Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Book Review: The Ask and The Answer

The Ask and the Answer
Chaos Walking, Book Two
by Patrick Ness

Warning: This review is slightly spoilerish to the first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, so if you haven't read that book, I recommend you stop now and read it first. I loved the first book, but qualified my review with a caution about the ending. Having read the second book, I can now give the series an unqualified recommendation. It's an outstanding series, and one with a lot of teen appeal. My only warning is that bad things happen, and this isn't a series for sensitive readers.

My Review of The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Ask and the Answer was an unexpected surprise. I knew it would be good - I think I hardly even breathed while reading The Knife of Never Letting Go - but I didn't expect it to go in the direction that it did. The Knife of Never Letting Go was one long, breathless flight, with Todd and Viola alternately running from and battling the forces from Prentisstown. The cliffhanger ending led you to believe that the second book would be more of the same. And while The Ask and the Answer picks up where The Knife of Never Letting Go left off, Ness turns everything upside down and forces you to question your assumptions and look at everything and everyone in a new light.

I don't want to say too much and ruin the book, but The Ask and the Answer finds Todd and Viola separated, and at times, on opposite sides. They are each, in their own way, doing what they can to stand up for what's right, but right and wrong aren't always clear, and it's hard to know who, or what, to believe.

The Ask and the Answer is a deep, powerful, and sometimes disturbing book, which asks such questions as, do the ends ever justify the means? And if one side is evil, does that make the opposition good? There are echoes of the Holocaust, particularly in the treatment of the Spackle. The Ask and the Answer is as breathlessly unputdownable as The Knife of Never Letting Go, but it's also a book that shakes you up and makes you think. It's a book that I think will have strong appeal to teens.

Guest Review by David

My 14-year-old son David also reviewed this book. Here is his review:

Oh, my gosh. Was it even possible for this book to top it's predecessor? Yup. If anything, this book is even more well written than The Knife of Never Letting Go, and that's saying a lot. The characters are all great, from the villains, to the heros, to those who just aren't sure what they are. And the plot? The plot is the best part. I don't want to give away too much, but it's almost impossible to put down The Ask and The Answer after you start. This book has quickly risen up my list of favorite books, along with The Knife. I've already reread them both twice, and I still can't get enough!


Whereas the first book ended leaving the reader with a feeling of defeat, this book, even though it has no less of a climactic ending, gives you a better feeling. More "Aaaaaaaah!" as opposed to "Noooooo!" if you will. If you enjoyed The Knife of Never Letting Go, there's no way you shouldn't read this book.

The Ask and the Answer is a 2009 Cybils Nominee

Disclosures: we received a review copy of The Ask and the Answer from the publisher at my request. The links above are Amazon.com affiliate links, and if you purchase the books (or anything else) through those links, we'll earn a very small percentage. None of these things influenced the reviews.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bartimaeus prequel in the works!

Terrific news, from Fantasy Book Review via Charlotte's Library: Jonathan Stroud is writing a prequel to the Bartimaeus Trilogy! According to Fantasy Book Review, "The new and fourth Bartimaeus book will follow Bartimaeus’s adventures during his 5,000 year career as a djinni." I'm a little unsure how that will work out, because it's tough to write a book that spans 5000 years but still has a narrative that holds together, unless it's going to be more like a series of short stories. But I loved the trilogy, and the snarky Bartimaeus was such a great character with a unique voice, so I'm holding out hope that this will be great.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Book Review: Sacred Scars

Sacred Scars
A Resurrection of Magic, Book 2
by Kathleen Duey

Warning: This review is slightly spoilerish to the fist book, Skin Hunger, so if you haven't read Skin Hunger, I recommend you stop now and read that book first.

My review of Skin Hunger

As with its predecessor, Skin Hunger, Sacred Scars tells two stories, separated by many years and yet linked together. Sadima is in hiding with Somiss, Franklin, and the boys; she does what she can to protect the boys and prepare for the day that she and Franklin can leave, and escape Somiss' cruelty forever. But she begins to suspect that day will never come; that Franklin will never be able to defy Somiss enough to leave.

Amidst the parallel cruelty of the Limori Academy, Hahp attempts to forge an alliance with the other students, in defiance of the restriction on helping each other. But alliance is nearly impossible when communication is forbidden, loyalties are uncertain, and even reality difficult to ascertain.

In Sacred Scars, we begin to see more and more the connections between Sadima's story and Hahp's story. I suspect that in the third book, we'll find out that these stories are connected in ways even deeper than we realized. Kathleen Duey's attention to detail is amazing! The smallest things are vested with meaning: names, chairs, and even cheeses.

This is a powerful book, and a dark one. In one chapter, I felt physically ill at what happened to one character, and had to stop reading for a short break to pull myself together. Sometimes I wondered how Duey could bear to write about the things that happen to some of her characters. And yet, there is hope and love and friendship, at least for brief respites.

Although Duey has set up an apparent good-evil dichotomy, with magic on the evil side of the split, she simultaneously raises the question whether it's really that black and white. If Sadima has an inborn magical talent that's as natural as breathing to her, how can all magic be evil?

Sacred Scars is an intense, readable and fascinating book that surpasses its predecessor. I'm looking forward to reading the third book.

Disclosures: I purchased a copy of Sacred Scars after being unable to obtain a review copy. The links above are Amazon.com affiliate links, and I earn a few cents on copies of the books purchased through these links. Neither of these things influenced my review.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cybils Award 2009

For anyone who doesn't know, the 2009 Cybils awards are now open for nominations. Anyone can nominate their favorite children's or young adult book first published between October 16, 2008, and October 15, 2009 for this award, given by the children's literature bloggers to honor the best children's and YA books of the year. Books published in English anywhere in the world are eligible.

Nominations close at 11:59 pm PDT on October 15, so you only have a few days left to nominate. First read this post then read this one, then you can go to our handy-dandy nomination form here. (Which, if you don't mind a quick brag, I'm proud to say that I set up).

Most of the books that I was considering nominating have already been nominated. There are still a few, though, that I've read this year that I think are nomination-worthy. These are a few good books that I'd like to see on the list.

The Midnight Charter by David Whitley

The Book of Dreams by O.R. Melling

The Softwire: Wormhole Pirates on Orbis 3 by P. J. Haarsma

Moribito II: Guardian Of The Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi

If you're trying to decide what to nominate, maybe this will remind you of some good ones, if you've read any of these and also think they're worth a nomination. I'm still holding on to my nomination until the last minute to see what else gets nominated!

See the current list of Fantasy/Science Fiction nominations

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Pablo Defendini interview

There is a fascinating interview on Bibliophile Stalker, with Tor.com producer Pablo Defendini, about his role at Tor.com and the goals of the site, his background, and his love of speculative fiction. I love this quote:

As far as the appeal of SF for me, personally, it’s all about exploring the possibilities of the human race, of our—and other—civilizations. It’s very much about the sense of wonder, the exploration of the ideas of today within the worlds of tomorrow, the building of fantastic worlds that—who knows—could maybe come to pass one day.

Read the entire interview here.

I heard Defendini speak as part of the 7x20x21 panel at BEA and enjoyed his talk quite a bit. You can watch it here.