Friday, April 22, 2011

Fantasy Pick Dilemmas

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott.

At first glance this seems an easy pick for a fantasy slot - a Dumbledore like character, Nicolas Flamel,  is recognizable to Potter fans as a minor yet memorable name from that series' first book, lots of action and adventure, plenty of Riordan like references and information on both Egyptian and Greek mythology in addition to the magic/alchemy angle of Stroud's Bartimaeus series, and even a dose of Yggdrasil, bringing to mind Farmer's Sea of Trolls.

And yet. Where Stroud, Rowling, Riordan, and Farmer choose a focus and stick with it, this plot struck me as all over the place. Trying to account for every mythology simultaneously will do that, I suppose.

Is this where Riordan got The Red Pyramid? Twins with archaeologist parents who get caught up in ancient magic and are The Answer to some old prophecy - sound familiar? It did not feel as overwhelming and convoluted as The Red Pyramid, or as focussed for that matter, but the similarities are striking.

On the fence.

Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon

Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud.

Only a hundred or so pages in, so a bit early to write, and yet, having read the previous three in this series I am confident that what I have read so far is indicative of the book as a whole. So glad Stroud has returned to such an intelligent and lovable character. The writing is entertaining on so many levels and shows a great deal of respect for YA readers with sophisticated vocabulary, references, and humor.

My only wish is that Stroud would take a page (or five) from Westerfield's Leviathan and provide an author's note with information on what is real and what is not, as his, like Westerfield's, research is clearly well done and offers readers a great lesson in history as well as a fine fantasy read.

If this were out in paper it would be a clear choice.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Field Trip into Headline Reading

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua.

Okay, so I read (a lot of) the rants and even watched video of a mixed reception at a reading in a Washington, D.C. book store. Saw and read the Time magazine article. Made my kids read it (the article, not the book).  When a friend brought a copy to school and offered me first dibs (perks of being a librarian) I couldn't resist.

Moral: don't believe everything you read.

Chua's book was well written (one would hope so from a Yale law professor) and fun to read. Not so much lecture as confession, which was a surprise given the way it's been reviewed. My reaction was not shame at being a permissive, selfish, western parent but rather concern and pity for Chua who struck me as pathological. Pathologically what is a good question that I cannot answer. Insecure? Competitive? Maybe.

Her paranoia about everything from food to dogs (forget about the elephant in the room - the poor kids - for a sec) was almost heartbreaking. My favorite part was when she gets a dog and is so proud of whatever chic pedigree it has until visiting friends casually (?) drop that its breed is not rated highly on intelligence. She cannot wait for them to leave so that she can google the poor animal and check its stats.

Honey, see a shrink! I wish people would stop attacking her and start offering her hugs.

Summer Reading ....?

The hunt for the summer reading list continues. Recent candidates:

Night of the Howling Dogs

Night of the Howling Dogs by Graham Salisbury.

Based on a true story, the account of a boy scout troop camping on a remote Hawaiian beach when a powerful earthquake followed by a tsunami occurs. The run up to the main event is a bit slow, but the character development is important and makes for some nice reveals.

Shark Girl

Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham.

A verse novel detailing an attack by a shark that leaves a lovely young high school student without one arm. The novel is mainly about survival - not the attack so much as moving forward when your whole life has been turned upside down. Well done.

How to Steal a Car

How to Steal a Car by Pete Hautman.

Could not resist the cover or title. A teen girl discovers her talent for car theft and uses it to vent feelings about friends, boys, and family. The strange relationship the protagonist has with her best friends - a boy and a girl - is great fun. A few unnecessary references make this unlikely for summer reading, unfortunately.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King.

Wow. A fabulous story. Great characters. This should be on high school reading lists. Vera is so strong and her experience is likely close to many. Her family's tradition of ignoring the abusive relationship next door, and other painful realities, has a predictable if tragic effect on her life decisions. The hypocrisy of adults is explored skillfully. The complicated love she has for her best friend is probably the best written love story I've seen in awhile.


Matched by Ally Condie.

Yes! We have a winner! A great dystopian novel that is intense, well written, and clean enough to pass the parent test - yet beloved by my readers already. Phew! Clear choice. The evolution from unquestioned devotion to the society to rebellion is nuanced and believable. Suspense is well done. Comparisons to 1984 and The Giver are warranted. And a second installment due in November.