Friday, January 30, 2009

Review: The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci

The Plain Janes is a book that came out in 2007 from minx, an imprint of DC Comics that makes chick-lit graphic novels. Another blog reviewed it and it looked interesting, so I picked it up from the library. (If it was you let me know, I can't remember who reviewed it for the life of me.)

This book follows a girl named Jane who leaves Metro City in favor of a small town after her family is traumatized by a bomb detonation. Many of her thoughts are revealed in her letters to a comatose John Doe who was standing next to her when the bomb went off. At her new school she joins the group of school rejects, all named Jane, and they begin a series of "art attacks" on the town.

The Plain Janes is simple and real, without any distractions from the main emotion. It's perfect for graphic novel format because so much of it is about the art itself, and the style reflects that. The pictures are clean and uncluttered, and dialogue is economized.

The character development is excellent in this, especially considering how short the book is. I usually find that the more realistic characters are the more annoying they get, but the Janes--Main Jane, Brain Jayne, Sporty Jane and Theater Jane--are my kind of people. There's also a collection of supporting characters, each of whom has much more depth than you might expect on their first appearance. The story raises good questions and delivers a pitch-perfect ending.

There is a sequel called Janes in Love that I would very much like to read, should the library choose to buy it, and Castellucci has written several traditional novels, but if you're looking for something similar to this, your best bet is to try out the other books from minx.

Buy The Plain Janes

Friday, January 23, 2009

Review: The Monsters of Morley Manor by Bruce Coville

This is a re-read from my younger days... I picked it up again because A) I liked it when I was eleven and usually when I like a book, I keep liking it, and B) Because even if I hadn't liked it when I was eleven I'd still want to read it. So there.

I've always liked Bruce Coville. (Click here for a list of his books.) His I Was a Sixth Grade Alien series and Aliens Ate My Homework series were and are some of my all-time favorites, and Jeremy Thatcher is The Best Book Ever. I've read most of his books, which go from kids' to YA and are mostly sci-fi or ghost-type stories with the occasional fantasy. All of them are fantastic (except the My Teacher is an Alien series, it's just not as good) so pick your poison and go to town.

The Monsters of Morley Manor, however, is a little bit outside his usual range. It starts off ghosty-horror when five monsters are brought to life, then progresses through fantasy, complete with magic rock and wizard guys, to sci-fi with world-hopping and aliens, then back to ghosty-horror.

The protagonists are Anthony Walker and his younger sister Sarah. Anthony is about ten-ish and Sarah is a few years younger, but unlike many authors Coville resists the urge to oversimplify them. The book deals with some complicated issues, involving Anthony and Sarah's recently-deceased grandfather, the afterlife, betrayal, time travel's effect on relationships, and a few other things, but it's presented as just real things that have to be dealt with, and the kids deal.

The book is suitable for anyone who can read a chapter book. The style is simple, but the plot is complicated enough to be interesting. The ending was sad, but perfectly executed, and the only thing wrong with the whole thing is that Bruce Coville never wrote a sequel. There aren't many similar books, except possibly Zorgamazoo in the genre-bending sense (and is it just me or do I recommend that book in every review...), but if you like this one you'll like his others.

Buy The Monsters of Morley Manor

Friday, January 16, 2009

Review: Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica

I hate memoirs. BUT, I have a weakness for workplace stories and rants. It lets off steam when those library patrons have been acting up again, or when the person in front of me in the Wal-Mart line is being a jerk. Waiter Rant is a sort-of memoir by the guy who writes the Waiter Rant blog, but don't worry... there's a lot more in it than what's on the blog, and it's only sort of a memoir.

It seems like this is a book about why he wrote this book, more than anything. And that's fine. He tells the story of how he became a waiter and what it's really like, from dealing with customers to dealing with other staff, and he does it with both humor and insight. He tells the stories of other people he's seen pass through the dining room. He tells about his fear of failure and how long it took him to decide to write this book. There are happy moments, sad moments, gross moments... just about everything, and even if you've never been a waiter I'm sure you'll sympathize. I'm also sure you'll decide to start tipping a lot more than you have been!

Equal parts personal history, work anecdotes, and insider information, Waiter Rant is a quick, smooth read. I was impressed with how orderly it was, structured almost like a novel with flashbacks and asides but everything being revealed in the right order. It ends shortly after he's gotten his book deal, and I was encouraged to go bang out the rest of the Great American Novel right then and there.

I hear he's writing a new book and I can't wait to read it, but until then there's Not Always Right, a blog about funny and stupid customer quotes, and Quiet, Please, the same sort of kind-of-memoir only about a librarian.

Buy Waiter Rant

Friday, January 9, 2009

Review: Larklight by Philip Reeve

Larklight's full title is "Larklight, or The Revenge of the White Spiders! or To Saturn's Rings and Back!: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space," and that's exactly what it is.

Larklight takes place in an alternate England--I think it's Victorian, darn that terrible history professor--where the English want to conquer not other continents but other planets. Their scientists have discovered the secret to a chemical wedding that allows their ships to travel quickly from one to another. Larklight is the name of a house in space, occupied by Art and Myrtle Mumby, their father, and their robot servants. When a certain Mr. Webster comes to call, the children find themselves adrift in space to cope with aliens, space pirates, and a sinister plot threatening the whole of the solar system!

This is really more fantasy than sci-fi, but fans of either genre should find something to enjoy. It keeps up a feeling of offbeatness that other books aim for but don't always achieve. There are lovely weird ideas and a wonderful irreverence for practicality. The illustrations (all done by David Wyatt) are quirky, similar to those in The Edge Chronicles, and I really enjoyed how the text would occasionally reference them and make them part of the narrative.

The characters are fun, and although most of them are situated in traditional roles, Reeve has put in the work to make sure their actions aren't just stock responses. Art is my favorite, he's the funniest, and also the POV character. His older sister Myrtle is hilariously annoying though, and when the two are separated, Art provides journal entries from her secret diary to make up the difference.

I wasn't entirely pleased with the ending. It felt a little too planned, considering the tone of the book. Also, be prepared to discuss some religious issues with your preteen if you give it to them... for most of it the characters accept Victorian Christianity, then an alien creator is introduced, who then proceeds to proclaim a very vague concept of her own religion. I wished somebody would just pick one and stick with it.

This is the first book of a trilogy, the others being Starcross and Mothstorm, and I look forward to the other two tying up some unexplained points. There aren't a whole lot of similar books, which is great, but some I'd recommend are Fergus Crane by Paul Stewart and The Pirate's Mixed-Up Voyage by Margaret Mahy.

Buy Larklight

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: The Best

This week's BTT asks about my favorites from 2008. And to this I say: AAAH! I can't pick favorites, for one thing, and for another my reading journal only goes back to August. I had a list before that but there was a computer crash and it went bye-bye... that's why I keep it on paper now. Anyway. My best attempt, in no particular order:

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder (I'll review it sometime. It's awesome.)

Watchmen by Alan Moore (review here)

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy (review here)

Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston (review here) (Let me just note that I got the real, published hardback version for Christmas and it's gorgeous. I read the ARC. The real one has better fonts and is a great size and I'm absolutely in love with it.)

Gosh, that looks like a tiny list. It's just the best of the best, and just since August. Maybe I'll add to it when I remember the others...

Find more responses to Booking Through Thursday here.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This review is going to be in two parts. If the first part is satisfying to you, feel free to skip the second. :)

This is a great kids' book. Optimum age range is probably 10-12, but there's a lot of leeway. It does start out scary, and has one or two more scary sequences, but a kid who's into that funny-gothic thing that's going around now should love it. The writing is pretty simple, the characters are cute, and the ending is tied up neatly. Some similar books are A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, which has 13 books and would take up more time, and The Wednesday Tales, which is a work-in-progress with its third book coming out on the 27th.

Since that's most of the good things I have to say, we now embark into part two.

This book was really disappointing. All the experiences I've had with Gaiman and all the hype I saw for it really had me hoping for something special, and all I got was... lame. There were some interesting ideas, but nothing had me sit up and go "Ooh! That's new!" There seemed to be too much emphasis on "quirky worldbuilding" and not enough on plot. Most of the book is about Bod growing up in the graveyard, which, honestly, is boring as heck. The coming-of-age stories that exist already are like unto grains of sand on a seashore.

Then, after the plot picked up, I guessed all the twists, and that was annoying. On top of that, the ending was way too sweet and inspiring and it didn't go with the tone of the book at all. There was one character that I loved, Silas, and I especially loved the way he was sort of talked around in the narrative, but the book wasn't about him. If it HAD been, THEN I would have loved it.

This just really didn't do it for me because I was expecting something a lot better. If I'd just expected a cute kids' book it would have been great.

Buy The Graveyard Book