Friday, November 28, 2008

Review: Urchin of the Riding Stars by M. I. McAllister

Due to a hectic week, the joys of Thanksgiving, and my laptop being broken, I did not in fact read this book this week. However, I did in fact read it three months ago and it's fantastic. Urchin of the Riding Stars is the first book of The Mistmantle Chronicles. There are three, with a fourth that either just came out or is about to come out, but unfortunately my library doesn't have any of the sequels so I've only read the first one.

I didn't really like the first six or eight chapters, in fact I nearly put the book down and moved on, but I was so glad I held on to the end. It's pretty obviously a Redwall read-alike. The first chapters introduce the setting, an island surrounded by mist, and a host of very expected Redwall stock characters. Urchin, a squirrel, arrived on the island during a meteor shower as a newborn baby who was then adopted into the society of the island with only a few animals knowing about the prophesies, etc., that accompanied him. There are some power-hungry nobles trying to take over the island! WHO can save us? Blah blah blah, blah.

BUT, after all that is out of the way, we really set into the good stuff. This is shorter and written more simply than Redwall, but it deals with different themes. I may be wrong, but I can't remember Redwall ever dealing with organized infanticide or demonic possession. Urchin does, and does it very, very well. Urchin has more focus on a political intrigue kind of plot, more internal intensity. There isn't a definite "The people inside are good and that horde over there is bad," but there IS a definite "these actions are good and these actions are bad."

As the book goes on the characters turn out to be much more developed than the first chapters would indicate. The plot becomes ever more complex, but isn't hard to follow and doesn't get bogged down. There are some religious themes, one of the best characters is a priest and they all pray to the Heart of the Island, but like the other themes I've mentioned it isn't quite pronounced, only there. The story sets up a series well, I hope the growing pains were worked out in this one and the second book can pick up where this one left off.

Overall, this was an excellent book, good for kids who like animal fantasy or people who like basic fantasy in general. It was similar in ways to the Silverwing series by Kenneth Oppel and to the Warriors series, maybe even similar to The Wind in the Willows in a way, or The Giver. It's suitable for all ages, but the younger a kid is the more I'd suggest discussion.

Buy Urchin of the Riding Stars

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving here in the U.S.

Now, you may have noticed that the global economy isn’t exactly doing
well. There’s war. Starvation. All sorts of bad, scary things going on.

So–just for today–how about sharing 7 things that you’re thankful

This can be about books, sure–authors you appreciate, books you love,
an ode to your public library–but also, how about other things, too? Because in
times like these, with bills piling up and disaster seemingly lurking around
every corner, it’s more important than ever to stop and take stock of the things
we’re grateful for. Family. Friends. Good health (I hope). Coffee and tea.
Turkey. Sunshine. Wagging tails. Curling up with a good book.

So, how about it? Spread a little positive thinking and tell the world
what there is to be thankful for.

1) Number one is, of course, that I'm thankful for the reason for my faith. I'm a Protestant Christian. I'm not going to say I'm thankful "for my faith," I'm just going to say I'm thankful I have something to have faith in.

2) My friends. I was a loner growing up.

3) My cats. They always know just when to snuggle and just when to be aloof. We don't have to talk to each other to understand each other.

4) The Great American Novel. I'd go crazy if I didn't have people talking in my head all the time! Oh, wait... um. Anyway.

5) Some of my favorite authors from my childhood in no particular order: C.S. Lewis, Bruce Coville, J.R.R. Tolkien, Diane Duane, Lloyd Alexander, and Brian Jacques. Each of them helped shape the way I think now, and not only that but I frickin' loved their books, and still do.

6) Libraries. Not necessarily library patrons, but, uh... anyway. As a person of less-than-huge income, I would be severely limited in the books I could read without the library. As it is, I have a definite imbalance in the number of books I want to/can read, and the number of books I actually have time to read. That's a lovely thing.

7) Last, but certainly not least: I'm really thankful for turkey. Really, really thankful. And cranberry sauce.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! This is definitely my favorite holiday.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

News flash, book is the new cool

So apparently, due to laziness, the word "book" has now replaced the word "cool." That's just so... so book! Full story at the Times Online.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Review: A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel

This is nonfiction, a sort of history meets personal essay of 372 pages counting the index and notes, 319 pages sans, with plenty of illustrations.

This book was a joy to read, a hymn of praise to the very act of reading. It focuses on that specifically, the act of reading, and it's amazing the amount of information there is to be had. There was some overlap with the history of books, history of writing, etc., but only in passing. It's really all about reading. There was a lot of information that I'd never come across before that seems to have been included just because it was interesting, and that was fine with me!

The book is organized in two main sections, "Acts of Reading" and "Powers of the Reader." There are chapter headings like "Learning to Read," "The Silent Readers," "Ordainers of the Universe," and "The Author as Reader." So instead of a moving through a chronological timeline, Manguel brings us into a much more organic narrative that actually resembles the way we read books. We skip back and forth between similar things, follow tangents that only make sense to us readers. We pause to meditate on single thoughts, and dash along through topics that aren't as mesmerizing.

Manguel draws us into what feels a very intimate group, tracing readers down through history all the way to us. It's a reassuring book; because reading is such a private affair it can seem lonely, but rest assured there are a gazillion other readers who have loved just the same things about their books as we do about ours. A History of Reading was informative, while remaining informal and very enjoyable.

Some other books that sit next to this one on the humongous bookshelf of my mind: The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petrosky, Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles, Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, and Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian by Scott Douglas. All of these were interesting in the same way, though the subject matter varies ever-so-slightly.

Buy A History of Reading

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Honesty?

Suggested by JM:

I receive a lot of review books, but I have never once told lies about the
book just because I got a free copy of it. However, some authors seem to feel
that if they send you a copy of their book for free, you should give it a
positive review.

Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book,
even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to
put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy
authors who get negative reviews?

No. There's a difference between a review and an advertisement, and if I get a review copy, I'm going to write a REVIEW. That means what I liked and what I didn't like and why. If I say a book is wonderful I'm going to have to give reasons, and if I hated the book and have to make up reasons, then anyone who reads the book on my recommendation is going to be annoyed and not pay attention to my good reviews anymore. So trying to get me to do that really wouldn't do anybody any good. Let this be a warning, authors! I am an honest reviewer!

And here's a tip, authors... The best way to get a good review is to write a good book.

Read more responses to BTT here!

Watchmen trailer 3

Behold, the trailer that debuted before Quantum of Solace (good movie) last week. It looks... slightly less awesome? But still awesome.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Review: City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

This is the first book in a YA series, which I have heard much about and read on the recommendation of my dear sister, who is a YA several years more Y than I. It follows two 12-year-olds who live in the City of Ember, a place where the sky is always dark. But what's that? They're running out of food, widgets, and lightbulbs to keep the streets lit?

First, and remember this, I liked the book. I had somehow gotten it into my head that it was a YA urban fantasy book, and it's not. It's more of a kids' sci-fi-ish book. But after I figured that out, it was original, interesting, and kept me curious the whole way through, which is an important feature for a kids' book to have.

The two main characters, Lina and Doon, are pretty normal stars for a book like this. Kids who seem to be the only competent people in existence. But I love how they take time to interact with each other, and they actually have reasons for running into each other besides "the plot says so." The addition of Lina's baby sister helped to ground Lina and Doon and keep them from being too autonomous. Several of the secondary characters, like Doon's father, had a refreshing depth I that I didn't expect and proved that not ALL of the adults are useless. And even if they don't ACT like real kids, Lina and Doon have an earnestness about them that's really believable.

Okay. I have issues with the plot. I have no idea why everyone thinks this book is a YA when no one over the age of fourteen is going to believe a word of it. The very first incident in the book is the graduation of the 12-year-old students. As per tradition, jobs are RANDOMLY ASSIGNED to them and they go out to make their way in the world and become useful members of society. I can understand that a city that's running down needs everyone to start helping at an early age, but randomly assigning the jobs? That can't be efficient.

The middle half of the book is the best. It has a Redwall-esque riddle to solve and believable kid angst, mixed in with Tantalizingly Tiny Tidbits of information about Ember. But there's a depressing lack of climax to the story, and the reveals aren't satisfying to me. Just ask my sister, I ranted at her for a good half hour about how retarded some of it was.

Back to the good stuff though. A kid won't notice any of the stuff I didn't like, and there's both a prequel and a sequel to maybe explain some of the things that didn't work. And I liked the book. It has a slightly Lemony Snicket-y feel, but with content more similar to The Giver. (It doesn't have near the upsetting content as The Giver, it just reminds me of it. Also: I love The Giver.) So if you have/are a 12-year-old, snatch City of Ember up and make yourself comfortable, you'll love it.

Note that a movie version of this book came out a short while ago. It didn't play at my local theater, but if anyone's seen it I'd love to hear their opinions.

ETA: Saw the movie, and it was awful. Don't see it.

Buy The City of Ember

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Why Buy?

I’ve asked, in the past, about whether you more often buy your books, or
get them from libraries. What I want to know today, is, WHY BUY?

Even if you are a die-hard fan of the public library system, I’m
betting you have at least ONE permanent resident of your bookshelves in your
house. I’m betting that no real book-lover can go through life without owning at
least one book. So … why that one? What made you buy the books that you actually
own, even though your usual preference is to borrow and return them?

If you usually buy your books, tell me why. Why buy instead of borrow? Why
shell out your hard-earned dollars for something you could get for free?

Well, I'm a librarian. At any given time I have about 50 books checked out, waiting for me to read them. (Some of those are things I've picked up for family members, but still.) I also currently have 514 books that I've bought in my room, exact number courtesy of LibraryThing.

This happens for several reasons:

1) There are some books my library doesn't have. When I see a book that just looks sooo good and calls to me from the shelf at the bookstore and I KNOW I would have seen it if the library had it, I just HAVE to buy it. (Why I'm even in the bookstore when I have so many other books to read is a discussion unto itself.)

2) If I've read a book from the library and loved it, I mean really loved it, when it's the BEST BOOK EVER, I have to buy it and keep it so I can read it whenever I want, and no other people can get their grimy paws on it. Also, I have paralyzing fears that the book might go out of print and I'd never be able to find it again and the world would have lost a thing of beauty. Or the library might sell it and I wouldn't be able to remember the title.

3) Which leads nicely into my last point. I buy a lot of books from the library book sale. Friends, a lot of books. This is partly because they're dirt cheap and I just can't resist, but also I'll see a book and think "Wow, I'd like to check that out," but then I realize that I CAN'T! It's in the book sale! So I buy it to read eventually since it's dirt cheap.

And there you have it. The three best reasons to buy books, in addition to checking them out at the library.

Find more responses to Booking Through Thursday here!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Review- The Sandman Vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman

You may remember my glowing review of Watchmen several weeks ago. (Review is here.) You may remember me saying that I don't usually read graphic novels because I don't usually understand them. You may remember how very very much I loved Watchmen.

Well, a good friend of mine got the same earful of happiness after I read Watchmen, and she, being a comic book buff, promptly gave me recommendations! The Sandman was on the top of her list. And friends... it's awesome. I freely admit that I had trouble following it for the first half, falling prey to my usual nemeses: Not being able to remember which characters were which and not being able to tell what was going on in the frame. But something in it really appealed to me, and in the middle of the book, suddenly it started making sense. A lot of sense.

I love anthropomorphic personifications. Maybe that's a weird sentence, but I do. Once I could really grasp that this is a book about personifications, then I had a handle to hold on to while I figured the rest of the book out. And these personifications are like no others. They're actually SCARY. Most of the time when something is made human, it loses a sense of Otherness and we start to oversympathize. But, while these characters could be sympathized with, (boy could they, I think I'm in love with Dream) they never stopped being something larger than life.

The disjointedness of the plot and art were probably what I had to get used to the most, but I really like them now. There are a lot of sudden transitions and flipping back and forth between scenes. There's a lot of thick black and bold, dark colors. That's the mood of the story, and it's wonderful. Even I, a person of no squeamish tendencies, had one or two gross-out moments (warning for those of more delicate sensibilities,) but it reassures me when a story doesn't shy away from the bad stuff. When the bad guys are bad.

I have three favorite scenes. The first: the duel in Hell. This was when I really scooted up to the edge of my seat and started paying attention. I thought "Hey, I better keep an eye on this Dream guy, he knows his stuff." He had me at "I am h--" ...well, I won't spoil.

The second: Toward the end, when Dream was with Doctor Destiny for the last time. This scene was the one that showed me how incredible Dream really is, how powerful but still with a huge grasp of the way things really are.

The last: The final chapter. Because Death was in it, and she was scary!

So. This was the first volume of eleven. I'm discovering that there's a real intensity that can be achieved in the graphic novel form, like a story distilled into only the most important images and dialogue, and I look forward to reading the rest!

Buy The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Gifts

What, if any, memorable or special book have you ever gotten as a present?
Birthday or otherwise. What made it so notable? The person who gave it? The book
itself? The “gift aura?”

Well, I get a lot of gift cards, so I count the books I buy with them as presents from the gift-card-giver, but that's not quite the same thing... I can't think of anything really special so I'm just going to rattle off a few gifts I've gotten:

I got the first Get Fuzzy collection for my last birthday from my brother; my astronomy teacher last summer gave me this for no apparent reason; my Grandmother's given me a gazillion (appreciated) books on art; my sister gave me The Black Book of Secrets a good long time ago and I'm, er, building up anticipation for it (read: I haven't read it yet but I want to, I do!); and the one that I do actually remember and treasure now that I think about it, my parents gave me set of gorgeous, gilt-edged, leatherbound books containing Anna Karenina, War of the Worlds, A Tale of Two Cities, The Jungle Book, The Call of the Wild, White Fang, A Christmas Carol, Sense and Sensibility, and The Wind in the Willows. Awesome, right? Totally. (I have a serious predilection for leatherbound books. SERIOUS predilection.)

Go here for more responses!