Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Certain Slant of Light

Whitcomb, Laura. A Certain Slant of Light. Boston: Graphia-Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.
[Book cover credit:]

ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2006)
ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults (Death and Dying, 2009)

Helen has been "haunting" writers for 130yrs. By haunting, I mean acting as their unnoticed muse. She's grown used to existing on the sidelines of the lives of her writers. She has a happy afterlife. Her current writer, Mr. Brown, teaches English during the day. It's in his class that everything changes. A student looks at her, hears her, knows that she's there. And now that Helen has someone to interact with rather than thanklessly inspire, she can't let him go. Even if she has to "borrow" a human body, like he has, to keep him.

I've been eyeing this book since it came out 4 years ago, but I'm not a big fan of ghost stories (read: I'm a big wimp when it comes to scary stuff with no explanations). I put off reading it. Happily for me, this book is not scary. At all. There are some suspenseful moments, but they have nothing to do with ghosts so much as crazy parenting. But I'll get to that in a minute.

Basically, James, who used to haunt the park, found an empty body. The soul had walked off when the body OD-ed, so James decided to hop in. Because he's still a ghost, he can see Helen. They've both been alone for decades and relish in each other's company. They fall in love. Unfortunately, all of these inconvenient physical urges come with James' borrowed body. He wants to satisfy them with Helen, but to do that she also needs a body. They find her an empty body at, where else, the mall. Now James, in Billy's body, and Helen, in Jenny's body, are free to go at it like rabbits.

There are of course, complications such as when Billy's brother, who is raising Billy while their mom is in a coma and their dad is in jail, catches James and Helen (Billy and Jenny?) in the act. Or when Jenny's mom, who is ruled by her EXTREMELY religious husband, finds bloody panties when it's not Jenny (Helen?)'s time of the month and assumes, correctly, that someone has popped Jenny's cherry. Or when Helen starts to get nauseous every time she smells food after having lots of condoms-weren't-invented-before-I-died sex. But these are small roadblocks in Helen and James' love story.

This is paranormal romance at its best. Everyday concerns are left by the wayside as the extraordinary circumstances that make this love story work take precedence. As long as that's what you're looking for, you'll love this. But if you want a good almost Halloween ghost story, look elsewhere.

Book source: Philly Free Library

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

it's here!!!

The final installment in The Luxe series is finally here! I'm trying to be really good and read off of my challenge lists (Leviathan and ArchEnemy are hidden away in their Barnes and Noble bags so I won't be tempted), but there is no way that I'm not tearing into Splendor on the bus ride home from buying it!
See my review of Envy here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Radiant Darkness

Whitman, Emily. Radiant Darkness: A Novel. New York: Greenwillow Books-HarperCollins Publishers, 2009. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

"Hideous Hades ripped her away
From her mother's arms that fateful day
When all she wanted to do was stay
Safe in her mother's arms, oh!"


This is how we've all come to know Persephone: as a victim, torn away from her mother, Demeter, by the evil Hades. But that is not at all how this story really happened. Persephone, knowing that her mother would not approve, declined to tell anyone that she was leaving her home to marry her boyfriend, so her mother, of course, thinks she was kidnapped, ravaged, and now has Stockholm syndrome. It sounds like a plot line from Law and Order: SVU, right? Except that none of the parents on SVU are gods or goddesses, so their fear for their children or anger at each other doesn't almost kill everyone on the planet.

In the original Persephone myth, a lot of things happen to her. She doesn't really do anything. She doesn't even seem to have a personality. She's just Demeter's daughter and/or Hades' wife. The Persephone that Whitman introduces to us, however, is full of personality and takes control of her life both before and after she goes (note that I didn't say "is taken") to the Underworld. She's also really smitten with Hades. It's her mother's inability to let Persephone grow up and her whole "no males anywhere near anyone remotly associated with me" policy that causes problems.

Since this is a retelling of the myth of Persephone, other readers have complained that this book becomes predictable; we all (theoretically) know how the story is going to end. As I've said before, I know very little about Greek mythology, so I did not have this complaint while reading. I think even readers who already know a lot about Persephone, her mother Demeter, or Hades can still enjoy Radiant Darkness. There is enough that is different from the original myth (I looked it up after reading this book, and the author also gives a pretty good summary of the original in her note at the end) to keep readers interested, if they're the type of reader that isn't looking for suspense.

And once again, this book should be a hit with paranormal romance fans, though I would never categorize it that way.

Book source: Philly Free Library

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Never too busy for a little bit o' Riordan!

This whole working 6 days a week business is really cutting into my blog writing and blog reading time. (The extra commuting, however, is doing great things for my book reading time). That would explain how I missed this little bit of news from MotherReader:

The author of The Lightning Thief gave a book talk (read: hosted a crowded, screaming rally) with people lining up long before he was scheduled to start. (Kate DiCamillo thought they were her fans). There were crowds. There was rain. And after hours of waiting in line, these people were ready for some flippin’ Book Talks! And Rick delivered.

Riordan was brought to the top by the Percy Jackson series. He plans to write a story about the next generation of Half-Blood campers. He’s also gonna milk this “gods” thing as much as he can, because some stories about the Egyptian deities are coming out soon. From the tiny excerpt he read, it’s going to keep the same humorous style and adventure as the Percy books, but with a whole new setting. They both sound like definite must-reads.

I really wish I could have concentrated more, but I had to stand during his talk — which I had already been doing for the past hour — and I was suffocating because of all the breathing people in the tent.

This was written by TeenReader, as you can probably guess from that last paragraph. :)

But more Camp Half-Blood? More Riordan comedy involving other deities? I could not be more excited. A quick search on Amazon shows that the first Egypt book should come out in May of next year. Can I wait that long? Maybe.

And just in case you missed them before, here are my thoughts on the Percy Jackson series by Riordan:
Book 1: The Lightning Thief
Book 2: The Sea of Monsters
Book 3: The Titan's Curse
Book 4: The Battle of the Labyrinth
Book 5: The Last Olympian

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Dust of 100 Dogs

King, A.S. The Dust of 100 Dogs. Woodbury, Minn.: Flux-Llewellyn Publications, 2009. Print.[Book cover credit:]
Spring 2009 Indie Next List pick for Teens

Saffron is wise beyond her years, but not in the kooky Dakota Fanning way that adults think when they say that. The ability to appear really serious, the ability to handle "mature situations," and the cunning to look young and sweet while you do it. Saffron has all that, but she also has memories dating back to the 1600s when she, then Emer, was a pirate captain whose trademark was popping out Spanish eyeballs. Back then she was cursed with the Dust of 100 Dogs to be reincarnated 101 times and to keep her memories from each life. The 1st 100 reincarnations she was a dog (as you may have guessed from the name of the curse/book). Now, in her 102 life, she can finally enjoy human existence again, if you can call living in Hollow Ford, PA in the swingin' 70s a "human existence." Finally escaped from life on 4 legs, Saffron (Emer) just needs to escape low income suburbia so she can reclaim what's hers. Buried treasure, of course. Somewhere in the Caribbean.

I didn't really know how to categorize this book until I read the author interview at the end with Leila of bookshelves of doom. In the interview the author describes her book as magical realism, and that is so what this is! I had to reach back into my memories of my 9th grade World Literature class (Mr. Driscoll, you still rock and I promise to email you back real soon) to remember what magical realism really is. It is, from my memory and the author interview, when something a bit magic/supernatural/fantastical happens in the real world. It's not fantasy because there isn't a whole new world created and most of what happens could really happen. There are just a few magical moments in the midst of normalcy, like a guy who grows angel wings or candy that makes you a little sad.

Saffron's memory of her past lives is like that. She doesn't have any superpowers, she didn't even have any when she was a pirate captain. And no one eats people parts or turns into anything fancy under a full moon. To make up for this lack of the supernatural, we get little tidbits from Saffron's past lives as dogs. The whole book, which alternates between Emer's life from childhood to when she is cursed and Saffron's life in Hollow Ford and treasure hunting, is peppered with Dog Tips. These tips give little glimpses into the lives of dogs raised to be in dog fights, strays, the spoiled little dogs that get carried around in purses, and the times in history in which Saffron lived these lives.

The historical parts of this novel are well-researched, and it shows. Emer's life in Ireland is richly described and detailed, as is her life in the Caribbean. This book does not, however, read like historical fiction. It is not bogged down with description (not that historical fiction must be); little details are dropped into the narrative in a way that doesn't distract from the story, which remains high action no matter what time period it is portraying. The only time period that fell a little short for me was Saffron's current life. It felt a little too present day to be the 70s. The only way I could tell that Saffron wasn't in Hollow Ford yesterday is that no one had a cell phone, but when you're talking about really poor people who are robbed on a general basis by a tweaker family member, the lack of cell phones could still be current. This didn't detract from the story AT ALL for me. I simply forgot when Saffron was supposed to be.

The Dust of 100 Dogs was a really unique book and a really fun read. I think it will be a hit with the millions of readers of paranormal romance out there, even though it's not really a romance and it's not really paranormal, even though the main character has been reincarnated 101 times.I look forward to seeing what A.S. King will come up with for young adults in the future.

Book source: Philly Free Library

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Last Dragon

Rainfield, C.A. The Last Dragon. Illus. Charlie Hnatiuk. Toronto, On.: HIP Books, 2009. Print. Dragon Speaker 1.
[Book cover credit:]


You can talk to her. You can talk to dragons.

Jacob laughed. The idea was crazy. No one can talk to dragons, Jacob sent to the bird. Besides, I though they were all dead. Are you sure there's one still alive?

The bird answered quickly. Yes. You can speak to this dragon, as you speak to us. You are the Chosen One.

"I'm not chosen for anything," Jacob said out loud.


Jacob, who has talked to birds for as long as he can remember, is one of only a handful of boys to survive Lord Manning's edict that every young male with any inkling of magical talent be killed. He was badly injured in the fire that killed his brother, and the resulting limp is a constant reminder to Jacob that he'll never live up to his father's expectations for him. He is a disappointment. If he truly is the Chosen One, he could prove to his father and the rest of his village that he is worthy of their respect and maybe, just maybe, he could bring Lord Manning's tyrannical rule to an end.

This slim book packs a lot of action and plot into its 111 pages. It did not include the lengthy explanation of the world into which the reader is being dropped that can bog down good fantasy books (for example). Instead, IMPORTANT THINGS start happening right on page 1. It's awesome.

The shortness of the book does make for a rather intense plot. Using a familiar setting and some familiar circumstances, Rainfield manages to tell a story that is original and engaging. I sped through it. Jacob, along with his BFF Orson and random girl Lia, are out to save their world, afterall. The last dragon, who can only talk to Jacob, needs him to save her egg, which, considering that she's dying, is the real Last Dragon, from Lord Manning and Kain (his evil personal wizard). Dragons, of course, are key to overthrowing Lord Manning and taking away all of Kain's evil power.

The short chapters (with about one illustration each) and the quick plot will make it easy for reluctant readers to get into the story, which is good since this book is a hi-lo (high interest, low vocabulary) book. Once I got into the book, I completely forgot that it was written specifically for reluctant or struggling readers. Reading this after reading an intricate historical fiction novel was, clearly, a drop in reading levels, but the quality of the storytelling certainly did not drop.

Cheryl Rainfield, the author, is REALLY EXCITED that this book has finally come out and is available on amazon. There is more information, including a link to the publisher who is also selling a Teacher's Guide for all you educational-type folks, on her blog.

Book source: Review copy from HIP Books

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Red Necklace

Gardner, Sally. The Red Necklace: A Story of the French Revolution. New York: Dial Books, 2008. Print.
[Book Covers Credit:]

ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2009)

Then, without thinking, [Topolain] inquired, "Forgive me for asking, but haven't we met before? I never forget a face and yours is one that--" He stopped, realizing too late that his tongue had run away with itself. He knew it was a fatal mistake.

Kalliovski's eyes narrowed to scrutinize the man in front of him. He turned to look at the dwarf, a spark of recognition showing on his face. Only then did the poor magician remember when and where he had last seen the count. Under his blotched white makeup all the color drained from his face. The count smiled inwardly.

He turned on his red heels and left the room. Tetu and Topolain listened to his footsteps retreat into the distance. They were well and truly trapped.

"What have I done?" said Topolain.

Yann, a young gypsy boy, can read minds and throw his voice. He works in a magic act with Topolain and Tetu, two gypsy men who tangled with the wrong person a long time ago. When that past comes back to haunt them, they know that their lives are over. But France is in turmoil as the peasants for whom these three perform in the theatres rage against the wealthy elite, who call the magicians to their homes to perform at their endless parties. Can these three gypsies, masters of blending in all, get lost in the shuffle and leave their past behind?

Sally Gardner is awesome. This book is full of action, magic, budding romance, evil, and facts about the French Revolution that you probably didn't know; I know I didn't. And the best part? It's not about Marie Antoinette. She's mentioned, of course, but just that. In The Red Necklace Gardner shows readers how the French Revolution affected rich people besides the queen, peasants who had everything to gain from the Revolution, and the terrified people in between: those who had served, helped, or worked for the aristocracy a bit too long to look good in the eyes of the Revolutionaries but did not have the finances themselves to flee to England. The back matter explains the political and financial triggers for the French Revolution. She even manages to make sure that this back matter doesn't read like a history book.

My only real problem with this book is the pretty, pretty cover on the American edition:

It's hard for me to complain because, to be honest, I would never have picked up this book if I had only seen the cover at the very top of this post. It looks too History Channel or something. I picked up this book because of the pretty girl in a fancy dress who is so obviously being beheaded, because that's what pretty girls in fancy dresses (especially blonde ones who could be mistaken for Marie Antoinette from behind) did during the French Revolution. I thought I was going to read a story about her.

That girl is not in this story. I didn't miss her, but she's why I picked up the book. I'm sure that girl on the cover is why a lot of people will pick up this book. I don't think they'll be disappointed either. I'm more worried about the readers who might really enjoy Yann's story and all of the little details about how those not in the aristocracy (like that girl obviously is) experienced the French Revolution, but won't pick up this book because of that girl on the cover.

This cover is just one more in the long line of "girls in period dresses" covers that have been gracing the shelves lately, but the story in the pages could be a "boy" book. I hate that term, because I think that the idea that boys can only read books about boys while girls can read books about anyone is ridiculous. But if I can't even get my girlfriend to read this book (even though she was really interested in it after reading my booktalk) because it's too girly looking, what chance is there that a teenage boy will pick it up voluntarily?

In conclusion: Great book. Misleading cover. Potential audience lost.

Book source: Philly Free


After working on a new citation cheat sheet all day at work, I figure I should make the switch to the 7th edition of MLA here too.

The only big difference for your average book (the only thing I really cite here) is that you have to add the format to the end of the citation. Also, I'll actually be right when I italicize things, instead of using italics because I like them better than underlining.

The really big difference for everything else, just in case you were wondering, is that MLA no longer requires a URL for anything. I guess they figure that if the rest of the citation is solid, your readers should be able to find your source without a direct link. Google and all that. I'll still give you links for things though. I like them.

If you're trying to make the switch at work or school, either for yourself or your students, check out NoodleBib from NoodleTools. The free version says that it is for "our youngest scholars." It is certainly easy enough for kids to use, but it handles more sophisticated, longer, whatever resources as well. AND it saves everything for you, so you can use it at the computer at the library, the computer at home, the computer in your BFF's dorm room, anywhere with internet, and all of your citations will be in the same place. We're going to be pushing it on our college students in all our library orientation and information literacy sessions.

Have fun with the new MLA everyone! I do not envy you school librarians who have to reteach how to do citations to all the kids who finally got the hang of it last year. At least I can be cranky (and less careful about swearing under my breath) when college students give me the blank stare of death when I try to explain the changes.