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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Nieve

Nieve is an independent young girl who loves to run and thinks she might be a journalist someday. Her only worries in life are homework and her best friend's measles.

That is, until the bizarre weeds, creepy people, and darkness begin to take over her town, turning everyone she knows into black-tongued zombies, or causing them to disappear altogether.

It falls to Nieve, at the direction of her grandmother, and with the help of her new flame-haired friend, Lias, to defeat the evil Impress and her dastardly plans to turn all the occupants of Nieve's town into furniture.

For me, this book felt like those frustrating dreams where you can never fully open your eyes. Mostly I was confused by it. People weren't introduced well enough to be memorable, so when their names popped up later in the book, I was constantly left feeling like, "Who was that again? Did I somehow manage to skip a bunch of pages while I was reading?" The heroine is mostly smart and fun to read, but towards the middle of the book, her denial of her own powers and of the strange things happening around her became a bit unbelievable and therefore frustrating---as in, There are large, noxious weeds with teeth all over your town, your substitute teacher tried to feed you an exploding eyeball, your parents are zombies, and the sun isn't rising anymore ... is it really so hard to believe that the amulets your grandma is giving you have protective powers, or that the new "pharmacy" owners might not quite be human? I really wanted to see her accept that she had abilities and start trying to use them. Perhaps that won't come until the second book (this is a planned trilogy). In any case, this novel for me was a little too psychedelic and confusing to be as enjoyable as I think it could've been. Interesting, but too strangely vague and frustrating.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

Personally, I really enjoy whimsical fantasies full of bumbling characters, clever retorts, and funny magical twists. And anyone who has read Patricia C. Wrede, Caroline Stevermer, or Diana Wynne Jones is familiar with this fun, light-hearted, quirky style of story-telling. Jones fits the bill with House of Many Ways.
Her fun, book-loving protagonist pulls her nose out of her books long enough to land a house-keeping job for her magician uncle. Unfortunately, our little heroine doesn’t know a thing about magic. Thus her adventures (and misadventures) are particularly humorous. Add a handful of magical and non-magical compatriots, some favorite characters from one of Jones’ other books (you don’t have to read her “Moving Castle” book to enjoy this book though), and a bad guy with a mean egg-implanting sting, and you have a fun-filled little fantasy.
My issues with it as an award-winning book: I can’t see many guys really going for this book, and I feel strongly that a true award-winning book should appeal to both genders. Also, it took a little while to get into it…just a little bit of a slow start. It just wasn’t always as compelling as I wanted it to be.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Horrid Henry's Joke Book

Why was Cinderella kicked off the soccer team?
She kept running away from the ball.

Why did the dinosaur cross the road?
There weren't any chickens in those days.

Why don't cannibals eat clowns?
Because they taste funny.

Rabid Rebecca: Whenever I'm down in the dumps, I buy myself a new T-shirt.
Horrid Henry:
So that's where you get them!

Just a few of the gems you'll find in Francesca Simon's latest Horrid Henry installment. These books are very popular with kids, and I can certainly see why. As with most joke books, I thought some of the jokes were funny, some were roll-your-eyes-kinda-dumb, and some were gross. Though as for the gross, Horrid Henry does give us a great big "Warning: Too rude for parents!" on the cover. I actually expected more "bathroom humor" than there was, so in that way, I was pleasantly surprised. All in all, a silly and fun collection of humor, Horrid-Henry style. Sure to be thoroughly enjoyed by any boy between the ages of 7 and 12. :)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Twilight: the graphic novel Vol. 1

I did the anticipation dance for this one.  You know what I mean; I got really excited for it, then I thought to myself, "I'm too excited.  It will never live up to my expectations.  It's actually going to stink." And back to excitement again. Repeat, D.S. al Coda, etc.

Well.  It was AWESOME. I loved it.  Now of course I can only speak for myself, and I really like the book, too.  But I think that someone who is on the fence about the book could really enjoy this adaptation.

That's one of the nice things about a graphic novel.  It is somewhere between book and movie.  You get the clear, crisp images without having to read through lots of description.  (Tired of marble and topaz, anyone?  You won't find them here.)  You can literally see what is happening, but at the same time you have the freedom to imagine voices and how lines are delivered.

In my reading, I found Bella a heck of a lot more sassy!  When the dialog isn't interrupted by paragraphs of her thoughts, she's pretty snappy.  Which is not to say I didn't like hearing her thoughts in the original.  I did, and knowing them already adds depth to this version.  But seeing the story from a different lens is very fun. 

The art is gorgeous.  The Cullens are amazingly beautiful, as is appropriate.  No crazy wig for Jasper, either. hehe.  The only things that pulled me away from the story to think about the artist? Perhaps Bella is a little too good at doing awesome modern hairstyles.  Her gorgeous locks made me want to have long hair again so I could try some of the styles, and on one page Bella's old truck has an incredibly modern key.  Those old cars have old, small keys (I know, I drove one in H.S.)  This key looks like it's got a computer chip in it somewhere.

I love how the color fades in and out.  It adds a real element of drama in certain parts of the book.  And I imagine that only having color on certain pages made the creation process a lot faster.

Which is good, because I want the next one.  See, this is only Vol. 1.  It doesn't go all the way through Twilight.  That was perhaps the one thing that I never got excited about, in my excitement dance, until I read it.  I LOVE where they ended it.

So.  Highly recommended for fans of the book and/or movie, or those who thought the story could do with some speeding up.  I don't know how someone unexposed to Twilight would enjoy it -- I simply don't have that perspective (and don't know many people I could ask, either).  Thumbs up, and can't wait for the next one!

Alysa

Friday, April 16, 2010

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Beehive Awards will be announced soon, and I've finished reading them all...now I just have to write the reviews!

Neal Shusterman has spun a very interesting futuristic tale that gives me the same jitters as Scott Westerfeld's Uglies. Essentially, this is a socio-political commentary, but let's face it, it makes a heck of a story too!

You'll experience near-constant intense anxiety as you follow the story of a few teenagers who are running away from a world that wants to harvest all their body parts for donation to society's needy. Excitement - check. Originiality - mostly check. Violence - double check. Captivating story - check, check, and check.

I consider this book highly worthy of any award nomination, as it is appealing to both genders, hard to put down, and fairly original. Not a bad choice, Beehive nominators!


Monday, April 5, 2010

Thoughts on Good Books

Blogger Enna Isilee just posted about reading.  She asks, "are all books created equal?  What does it take to make you put down a book?"  I've got a few things to say about books...

"Good Books"
In my Children's Literature Class (one of my favorite college courses, prof. Jim Jacobs) I learned that there are two things that make a book "good" to a person. First, Emotional Response (if I LOVE horses, I will read even a crummy book about horses and love it! If I had a bad experience at boarding school, I don't want to read about fictional fun times there.)  Second, Quality Of Writing (Is the book well crafted? Are the words well chosen?  Are the ideas clear? Does the narrator have voice? Does the story drag or jump? Are readers bored or confused? Is it properly edited? etc.). There are many different examples of how these two factors can come together, but when people say a book was good, they're talking about one or both of these things.


Picking up a book
Now, a word about book recommendations; or, "Hey, try this book!"  Say you loved a book.  Great!  Before you recommend it, you're going to have to figure out why you liked it so much.  Was it purely emotional response?  Or was there some high quality writing involved, too?  Which parts of the writing were best?

If the book is a nice story about ballerinas, recommend it to ballerina fans.  If the book is an exquisitely written, well paced, ballerina book, maybe even those who are on the fence about ballerinas will like it too.  The better the Quality of Writing, the better the chances are that more people will like a book.  If someone has a strong negative emotional response (read: hates all ballerinas) they're not going to like it no matter how well it's written.

Putting down a book
Personally, I stop reading a book when I feel like it. Usually, if the book is well written (good Quality of Writing) I come back another time when my Emotional Response is better (when I'm more "in the mood" for it). For example, I'm just picking up The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner again.  I've heard so many good things about it and the series that follows -- but when I tried it out several months back I wasn't jiving with it.  Same story with Octavian Nothing.  Now, If the book is poorly written (plot holes, flat characters, etc) or if I have a strong negative emotional response, I usually don't bother picking it up again. There are SO MANY good books out there.

Does this make me a quitter?  Abandoning a book does not make a person a quitter. It is good and right and proper and needful that we select carefully what we read and use our time wisely.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Leviathan

Totally cool book. Think World War I, but with Darwin's theories run amok in Britain plus Star Wars-type mechanics gone crazy in Germany. I thought the story was totally original and very fun.

Main character #1 is Alek, the would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. But after his parents are murdered, he's on the run in a giant mechanical "walker" (think Star Wars) with a few loyal followers, trying to escape the same fate.

Main character #2 is Deryn, a fifteen-year-old girl who has to disguise herself as a boy in order to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming an airman (or, -woman, as the case may be).

Their paths cross in the Swiss Alps, where Alek had intended to hole up and wait out the war, and where Deryn's ship (a giant genetically altered whale/floating ecosystem) had crashed after a heavy German attack.

Complete cliffhanger ending, which is always a bit maddening, but it does leave a person excited for the sequel. Read and enjoy!
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