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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Silver Sea by Julia Golding

The Silver Sea takes place in Norway in the year 880 AD. The story switches between a girl named Freydis and her brother Toki, the two children of Ohthere, a wealthy jarl. One day, while their father is away, their home is raided by a pirate who has a longstanding feud with Ohthere. Toki is taken prisoner along with the rest of the village and Freydis is left hiding, the only one left alive. Not long after, her father returns and she is given Enno, an African slave, as a bodyguard. Enno, however, is a proud being, and despite years of being sold and bought, remains in stubborn denial of his slave status, and he and Freydis become companions rather than slave and mistress. The story was interesting and nice for a quick read. I enjoyed reading it, and it was a good story. That said, a couple things bothered me. It was extremely difficult to tell how much time had passed. They sail around, but it never gives a number of days. The whole book, I think, was about a month. This I could tell only because one of the characters had to be somewhere in about a month and got there a day late at the end of the book. But I had no idea how much more time he had, or how much time they spent on a boat and with these people and in all the little bits. The emotions were also horribly done. There was absolutely no development, and it seemed as though all the characters changed emotions within a couple sentences. There was one scene that described Enno and how he hated all the Vikings and he was going to get home someday and all that, then he was rushing to save Freydis's life, even though he had never met her, or even seen her before. He immediately cares for her and wants to help her. Then the next page describes his hatred for all Vikings. Ah, yes, that wonderful internal conflict. Horribly developed; if the author wanted to add complex emotions, she should have done it more complex way. Then there is Toki. Toki wanders away and meets a family of a supposedly unfriendly tribe. The father ends up trusting him, but his two children hate him. He and the daughter, Aino, end up alone in the house. Aino is pretty much ready to bite Toki's head off. Then, suddenly, Toki confesses that he likes her. Yes, he has known her for all of three pages, no more than an hour, and Toki thinks that he would very much like her as a wife. Aino seems to maintain some sense for another page before completely falling for Toki. It was quite obvious when they met that they would end up liking each other, but four pages and an hour is a little rushed. There was no lead up, just them insulting each other, then there he was, asking Aino if she was promised to anyone and saying, "I think I like you, Aino Pekkasdottir." The shallowness of it all made me really hate some of the characters and I couldn't like any of them. This made the end of the book extremely satisfying. It was probably supposed to be dramatic, but it didn't work out like that for me; it just made me laugh at the characters. Go read the book if you feel like it.
The book is a nice story, mostly well laid-out. The combination of terrible emotions and timeline, yet satisfying ending that gives those silly characters what they deserve add up to give the book a 3. Imagine a funny tasting candy that's nice to just crunch down on and finish.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Villains By Necessity by Eve Forward

This is very possibly my favorite book. Set in some magical world, it is 150 years after the ultimate battle of good versus evil, and good has triumphed. It starts off by following a thief, Arcie, and an assassin, Samalander, known as Sam. They are the last of their kind; the rest of the thieves and assassins have been whitewashed, forced to be good, law-abiding citizens, by the elven arch-mage Mizzamir. They become bored of life as it is and end up running away from their town, and they meet a druid named Kaylana. She informs them that the influx of light in the world is definitely what one could consider too much of a good thing, and if the light is not stopped soon, the world will sublimate in its own glory. Not a very happy image for the group of villains. So they set off on a quest to bring evil back into the world. They soon encounter a Nathuan, a cannibalistic evil sorceress from the Underrealm, named Valeriana, and her familiar, a raven named Nightshade. She is my favorite character in the book (Sam is a close second, and would be amazing, but he falls in love and spends too much time looking at Kaylana's hair). It seems as though Eve Forward had a lot of fun with her; Valeriana amuses herself by blasting things apart with her magic, or threatening to eat people. Not long after, they meet a dark night in some kind of magical armor who doesn't talk, whom they call Blackmail, and a spy centaur named Robin pretending to be a minstrel. They are, as far as they can tell, the last bits of evil in the world. What made the book a lot of fun, at least for me, was that a lot happened without spending too much time on the in-betweens. They got to one point in their journey, then they got to the next, and the book did not spend endless pages describing how they were running out of food and other such woes. I also really liked the characters, with the exception of Sam's flaw (other than that, however, he is a great character) and Kaylana. Kaylana seemed too good to fit in with the other villains, and her powers were a little bit too much, as she seemed to be able to resist everything, even the ancient magic of the gods. Blackmail, too, seemed a little bit too good. He, however, is given a reasonable excuse at the end of the book, and he is a much more fun character than Kaylana. Robin is great fun, as he provided someone for Valeriana to continuously taunt and threaten to eat. She almost had too much fun than any evil being should have by terrorizing Robin. Arcie is lots of fun, and seems to always have a smile or a joke ready, even when he is robbing someone blind. And he is always robbing someone; he does it for fun and to bother his companions.
Overall, the book was a lot of fun to read. The villains' perspective on the world was a refreshing break from the usual fantasy of "oh, now I have to save the poor people, and I can't do anything mean." Half the time, the characters are trying to force each other to do things that they themselves would rather not do, and when they come across some unwanted company, they just kill them. And, well, they could save a few people or have an adventure just for the sake of adventure, but, after all, that's what heroes do, and they are definitely not heroes. Nope, just a bunch of villains out of their safety zone for selfish reasons (mostly because their safety zone doesn't exist any more because the whole world is good). They spend their time running from the law and all those nice people chasing after them. The characters and plot were well made, it was very enjoyable, and the whole book was very well done. I could go on, but I think this post is ready to be done.
So, I give this book a 5. If you like food, it's like mashed potatoes - delicious, a great texture, enjoyable, and when you're done, you want seconds. Or thirds. Or, well, perhaps a 10th helping. Yum.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


by Jennifer Donnelly
Yes, I know that I'm not the first to review this book- nor will I be the last. I'm glad I'll have been able to dodge the rush to read this great book. It was as good as people claimed it to be. At the same time, however, it had certain flaws- more about them later.
Andi Alpers is a young woman attending the prestigious St. Anselm's Academy in Brooklyn. She's rumored to be brilliant, but she can't make herself care about schoolwork because of her brother's death a few years earlier. The only thing she can do is play music; she plays beautifully and wants to pursue a career with her guitar. To make a long, complicated story short, she ends up in Paris with her father, an esteemed geneticist who has been called to Paris to DNA-test a heart that's rumored to belong to a French prince, lost during the Revolution. In an old guitar case, she finds a diary telling the story.
Enough spoilers- on to mechanics! I had two major lines of thought about this book. One, it's written in a tone that perfectly captures all, effortlessly and magnificently. The writing is incredibly beautiful and elegant, no matter the subject or the context.

"' The Palais is a sad place now- the empty rooms gather dust and vagrants sleep under the trees-but once it was the very heart of Paris, a dazzling pleasure arcade of shops, card dens, restaurants, and brothels. It was a place where one could buy a glass of lemonade, or the girl selling it. A place to see an Amazon in naught but tiger skin. A place where a duchess might pass by, trailing furs and civet, and a beggar would show you his rotting wounds for a sou. A place where acrobats, all bosoms and bare legs, tumbled and jumped, and painted boys strolled, and quacks displayed dead monster babies with two heads and four arms in pickling jars.   
How I loved it.'"
Now for the unpleasant side of things. While the writing is beautiful, Andi's world sometimes isn't. St. Anselm's is lacking in reality and charm, posing as a caricature of every snobbish private school in every movie we've ever seen. Her best friend, Vijay Gupta, should have been left out of the book entirely. He is writing a thesis too, you see. He's brilliant and has incredible potential. Now, this is where things get downright whimsical. His thesis is so good, apparently, that "world leaders" are commenting on it in droves. Wait, what? Since when are private school students able to contact world leaders? Since when do world leaders casually comments on said students' writing pieces?
On the other side of the character spectrum is Virgil. A talented musician living in the dangerous Parisian suburbs, he's instantly believable and real. Constantly afraid of his environment, the gangs, the violence, he struggles to find a place for himself with his music.
Last thing: the use of the present tense in this book is distracting (as always) and annoying. It turns into a rancid kind of funny when she flips back 200 years into the past, but it would have been better in the past tense throughout.
I'll give this book a 4.5, only because of the distractions offered by Vijay and the present tense.
A delicious Italian salad, with mozzarella and tomatoes, drenched in pure olive oil and dark vinegar. Small bits of basil mar the texture and flavor, but not enough to offset the quality.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Faerie Wars by Herbie Brennan

Faerie Wars takes place in both a world parallel to our own and our own world. It begins with Henry Atherton in our world. He works for a man called Mr. Fogarty doing odd jobs and stuff around his house that Mr. Fogarty can no longer do because of his age. In the realm of faerie, the prince Pyrgus Malvae is up to being his not-so-obedient-son type. He gets into trouble with a man who enjoys summoning demons and almost gets sacrificed to a demon prince. He gets sent to this world for his safety, and finds, to his horror, that he has been turned into a mini thing with wings, our common image of fairies. What I really liked about this book were the demons. They were just cool. They were sneaky, devious, and evil. Just what demons are supposed to be. For a few short, glorious pages, I even managed to convince myself that the demons would manage to kill Pyrgus. No such luck; I still have yet to find the book that gives a really satisfying villain win. Oh well.
The great downfall of this book was Henry's personal life. Really, I don't care that Henry's mom is having an affair with his dad's female secretary. It has way too much emphasis in the book, and adds absolutely nothing to the story. It would be much more fun to read if Henry could have his adventure with Pyrgus and Mr. Fogarty without being called back home for a family meeting about his parent's problems. It's not much fun to be reading about Pyrgus and his mishaps, then be pulled back to Henry and his confusion with his mom.
Overall, the book gets a 3. Fun, easy, and quick to read. The plot was fairly simple, but engaging. It had all the basic good guys and bad guys and magic stuff. It could be compared to a fortune cookie; it's small and pretty good. But when you just want a cookie, there is that little message in the middle that is impossible to ignore.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thinking about the Printz

The Printz award (or to be more official: the Michael L. Printz Award) is the Newbery of the YA literature world. The only difference is that it can be given to an author from another country (the Newbery requires that the author live in the United States) and the fact that it is for a book published for an audience between the ages of 12-18. This year, the Printz Award will be announced on January 10th, at 7:45 AM Pacific time (since they will be announced at the American Library Association Midwinter Conference in San Diego). While I'm in the hotel conference room yawning up a storm because that's sort of early, well, it will be 10:45 out here on the East Coast. You can even watch a live webstream of the announcements, something I've done in years when I haven't been there in person.

Anyway, this is about the time of the year when I start thinking about which titles from the 2010 publishing year are prime candidates for the award and honor. Nearly every year, the Printz committee (made up of 9 librarians, changing every year) manages to sneak in some real surprises. I may have yelped with surprise when I heard that Libba Bray's Going Bovine won the award last year. Not that I don't think it has literary merit; it just so happened to be a title that left many reviewers divided. Sure, I had favorites going into the announcement, and some of them (like Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman) managed to come out as honor titles. Were there titles unjustly ignored? Perhaps, as many people expected Francisco X. Stork's Marcelo in the Real World to come out with, at the very least, an honor sticker. But, you have to think that the awards are the result of hundreds of hours spent reading, dozens spent discussing, and still, it comes down to what nine individuals thought. When I think about the conversations I have had with my fellow Best Fiction committee members, I know how we can really REALLY surprise each other. Titles resonate or disgust other readers in ways you can't always predict. So, I can't really be all that surprised when the results are announced and they don't align with my own selections.

Here are the titles I think have a legitimate chance at the Printz. As January 10th nears, I will make my official predictions. I still have 19 titles to read that have been nominated, so there could be a few last-minute additions. At the moment, my top picks for taking home the big kahuna are: Nothing by Janne Teller, Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett, and They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Bartoletti Campbell. I read Nothing back at the beginning of the year, and it is a title that has haunted me ever since. It is slight but literary, and absolutely powerful. Both Teller and Hartnett are not from the U.S., but that hasn't been an issue for Printz winners before, with many international authors winning the award (Hartnett had an honor title a few years back). Bartoletti's book would probably be a controversial choice because of the nature of the subject, but it is haunting in its own way, and covers an important aspect of this nation's past. Other titles that I think deserve consideration are: Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick (fantastic historical thriller, international author), The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (emotionally powerful story about grief, debut author), Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (part contemporary, part historical fiction, a complete tour de force by an author who already has one Printz honor under her belt), Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (complex fantasy, bombed when first published in the U.K. but had popular and critical success in the U.S.), Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber (this is my dark horse candidate, brilliantly written historical fiction by a debut author). A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner received many starred reviews, but unfortunately, I can't lend it my support. It was the single BFYA-nominated title where reading it felt like pulling teeth. Maybe it's because I hadn't read her other titles in the series, but I would have been hard-pressed to summarize when I finally finished reading it.

Other bloggers have lamented that this has been an off year for YA literature, but I think it's bound to happen occasionally. I think it just so happened that a lot of veteran YA authors had books come out in 2009 and/or 2011, so it's a quieter year. That said, I've discovered some tremendous debut authors, so I'm not overly concerned!

Will post again in late December/early January with my final Printz predictions.

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