Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Graveyard Book

Gaiman, Neil. Ills. Dave McKean. The Graveyard Book. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008.
[Book cover credit:]

A Horn Book Fanfare Best Book (2008)
Cybils Award, Fantasy and Science Fiction - Elementary/Middle Grade (2008)
ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2009)
British Fantasy Award Nominee - August Derleth Fantasy Award (2009)
Hugo, Novel (2009)
Newberry Medal (2009)
World Fantasy Award Nominee, Novel (2009)
and more...

You might think - and if you did, you would be right - that Mr. Owens should not have taken on so at seeing a ghost, given that Mr. and Mrs. Owens were themselves dead and had been for a few hundred years now, and given that the entirety of their social life, or very nearly, was spent with those who were also dead. But there was a difference between the folk of the graveyard and this: a raw, flickering, startling shape the grey color of television static, all panic and naked emotion which flooded the Owenses as if it was their own. Three figures, two large, one smaller, but only one of them was in focus, was more than an outline or a shimmer. And the figure said, My baby! He is trying to harm my baby!

And so Mr. and Mrs. Owens take it upon themselves to raise a living baby and protect him from the man Jack who murdered the rest of his family. Nobody Owens, as he is renamed, or Bod, as he comes to be known, grows up in the graveyard, learning things like how to Fade, Haunt, and Dreamwalk with ghosts and other non-living creatures for company.

But the man Jack is still looking for him. Bod should have died with the rest of his family, and the man Jack wants to make sure that he does.

I hadn't been putting off reading this book, per se, but it certainly was never at the top of my reading list, even though I've been wanting to read it since it came out. Then I read the Newberry acceptance speech Gaiman gave at the ALA conference. (It is available in the late summer issues of both Horn Book and Children and Libraries.) I don't know how, but Ihad forgotten just how fun Gaiman's writing is to read. He says in his speech that this book took him twenty years to write. It shows. I'm sure there are faults to be found in The Graveyard Book, as there are in any book, but I didn't find any.

For being set in a graveyard and opening with a triple murder, this book is a lighthearted story. It is told rather episodically, to span Bod's life from infancy to when he is 15 years old. As so much of his life is unchangeable, only the exciting bits need to be shared, such as his first living friend and a tutor who is also a Hound of God. Each chapter could almost be its own short story, with shared characters between them. Because of this, and because the language is just begging for it, The Graveyard Book would make for a wonderful read aloud, spread across weeks in a classroom, library, or bedtime setting.

This was a quick and enjoyable read. It's not a laugh-out-loud book, but it's funny in places. It's also really sad in places and really happy in others. I liked it a lot.

Book source: Philly Free Library

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Ryan, Carrie. The Forest of Hands and Teeth. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.
[Book cover credit:]

Well, it worked on my sister. That and the trailer:

I just hope she sticks it out through all the exposition/love story/cult-ish stuff for the Big Zombie Payout. But more about in the

Review:I liked this one, but I could have done without all the dragging out of the "is the Sisterhood hiding all of everything from us" in the beginning. I was especially mad about all of the slow lead-up when I got to the end of the book, and none of the intrigue with the Sisterhood seemed to matter.

Well, I guess it mattered in that it gave time and safeness before the Big Zombie Payout for the romance circle to develop: Mary loves Travis but Travis is betrothed to Cass who loves Harry who has been in love with Mary since they were kids. Did I mention that Travis and Harry are brothers and Cass and Mary are BFF's? Well, these things happen when you're living in the post-zombie apocalypse, landlocked equivalent of the Robinson's island (remember both guys being in love with the one girl? At least there are two girls in this isolated go at it). Even though the romance circle is hardly new, it came out in a different way here. Both girls have feelings of loyalty, if not love, towards both boys, and both boys want to remain loyal to each other. I wish somebody, one or both of the guys or even, no, mostly the girls themselves, had made the girls the most important. Though Mary and Cass are still buddies (they're the only girls left after the Big Zombie Payout, what choice do they have), they're never BFF's again. If my BFF agreed to marry the guy I was in love with and I agreed to mary the guy she was in love with to get back at her/because he's the only guy left/cause I don't have the balls to go for the real thing, I wouldn't call her my bestie anymore either. In a book where both of the female protagonists take very different yet both strong, ass-kicking roles, it's sad that they let their friendship fade because of these guys. Neither of which was all that amazing, even though each had their swoon-worthy moments.

But then there's the Big Zombie Payout that I was waiting for! It doesn't erase all the drama, far from it, in fact, since it forces the romance circle into really close quarters. But at least there are zombies everywhere to keep everyone distracted. All of a sudden all of the petty arguments and injustices aren't as important as the imminent threat of the undead. At the same time, given that we're talking about BFF's stealing the loves of each other's lives, the petty arguments are so much more important. And Mary kind of checks out. She thinks she's figured out enough of what the Sisterhood was hiding from everyone to get their little party (which includes the romance circle, Mary's brother and his wife, and a random kid that Harry saved) out of the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

The sequel, The Dead-Tossed Waves, won't be out until March. I though that The Forest of Hands and Teeth could have stood on its own with a reasonable amount of loose ends (can you really wrap of everything with millions of zombies trolling the forest looking for lunch?). I really hope that some of the remaining questions I had about the Sisterhood get answered, as I felt like there was a lot of build-up to nothing on that front. Still, I loved this book, in a way. It was like zombies with brains (haha).

Book Source: Philly Free

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Un Lun Dun

Mieville, China. Un Lun Dun. New York: Del Rey; Paperback edition, 2008.
[Book cover credit:]

"You're..." he whispered slowly, "in... Un Lun Dun."
The girls waited for the words to make sense, but they didn't. Hemi was grinning. "Un Lun Dun!" he repeated.
"Un," said Zanna. "Lun. Dun."
"Yeah," he said. "Un Lun Dun."
And suddenly the three sounds fell into a different shape, and Zanna said the name.
"UnLondon?" Deeba said.
Hemi nodded, and crept an inch closer.
"UnLondon," he said, and he reached for Zanna.
p. 39

Zanna and Deeba are lost in a world that kind of appeared in a basement. A world that has been stalking Zanna as of late. A world that they can't seem to get out of. All Deeba wants to do is go home, but Zanna is there for a reason. She's there to save them all.

This is one of the weirdest (in a good way) books I've read in a long time. UnLondon is a parallel world of sorts. It is whacky and full of MOIL (Mildly Obsolete In London) objects come to life. As such, it influences as London and London influences it. The nearness yet farness of the "real world" is what makes UnLondon so sinester for Deeba. That and the fact that is is reduced to the role of Zanna's sidekick while they're there. And though there is definitely a bad guy (sentient Smog in fact), the sinister feeling is short-lived as Deeba is drawn into her task and drawn to the UnLondoners around her.

The attitudes of each world towards the other gave the whole book a feeling very much like that in Corpse Bride - the Upstairs (living) vs. the Dead feeling. Zanna's predestined role in the whole thing, and the way everyone seems to know about it but her, was a lot like when everyone finally gets to Narnia in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. And all the UnLondoners gave the whole thing a distinct Alice vibe (a guy with a birdcage for a head and a fleet of ninja trashbins, just for starters).

Also, a glossary of things British people say that American people don't say is included (hence the trashbins). It's hilarious.

Overall, this was a really fun read. Really fun. If it didn't require getting special permission, I would highly recommend it for the Alice in Wonderland Challenge.

Book Source: Philly Free Library

Fall Into Reading

Here's what I want to read this fall:

Kids and YA stuff:
  1. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
    - Review
  2. The Red Necklace: A Story of the French Revolution by Sally Gardner
    - Review
  3. The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent - Review
  4. Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go by Dale Basye
  5. The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
  6. Blood Captain (Vampirates 3) by Justin Somper
  7. Black Heart (Vampirates 4) by Justin Somper
    - switch to:
    A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb
    - Review
  8. The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King
    - Review
  9. Radiant Darkness by Emily Whitman
    - Review
  10. Tennyson by Lesley M.M. Blume
Adult stuff:
  1. Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriyār Mandanī╩╣pūr
  2. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
  3. Dreaming in French by Megan McAndrew
  4. A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire
  5. King Rat by China Mieville
  6. Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
  7. The Secret of the Fire King by Kim Edwards
  8. Shelf Discovery: Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick (this should probably go up there, but I want 10 and 10)
  9. All the issues of New Yorker that are stacked up on my coffee table to remind me that I just had to have a subscription.
  10. Along the same lines, I'd really like to finish War and Peace, which I've been reading since June...
This is basically my holds list at the library with a few extras from around the house thrown in. Hopefully it'll be enough that this is kind of a challenge but will leave me enough wiggle room for random stuff that comes along. I'll add links to the ones I review as I get to them.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Hegamin, Tonya Cherie. M+O 4EVR. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008.
[Book cover credit:]

ALA Rainbow List, Young Adult Fiction (2009)

M(arianne) and O(pal) have been friends for as long as either can remember; their mothers were friends before that. M is only half black to O's plain-old black, which matters in their teeny Pennsylvania town. She ditched O to gain popularity and is now the first black Homecoming Queen the county's ever seen. When she dies shortly after the homecoming dance, the loss is too much for O. Though she feels like she lost M a long time ago, she's really gone this time.

Review: full of spoilers this time, but this book isn't really about suspense or the revelation of facts, so it shouldn't hinder the enjoyment of the read.

I wouldn't have even picked up M+O 4EVR if it hadn't been for Daisy's blurb about it over on her QueerYA blog. I thought the title held the promise of a book full of text-speak. It doesn't. M+O 4EVR is written in hearts on many of the places important in M and O's childhood: their tree and the backseat of O's Grandma's car, for example. It would be sweet if it weren't so sad. M is dead by the end of the second chapter, and the rest of the book is told in O's heartbroken voice. Her rememberances of their relationship and the way she deals with M's death are interwoven in a way that is realistic. Unfortunately that doesn't always do much to help the reader's understanding of the story.

We know from the beginning that O is in love with M and has been for a while. Whether M returns that affection is pretty unclear for a lot of the book. What does become clear is that everyone who is important in O's life knows that she has just lost the love of her young life in a really horrible way. The support she receives from her Grandmother, who she lives with while her parents each travel separately for work; Drippy, her grandmother's boyfriend; and her mom and dad, who each return home for M's funeral and to be with O; is really wonderful. Even M's mom, who did not approve of M and O's relationship once it moved beyond a close friendship, breaks down and apologizes for trying to ban O from her house in the face of her grief.

Interwoven through the story of O and M is the story of Hannah, a runaway slave who either died in or flew over the ravine that claims M's life so many years later. At first her story, which O's grandmother told to O and M when they were little, doesn't seem to have any connection to O's grieving other than that she heard it with M and they talked about it growing up. As each story unfolds, we learn that M initiated the move from friendship to romance at the same time that we learn that Hannah fell in love with the Native American, who she calls Mine, helping her travel north to freedom. Still, I didn't necessarily feel that one story needed the other, though both were really sad love stories that ended very similarly.

This slim little volume is very complicated. The whole thing spans maybe a week at the most in O's life, really getting into her conflicting emotions and the ups and downs of her early grieving process. Though the reactions and feelings in this book are very real, I would hesitate to give it to someone who has just lost a loved one. It's almost too real to be comforting. It would, instead, be a good resource for someone hoping to comfort a grieving loved one.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Philly Free

ETA: The Bill has been passed! The libraries will stay open!!!
For more info see the Library Blog.

It looks like the Free Library of Philadelphia might actually be closing on October 2nd. All 50+ branches of it.

The library can't stay open without the approval of a temporary (probably not, but still) tax hike in the city which can't be approved until the 2010 fiscal year budget is finalized and approved. That budget should have been approved a long time ago and should have been put into effect in July, but that is a whole other mess of problems.

If you're in the Philly area and have a state representative that you can contact about this, please do so. The Free Library, being an information sharing type place, tells you how.

And in case you're conflicted about this issue, just look at all the things the City of Philadelphia will lose if it doesn't have a library:
  • Library visits to schools, day care centers, senior centers, etc.
  • Space (for free) for community meetings
  • Space (for free) for ESL and GED classes
  • LEAP, the afterschool tutoring program that runs out of every Free Library branch
  • All the other programs that are run by or in the Free Library, including the author series
  • Oh, and the free books.
Not to mention, that Philadelphia, the city that had the first public library in the country, will be the first major city to shut it's library down. Classy.

I guess, depending on how you look at it, being known for closing libraries is just as good as being known for high murder rates or making the shortlist for the fattest cities in America.

Pennsylvanians, especially of the Philly variety, please contact your state representatives and ask them to get their asses in gear. It's September and we still don't have a budget. Philly can pull itself out of its own budget woes, we just need their permission to do so.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


There are all kinds of things going on for Book Blogger Appreciation Week, including this meme. :)

Either pick one or two questions to answer in short essay form, or answer them all in 5 words or less. Even though being brief is clearly not my strong point, I'm going to try the latter.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
Sometimes. One handed food like trail mix or raspberries.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
I mark in my books, but only if they're really good.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
Bookmarks! All else is blasphemy!

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
Fiction, mostly.

Hard copy or audiobooks?
Hard copies. Audiobooks and I don't get along. :(

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
End of chapters or at page breaks.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
Only if it keeps me from understanding the gist of the sentence. And then I usually text my dad instead of looking it up anyway, like the "what is guy fawkes day" exchange we had the other day. I was going to skip it as it didn't seem to matter much, but I'm glad I didn't. It actually ended up being important later!

What are you currently reading?
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan and War and Peace by Tolstoy

What is the last book you bought?
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
Usually 1 at a time.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
Anytime, anywhere.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
Not really.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
By subject matter and then alphabetical by author's last name then alphabetical by title or series order, where applicable. It's very serious.

So, a couple of my answers were a bit longer than 5 words. Oops. ;)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Catching Fire

Collins, Suzanne. Catching Fire. Hunger Games Trilogy. 2. New York: Scholastic Press, 2009.
[Book cover credit:]

"Even if you pull it off, they'll be back in another few months to take us all to the Games. You and Peeta, you'll be mentors now, every year from here on out. And every year they'll revisit the romance and broadcast the details of your private life, and you'll never, ever be able to do anything but live happily ever after with that boy."
p. 44
Now that they're not at war, they must pretend to be in love. After Katniss's stunt with the berries at the end of the Games, the eyes of all of Panem are on Katniss and Peeta, especially their lovesick fans in the Capitol. The show must go on or there will be consequences, as President Snow wastes no time in making clear.

It seems the non-lovesick (non-Capitol) residents of Panem have seen through Katniss's act and are ready to pull some stunts of their own.

There has been a lot of talk about the tug of war between Peeta and Gale, with Katniss in the middle. Put that way, this plot theme is very reminiscent of another recent YA hit, as EW has so astutely noticed. Unfortunately the wise writers at EW failed to notice that this triangle is not a lover's spat. Neither Gale or Peeta seem to be fighting very hard for Katniss's affection. (Peeta has the advantage of not needing to fight as everyone in Panem thinks he's already won and Gale has the advantage of looking angsty yet grown-up when displaying his righteous indignation over Katniss's new found "true love.") Katniss still feels she must choose. But is she choosing between Peeta and Gale? Or is she choosing between the one person in all of District 12 (besides drunk Haymitch, who is, delightfully as always, around a lot more in this installment) who understands what she went through in the arena and the one person who understands what she went through when her father died and she assumed the role of head of household?

This internal struggle is uber-important in beginning of the book, but it is quickly knocked out of both the limelight and Katniss's head by a BUNCH of other stuff that is too mind-blowingly spoilerish to reveal here. Ignore the lovey-dovey reviews and trust that there is another great action novel in Catching Fire that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

That said, this is a Second Book, but it happily does not suffer from Second Book Syndrome (you know, when you can really really tell that nothing important is going to happen because this second book is just a vehicle to get the reader from book 1 to book 3). It does open with a lot of "here's the fallout from everything that happened in The Hunger Games, hence the love triangle fixation. But then the plot really gets going.

The Victory Tour is a big fake love fest, but is also affords Katniss and Peeta the chance to see and be seen in every district, which makes President Snow very nervous, and he's not very nice when he's nervous.

And then, of course, there's another reaping.

And the story goes on. Catching Fire definitely takes us from The Hunger Games' pretty self-centered look at the Games with a touch of we-hate-the-Capitol-for-what-it-makes-us-do to whatever we're going to get in the third book. In the meantime, this book offers it's own excitement as well as Katniss's widening awareness of what's going on around her.

But it does leave us with a cliff-hanger, waiting for Book 3, where many loose ends (many from the last 10 pages in which most of Catching Fire is revealed to be a plot that Katniss, and therefore we readers, knew nothing about) will need to be untangled before they can even begin to be tied up.

Book 1: The Hunger Games
Book Source: I bought it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Chosen One

Williams, Carol Lynch. The Chosen One. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2009.
[Book cover credit:]

Kyra is just a normal girl. She loves her family, especially her sister Laura who is also her best friend and Mariah, the baby. She loves to play the piano, and she is very good at it. She's a booknerd and eagerly awaits weekly visits from the county bookmobile. And she's in love with a boy. It's a secret, but what isn't when you're 13.

She doesn't love her uncle. Not at all. But she may be forced to marry him anyway.

This book was suspenseful, sad, surprising and, eventually, uplifting. Kyra has no problem with the polygamist compound she's grown up in, though she must sneak books in from the bookmobile as all books besides the Bible have been banned and burned. Her Mothers, all three of them, get along, and her father is loving and attentive in a healthy way, not the way normally publicized about Daddies in polygamist groups. This is all before her world shifts to what we've all seen on 20/20 specials. Before the Prophet orders her to marry her uncle, orders her to be the seventh wife of her father's older brother.

Given the slow, quiet, but sustained media attention to this topic, I was a bit worried about what I would find in this book. I've never read any of Williams' other books and know nothing of her reputation as an author. If I had, I might not have been so worried that I would find sensationalized child abuse in The Chosen One. That is not remotely what the reader encounters in this book. This book's strength is Kyra's voice, the voice that tells this story. Her concerns are those of an average 13 yr old, until her life takes that very not-average turn. The way that she deals with this, both internally and externally, seemed totally plausable and believable to me. The way Kyra comes to leave the compound was gripping, mostly because it's unclear whether or not she'll actually run until she does so. Kyra knows that running to save herself means leaving everything else behind, including her younger sisters who she cannot hope to save. Her anguish over this fact is heart-breaking.

I think what really threw me about this book is that I went into it thinking, "This will be my self-imposed break from sci-fi." It was, but it was a really bad choice of book to serve that purpose.

  • Here I, the reader, was plunked down into a world that I recognize, but that is completely different from my own (such as a world that is divided into 12 districts controlled by a single Capitol, like in The Hunger Games , or a world where you can hear everyone else's thoughts like in, The Knife of Never Letting Go).
  • The things that are happening in that world are unthinkable to me, but normal to the inhabitants of that world (such as a lottery that decides which children will die -Hunger Games-, or a law that allows parents to give their living teenagers up as organ donors, like in Unwind).
  • When the protagonist tries to escape or change that world, the Man comes down hard, making an example of her (like President Snow threatens to do to Katniss in Catching Fire which I'll review soon, or like Homeland Security does to M1k3y in Little Brother).
Except the world in The Chosen One exists today, though it is fictionalized in the book, not in some future that we all had to really screw up to make. It creeped me out, which it is supposed to, I guess.
Book source: Philly Free Library

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Knife of Never Letting Go

Ness, Patrick. The Knife of Never Letting Go. Chaos Walking. 1. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2008.
[Book cover credit:]

Booktrust Teenage Prize (2008)
Guardian Children's Fiction Prize (2008)
James Tiptree, Jr. Award (2008)
Locus Recommended Reading, Young Adult (2008)
ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2009)

You know that feeling when you're home by yourself and suddenly everything goes quiet? Too quiet? No traffic, no clunky fridge, no groaning house or snoring dog. It's creepy, but no matter how freaked out you are, you have to look around and see if something is making everything be quiet. Now imagine that you can hear everything everyone is thinking. Everyone, even your goldfish. All the time. If you were used to listening in on everyone's inner-minds, that quiet house phenomenon would be that much more rare, downright impossible, and terrifying. You'd have to find out what caused, where the silence comes from, no matter what. No matter where the silence takes you.

I'll be honest, if it hadn't been for all the rave reviews this book has received around blog-land and on the list-servs, I would not have made it past the first sentence:
The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say. About anything.

It sounds so snooty that I almost don't want to type it, but I can't stand books written in improper English. Not that I always use super fantabulous grammar (as evidenced by this sentence), I just don't want to read an entire book of bad grammar (especially of the double negative variety) and misspellings. I decided to power through to at least the 50p mark as it looked like I could love this book based on both the cover flap and other synopsis/reviews I'd read.

I did love it.

Long before page 50 I was so sucked into the story that I no longer noticed the bad grammar (the phonetic spelling, on the other hand, threw me to the very end). Though this speaks volumes for the strength of the story, I'm still not sure it says anything good about the book.

Every creative writing class, as well as more than a few of my high school English classes, I've ever taken has stressed that in order to be a good writer, one must be a better reader. The Knife of Never Letting Go can teach readers volumes about storytelling, but it is detrimental to the teaching of writing, in the putting together a sentence, nuts and bolts sense. We learn by example, and for readers, that includes the examples laid out in books. That's why people get so upset about the sex and the queers and the violence and whatever else they find offensive in books for children and teens. I realize it may be a little hypocritical to champion books challenged for these reasons but to not enthusiastically recommend this book because of the way it's written, but isn't anyone else upset about the poor English and spelling presented in this?

I also realize that Ness did this on purpose as Todd, the narrator, is illiterate, a fact that is very important to the story. He is given a book that he can't read to help him figure out, well, everything. It still bothered me.

But as I said, I loved this story. It was really new to me and seemed to have many, many layers only touched on in this first book. I'm eagerly awaiting the second Chaos Walking book, The Ask and The Answer, along with everyone else.

Warning to those who haven't yet read it: This book came to my attention when it appeared on a list of books that will make you bawl you eyes out. I did. It also belongs on a second list: books that will make you do a really good impression of that girl from Tiny Toons with your household pets.
Book Source: Philly Free Library