Bone Gap

Oh, look! One of my top ten books of the year so far. Once again, I loved it so much I’m not sure that my review will do it justice… but as lots of other people have loved it as well, you can check out their reviews as well – try By Singing Light, Random Musings of a Bibliophile , and the Book Smugglers

Bone GapBone Gap by Laura Ruby. Performed by Dan Bittner. HarperCollins, 2015.
Roza, a botany student from Poland, mysteriously showed up in the farming town of Bone Gap, Illinois.  There she was adopted by Finn and Sean, two brothers who had been abandoned in their turn.  And then she vanished again.  Finn claimed that he saw her being kidnapped – but he is generally considered dreamy and unreliable, so no one believes him, especially as he can’t describe the kidnapper.  His older brother is too heartbroken to try looking.

But Roza was kidnapped.  The story goes back and forth in time and in perspective, looking at Roza’s history before she arrived in Bone Gap, the kidnapping from her point of view and the man who offers her everything to stay with him: wealth, beautiful clothes, houses and food – everything except her freedom.  We see Finn and Sean as young boys, experience a blossoming romance between Finn and Petey (short for Priscilla), the “ugly” girl in town, and are heartbroken as Finn and Sean’s close relationship falls apart in the face of Roza’s disappearance.

With its beautiful prose and focus on relationships, it could be realistic literary fiction – Sean and most of the residents of Bone Gap certainly think they’re living in a world without magic.  But ancient and mythic magic is woven into the fabric of Bone Gap, and Roza’s kidnapper is more than mortal.  Finn and Roza are both taken out of the world they have grown up knowing as real, and into one whose rules are new and strange and must be learned over again.

It could also have been a classic damsel in distress story – but Sean, in love with Roza, is too shattered at being abandoned again to do anything to rescue her, and Roza will rescue Finn just as much as he rescues her.  Besides having strong characters in peril that kept me up at night worrying for them, this is also a meditation on beauty and its worth, from Roza’s beautiful face that ends up causing her so much grief to Petey’s supposed ugliness.  It’s done in a way that allows both Roza and Petey to be more than their faces without denying their reality.  It also looks at small-town life and the way people can know each other’s stories without really knowing each other.  That’s a lot of literary depth for a story where things actually happen and people behave like real people.  Luminous and dark at the same time.  Dan Bittner did a great job of reading, making this an extra-good choice for audiobook fans. Go read it if you haven’t already, and share your thoughts if you have.

This is giving me similar feels to Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing, probably more from the writing style than the settings, which are quite different.

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Top 10 Favorites of 2015

Top Ten TuesdayOnce again, I feel the siren call to join in with Top 10 Tuesday, hosted as always by the fabulous folks at The Broke and Bookish.  Perhaps taking a few minutes to look back at my favorites from the first half of 2015 will make it seem less like the year is rushing away from me.   It was really hard to come up with this list.  Sure, my spreadsheet of books I’ve read for this year includes top-secret number ratings, but as more than 20 books (of 129) came up for my top ratings, I had to do significant pruning.

And now, on to the list:

Bone GapBone Gap by Laura Ruby – Beautiful, magical, thought-provoking.

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson “The mix of universal and particular is seductive, and I found myself pushing to read just one more poem until I reached the end. “

castlehangnail

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon – Spot-on middle grade humor with surprising depth.

The Darkest Part of the Forest

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black “This is Holly Black in top form, mingling modern-day concerns seamlessly with the old legends into something compelling and darkly beautiful.”

detectivesassistant

The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan – I do love a good historical adventure, and this one was delightful.

Lulu and the Cat in the Bag

Lulu and the Cat in the Bag by Hilary McKay – I haven’t kept up with reviewing this series, but I’ve been loving reading them with my daughter.

Story of Owen

The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston “The Viking traditions brought into the modern day and combined with sort of normal high school social issues was an intoxicating combination.” – but I loved the central importance of music as well.

stranger

Stranger by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown “ This is one that I loved so much that I’m pretty sure my review can’t do it justice”

thrillingadventures

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua – Padua imagines in graphic novel detail a world in which Lovelace didn’t die prematurely, but instead went on to help Babbage actually finish his Analytical Engine.  With lots of silliness, much of it cribbed from reality.

winnerscurse

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski “Romeo and Juliet had it easy.”

What have been your favorite books this year?

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Picture Book Monday

Here are some of the fabulous picture books that have been making their way into our home of late.  Even though I’m loving reading chapter books to my daughter, I’m so glad she still lets me read her picture books from time to time!

redacrayonsstoryRed: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall. Greenwillow Books, 2015.
The main theme of this story is pretty obvious from the cover – a crayon with a “red” label grows up thinking there’s something wrong with him, until the day he figures out that the problem is the wrapper and not him.  As Betsy Bird points out at A Fuse #8 Production,  this kind of preachiness isn’t for everyone.  But the lesson is helped down by a large spoonful of humor, both in the pictures Red is trying to color and in the people around him, from the other tall young crayons to the short old crayons in appropriate color.  Both of my kids really loved this one and kept going back to it, which also says a lot.  They also took it as an open-ended message to find out who you are for yourself, without paying too much attention to what others say you should be.

verylittleredridinghoodVery Little Red Riding Hood by Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.
I’m a big fan of novel-length dark fairy tale retellings for teens and up – but this retelling goes in the complete opposite direction with delightful results.  Our heroine is about two, and refuses to be scared of the “foxie” she meets on the way to Grandma’s house.  She absolutely will not share her cakes with him, and she is unswayed by the charms of “lello” flowers – she likes RED.  But what happens when she arrives at Grandma’s with “foxie” in tow?  This is short and un-scary enough for toddlers Very Little Red’s age, but silly enough to be very amusing to kids old enough to know how the story is supposed to end.  Heap’s child-like art, framed with lots of white space, suits the story perfectly.

lolaplantsagardenLola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn. Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw. Charlesbridge, 2014. (UK Lulu Loves Flowers)
Thanks to my friend Maureen at By Singing Light  for recommending both this and the next title.  Preschool-age Lola’s favorite nursery rhyme is the one about Mary, Mary, which talks about her garden.  Lola’s mother helps her plan and plant a garden, which her father helps decorate to match the rhyme.  The adorable illustrations add to the comforting, homey feel of the book – words and pictures working together to make something perfect for a spring story time.  My daughter especially loved reading the two versions of the rhyme in the endpapers – first the original, then a new one about Lola. She  picked this out for a visiting friend to read to her at bedtime.  His comment was “Dad? Who is this Dad character and where did he come from?” – it’s true that Dad doesn’t make his appearance until ¾ of the way through the book.  Preschoolers are unlikely to be as disturbed by this as our friend, however.  Pair this with Cathryn Falwell’s Rainbow Stew for another multicultural gardening story.

gingerbreadforlibertyGingerbread for Liberty by Mara Rockliff. Pictures by Vincent X. Kirsch. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.
This is the true history of a patriotic German-American who switched from baking gingerbread to baking bread for the Revolutionary army.  Kirsch’s illustrations are full of energy while looking like iced gingerbread cookies, which I thought was pretty amazing.  The baker, Christopher Ludwick, was dedicated to feeding everyone, and especially poor children.  While the main story is really short, the afterward fleshed things out, making Ludwick an even more interesting character.  I read this aloud twice in one evening, once for my daughter and once for my son and my mother – everyone was fascinated.  Once again proving that picture books are for everyone.  I hope neither of my kids ever feels that they have outgrown them.

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Lily 1-3

This series is a follow-up to Webb’s Rose series, the first of which was a Cybils Finalist in the Middle Grade Spec Fic category a coupld years ago. I’m just now reading the last book of that series, Rose and the Silver Ghost, borrowed from my mother rather than the library because the distributor has fallen through on actually delivering it.

As a side note, how does she do it? I note that my reviewing has fallen distinctly by the wayside just trying to be a third assistant Girl Scout leader. Holly Webb, according to her bio at Fantastic Fiction, runs a Girl Guide troop and still has 10 novels coming out this year. I was looking to see if I could figure out when the fourth Lily book will be out in the U.S., but couldn’t find any word on that. It looks like we were getting the UK paperback edition, and it’s no longer available. I hope we can get it– I really want to know what happens next, and I know the books have been popular at the library, too!

LilyLily by Holly Webb. Orchard Books, 2011 (UK), Hodder & Stoughton, 2013
Lily is the much-neglected youngest child of a powerful magician, living in exile in a run-down manor on an island. Her clothes are too tight and she lives on kitchen scraps when the cook remembers her. The worst thing, however, is that she’s never allowed to see her older sister Georgie anymore, who’s always locked up working with their mother. Even when she catches a glimpse of her, Georgie doesn’t seem to recognize Lily anymore. Her best friend is Peter, a mute servant boy who arrived alone in an abandoned boat some year ago.

Things start to change when Lily, looking at a portrait of an ancestor and her lap dog, is able to pull the little dog, Henrietta, out of the portrait. Things start to happen quickly: making an extra effort to find out what’s going on with Georgie, she deduces that Georgie is being trained in dark magic to overthrow the queen who outlawed magic. But as Georgie’s not doing well with it, she may soon meet the same fate as the two older sisters Lily never met, but whose sad pictures are in the old photograph album they find. And with Georgie out of the way, Lily would be next in line for their mother’s sinister training…

With help from Henrietta the dog (who of course can talk), they decide to run away, and end up joining a variety theater in London. This is run by Daniel, a 16-year-old illusionist, who is friendly towards magic even though he doesn’t have any himself. From there, they hope to find out where their father is being held captive, the father they feel sure had nothing to do with their older sisters’ disappearances.

Lily and the Shining DragonsLily and the Shining Dragons by Holly Webb. Orchard Books, 2012 (UK), Hodder & Stoughton,
Book Two of the series picks up with the girls are still at the circus. They are both doing well, though Georgie is most at home exploring non-magical skills, while Lily’s growing magic pushes and sparkles inside her, begging to be used. When they are offered a home with a relative who recognizes their features during a performance, they have no reason to refuse. But things are not as they seem, and soon Lily and Georgie are on the run again, this time from the Queen’s Men, the enforcers of the anti-magic laws. It turns out that there is a prison-like boarding school for children with magic, and that the Queen’s Men have decidedly unpleasant means of making sure that the captive children can’t do any magic.

Lily and the Prisoner of MagicLily and the Prisoner of Magic by Holly Webb. Orchard Books, 2012 (UK), Hodder & Stoughton, 2013
It’s increasingly hard to describe the happenings of the book without spoilers for the previous ones. To keep it short, I’ll say that this book involves a dragon, 40 children, lots of pent-up magic, a trip overseas, two beloved characters from the Rose series, and the continued search for Lily and Georgie’s father. Also, it is not the last book in the series, and it shows.

Lily is a very likeable character, willing to do what it takes to get things done and intensely loyal, especially to her sister and to her friend Peter. Peter, for those looking for books featuring characters with disabilities, is quite a capable person himself and helps the girls out quite as much as they help him. Lily really enjoys her magic, despite the horrible things she’s seen done with it, unlike poor Georgie. The overall message, explicit but not preachy, is that magic itself isn’t good or bad – it’s what one chooses to do with it that matters.

Confirming my suspicions that we got the straight UK edition here in the states, the covers look like they were done by the same artist who did the UK covers for the Rose books. They are pretty and sparkly and girly and certainly worked to attract my daughter. But I much prefer the US covers on the Rose books, which focus on a more realistic and decidedly determined Rose. It’s true that Lily and Georgie have the occasional conversation about clothes, mostly led by Georgie, as Lily isn’t really interested in them. Lily herself is a character that both girls and boys can relate to, and running away from the magic police and dealings with dragons are things that any child would enjoy. I find the china-doll look of the characters on these covers a bit creepy and don’t convey the determined character of the girls at all. Worse, they look to me and my son to be sending the message that they are meant only for girls, instead of letting books be books. That is really a pity – these are solid books with just the right balance of delight and danger to appeal to elementary-aged fantasy fans.

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The Old Kingdom Chronicles

Flashback to last week – I was so busy getting ready for taking my daughter’s Girl Scout Daisy troop on their first camping weekend that I forgot to mention that it was also Mother Reader’s 48 Hour Book Challenge, which I very much enjoyed participating in the last two years. I did not think I would be able to focus on reading while keeping a group of five- and six-year-olds out of poison ivy and lake. Indeed, one of my little campers got poison ivy despite our efforts to the contrary, though the girls all figured out how to paddle canoes and were very proud of themselves. I’ve been enjoying reading over the posts of all my blogging friends who did participate in the Book Challenge, though – you could go and enjoy a vicarious intensive reading weekend, too.

Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen by Garth Nix. Read by Tim Curry. Listening Library, 2002, 2002, 2003.
After listening to the new entry in Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom Chronicles, Clariel, in December, I realized that my overall memories of this series were pretty hazy, despite my having read at least Sabriel more than once. I decided that that, combined with this being one of my favorite series to recommend to teens in search of a new epic fantasy series, warranted a re-listen.

sabrielI started off with Sabriel, of course, and was reintroduced to the world of the Old Kingdom: a medievalish kingdom where technology doesn’t work and evil and good necromancers battle to bring the dead back to the world of the living or send them back to the realm of Death, respectively. Kingdom is loosely applied in this case, as the monarchy was overthrown some 200 years previously, with rank anarchy for the last 20. The Old Kingdom share a long border with the kingdom of Ancelstierre, where magic only works when the wind blows just so across the Wall that separates them, and where the technology level is roughly 1910s, with telegraphs, bicycles, and rudimentary airplanes.

Sabriel is the daughter of the Abhorsen, the good necromancer whose main duty is to enforce the boundary between Life and Death. She’s about to graduate from an Ancelstierran academy for girls of good breeding, though her father has visited often to teach her the skills she’ll need to follow in his footsteps as Abhorsen.

Then Sabriel receives word that her father has been trapped in Death, along with his sword and the bandolier of magical bells that are used to control the Dead. It will be up to her to rescue him and stop the magical villain who’s trapped him from ending the world. She’s helped along the way by Mogget, a magical cat who’s the unwilling servant of the Abhorsen family, and by Touchstone, a young man whom she found trapped as the wooden figurehead of a ship.

LiraelSabriel wraps things up tidily, and Lirael starts with a whole new heroine. Lirael is a daughter of the Clayr, one of the three magical families (along with the Abhorsens and the Wallmakers) who keep the magic of the Old Kingdom running smoothly. We met the Clayr briefly near the end of Sabriel and were introduced to their role as the seers and prophets of the Old Kingdom. Lirael has always felt out of place among the Clayr, both because she hasn’t inherited their typical coloring of dark skin and light hair, but also because she is past the age when she should have received her gift of Sight.

Instead, she’s given an apprenticeship at the Great Library of the Clayr, which houses not only All the Books (magical books, needless to say), but also magical artifacts and monsters, not always successfully contained. (It’s always been a dream of mine to make her Second Assistant Librarian uniform, so clearly described here with red waistcoat, brass whistle attached on the shoulder for hands-free blowing in case of emergency, and a magical mechanical mouse in the pocket that can also be sent to summon help.) There she tries to make herself a dog construct as a companion, summoning instead the Disreputable Dog.

Meanwhile, we also meet Prince Sameth, son of Sabriel and Touchstone, and his best friend Nicholas Sayr. An ancient evil is trying to break free from its prison, and is using Nicholas as its voice in the world. Sameth has his own issues, as the presumptive heir to the Abhorsens with a horror of Death and the Book of the Dead that he is supposed to be studying. Tension mounts as Sabriel and Sameth work separately to stop the terror, which Nicholas is contributing to without knowing it. At the same time, King Touchstone and Sabriel journey to Ancelstierre to address the situation there, which is contributing to the difficulties in the Old Kingdom.

abhorsenLirael ends at a dreadfully tense point in the plot – naturally, someone else had checked out the next book in the series, so that I had to wait for a month to continue on with Abhorsen, the resolution of the story arc that started with Lirael.

Even though the plot is tense in all the books, I found that the details had mostly slipped away from my memory in the decade or so since I had last read them. What I remembered was the dark atmosphere and the magic, the River of Death with its seven gates and the seven bells, each with its own name and powers, that the Abhorsen uses to fight them, and the Charter of flowing golden marks that the baptized can reach into for individual spells as needed. I remembered the characters, particularly Sabriel, Lirael, and their companions, Mogget and the Disreputable Dog. Re-listening, I recognized details that had appeared in Clariel that I should have recognized, but didn’t, including the pan pipes, villains and their goals recurring through the centuries, and Clariel’s discomfort at reaching into the charter as opposed to the comfort it gives all the other characters.

This series has stayed on top of several lists of books to recommend to library patrons for years now, including epic teen fantasies, books for teen boys starring girls, and books for zombie-lovers. My love and I have successfully given it to teens (especially boys) of the voraciously reading but reluctant to try new books type. With good characters, a tight plot, and stellar world-building, this series is still strong, despite having started a couple of decades ago. I really hope that Garth Nix does carry on with more books in the series, as he’s said he will.

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The Sculptor

When I started as a librarian and started reading graphic novels, Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: the Invisible Art was the book that my friend David at Yet Another Comics Blog recommended as the book to read to, well, understand how comics work.  I’d read very little in the way of comics or graphic novels before, and if you, like me, find them difficult to read, this is the book to read. Not that I had taken graphic novels lightly before, but this book both made them easier for me to read and showed me how much was going on in them that I just hadn’t realized.  [End the book love for the book I’m not really talking about.]

So more than 20 years after that now-classic book was published, McCloud has come out with a really long, detailed graphic novel that’s been getting rave reviews everywhere.  Naturally I had to read it.  It’s in our adult section due to being about adults and having some sexual content.

The SculptorThe Sculptor by Scott McCloud. First Second, 2015.
David Smith is a washed-up artist with nothing left.  His promising career has come crashing down around his ears, all of his family members are dead, he’s not in a relationship, and he’s about to be kicked out of his apartment.  He’s spending his last money on a cup of coffee at his favorite diner to celebrate his birthday when he’s visited by someone who looks remarkably like his Uncle Harry, who died some years before.  Death has chosen to look like Uncle Harry (who looked rather like Stan Lee to me),  and Death is offering him a deal: 200 days to achieve the fame David so desperately wants.

Then, as he’s walking home, a very solid-looking angel – wings and all – comes down from the sky, kisses him, and tells him that everything will be all right.

So maybe that part wasn’t as real as it first appears – but David’s life really does start to turn around, though even the magical path to fame isn’t as smooth as David would like.

This is a book that asks deep questions about the worth and meaning of both art and life.  Even though I couldn’t quite personally empathize with David’s willingness to put fame above life, his struggle to make a name for himself and to stay a decent human being at the same time made me care about him anyway.  I adored Meg, his muse. I couldn’t stop turning the pages, even though I had to go into the story knowing that the ending couldn’t be happy.  It is excellent, indeed, and well worth the press it’s been getting.

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Shadow Scale

And in contrast to Death Marked, which was ready for me right when I wanted to read it, I (along with other fans) had to wait three long years for this book, the sequel to Seraphinawhich I liked so much that I even did a multi-type advisory post on it.

Shadow ScaleShadow Scale by Rachel Hartmann. Random House, 2015
Things are not going well for Seraphina’s kingdom.  Glisselda, just a young princess in the last book, is now queen, and the Queen Mother, her grandmother,  is not doing well, Jannoula, the half-dragon woman who took over Seraphina’s mind when she was a child, is trying again to take over the world.  On a personal level, Seraphina and Prince Lucian Kiggs have mutually agreed to ignore their feelings for each other in favor of protecting Glisselda, to whom Lucian is engaged for very good political reasons.   Seraphina decides that the best defense, both against Jannoula and the threat of future dragon attack, is for her to find the other ityasaari or half-dragons from her visions and ask them to join together to protect the kingdom and each other.

A long, episodic tale follows, as Seraphina travels from one kingdom to the next trying to find the other ityasaari as well as her uncle, who had left to do some research stopped sending messages some time ago.  Some of the ityasaari want to come, some are repelled by the very idea.  I enjoyed seeing all the different cultures, with their varying people, foods and views on the roles of ityasaari.  Seraphina’s young acrobat ityasaari friend Abdo comes from a culture that sees people as having six genders, for example, which was fascinating.  And after the journeying part comes a quig rebebellion – quigs being small, intelligent lizard-like creatures that the dragons have long used as slaves – and that was even more fun.

I had somewhat mixed reactions to this.  Seraphina is very unhappy much of the time, in both this and the previous book.  That book, though, was leavened by her music, lovingly described, and by her relationship with Kiggs.  Now the romance is put on hold and there is much less music, so that even though I couldn’t honestly say that Seraphina is more depressed than she was in the first book, it was much more noticeable here.  I spent a long time thinking over the ending, trying to decide if it was just me being upset with it – but I think not.  I can’t say more without risk of too many spoilers – but it was unsatisfying on many levels, the kind of ending that was too much finding peace with the way things are and not enough happiness for people who have earned it.  I know that one can’t really earn happiness in the real world, but one of the reasons that I prefer reading children’s and young adult literature is that I like to read happy endings anyway.

I still love Seraphina.  I will still read anything else that Rachel Hartmann writes.

Even if that makes me inconsistent.

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Death Marked

The nice part about not reading books right when they come out is that sometimes then the sequel is already out.  Here is the sequel to Death Sworn, one of my favorites of the most recent Cybils Teen Spec Fic Finalists.  If you’re spoiler averse and haven’t yet read either of these books, you may want to do that first.

Death MarkedDeath Marked by Leah Cypess. Greenwillow Books, 2015.
At the end of the last book, Ileni set out on her own.  Unfortunately, that didn’t last for very long.  Within the first few pages, she’s a resident of the Imperial Academy, where the magicians who are the embodiment of the evil and corruption Ileni has been raised to combat are trained.  It’s dreadfully seductive, as there is plenty of stored magic around that Ileni can draw on to supplement her own dwindling powers.  Unfortunately, the head of the Imperial Academy knows both of these things, and can cut Ileni off from the magic as easily as grant it.  Ileni also gets to know the other advanced magic students, rich boy Evin and warring twins Lis and Cyn.  She also recognizes an assassin from the mountain fortress she so recently left.

The longer Ileni is there, the less certain she is of anything.  Should she do what would benefit her people, the Renegi, who cast her out?  The assassins, now headed by her former lover? Or believe the head of the Imperial Academy, who points out the many lives the Empire saves just by preventing endless wars between tiny kingdoms?  Before Ileni can decide on any course of action, she must find out the source of the power that the Empire’s sorcerers stores in its lodestones, power that she’s always been told comes from the slaughter of innocents.  And every night, she stares at the mirror in her room that would let her contact her former lover – but would be sure to give them away as well.

This was just as intense as the first book. All of Ileni’s choices put lives at risk. The new setting added even more depths, exploring character and morality all wrapped in magic, intrigue, and entirely relatable themes of trying to find a place in a new school.  I continue to be impressed at Cypess’s ability to pack so much meaning into a story that refused to take the expected turns.

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State of the Book Basket: June

My kids got out of school last week, to the delight of my ten-year-old and the dismay of the five-year-old, who is already fiercely missing her teachers. We’ll be signing them up for the two different library summer reading programs, as usual. I also designed a Summer Library Passport for all the kids at their school. This is designed to encourage kids to visit the library over the summer and complement existing public library summer reading programs. I’d be happy to provide more details in the comments if anyone is interested.

Both of my kids made some really poor choices regarding library books recently, so we’re taking a short break from checking out library materials for them. That means they are mostly limited to reading the books we own, and might actually (but no breath-holding here) get caught up on the books we’ve bought for them.

snowwhitesevenrobotsThe five-year-old has been wanting a lot of graphic novels lately – re-reading El Deafo by Cece Bell, and some others that Daddy bought for her recently: Snow White and the Seven Robots by Louise Simonson and Jimena Sanchez and Phoebe and her Unicorn by Dana Simpson. We’re also making our way slowly through a My Little Pony chapter book that she picked at the school book fair, Rainbow Dash and the Daring Do Double Dare by G.M. Berrow. In the car, I was really surprised when she wanted to try Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, which I’d checked out for her brother. She made it through a couple of discs before deciding to switch back to Magic Tree House. We’re on book #48 A Perfect Time for Pandas, still written by the indefatigable Mary Pope Osborne. Both the brother and I are excited that we’ve now made it past the books that he and I listened to together.

bignateoutloudThe ten-year-old was recently given a whole stack of Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce and is rapidly working his way through them. He also expressed interest in reading Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka, which I’d checked out to read for myself because of putting it on my 11 Recent Sci-Fi Books for Grades 4 and 5 list. We are still working our way slowly but enthusiastically through Jinx’s Magic by Sage Blackwood at bedtime. In the car, we’re back to Spirit Animals with Book 6: Rise and Fall by Eliot Schrefer.

agathaHMy love has been re-reading the Agatha Heterodyne series by Phil and Kaja Foglio. Last I heard, he was enjoying listening to Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson.

As for myself, my print reading includes Prairie Fire by E.K. Johnston at home and Fly Trap by Frances Hardinge at work, both well-done sequels to books I enjoyed. I recently finished The Clockwork Crown by Beth Cato, and still need to a) read the first book, The Clockwork Dagger and b) download something else for the e-reader. prairiefiresmallI’m listening to The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall in the car – the Penderwicks are just as delightful as ever. I’ve taken to listening to podcasts rather than audiobooks for my chore time at home. Of potential interest to my readers here are The Witching Hour, a college-run wizard rock podcast, which punctuates the music with in-depth discussion of the Harry Potter books and fandom from silly to serious; and Fangirl Happy Hour, a fun if decidedly R-rated podcast for geek girls of all stripes (ok, mostly speculative books, graphic novels and movies), run by Thea of the Book Smugglers and Renay of Lady Business. I have another four print books from the library in queue, but as I’m running out of time now, they’ll have to wait for another time.

What are you reading these days?

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The Search for WondLa and A Hero for Wondla

I had this series vaguely in the back of my mind from maybe hearing other bloggers mention it when I was hunting for a new series for my son and me to listen to.

Search for WondlaThe Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi. Read by Teri Hatcher. Recorded Books/Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Eva Nine has been raised by a MUTHR robot in an underground sanctuary, training with holo simulations for the day when she’ll be old enough to go to the surface.  She feels stifled living underground, and dreams especially of a future that mirrors the old picture she found on a scrap of cardboard in an abandoned tunnel: a child, a woman and a robot holding hands.  But when her Sanctuary is attacked, Eva Nine is forced to flee into the wild on her own, and the wild is nothing at all like what her training prepared her for.  There are walking trees, carnivorous birds, giant multi-legged creatures that her “omnipod” identifies as closest to microscopic waterbears – and intelligent alien species.  Eva Nine bonds with a lanky blue alien named Rovender Kitt as they are both captured multiple times by Basteel, the Queen’s huntsman who’s determined to capture Eva Nine in particular for the Queen’s collection.  Together they escape, try to rescue other creatures and MUTHR, explore the world, and are captured again.

I had really mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand, the basic premise – humans as a species being kept alive by robots and coming back to find Earth no longer Earth at all, but a planet with its own new civilization, flora, and fauna.  The new species and the old Earth technology that Eva Nine uses are all fun to explore.  On the other hand, Eva Nine was horribly whiny, especially as narrated by Teri Hatcher.  I might have liked the whole series better if it had been narrated by someone else – Hatcher did a great job at MUTHR’s synthesized old-movie mother voice, and indeed at creating distinct voices, but the narration as a whole felt like she never got out of robot mode.  The whole thing was read as if it were nonfiction, with lots of careful pauses for comprehension that interrupted the flow and lulled the adult listeners (driving the car) dangerously close to sleep.  However, my son still really enjoyed it.  The print book, while long, is full of pictures that would make the world building and diverse characters even more fun.

Hero for WondlaA Hero for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi. Read by Teri Hatcher. Recorded Books/Simon & Schuster, 2012.

Despite my reservations with the narration, my son was excited enough about the series that we went on to book two.  At the end of the first book (spoiler alert), Eva Nine finds a ship ready to take her to an actual human settlement.  She is thrilled! Her dreams of meeting other humans are finally coming true! But her belief in a utopia doesn’t even last out her first day there, as she finds that the humans live in a bubble world, tightly controlled by a patriarch who keeps even the knowledge of the new sentient species on the planet a secret.  She also meets Eva Eight, the previous resident of her destroyed Sanctuary, who wants only to go back to her life as it was and live as a family with MUTHR and Eva Eight.  When Eva Nine realizes that the patriarch is in fact an Evil Dictator, out to enslave the rest of Orbuna, she must take action!!!

My mixed feelings continue with this book.  The world building is still fun, and Eva Nine does grow as a character.  Eva Eight seemed unbelievably immature to me, especially considering that she’s supposed to be decades older than Eva Nine.  The characters and dialogue felt hackneyed at times.  Worst of all, even though our protagonist is a girl, all the other characters were male unless there was a specific reason for them to be female.  Here’s my count: Female: the queen, one of five Mystical Alien Siblings, one alien mother, a trio of extremely shallow girls in the human city, Eva Eight, one of the nine elders in Rovender Kitt’s village, for a total of 8. Male: Rovender Kitt, the hunter Basteel, the sweet big alien water bear, alien father and son, the two members of the Queen’s staff, the pilot who rescues Eva Nine, his grandfather, the patriarch, two or three advisors to the patriarch, three prisoners, eight other advisors in Rovender’s village, for a total of 24.  Once I started counting, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  Do we really still need to be sending the message that only exceptional girls can be leaders?  On the other hand, the message of humans getting along with other species is a good one, and addressed in a very interesting way.

We’ve stopped reading the series at this point, mostly because of the narrator.  It’s on my list of 11 recent sci-fi books for fourth and fifth graders, and we’ll see if we continue with the series in print sometime later.  I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on this if you’ve read it.

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