Tuesday, December 30, 2008
by Kathi Appelt
A lonely calico cat, pregnant and abandoned by her owner in the bayous of East Texas, befriends an abused hound dog named Ranger whom she finds chained outside a rundown shack. Ranger belongs to the owner of the shack, a cruel man known as Gar Face, who shoots anything that moves, and who has chained Ranger permanently in a twenty-foot circle after a hunting accident left him lame.
Ranger warns the calico cat to beware of Gar Face, but in their loneliness, the two can't bear to part. The cat moves under the shack, where she can stay with Ranger but be out of sight of Gar Face. There, she has her kittens, and the cat and the hound dog raise them together as a family. The kittens grow up in the Underneath, with the one strict rule that they must never leave the Underneath. But kittens are kittens, and it's only a matter of time before one ventures out.
Meanwhile, an ancient creature, who has been trapped under the bayou for a thousand years, struggles to deal with a thousand-year-old pain that still feels fresh. And Gar Face sets his sights on trapping the granddaddy of alligators, a beast so large that it will finally earn Gar Face the respect that he craves.
I don't often engage in Newbery predictions, mainly because the type of books I usually read tend not to be the kind of books favored by the Newbery committee. But as soon as I started reading The Underneath, I felt that here was a Newbery-worthy book. The writing is exceptional; the story, moving and poignant. I won't be surprised if it turns up as a Newbery medal or honor book next month.
There are really multiple stories here. The story of Ranger and the cats is intertwined with Gar Face's story, past and present, and a thousand-year-old love story involving shapeshifters and the now-vanished Caddo tribe, former inhabitants of the forest. Kathy Appelt masterfully brings these diverse threads together in a poignant story of love and loss courage and redemption. The writing is poetic and vivid, creating a strong sense of place in the dark forest and bayous; the setting is so vividly described it's almost a character.
As much as I loved this book, I think that some young readers may have trouble with it. It's not a very fast-paced book; there is suspense and conflict, but it builds slowly. And the alternating stories, which jump between characters and time periods, may confuse some readers. Good readers who love good writing and moving stories will enjoy it, and I think that many other readers who might not pick it up on their own can also enjoy it in the context of classroom reading, with support from a teacher.
It's also a dark book, at times; bad things happen, and there is loss and sadness. Some children may find it too much, but others will love it for its poignancy. And in spite of the sadness, it's ultimately an uplifting book.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
For example, eggs have been, at various times, chicken eggs, poultry eggs, avian eggs, or ovoid eggs, depending on the initial letter (this last one is a little redundant, since the definition of ovoid is "egg shaped.") Milk has gone by such names as cow's milk, lowfat milk, one percent milk, bottles of milk, and, my personal favorite, bovine liquid. It makes for some interesting situations when one person is standing in the grocery store trying to figure out what an item that someone else added to the list is supposed to be.
As with many such traditions, there are rules, but the rules are simple: no manipulating the first item on the list to get the letter you want, and no repeating a modifier. For example, if you've used "bottle of dish detergent," you can't then use "bottle of cranberry juice."
Some letters are easier than others. We've discovered that 'C' is a pretty good letter; besides all the wonderful foods that start with 'C' (cheese, Cheerios, chicken, etc) there are lots of good adjectives and some useful container words, such as can or case. 'D' is a surprisingly hard letter, as we discovered when our recent holiday shopping list ended up starting with a 'D', and we had items on our list such as drops of chocolate (chocolate chips), dough flour: white, dairy sticks (butter), diamond-like crystals of sweetness (sugar), deciduous tree fruit pie (frozen apple pie), and dead chicken in shells (eggs).
For those of us who are writers or editors, in one way or another, words are our tools and anything we can do to sharpen the tools helps us. Wordplay such as this is a great way to increase our vocabulary and build our skills at using words in new and unusual ways. Many times we've had to consult a dictionary or thesaurus to come up with appropriate words, and creativity plays a big component as well. But more than anything, it's just a fun and silly tradition that we enjoy doing together as a family.
Friday, December 26, 2008
You can follow the Cybils on their web site. All updates, including announcements of finalists and winners, will be posted there. Even better, add the blog to your blog reader and get the updates automatically.
While we're waiting, I thought I'd post my picks for finalists in the SFF category. Keep in mind that I am NOT on the committee this year, and I have no idea what books they're moving towards for finalists. I'll be as surprised as anyone else. But these are the books that I'd be voting for, if I were on the committee.
In looking at the nominees in the SFF middle/elementary category, I discovered that I haven't read enough of them to be able to pick a shortlist. This surprised me a bit, because for the first part of the year, before I knew I wouldn't be able to be on the committee, I made a real effort to read as many books that I thought might be nominated as possible. But I must have been reading older, because I have read a number of the teen books, although no where near as many as I would have if I'd actually been on the committee. (You can go through a lot of books in two months of concentrated reading).
I'm not even going to attempt to choose a shortlist in the middle/elementary category, but here are the books that I'd like to see as finalists in the teen category:
Disclaimer: Let me be clear up front that I'm not unbiased about this book, because I published it. However, if I didn't love it, I wouldn't have published it, and I still think it's one of the best books of the year. Ratha's Courage is the reason that I couldn't serve on the SFF committee; it would have been a conflict of interest.
The Hunger Games
Children from conquered provinces are forced to compete in a reality TV-esque fight to the death. Read my review
In the Company of Whispers
This is an amazing, unique, and genre-bending book. A frightening and poignant love story set in a dystopian society is complemented with old photographs, letters, and mementos from Burma. Read my review
An exciting story about a teenager using technology to resist the Department of Homeland Security in a techno-thriller set in a near future close enough to our present to be frightening. Read my review
Lonely Werewolf Girl
A wild, humorous, and outrageous story of two hapless and naive humans who are caught up in a battle for succession in the werewolf royal family. This was the book I nominated in the SFF category. I actually never reviewed it, but you can Read some of my thoughts about it here.
I just finished this book and loved it. After a tsunami wipes out an entire island nation, two young people try to find a way to survive and to make sense of the tragedy, and, as other refugees start trickling in, to rebuild civilization. It's hilarious and poignant and incredibly profound. Read my review.
by Terry Pratchett
Mau is returning home from his manhood test when the wave comes. All the boys from the Nation, an island culture, must spend a month alone on the Boys' Island when they reach the age of adulthood, and they have to find a way to return to Nation on their own. When Mau left the Boys' Island in his canoe, he left his boy soul behind; he would receive his man soul in a coming of age ceremony as soon as he returned to Nation. But before he reaches home, a volcanic eruption triggers a tsunami; Mau barely survives, and he returns home to find out that the entire Nation was wiped out. He's lost his boy soul, but never has the chance to get his man soul. Mau is a boy without a soul, and a man without a nation.
Mau isn't alone, though. An English ship crashed on the island in the wave, and the only survivor of the ship is an English girl named Ermintrude, who takes the name Daphne. Ermintrude is from a noble family, and hasn't been taught any skills useful for surviving on a tropical island, but she's a very determined and intelligent young lady, and it doesn't take her long to adapt. Together, the two young people try to find a way to survive and to make sense of the tragedy, and as other refugees start trickling in, to rebuild civilization.
Nation is an incredible book, easily one of the best books of the year. It's hilarious and poignant and incredibly profound. It's a great story of the meeting of two cultures, and the aftermath of a disaster, but it's so much more than that, too. It explores those unanswerable questions that humans have been asking for as long as we've been around: Are there gods, and if so, why do they let tragedies happen? Why do some people die and not others? What makes us human, and what makes a nation? Can science and belief co-exist? It's also a book that explores and challenges many preconceptions.
The characters are wonderfully rich and deep, and often more than they appear at first. Mau, the boy who has no soul, becomes the soul of the Nation, and they in turn become his soul. He's always questioning, and challenging the gods. But he loves his Nation, both the original Nation and the new Nation that he helps to build, and takes personal responsibility for the well-being of the people who depend on him. Daphne appears at first to be the helpless European girl, but it soon becomes apparent that she's anything but helpless. In spite of her training that to do anything useful is unladylike, she's incredibly intelligent and resourceful. She adapts well to life in the Nation and becomes a leader in her own way. The shipwreck really saves her, as it allows her to grow in ways she never would have been able to grow in England, or even in the island English colony where she was headed to join her father.
Beyond Daphne and Mau, there is a delightful cast of supporting characters, from Pilu, with his golden tongue, to Mrs. Gurgle, an older woman with no teeth who needs her food chewed for her, and who is more than she appears. Even the island and the creatures on it are characters; I especially loved the grandfather birds, and their arch-enemy, the parrot who survived the shipwreck.
There's so much to love about Nation, and I think that adults and teens will love it. But it will have special appeal to those teens who always seem to be asking the difficult questions, and seeking answers about life. Nation doesn't provide any answers, but it does give a lot of food for thought.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Princess of the Midnight Ball
by Jessica Day George
Returning from the war, a young soldier named Galen meets an old woman who asks for help. After Galen shares his meager food with her, she gives him gifts: a cloak that renders the wearer invisible, and two balls of wool: one white and one black. Galen has been a soldier his entire life, having grown up on the front, but now that the war is over he's headed to Bruch, the capital city of Westfalin, in hope of finding work with his mother's family.
In Bruch, Galen becomes an under-gardener in the palace. Galen soon learns that all is not well with the royal family: something is going on with the King's twelve daughters. They don't appear well, and every night their dancing slippers are worn out, in spite of being locked into their rooms. After a chance encounter with the oldest princess, Rose, Galen is determined to try to do something to help. But what can a lowly gardener possibly do against the supernatural forces threatening the princesses?
Princess of the Midnight Ball is a lovely retelling of the fairy tale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Jessica Day George doesn't break much new ground here - it follows the original fairy tale pretty closely - but she fills in the details nicely, making for an enjoyable read. Princess of the Midnight Ball is peopled with some interesting characters, most notably, the knitting soldier/gardener Galen. Day George explains in an afterword that far from being women's work, knitting used to be the exclusive province of men. In a fun twist, Day George also provides the knitting patterns for two of the items Galen makes in the story. I also liked that, rather than idly waiting to be rescued, the princesses did what they could to contribute to saving themselves.
With twelve princesses, creating distinct characters for each one is a difficult task, and I had trouble keeping them all straight. A few of the princesses stood out in my mind, but many of them blended together. Day George did an admirable job of giving them each individual personalities given the number of princesses and the short length of the book; I think the only way to really solve this problem would be to reduce the number of princesses, as Juliet Marillier did with Wildwood Dancing.
Overall, Princess of the Midnight Ball is a fun read that will be enjoyed by fans of fairy tale retellings.
Princess of the Midnight Ball will be released January 20, 2009.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
The Knife of Never Letting Go
Chaos Walking: Book One
by Patrick Ness
Todd Hewitt lives in Prentisstown, a town of men and boys. There are no women in Prentisstown, because they all died, along with many of the men, from a virus released as a biological agent in the war between the colonists and the natives of the New World, known to the colonists as "Spacks." The same virus made it so that all the surviving men can hear each others thoughts, a constant barrage that they call Noise. Todd is the last boy in Prentisstown; all the others have become men, and with no women, there will be no more children. In one month, Todd will officially be a man as well.
But then Todd finds something unexpected in the swamp; something that will turn his world upside down. Everything he knows, or thinks he knows, is wrong, and soon Todd is on the run, pursued by the Prentisstown authorities. The world is far different than what he was led to believe, but is there anyplace in it where he can be safe?
I'm still trying to decide if I loved this book or hated it. First, you need to know that Bad Things Happen in this book. That's not necessarily a bad thing; it does provide a fair bit of dramatic tension. But if you are a person who doesn't like sad books, you may not want to read this one.
Overall, I loved the book. It's well-written, engaging, exciting, and the characters are very well developed. Even Todd's dog Manchee turns out to be quite an interesting character, in spite of Todd's assertion on the first page that "...dogs don't got nothing much to say."
I love the way Ness shows the Noise, as a mess of overlapping words of different sizes and shapes. It really conveys what it must be like to hear every thought that bounces through everyone's mind. I also loved the idea that in spite of hearing every thought, deception and outright lies are not only possible, they're common. Noise lies. The thoughts that go through our heads aren't always true, and with so much noise, it's easy to hide things in the commotion.
I read this book pretty much straight through without stopping. I kept wanting to slow down so that I could better appreciate the excellent writing, but the story was so exciting that it drove me along at a fast pace. I told myself that I'd go back and reread it when I finished, to savor the writing. But - when I finished the book I was so angry that I didn't feel like going back to reread it anymore.
I don't want to say too much, because I don't want to spoil the book for you. But I can't fully express my opinion without saying something about the ending. I'm not going to say very much, but if you don't want to know anything, you should stop reading now.
The book ends on a cliffhanger, which isn't uncommon for the first book in a series. But what made me angry is that what happens right before the end, and the way things seem to be headed, negates the whole theme of the book. Hope is such a strong theme throughout the book; even when you have no reason to hope, you have to go on because of hope. But, the way things seem in the end, it appears that all that hope was wasted. There is no reason to hope after all. It made the book pretty much of a downer. Laini Taylor called it a "punch in the stomach," and I think that's a good description.
I've decided to reserve judgment until the second book. Maybe things will turn out differently than they appear at the end. Maybe there is hope after all. But for right now, if you don't like reading books that leave you feeling a little down, you might want to wait on this one until book 2 comes out.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
A Dribble Of Ink
Adventures in Reading
The Agony Column
The Book Swede
Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews
Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
Dusk Before the Dawn
Enter the Octopus
The Galaxy Express
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Fantasy Book Critic
Fantasy and Sci-fi Lovin' Blog
Jumpdrives and Cantrips
OF Blog of the Fallen
The Old Bat's Belfry
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
Realms of Speculative Fiction
Rob's Blog o' Stuff
Severian's Fantastic Worlds
SFF World's Book Reviews
Sporadic Book Reviews
The Road Not Taken
Urban Fantasy Land
Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic
Walker of Worlds
Wands and Worlds
WJ Fantasy Reviews
The World in a Satin Bag
Edit: Just updated the list to pick up all the new blogs added to the list. To see the most updated version, go to Grasping for the Wind.
Monday, December 01, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
The City in the Lake
by Rachel Neumeier
Timou is the daughter of the mage Kapoen, growing up in a small, remote village. Timou never knew her mother; Kapoen brought her from the city as a baby with no explanation. Unlike her father and the other villagers, Timou is fair and pale, with light hair and pale eyes.
Under Kapoen's tutelage, Timou is learning to be a mage, to find the stillness which is the heart of magecraft. But when Timou is around Jonas, a young man recently moved to the village, she has difficulty finding the stillness, because of the confusion he causes in her heart.
Far from the village, past the great forest, is the City. The City is the heart of the kingdom, and the King is the heart of the City. But the King's younger son and heir has disappeared, taking the heart of the City with him. In Timou's village, the effect of the disappearance is felt when babies, both animal and human, start to be stillborn. Kapoen sets off to the City to try to help, warning Timou not to follow him no matter what happens. But when Kapoen doesn't come back, Timou ignores his warning and sets off to find her father.
The City in the Lake is an immensely satisfying book heavy with myth, metaphor, and symbol. It's beautifully written book with a fairy-tale feel but more depth than a fairy tale. It draws on myth and folklore for some of the imagery and elements, yet it's a wholly original tale.
This isn't a book that all teens will appreciate. I know teens that will love it, but I also know teens that will find the long symbolic passages of wandering through the forest to be boring. This is a book for teens (and adults) who love rich language, good writing, and depth of plot and characterization, but who don't need action around every turn. There is excitement, and suspense, and conflict, but it's not a fast-paced book.
It was also a pleasure to read a book that is complete in itself; so many of the books that I've read lately leave plot threads unresolved to set up for a sequel.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn
by Alison Goodman
Twelve energy dragons protect the land, each dragon linked to a human Dragoneye, who channels the dragon's power in exchange for giving his hua, or life energy, to the dragon. The twelve dragons represent the twelve points on the compass and the twelve animals of the zodiac. Every year, one of the twelve dragons becomes the ascendant dragon. On New Years Day, twelve boys are presented to the newly ascendant dragon as candidates; the one chosen by the dragon becomes the new Dragoneye apprentice.
Eon is unusual among the candidates. Permanently crippled from a hip injury, he would normally not be eligible to be a candidate. But Eon can see the dragons - all of them - an exceedingly rare ability. Eon is unusual for another reason: Eon is really Eona, a girl. Girls are considered inferior, and not eligible to be Dragoneye candidates. If anyone were to find out that Eon is really a girl, it would mean death for her and her master, the man who discovered her and who is sponsoring her in her candidacy.
But there's more at stake then Eon's own future, as she soon finds herself caught up in court intrigue and power struggles for control of the empire.
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn is an original and fascinating fantasy which includes elements of several Asian cultures, although not based directly on any one specific culture. Gender identity is a key theme of the book, as the idea of what makes one male or female is explored throughout the book. Although the idea of a girl disguised as a boy is an old one, it's handled well and not always in the expected ways. So effective is Eon's deception that, even knowing that she's female, I'm struggling with whether to use the male or female pronoun in writing this review. There is also a Contraire, a woman in the body of a man, who is revered in her own land but reviled in this one, and only tolerated because she is a guest of the Emperor. There are also many eunuchs, some with male characteristics and some with female characteristics, and herbs that can temporarily alter the Sun (male) or Moon (female) energy in a person.
I found some of the key plot points to be predictable, but it didn't diminish my enjoyment of this well-written fantasy. Rather, I was so wrapped up in the story that I found myself shouting at Eon when I could see things that she hadn't figured out yet. There are many fascinating characters; in addition to Eon, I especially liked Lady Dela, the Contraire, Ryko, her eunuch guard, and Chart, a crippled boy living at Eon's master's house, and who is her friend.
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn is a richly detailed fantasy that will appeal to anyone who loves stories of exotic lands, court intrigue, interesting characters, power struggles, secrets, and personal heroism. It's the first book of duology; although the story is wrapped up in a satisfying way, there are some plot elements left unresolved.
As one would expect from a book that deals so extensively with gender, there are some mature elements (starting with the question of what is a eunuch.)
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn will be published on December 26, 2008.
Friday, November 21, 2008
- Leila interviewed Kathleen Duey, author of Skin Hunger. I read Skin Hunger last year for the Cybils, and loved it, but hated the cliffhanger ending. So I was thrilled to read that the sequel, Sacred Scars, is at the copy editor, although we still have to wait until August, 2009 to read it.
Read the interview here.
- Colleen Mondor interviewed Martin Millar, author of The Good Fairies of New York, which I reviewed here, and Lonely Werewolf Girl, which I never posted a review of, but loved so much that I nominated it for the Cybils, so I was excited to see that a sequel to it is in the works also! Although I never formally reviewed Lonely Werewolf Girl, I did post some thoughts about it in the Wands and Worlds community.
Read the interview here.
- Betsy Bird interviewed Louis Sachar, author of Holes on Fuse #8.
Read the interview here.
- Colleen Mondor also interviewed Ellen Datlow, editor of numerous fantastic short story anthologies. I don't read a lot of short fiction, but I did enjoy her anthology, The Faery Reel.
Read the interview here.
- Little Willow interviewed Lisa Ann Sandell, author of several books including the verse novel, Song of the Sparrow, a beautiful reimagining of the story of Elaine, the Lady of Shalott, who supposedly died of a broken heart because of Lancelot. I reviewed Song of the Sparrow last year here.
Read the interview here.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
You can customize the widget to select the colors and which category or categories you want to display. Mine displays only the fantasy and science fiction nominees (both age groups) but you can display all nominees for all categories, if you want. I've added one to the sidebar - see it over there on the right (you might have to scroll down a bit). To get your own, click on the "get this widget" link in the widget itself, or click here to go to Jacketflap and get one
by David and Ruth Ellwand
The Mystery of the Fool & the Vanisher is a fascinating and slightly creepy little story, told in the format of a journal-within-a-journal and illustrated with exquisite photographs. In the first journal, photographer David Ellwand follows a strange light through the woods to an old, dilapidated house, where he finds a locked chest. When he is able to get the chest open, he discovers that the chest contains some mysterious items, as well as what turns out to be wax phonograph recordings. The recordings tell the story of another photographer named Isaac Wilde, who in 1889 is commissioned as the official photographer on an archaelogical dig into an old hill fort believed to be inhabited by the faerie folk. What Isaac Wilde discovers at the site, and his attempts to photograph it, put him in conflict with the leader of the dig, and lead him, and Ellwand after him, into trouble.
I enjoyed The Mystery of the Fool & the Vanisher and found it an interesting, although quick, read. The photographs are beautiful, and worth going back and spending some time with after the first read. Some of them are pictures of natural settings, others are still life pictures of the "found items" and meticulously constructed out of natural objects. I studied photography as a teen, and had thoughts of being a professional photographer, so the photographs were definitely the highlight of this book for me. My favorite was a dramatic, sepia-toned photograph of the dilapidated house with clouds behind it.
Although I enjoyed the book, I'm not quite sure whether kids and teens would enjoy it or not, and who the audience may be. It may be too simplistic a story for the fiction readers, but too fictional for the non-fiction readers. I think it's most likely to find a home among kids who enjoy the "ology" books, because it has the same kind of "fiction as non-fiction" approach, although it lacks those books' interactivity. It also may appeal to visually-oriented young people and those with an artistic nature. This may be a book to put out in a library display and let kids be drawn in by the eerie cover and the beautiful photographs.
Friday, November 14, 2008
written by Heather Tomlinson
Battle of the Labyrinth
written by Rick Riordan
written by Marissa Doyle
written by Parker Blue
Book of Names
written by D. Barkley Briggs
NavPress Publishing Group
Charm for a Unicorn
written by Jennifer Macaire
City in the Lake
written by Rachel Neumeier
Random House Children's Books
written by Juliet Marillier
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Dead and the Gone
written by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Dead Is the New Black
written by Marlene Perez
written by Charles de Lint
Dragon Heir, The
written by Cinda Williams Chima
written by Claudia Gray
written by Jenny Davidson
written by Marva Dasef
Sam's Dot Publishing
Ghosts of Kerfol
written by Deborah Noyes
Humming of Numbers
written by Joni Sensel
In the Company of Whispers
written by Sally Lowenstein
Lion Stone Books
written by Melissa Marr
written by Kelly Parra
Knife of Never Letting Go
written by Patrick Ness
Lament:The Faerie Queen's Deception
written by Maggie Stiefvater
Last of the High Kings, The
written by Kate Thompson
written by Tom Becker
Magician: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel
written by Michael Scott
Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
Masks Rise of Heroes
written by Haydon Thorne
written by Tamora Pierce
written by Marilee Brothers
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
written by Nahoko Uehashi
Must Love Black
written by Kelly McClymer
Simon & Schuster
written by Terry Pratchett
written by A. M. Jenkins
Night World No. 1 : Secret Vampire/Daughters of Darkness/Spellbinder
Simon & Schuster
Reviewed by: tcr |
written by Esther Friesner
Random House Children's Books
written by William Nicholson
written by Philip Womack
written by Obert Skye
Posse of Princesses
written by Sherwood Smith
Ranger's Apprentice: The Battle for Skandia
written by John Flanagan
written by Sally Gardner
written by Gemma Malley
written by Catherine Fisher
Hodder Children's Books
Secret of Bailey's Chase
written by Marlis Day
Secrets of the Survivors
written by Mark L. Eastburn
written by Clare Dunkle
Simon & Schuster
written by Kenneth Oppel
Harper Collins Canada
written by Malcolm Walker
Walker Books Australia
Stowaway: Stone of Tymora, Book I
written by R.A. Salvatore
and Geno Salvatore
Stranger to Command
written by Sherwood Smith
written by Zoe Marriott
written by Margo Lanagan
Random House Children's Books
Tim, Defender of the Earth
written by Sam Enthoven
written by Eoin Colfer
Treason in Eswy
written by K. V. Johansen
Twelve Kingdoms, Volume 2: Sea of Wind
written by Fuyumi Ono
Two Pearls of Wisdom
written by Alison Goodman
Untamed: A House of Night Novel
written by PC Cast
and Kristin Cast
St. Martin's Griffin
written by Alma Alexander
written by John Scalzi
written by Brian James
Feiwel & Friends