a country who turns away refugees from all over the world have the necessity to be resurrecting the dead. After all, there are enough living and precious few resources for them on the overcrowded and polluted planet already. Tegan would have been fine if the stress and questions she encountered came from outside of the organization who had revived her -- but some of them didn't. There is something going on that isn't quite... right. Her bodyguard silenced a man who said something about an Ark...

All Tegan wants is the truth. If no one else cares, her one goal is to tell the truth ... no matter what it takes.

WARNING: Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate. The creepy cover of this book will haunt you. Creeptastic totalitarian governments are not as far away as 2127. It is hazardous to read while driving heavy machinery. Walt Disney's head is not frozen in a cryogenic freezer. Do not await the tech for this with baited breath. Your mileage may vary.

You can find WHEN WE WAKE by Karen Healey online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

December 17, 2013

CYBILS REVIEW: Namesake, by Sue MacLeod

This book is a 2013 Cybils YA Speculative Fiction nominee.

Unlike a lot of other people, I don't actually like time travel novels.

I think the last one I truly liked was a DWJ novel - but others were frustating. Deeply frustrating. If I can go back in time, why can't I FIX things? Why can't I make certain some people are never born, or make new decisions? Okay, okay, I understand about personal paradoxes; I can't prevent things from happening to me or I may gimmick myself out of being. But, to change history? Does a minute's change here or there really matter, like a butterfly flapping its wings and creating a tsunami? Is there really that chaotic of an effect?

Well, I didn't actually think I was reading a time travel novel when I opened Sue MacLeod's NAMESAKE - and then I was like, "Hmm." I was impressed with the characterization and drawn in by some home truths about the character's life, and I didn't realize I was enjoying a time travel novel until it was too late. It was a good thing I didn't give it a pass on general principles, either.

The only objection I have to this thoughtful, intense and quiet novel is the cover. While I like the spatters of sealing wax used to make the title, I've seen those ruddy huge rooks. I've seen their feathers. The feather on the cover of the novel is soft and its quill is gently curved - and it isn't even close to looking like it belongs to a rook - those feathers have straight, hard shafts that don't curve, and no real softness to their look. But - that might just be me.

Reader Gut Reaction: Jane Grey is a high school student, she's Canadian, and she's got a secret. Several secrets, in fact, but the ones that have to do with her parents are lulus. Her father is dead, so at least he has no new secrets. Jane's mother, however, is another story. In Mode One, she is super Mom, the shining heroine of motherhood, the patient, kind woman who calls her "sweetheart" and is the hero of her own play of single widowed motherhood. Sometimes she's in Mode Two, where she ignores Jane... and Jane ignores her, and things roll along fairly peacefully. And then, Mode Three, the one where All Hell Breaks Loose. Her mother is hard-eyed, critical, angry and drunk. Sometimes she's violent, and usually, things end with broken glass, tears, and bruises. Then, it turns into needy, whiny, love-me-love-me-let-make-it-up-to-you. It's a cycle Jane's been on for years, but nobody needs to know what her life is like for real. Not even her best friends, Traci and Megan, one of whom is all into her boyfriend, the other who seems like she's actually starting to ditch Jane for a new bestie. Christina - whose nickname is Christo, since she couldn't remember the Count of Montecristo wasn't actually Montecrisco, is suddenly everywhere, a loud-talkkng, gum-popping nuisance who has taken Megan friend away, just when she needs her...

Not that she could have told Megan anything, anyway. Not that sharp-eyed Megan hasn't noticed that something's wrong... and been waiting for Jane to confide... and is losing patience...

All that's left to Jane is school, though these days, since she didn't make the cut for a lot of her AP classes, she's not even into it that much. Only AP history, where her project on Jane Grey, the Tudor queen, has any interest for her. She somehow finds a tiny prayerbook - beautifully tooled, incredibly old - and when she reads a psalm aloud finds herself suddenly leaping across time and space to stand before the owner of that book - Jane Grey, the nine day queen. Believer in the True Faith, and for her sin of heresy, at least in her cousin Mary's eyes, doomed to die.

Jane never wanted the throne, never wanted to marry that corpulent man. Beaten into submission by her power-mad father, used for everyone's political ends, Jane lives out the last of her days in the Tower of London, where the modern Jane, her namesake, finds her. Two girls, finding solace in each other, and refuge from the harsh realities of life. Lady Jane is saving Modern Jane's sanity. Can she do anything for her in return? Maybe she's supposed to her?

WARNING: The Butterfly Effect is real, for a given value of reality. Time travel portals can be anywhere. It is hazardous to read while operating heavy machinery. You cannot have time in a bottle, nor make wishes come true. Your mileage may vary.

You can find NAMESAKE by Sue MacLeod online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

December 13, 2013

CYBILS REVIEW: The Cadet of Tildor, by Alex Lidell

This book is a 2013 Cybils YA Speculative Fiction nominee.

Let's think together a moment: what is it that makes a Tamora Pierce novel?

Strong female central characters. Diverse gender, ethnic and ideological backgrounds. A fraught political scene. High stakes, and an underdog nobody believes in, who is willing to make bad choices, fall, swear, and bleed before getting up again, and saving the day. Check, check, check.

With the exception of any diverse in characters, and more a focus on action and emotion than history and worldbuilding, this could almost be a Tamora Pierce novel. Having read the author's bio, and realizing that the ALANNA books were her first foray into fantasy in English, I'll say that this is a tribute novel - I find that a more positive descriptive word than "derivative." If you love the novels of Tamora Pierce -- pay attention.

This is also a magic school/bildungsroman/junior soldier story -- so, Potter fans, DWJ CHRESTOMANCI CASTLE fans, fans of Caroline Stevermer's A COLLEGE OF MAGIC, Shannon Hale's PRINCESS ACADEMY, Maria Snyder's WIZARD STUDY, Trudy Canavan's BLACK MAGICIAN series, Jane Yolen's WIZARD HALL, any of the Earthsea wizarding novels, or any kind of school stories -- pay attention.

The smoky orange sky on the cover, depicting a city on fire, and the cut, scraped and scarred hand and arm of a warrior with a glinting sword is both unisex enough and tough-looking enough to make this a win for everyone.

Concerning Character: Renee de Winter is a senior at the Academy of Tildor - having come through to this point in her school career expressly against her father's wishes, through the sweat of her brow and the skin of her palms. She believes strongly - so strongly - in the new king, and all he stands for. She sees what's been happening to her kingdom -- the extortion of the Family vs. the rapacious violence of the Vipers -- and she wants in on his war to change things.

Problem: the old king new king is young and impetuous, and the things he's doing to change the kingdom - well, his war against the crime families whose thugs sell drugs and force extortion onto the citizens is a violent and difficult war. The crime families are fighting back. People are dying. And, the rot is spread further in and further down than anyone could have guessed. Renee thinks that hope has come, when an elite soldier is pulled from active duty to be an instructor at the Academy of Tildor - but he's resentful and infuriated to be pulled away from where he could help -- and his students are going to pay for it. Especially that upstart girl who thinks she's strong enough to play hardball with the big boys...

Renee is at first hurt, then resentful and her best friend, Alec, is furious at the unfairness -- but Renee's heart is for the kingdom of Tildor. And she'd do anything to save it -- whether against the law or not...

This book is complex and full of bigger thoughts that you might expect from an adventure novel that feels a lot like coming home to a more updated version of the Alanna books. The worldbuilding and political structure of Tilder is very well done, possibly reflecting the author's master's degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. While this novel - HURRAY! - stands quite well alone, with a beginning, a middle, and AN END, the author has wisely left a few open spaces to allow the reader to return to this story and see What Happens Next, and rumor has it that she's working hard on a sequel. It's not a necessity, but there's room for it, and many readers will find themselves glad to see more from this debut author, as she makes her own way, and finds more of her own voice.

I've read a library copy. You can find THE CADET OF TILDOR by Alex Lidell online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

December 11, 2013

CYBILS REVIEW: Paradox, by A.J. Paquette

This book is a 2013 Cybils YA Speculative Fiction nominee.

Okay, is it me, or is EVERYBODY totally forgetting everything in YA fiction these days???

Cat Patrick's FORGOTTEN was another Cybils nom on amnesia a couple of years ago. I just reviewed ALTERED by Jennifer Rush. Let's not forget the whole MAZE RUNNER thing, by James Dashner. THE ADORATION OF JEMMA FOX(Mary Pearson), THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER (Michelle Hodkin), and even further back, BEFORE I FALL (Lauren Oliver) and Kathleen Duey's SACRED SCARS books. Apparently, waking up completely futzed on who you are and what you're supposed to be doing, while being in some kind of fraught circumstance has become Really Normal for a lot of people.

Gotta admit, it's a great plot contrivance. The stakes are sky high, and everything - every little look, nod, flicker -- everything matters the most.

The tagline "Survive One World. Save Another" on the cover of this gave me a clue that this would be high adventure. Unfortunately, the first thing the cover indicated was DUNE! DUNE! Oh, my gosh, someone's trying to retell DUNE!!!! Um, no. The presence of a giant, maw-mouthed, rings-of-teeth worm-like thingy, rising from the Arrakis-type desert-y earth is not at all indicative of Frank Herbert's novels, nor does it indicate the presence of anyone with the last name of Atreides, nor is it even weakly reminiscent of the movie, Tremors. Sorry. I know you're all disappointed. The paperback cover might help you feel less like DUNE or Tremors should be involved - a disembodied face, a sandy desert looking place, and people walking doesn't necessarily scream "Adventure!" but it's at least not confusing me with worms.

I read the conclusion to this novel once -- then again -- then again. And, I'm ...still confused. A lot confused. There was potential and so much drama built up here that it may just be that I'm kind of a hard science idiot (hi Mr. Plubell and my Junior year Chemistry C-!) but I don't get how the logical leap occurred from, let's just say, one part of the novel past to the future, from the internal to the external. I'm not sure reading it again will make a difference, either. If anyone else comes up with a different take on the conclusion, I'd be glad to know it.

And now, onward to the book:

Experience. Discover. Survive.

When she wakes up in a room filled with flashing lights, she's alone -- and plugged into ...stuff. Needles have fed her and little catheters carry away her waste. She's stiff and sore and -- just ... awake. In a suit and boots. Standing in a ... room thingy, filled with panels and buttons that she pushes. And... a nametag. Okay, she's got a name. Ana. And she's... somewhere. With a countdown clock strapped to her wrist. And, twenty-eight hours to get somewhere and do something before... something else happens. Right.

Eventually, Ana figures out she's on a planet, and has just landed. A brief note contains instructions as to what to do next, but not many. The weird thing is, she has body memory, muscle memory that propels her along the way. She opens the spaceship door and comes -- face to face with... death. Of course, not knowing who you are or what you're doing, you're bound to be eaten for your ignorance the first second! However, she's saved by a boy in an identical space suit, and together, they embark on their journey across the planet Paradox.

There are losses along the way. Inexplicable losses. There are unsettling discoveries - like the ginormous, ring-toothed maw-of-death worm. There are also weird flashes - or ribbons - of memories that don't belong to Ana, or anyone she knows. The confusion lasts nearly the entire novel. In the last third, All Is Revealed. And, I'll not hand you spoilers, but the twist wasn't surprising to me, and it might not be to you. How Ana pulls it out of the fire and saves the world - because she has to, it says so on the cover -- is what was harder for me to understand. I wanted to, and I wanted very much to be able to suspend disbelief for this novel, but I couldn't.

STILL: this is a fast-paced page-turner, and if you don't have to understand the science behind the novels you read, you might just enjoy this one.

A copy of this book was sent to me courtesy of the publisher for the Cybils Awards. You can find PARADOX by A.J. Paquette online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

December 10, 2013

CYBILS REVIEW: Horizon, by Patti Larsen

This book is a 2013 Cybils YA Speculative Fiction nominee.

Okay, so I may have gone on and on and ON last year about Losers in Space. I had a lot of love for that book, and wanted to thrust it into the hands of everyone who loved space colony space opera and wanted to read more of it. Now, an unexpected book joins the ranks of TUNNEL IN THE SKY and STARSHIP TROOPERS, by Robert Heinlen, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, by Beth Revis, EARTHSEED, by Pamela Seargeant and LOSERS IN SPACE -- HORIZON.

Unlike the fools on LOSERS IN SPACE who stowed away on a ship just for something to do, these guys have NO intention of getting in the way of trouble. Trouble finds them, while they're just living their lives in whatever fashion. However, like the LOSERS IN SPACE crew, they soon discover that what happens after the attack is up to them:

-- Demure, obedient Sun and her family are simply going to their new home in Zandia Colony - aboard the Day Wanderer, on their way to the glorious stars, where she's always wanted to go. Never mind that her mother is too strict and demanding - her father is going to make this trip, and hopefully, the rest of their lives, an adventure.
-- Minnesota has always loved knocking around the old grounded colony ship, The Horizon which brought she and her family to the New Paltos colony. She's quick, smart and hyperactive, and it's a perfect outlet.
-- Sammel is always in trouble, always disappointing his Captain father - a loose cannon and one step from disaster. All he wants to do -- just once! -- is impress the old man, and let him know that Archer's not his only kid. But, this time, the disaster isn't just a little dent or a broken vase - it's unprecedented. And, no matter what anyone says -- he's sure it's all his fault.
-- Quinn's alcoholic miner father has worn him to the bone. He just wants something better -- something good and worthy, like what the family was after when they came to New Paltos. But, it seems like there's nothing left for them.
-- Archer has known all his life that he's going to take over for his father, and follow in his footsteps. He couldn't be prouder than the day he got his uniform and his father brought him up to the bridge of the Day Wanderer. But, his father wants him to take care of Sammel -- his disaster of a little brother. Archer tries hard to be perfect, and it galls him that Sam doesn't even seem to care.
-- Miguel's father might be satisfied with just being a New Paltos miner, but Miguel is meant for a better life than this. Somehow, he'll get there. He's smarter than anyone on this backwater colony, and someday, he's going places.
-- Brownwyn knows that Earth will always be superior to any of the stupid little backwards colonies her father drags her to - and if she can't find any decent conversationalists, at least there's always her old friends, booze and coke. Even hung over, she's still a princess -- and everybody had better recognize that.
-- Manuel is used to being thought of as big and stupid, especially by his twin, Miguel, but Minnesota's always been kind to him, even though she's so fast and smart. He's only brawn and no brains, good only for being a miner. Manuel knows he'll never get to the stars - but he can dream...

They're different ages, from different backgrounds, and have different goals. But, when the Day Wanderer is attacked, and all that's left is a handful of colonists and the few survivors from the ship, their only hope is to pull together -- or lose everything they ever hoped for. I love novels like this - the "eight kids save the world" thing. This is a well-characterized, well-paced and entertaining indie novel for fans of the Lost In Space genre. While it stands alone on its own, with the way it ended, there's even room for a sequel!

You can find HORIZON by Patti Larsen online, at various ebook retailers. Just follow the link!

December 09, 2013

Links, Here and There

I haven't done a links post in a while, occupied as I've been with catching up on book reviews (I'm still not done, by the way...that's a threat AND a promise!). So here are a few news stories and whatnot that have caught my attention:

First, a worthy cause for your consideration--Guys Lit Wire is doing another short holiday book fair for Ballou High School, which now has an impressive new library facility. But guess what? No room in that facilities budget for books. So: let's help them get there. They started with less than one book per student, and now they're up to a ratio of five books per student, which is fantastic but still considerably less than the recommendation of (if I remember correctly) 11 books per student. The book fair's still running for two more days, and I've made my donation--Allegiant by Veronica Roth, A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty, and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina. Go read about it here, and buy a few books off the Powell's wishlist!

Today via the New Yorker's Twitter feed, a story about the big Literary Feuds of 2013. A few of these were familiar, such as the "Claire Messud and likeability" kerfuffle and the Booker Prize business, but a lot of them were new to me. Quite an intriguing recap of the past year's Privileged People Problems...

Latinos in Kid Lit is doing their own 12 Days of Christmas Book Giveaway, raffling off 12 fabulous kids' books by Latino/a authors between Christmas and Three Kings Day. Go enter!

Last but not least, another recap for 2013, this time of NPR's Best Books. But instead of a list, this year they've done a "Book Concierge"--a recommendation engine based on what you're into reading right now. It's interesting, for sure...filtering by genre does have its advantages, and combining various tags makes for some unexpected results. I'd be interested to hear what others think, if you've given it a try...

December 06, 2013

CYBILS REVIEW: Man Made Boy, by Jon Skovron

This book is a 2013 Cybils YA Speculative Fiction nominee.

So, I've been thinking I'd like to put up a small monument to Jon Skovron.

Nothing ostentatious, mind, just a small bust in the park, or a wall-sized painting on the side of a public library, perhaps. Maybe he could get a stamp.

This isn't how I react to many authors, no, but the thing is, I've never read a book of this guy's that I didn't like. I mean, NEVER. That's the kind of batting average that requires a monument. So, while I'm thinking about which park I'm going to take over, and how I'm going to manipulate some artist into doing this thing, I'll tell you a bit about his latest book.

It all starts with zeroes. And ones.

Concerning Character: Tech meets Classic Gothic Horror in this fast-paced and tightly written playful, poignant, coming of age novel. This is a full-on crossover for lovers of the original Frankenstein and lovers of bildungsroman and those who are always up for a good road trip. This is THE STUFF, people.

Boy is your typical guy - big, tall, awkward, kinda shy. Stays online, practically all the time. Gets nagged by his parents about being online, all the time. Gets bullied by Shaun the Satyr, about being a techno-robot-geek, all the time. Secretly crushes on Liel the trowe, yeah, all the time. With the exception of his freakish size, brilliant tech savvy, Frankenstenian parentage, and the fact that he lives underneath Time Square with a bunch of monsters and he's never been outside of The Show, ever, he's just like anyone else. Or, most anyone else. He has dreams -- big dreams -- and his biggest dream to date is to be nothing, nothing, nothing, NOTHING like his emotionally switched-off father, and his can't-express-herself mother. He wants to be more - more human, more flexible, more free. And, when the chance comes to escape to the Outside - New York City - Boy goes.

It's apparent to more world-experienced readers early on that freedom isn't always all easy. As a matter of fact, it's fairly hard. Boy - having never been outside - has no ID, no social security card, nada.He's also Boy - the son of Frankenstein's Monster and his Bride. He looks a bit... different. Humanity isn't exactly ready to embrace "different" with open arms on its best day, and on its worst? Yeah. Even fairly jaded NYC is struggling to deal. Brilliant techie that he is, without ID, Boy is stuck on the bottom rung of the ladder, working in food service with other undocumented visitors to New York, while crashing on an online friend's couch. It's a meager, gray life. To make matters worse, Boy's last big brilliant tech innovation turns out to be a total bust. But, on the up side, suddenly all of his wishes are coming true. Or, one of them, at least... but, even getting what you thought you wanted can turn on you -- quickly.

On the run from NYC and his past -- and all his mistakes -- Boy encounters a bigger, weirder world than he could ever have imagined. There are people like him -- and stranger than he is, by all accounts. There are lights and cameras, mega malls and Apple stores. There are unexpected kindnesses and unexpected reversals of fortune. It's The Real World -- and, it's not an easy place to be, especially if you're on the run. Sometimes, a Boy's gotta stop running. Facing up to your failures is the only way to stand tall - like a Man.

I LOVE the title of this - MAN MADE BOY is pretty evocative. Sure, all of us are "man made" to a certain extent, but not quite in this DIY fashion! Non tech-heads may not notice, but the lettering on the cover is made up of circuit boards - a brilliant design touch, and the slight bluish cast it gives the model's fingers makes him look suitably inhuman/undead, without overdoing. The little skitter of lightning in the heart that makes the 'o' in Boy is a nice nod to Boy's father, Frankenstein's monster, who came aliiiiiiiiiive through means of electricity - the high tech of the time when his story was written. The bolts in the wrist are also a bit of a clue about the characters in the novel! This is a cute and clever cover - well done, cover people!

A funny, romantic - for a given value of romance - disturbed, realistic view of growing up and taking charge of ourselves and our mistakes, you'll finish this and want to shove MAN MADE BOY into the hands of everyone you meet. Enjoy!

WARNING:: DIY humanity is not for the weak of heart. Look both ways before crossing the street. Not everyone is cool enough to have both bolts and USB access in their wrists. GE does not bring all good things to life. Conversely, lightning doesn't actually bring most things to life, either. Your mileage may vary. Running from failure is less of an option, when failure chases you. Reading books while operating heavy machinery may be hazardous to your health.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher, for the Cybils Awards. You can find MAN MADE BOY by Jon Skovron online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

December 05, 2013

Toon Thursday: Back in the Saddle with a New Regular Feature!

That's right, a new cartoon, and not only a new cartoon, a new ongoing feature. (You know I love to make up the new ongoing features.) Clearly I will be mining this particular one for years to come: the adventures of ME and my INNER CRITIC. In this initial installment, learn how I first acquired this uninvited guest. Note: All cartoons are semi-non-autobiographical. Any resemblance to reality is ALL IN YOUR MIND.

As always, click to view larger.

December 04, 2013

CYBILS REVIEW: Altered, by Jennifer Rush

This book is a 2013 Cybils YA Speculative Fiction nominee.

There's a lot to be said for tropes in YA lit, and one of the biggies is "insta-love." In novels where there is a lot of action and less characterization "insta-love" is a handy fictional tool to step over those messy, emo high school relationships. No need to explain why a character likes another character, they just DO all right? This book touches on instant attraction with a little twist: perhaps the ultimate freakout would be not being in high school, not in any normal circumstance, anyway, and still somehow be party to the emotional puppetry and nonsense of the group emotional dynamic which is high school. Imagine being completely at the mercy of "insta-love" because of some who-knows-why life quirk.

Oh, yeah, and imagine four guys living in the basement...

If you're saying, "Wait, what?" you're in good company --

Anna's father is a scientist for the Branch, and the guys who live in the basement - in unbreakable plexiglass-type cells - are her genetically engineered-maybe-super-soldier friends, kind of. She discovered the guys in the basement when she was thirteen - and has been their biggest fan ever since... especially Sam's. He's amazingly gorgeous and Anna's now seventeen, and dying to know how he feels about her. Of course, logically, he should feel "jailer" about her, and to a certain extent, that's touched on in the novel, but Anna is impervious to the weirdness of crushing on someone jailed in her basement, and Sam is ... remarkably patient with her fangirling on the other side of the glass, her visiting him in the middle of the night, and her trying to catch a glimpse of his tattoos. The novel does not spend adequate time on characterization - the boys are essentially ciphers with a single defining quirk - one eats a lot, one is grumpy, one is the best buddy, and one is the love interest. (They're like the four dwarves: Grumpy, Hungry, Buddy, Sexy.) Additionally, Anna doesn't really have a lot of depth, either, nor basic curiosity about what's really going on in her house, or what goes on in the larger world. With the exception of her hated self-defense courses, Anna's home ALL DAY and must stay upstairs most of the day. She has little or no contact with the outside, her mother is dead, and her father is completely indifferent, except for their once-a-week lemonade and sugar cookies date. I have to say that if I had a parent who ignored me except for an awkward little interlude for cookies, I might be tempted to, I don't know, skip it and look online for how to get some kind of emancipation, but Anna is in a weird state of contentment. We're told she wants to leave. She dreams of a life away, but... well, there's Sam. And Trevor and Cass and Nick and all, yeah. But, Sam... [insert dreamy sigh]

Readers may be surprised that Anna hasn't endlessly questioned her father, broken into his files or become an exppert on genetic modification. She seems content to check her curiosity at the door and just do her father's paperwork and assist him in his tests or whatever on the four hulking boys living in a high-security lockup in her basement -- despite obsessing hard about one of them. Like the other boys, Sam has no memories of life before the last five years of being incarcerated in Anna's basement, and she doesn't seem to be at all curious as to why her father is running blood tests and taking data about these boys. Whose projects are they? What does the Branch intend to do with them? When a couple of the suits from the Branch lab make a surprise visit, the time for questions ends in chaos and gunfire. Anna gets caught up in it all, and her father tells her to go -- with the boys who have masterminded an amazing escape. As they run, and are chased, Sam works hard to remember who they are, why they are, and what the lab wants from them. Memories bring up tragedies and betrayal that none of them are ready for -- but there seems to be no time to do anything but run. And run. And hide some. And steal kisses. And run some more.

Though I as a reader had some serious questions about this novel, I kept reading. Why? Because it was enjoyable in the way that kettle corn is - an light, semi-sweet indulgence. It's a fast-paced page turner that requires a lot of belief that the sequels are going to do the work of explaining a lot of the "Why?" the first book didn't cover. I found Anna's personal breakdowns about her mother - in the midst of the boys' bid for freedom - to be a little difficult to swallow. She certainly isn't the only one experiencing the pain of being lied to, and, hello, people with no memories have had to KILL other people, can they get some emo time, too?? -- but she carries on about it, and sort of forces everyone else to deal with her drama. Readers may also have a moment of horror about Anna's other long lost family members -- and the fact that she's basically a replacement is not even touched on, but again, we can assume that the sequels (next up: ERASED) are meant to lay a bit more groundwork in terms of characterization and delving deeper into the whys of the plot that got missed in the first burst of action and drama. At least one hopes.

I received a copy of this book specifically for the Cybils Awards. You can find ALTERED by Jennifer Rush online, or at an independent brick-and-mortar bookstore near you!

December 03, 2013


This book is a 2013 Cybils YA Speculative Fiction nominee.

Playful, ridiculous, and unexpected: Quirk Books strikes again.

We rolled our eyes and laughed at the classics retold with zombies. We rolled our eyes some more at Anna Karenina as an android - that certainly explained the whole Keira Knightly movie. But... Star Wars is touching some pretty sacred cows. And Shakespeare?!?? Honestly? I'll tell you that right up front: I am PICKY AND DEFENSIVE about the Bard, man. I have sniffed at a modern jazz musical on A Midsummer's Night Dream. I have narrowed my eyes at Shakespeare in the Park. I was NOT prepared to like this book AT ALL. I am not down with making fun of Shakespeare -- nor am I really down with making fun of Star Wars. Making fun of both at once?? Get thee behind me, hater.

To my surprise I discovered: this book isn't a joke.

Now flies Luke off in his landspeeder quick
And finds his home engulfed in flames of red,
The spies amidst the smoke so black and thick,
The bodies of his aunt and uncle, dead.
A sadder, wiser man he cometh back,
With noble purpose now his life's imbu'd
By wrongful, vicious cowardly attack,
The Empire hath Luke's passion quite renew'd.

... LUKE: A Jedi I shall be, in all things brave --
            And thus, shall they be honored in their grave.

~ Act II, Scene IV, Verily, A New Hope

Soo, this ... STAR WARS as Shakespearean play thing. Not a joke.

It HAS jokes - in jokes, yes, like Shakespeare does. It has Star Wars jokes, in places where true fans have rolled their eyes at the movie. (Actually Hans Solo at one point sighs and says, “’Tis though I just have said thus—even I/From time to time have boarded been. Dost thou/Believe that e’er I had the choice? [aside:] Aye, true/It sometimes seemeth I repeat myself.” - which I have to admit made me smile.) It has humor and drama and really shows the structure of the original film -- the Hero's Journey, and how closely it models itself after some of Shakespeare's heroes. This felt a lot like Hamlet in spots (not just because of the woodcut style artwork, featuring Luke holding up a stormtrooper helmet, a la "Alas, Poor Yorrick.") - but because of the dark and determined soliloquies and the adventure aspect - a young man who wants to go out and change the world, but first, he has to deal with the evil deeds of the past -- it's all there, the Big Story that makes Star Wars - and Hamlet and the like - great.

The illustrations are a hoot - somehow transmuted from movie stills into old-fashioned sketches of Lords and princesses and soldiers from afar - and while there aren't many, there are just enough to add a little pop of interest in the right places. Aside from the "Yorrick" pose, my favorite one has to be the portrait of Darth and his burning... er... globe. And, can we take a moment to talk about the cover? The primary characters and their symbols are all represented - and Darth Vader's collar and chains of office are really reminiscent of Elizabethan portrait. The helmet with the high, stiff collar sticking up behind it is just perfect.

Of course, it's not as if we have to actually, you know, read this to find out the story of Star Wars. We know, of course. One of the things that makes this book such a hit is that we know the lines of the film by heart by now - most of us, anyway. It's not as if we don't know what happens, but, author? poet? playwright? Ian Doescher knows the Star Wars tale well enough to play with it, AND, he also knows Shakespeare well enough to mimic the little Shakespearean in-jokes, the dramatic language, the iambic pentameter, which in itself is quite a feat. He also doesn't take his little project seriously -- he ups the drama in the Sith Lord's soliloquies and gently mocks the green and over-eager Luke.

There's an afterword that talks a lot about Joseph Campbell, the creator of the Hero's Journey, and how closely George Lucas' original storyline hews to his theories. It's an interesting little find for anyone who is after yet more Lucas storytelling.

This is a seriously cute book, and a perfect stocking stuffer for the SERIOUS Star Wars geek in your life. They'll give you stink eye, at first, no doubt, but it's really, really well done, and clearly a labor of love. Well done enough so that serious Shakespearean don't feel mocked, and serious Star Wars fans feel that honor is being done their favorite story.

Enter PRINCESS LEIA, in beam projected by R2-D2.

LEIA: O help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, help.
        Thou art mine only hope.
LUKE: -- Pray, what is this?
R2-D2: Squeak?

Rumor has it that The Empire Strikes Back is next for this Shakespearean-ization. Online at Quirk Booksthere's a study guide, so teachers can use it, and an author interview as well.

WARNING: Readers of this book will be tempted to act it out -- and do voices. Do not read while operating heavy machinery. Not everyone can be Princess Leia. All actors must take turns. "Help me Obi-wan, you're my only hope" sounds better in iambic pentameter.

I found my copy at the library. You can find WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S STAR WARS: VERILY, A NEW HOPE by Ian Doescher online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

December 02, 2013

Reviews in Brief, Part III: Suspense Spectacular

Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff. This was my first time reading anything by this author, and while I found the premise stretched my credibility a bit, that could be my skeptical adult self finding it hard to believe that a government program—no matter how shady and secretive and lacking in scruples—would ever use teenagers as secret agent killer types. But certainly it's not a premise that's unheard of (and frankly, plenty of governments in other countries have no compunction against child soldiers) so having set that aside, I was pretty absorbed by this one. It's action-packed, and something I'd consider to be a good "boy book" and/or an excellent read for those who like things in the thriller/spy novel genre. And everyone likes a shady government operation, right? Of course, the interest here lies in the character's growth, and he grows to question what he's doing and why…and that's all I'm going to tell you.
Review copy source: Library ebook | Buy from Indiebound

Code Orange by Caroline Cooney. I hadn't read a Caroline Cooney book in a while, but she is excellent at writing quick-read thrillers, setting up intriguing situations, and just generally penning stories that are unputdownable. I had been putting off reading this one, though, because the premise here is kind of icky: over the course of researching a biology report on infectious diseases, Mitty Blake finds an envelope with scabs in it inside an old medical book. As you might guess, Mitty does the dumb-guy thing, and all of a sudden he has to do a really, REALLY good job on his disease research. This one's billed by the jacket copy as a sort of post-9/11 suspense novel, but the part I enjoyed (besides the fear factor) was the gradual "awakening" of Mitty, previously a rather lazy and unengaged student, to the fact that book learning could, in fact, be a matter of life and death. (Not the most subtle of pro-education themes, perhaps, but the author is preaching to the choir.)
Review copy source: Library ebook | Buy from Indiebound

Monsters (Ashes #3) by Ilsa J. Bick. I'm not going to be able to say much about this one without giving away spoilers. Suffice it to say it is a very good, solid, but not too pat conclusion to an extremely harrowing and suspenseful trilogy that would probably appeal to fans of Patrick Ness and the Chaos Walking books. If you liked the first two books, you're likely to find this a satisfying conclusion to the story of Alex and Tom and Ellie and Chris, with a lot of good vs. evil strategizing and scary twists and setbacks, revelations about the Changed, and surprises regarding both the good guys and the bad guys.
Review copy source: Library ebook | Buy from Indiebound