Friday, February 26, 2010

Not Your Little Sister's Purple and Pink Unicorn

Rampant, by Diana Peterfreund: flesh-eating, killer unicorns; virginal maiden warriors; lots of weapons, blood, romance, and cloisters.

Boy, I'm sorry I didn't read this a long, long time ago but the cover on my advance reading copy was just so horrible I couldn't bring myself to pick it up! Almost embarrassing to be seen with. Very much a cover that would be right at home on the grown-up romance shelves.

But a book I wish now was twice as long, and it is already a long book, a couple pages shy of 400. I picked it up at lunch yesterday and thought, "Yay! There is so much left to go!" I haven't felt that way about a book in a long time.

Okay, Rampant is about a girl named Astrid who is descended from the the Llewellyns, one of a number of tribes of warrior girls who rid the ancient world of the evils that are unicorns; nasty things, five different species from the tiny goat-sized zhi to the elephant-sized kakardann. All of which have pointy poisonous horns and slobbering fangs in their mouths. And, they are all willing to kill and eat the maiden hunters who are trained to track and kill the unicorns.

And they're back! It is 2010, Astrid is 16 years-old, the daughter of a woman who has been studying the Llewellyn's past and is convinced that unicorns were real and that Astrid's life may well end up a part of that history.

Astrid and her boyfriend are making out on a blanket outside in the woods when, just as he makes his move and then asks who she's saving it for, her skin starts to crawl and a rabid goat breaks out of the dark, goring first the boyfriend and then bowing down to Astrid. Astrid calls her mom first (her mom has a magic jar of something on the counter that might help) and then 911.

The contents of the jar are an ancient remedy that Lilith, Astrid's mom, received from the man who was Astrid's father and it helps to keep the boyfriend from bleeding to death, closing up the wounds that unicorn poison keep open.

Well, it turns out that unicorns are re-emerging from supposed extinction all over the world, and there is a call-out for virgin girls from the ancient lines of unicorn hunters to come to the Italian convent that was once home to Order of the Lioness (I think that's the correct name- can't find the reference now) to be trained to make the unicorns extinct again.

Rampant is filled with art and mythology, battles, good kissing, Alexander the Great references, Diana the Huntress stories....It's really good and I'm pretty sure there are story lines in here that don't have bows on top - can we hope for a sequel?

And, I must say that the finished copy of the book has a MUCH better cover!

Rampant would be a great read for 13 and up (for up-front sexual references and alcohol use). HarperCollins. 17.99. Available now. READ THIS BOOK!

MJ (Mary Jane Beaufrand, author of The River and Primavera): Thank you so much for raving about this book to me from the very beginning! If it weren't for you and your other great rec's, this book might well have languished at the bottom of the pile.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Life as a Book, by Janet Tashjian

I have really big furniture and it is one of the joys of my life to get in my chair and swing my legs up over the arm and sit in the sun and read. Or, as my husband says, "read" with quote fingers. It's true, I often use the reading thing as a gateway to napping, but, sometimes the book is worth not napping for. I finished My Life as a Book during the slow slide of the new spring sun across the southern sky. It was good. And then I weeded.

Wimpy Kid fans will really enjoy Derek's story about being a regular boy, not a particularly confident reader, always involved in a major project or two, and looking forward to a summer filled with water balloons, his friends and his dog. The last thing he thinks a summer should have is a summer reading list and a summer Learning Camp.

Derek likes to read but he tends to really enjoy things like Calvin and Hobbes and Garfield. He would probably enjoy other books, too, but he doesn't think it fair that people (let's say teachers and parents, mostly) get to muddle in something as private as reading choice.

Derek gets really good at figuring out ways to do anything to avoid opening up any of the books he has to get through before September. While he is in the attic hiding from his mom and her book he finds a newspaper article that turns his summer into an adventure he never expected.

This news story involves a mystery about him, a girl he doesn't know, and a trip across the country. While he tries to figure out how this story ends, he realizes that stories are everywhere! Everybody has one! All of his friends and people he doesn't even know have stories to tell and they must be heard to have meaning! Along the way he discovers that stories come and are told in all kinds of different ways from panels of art to the internet.

And, because he has found something of personal interest to him, he spends an inordinate (for him) amount of time reading.

His triumphant return to school in September with all of these summer stories in hand prove that being literate doesn't always have to be via the printed, bound, word.

I think that this quick, fairly short, big-fonted, wide-margined, illustrated book could be a pretty important one for a lot of people who think that literacy and being literate in the world only happens when you read "real" books.

In all my years as a bookseller, I have found that parents are usually pretty relieved when we suggest something other than a book of fiction for their reluctant reader. Captain Underpants, Baby Mouse, flip books, Wimpy Kid, non-fiction Eyewitness books, these are all books that let a not-so-confident reader feel more powerful in their abilities.

Many readers who are "reluctant" in their choice of book often can't see the story while they are reading; they have to concentrate so hard on reading each word and digesting the combination of words for meaning that by the time they are done with a sentence, not to mention what happens when they get to the end of a paragraph or a chapter, they have absolutely no idea what they've read.

Reading is a skill and it needs a lot of practice to do it efficiently and easily. Like any other skill, some people are made for it, some have to work at it.

Eventually, most people are able to read with ease. Although, think about what you choose to read when you're tired and can't concentrate- I read Calvin and Hobbes (a stack sits right under the bed), kid's science fiction, very commercially written adult mysteries. They are clear and the sentence structure is simple and I don't have to work at keeping the ideas straight in my head.

Yeah, well, anyway- My Life as a Book, by Janet Tashjian, cartoons by Jake Tashjian (he illustrates vocabulary words- great teacher idea!), to be published by Henry Holt in July of 2010, is a good story. There is mystery, humor, and personal discovery, all good things for a book that will appeal to boys in particular, and especially boys of a particular age.
It is a beautiful spring morning, on its way to the high 50's temperature-wise. The birds are loud and bouncy and the weeds are calling me. It's Friday, the first day of my weekend and I am having chips and salsa for breakfast, reading My Life as a Book, by Janet Tashjian, while I wait for the dishwasher fixers.

The black-capped chickadees and a squirrel are hunting for seeds and peanuts across the fence at Steve's window and I should move a feeder out in front of the window I've moved my new computer to.

Ooh, they're here! and we are so excited about having a dishwasher! The noises coming out of the kitchen are alarming and make me just a little nervous. They had to turn off the main breakers - oh, hey- is my computer now working via battery? - and a path wasn't really cleared to the back of the garage. Too much crap!

They are making bad noises about our old garbage disposal, obviously a cheap knock-off in comparison to the one they are now installing. Okay, I just heard one of them say, "Well, if all else fails, cut it off." Hmmm. I'm sure they've done this a lot but it is only my first time - They are making horrible comments about what's inside the disposal (which also hasn't worked since the dishwasher died and I never thought about what was lodged in the bottom of it. Can I just say, "Yuck"?).

The cat came down to investigate and she is like most cats: only interested in climbing through the open doors and cabinets and why someone is sitting next to her food. I got her back up in the bedroom, I am such a sneaky mom, by moving a chair in front of the window into full sun, and putting a wash cloth on the chair so she thinks she has to sit on it. Good thing she is so easily lured by a craftily designed sun spot.

Anyhoo. It sounds like they are working on the dishwasher now. I think. I didn't realize how small out kitchen was until two fairly large men were sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the sink and the dishwasher.

It's pretty exciting- I love watching people do their jobs. It would be cool to just drive around with different people who do stuff I don't know how to do and yet use or work with all the time. I got to watch the plumber (unfortunately) and he was great about explaining what all the tools were, where the plumbing and pipes actually enter the street, and how he got into that line of business.

Okay, they just said, "Oh, that's good, it looks like we've got room." For what? Was there any doubt that things weren't going to fit?

They just ran the disposal and it works!

I need to go and look in the kitchen again, and then I need to sit down in a warm spot and read more about Derek the reluctant reader and his horrible summer reading list. It's good, really funny so far, and anyone who likes the Wimpy Kid books will like this one, too. Derek really does like to read, especially comics like Calvin and Hobbes since he draws, and would like it even more if people would realize that forcing a kid to do something as private as reading is just wrong.

(My Life as a Book is written for kids ages 7-12 and will be published in July 2010 by Henry Holt and Company.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's Tuesday morning, mid-February. The sky is blue, it is going to be sunny (at some point), and the daphne at the front door exudes a pink citrus-y scent. I haven't posted to this blog since November. It's been a long, fairly rough winter and I feel as if we are finally coming out of hibernation. I missed the Solstice! I so wanted to notice it and it passed me right by!

I am reading Lori Lansens' new book, The Wife's Tale, and just spent the last hour standing in the kitchen, standing at the sink, turning page after page, hoping to finish before I have to go to work. Nothing like a book that grabs you up and holds you captive until you get to that last page- my feet are cold and I find myself shifting from foot to foot waiting for the heat to rise up out of the vent. I'm not reading every word but I have to find out how it ends. I hope it happens the way I want it to! Although that might change depending on Mary, the main character, and how her personal story morphs.

Mary is a fat woman, unhappy because of it, sure things would be better all the way around if she weren't. While she waits for her very late, trim, handsome husband to come home from work, on the eve of their 25th anniversary, her thoughts about why he isn't home yet throw her into oddly poignant memories of their lives together.

Over the course of the night she becomes certain that he has left her and over the next few days she finds out that he has won a lottery and deposited the money in her account. He needs some time alone and has left her for now, promising that he will be back.

For the first time she has to take control of her life, figure out how to use a cell phone, an ATM card (to retrieve the money he won in a lottery), negotiate with other people, and eventually try to track him down by leaving Canada and traveling across the continent, meeting new people, dealing with family from her past, and accepting that she has something to offer.

It was a very good book. The characters are well developed, details fully rooting them in the storyline, each passing person having an impact on Mary, changing the course of her journey. The adventure Mary was on, a simple trip to California, is much more complex when you realize how brave she had to be to just start it. She had to do things she's never had to do before like book a flight, deal with the government, accept that she can be loved for who she is; she had to meet and deal with people she thought would be disgusted by her and her weight; accept their help when offered, and to offer help when it was needed. The hardest and bravest thing she had to do was to realize that she has as much worth as everyone else, everyone needs forgiveness, and the things you love are worth rescuing.

Yep. It was good. Hopeful. I'm glad it ended the way it did.

(This was a book for grown-ups. Lori Lansens' last book was The Girls. The Wife's Tale is published by Little Brown and was provided as an advanced reading copy.)