Friday, September 19, 2008

Book Review: Alfred Kropp: The Thirteenth Skull

The Thirteenth Skull
Alfred Kropp: Book 3
by Rick Yancey

Having battled the agents of darkness over the sword Excalibur, and faced a horde of demons from Hell, Alfred Kropp has had enough. He just wants to live an ordinary life as an ordinary teenager. He asks OIPEP to "extract" him from his life and give him a new identity. But nothing goes according to plan, as Alfred is pursued by a madman bent on revenge and seeking a mythical "thirteenth skull," while rogue elements within OIPEP seek to use Alfred for their own purposes. Even his sworn guardian Samuel St. John, the former Operative Nine, seems to have secrets of his own. What can Alfred do when he doesn't know who to trust, and no where in the world seems safe?

As with the other books in the series, Rick Yancey wastes no time getting to the action. By the fourth page, things are already blowing up, and by the sixth page, Alfred is on the run. Yancey doesn't waste a lot of time with back story, and yet he expertly weaves in enough information that I think someone could read this book without having read the other two.

Alfred is still quite likable as an "everyman" character, but he's also changed: he's leaner, harder, more willing to do "the thing that needs be done." And yet, paradoxically, his innocence, compassion, and sense of justice have grown as well. The tension between "the thing that needs to be done" and "the thing that's right" sets up a conflict that forms the backbone of the story.

This book is just as exciting as the others in the series, with non-stop action mixed with occasional humor. Yet, it's also in some ways deeper and more sophisticated. The Thirteenth Skull can be read on two levels. Readers looking for an exciting adventure story will find that they don't come much more exciting than Alfred Kropp. At this level, it's a perfect book for reluctant readers. But those looking for a little bit more will find depth in the themes relating to sacrifice, forgiveness, and the human relationship to the divine.
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Monday, September 15, 2008

Ratha's Courage announcement

9780974560366-250.jpg When I was a kid, there was a razor commercial on TV where some famous guy (I assume he was famous from the context of the commercial, but I have no idea who he was) said that he liked the razor he was touting so much that he'd bought the company. I can't imagine being so passionate about a razor that you had to buy the company, but I reviewed an author that I like so much, that I acquired her latest work for my publishing company, Imaginator Press.

Back in April, I reviewed Ratha's Creature, by Clare Bell. Ratha's Creature is an intense young adult book about a young prehistoric female cat named Ratha who is exiled from her clan and must learn to survive. Ratha's Creature was first published in 1983, and won an IRA award, a Pen Center USA award, received a Booklist starred review, and was selected for the Best Books for Young People list. Ratha's Creature, along with the other three books in the Named series, were reprinted with stunning new covers last year by Firebird Books.

I loved Ratha's Creature and the Named series so much, that when I learned that the newest book in the series, Ratha's Courage, was available, I was excited at the opportunity, and reached an agreement with Clare Bell through her agent, Richard Curtis, to publish it. Many thanks to Spirithunter, a member of the Wands and Worlds teen community, for suggesting the idea.

Ratha's Courage will be published next month, and if any bloggers are interested in an ARC, please let me know. Author Clare Bell is also available for interviews. She's a fascinating person, who among other things installed her own solar and wind power systems at her house in Northern California. In researching Ratha's Courage, she built a skull model of Dinaelurus crassus, a miocene period cheetah-like cat, and another one similar to the first, but with an enlarged braincase to allow for greater intelligence, for a fictional species that she named Dinaelurus illumina sapiens. You can see these skull models and read more about the research and preparation for the book on the author's web site, Ratha's

See Ratha's Courage on

Buy local through IndieBound!
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Book Review: The Hunger Games

41siRDoeqWL._SL160_.jpgThe Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in the poorest area of District 12, which is in turn the poorest district of Panem. District 12 is an area that was known as Appalachia when Panem was North America, and its economy is based on coal mining. Katniss’ family fares a little better than many other families that live near her, because Katniss has learned to hunt, and she makes illegal forays outside the fence almost daily to hunt, trading any excess game for other supplies that her family needs. Even so, life in District 12 is brutally hard, and hunger is never far away.

But as hard as life is for the residents of District 12, the most brutal thing of all is the Hunger Games, which pits children from each district against each other in a fight to the death. As punishment for a long-ago uprising against the Capitol, each of the districts must send two tributes - a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 - each year to participate in this gladiator-like spectacle, in which the tributes spend several weeks trying to kill each other in a huge arena built to resemble a natural environment that could be anything from burning desert to frozen wasteland. Only one tribute can survive, and the games continue until all the tributes but one are dead. The last tribute alive is declared the winner, and receives honors and wealth.

The tributes are selected by lottery, and when Katniss’ 12-year-old sister Prim is selected, Katniss immediately volunteers to take her place. She has no choice, really, although she knows that it’s most likely a death sentence for her. Now, Katniss must learn to play the game in all its aspects better than anyone else. Can she survive? And, perhaps more difficult, can she kill the other children in order to save herself and win?

After seeing reviews of this book around the kidlitosphere, I knew I had to read it. I was a little nervous, because sometimes books that have been highly touted on many blogs turn out to be a disappointment. That wasn’t the case here. The Hunger Games was every bit as good as I had hoped, and maybe better. It turned out to be much more than I expected. It’s not just the “kill or be killed” excitement - although there’s plenty of that. There’s also a lot of depth, nuance, and character development. The Hunger Games, it turns out, aren’t just about the fight to the death. As with today’s reality TV shows, image is vitally important in helping to determine the winner, and the contestants are to some extent fictionalized characters, built up by the producers using sound bites to portray the side of each contestant that they want to show. So Katniss must learn not only the survival and martial skills necessary to survive, but how to project an image that will help her get sponsors. In short, she must learn to play the game.

The first person point of view and present tense bring a sense of immediacy to the story and puts the reader inside Katniss’ head at each moment of the games. Yet amazingly, Suzanne Collins is able, through Katniss’ observations, to convey to the reader information that Katniss herself hasn’t figured out yet. Sometimes the things that are right in front of us aren’t so obvious.

The Hunger Games is an outstanding young adult novel, with plenty of excitement, interesting characters, a touch of romance. and commentary on today’s society that manages to be relevant without being preachy.
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Where have I been?

If I have any blog readers left after my long hiatus, the three or four of you remaining are probably wondering where I've been. The truth is that my summer exploded, and I ended up working on some large projects that I hadn't anticipated. I've been working on setting up a charitable online auction for the Brightspirit Relief Fund, which I posted about earlier here. The auction web site is now up, and the auction itself starts this coming Saturday. We have a lot of exciting items, many of them kidlit related, from authors Rick Riordan, Erin Hunter, Brandon Mull, Jessica Day George, Sarah Beth Durst, Clare Bell, and more! View the auction site here. If anyone would like to donate items for the auction, it's not too late!

I've also been working on a new project with my publishing company, Imaginator Press. I'm very excited that I'm going to be publishing Ratha's Courage, Clare Bell's newest book in the Named series. I'm going to post more about this in a few minutes.

Finally, I'm working on setting up a database/intranet system for the Cybils, to make tracking the nominations easier and more accurate. In case you hadn't heard, the Cybils are gearing up to start the 2008 awards! They've been taking volunteers for panelists and judges, and the panels are scheduled to be announced this week on the Cybils blog. The Cybils will open for 2008 nominations on October 1!

I haven't stopped reading - I read some great books over the summer - but I posted very few reviews. I plan to start reviewing some of those great books, and I have one review ready to post in a few minutes.