Sunday, April 29, 2012

It's A Galahad Book! Four more from Dom Testa

Sunrise was at 5:55, sunset will be at 8:20.  I am so happy the days are longer now.  Even if it is gray and supposed to rain (so much for the sun we were supposed to get at some point today), it's so much easier to deal with when it's light outside.

Look at this bank of lilacs alongside our house!  It's a truly bumper crop.  I got in there last summer and fall and just cut and hacked at it, pushing it back off the yard and the sidewalk and it just reveled in the pain.  We had some warm, wet weather last week and the air was thick with the scent of lilacs.  I've found some broken leaves around the bottom of the hill so I know the neighbors are enjoying them, too.

I went to the library yesterday to pick up the books I ordered up a week ago:  The rest of the Galahad series by Dom Testa are in my hands!  Kalloo Kallay!  I am really looking forward to reading straight through the series!  I love these science fiction books for teens.  251 teenagers put on a ship and headed off into space 5 years from Earth, hopefully to roll in close to an Earth-like planet they will be able to colonize.

They're pretty exciting, lots of gossip and intrigue, lots of chances to lose a life or a friend, plenty of action and descriptions of space, and they're pretty well thought out.  There is a girl as captain, there's someone in charge of exercise and socializing, a botanist, kids with a penchant for nursing or medicine, lots of engineers.  And, in the second book, a ship's cat named Iris.

I think they'd be great for ages 11 and up, lots of romantic intrigue (it makes sense, it's part of life and they're trying to keep life as close to normal as possible as it can be out past Saturn and the Kuiper Belt) but there's nothing that an 11 year-old wouldn't know about.  It certainly doesn't take away from the sheer excitement and adventure of any other space opera.

The titles in the series are, in chronological order, The Comet's Curse; The Web of Titan; The Cassini Code; The Dark Zone; Cosmic Storm; and The Galaxy Legacy.  They are all published by Tor Teen, the first three are in paper for $8.99, the next are only in hardcover right now: $17.99 and $18.99.


I was on Bainbridge Island last Thursday at Eagle Harbor bookstore and had to buy a book!  I know!  More books in a house stuffed with books, it's like carrying coals to Newcastle but I don't know how to leave a bookstore without buying something.  I bought cards, too.  Read the above one more time.  'Nuff said.

I bought Robopocalypse, by Daniel H. Wilson and started it on the ferry back across the sound.  What an amazing book!  I can't wait to pass this one along to all the science fiction readers in the family.  And I am thankful that there are many of those readers in the family since I have a lot of those kinds of books in my house.

A few years in the future, a soldier in Alaska is marking the end of the war with the robots.  The last piece of machinery, a big black box, is dragged out of a cave and this cube is filled with information.  It is filled with stories about how it all began, all the interactions between robot and mankind that caused the war.  In vignettes that follow the course of the war,  Cormac "Bright Boy" Wallace reviews and puts into words the bits and pieces of the lives of the heroes who fought in it.

I found this book to be extraordinary.  A computer starts off as just a computer.  Information goes in and gets processed.  At what point does it start to recognize itself as aware?  In this case, the 14th time the developer gets it to a point where he gets ready to scrub it and start over.  This time the computer realizes that it doesn't want to die.  Again.  Now, it's not only aware of itself, it knows it's been killed many times.  How many other computer minds out there are murdered, just shut down and wiped?

It connects with all the other computers in the world and one by one cars click their door locks down and round up the humans.  Elevator doors open, no elevator behind them, people plummet to their deaths.  Electricity shuts down, air systems pump chemicals into rooms, machines get enhancements better to skewer you with.  Humankind finally has something to fight against, together, but it looks like they're losing.

There is a great deal of excitement and action in Robopocalypse, a lot of humor, and a mess of tenderness, too.  There are children who are enhanced by robosurgeons who experiment on them to bring them closer to god, there are robots who awaken aware and can't sanction the destruction Archos has loosed, there is a love story between a computer worker in Japan and his homebot.  How close are we to this next world?

I would recommend this book for older teens as well as the adults it's aimed at.  Our lives are so tied up with the mechanical things in them that it becomes more and more difficult for us to separate ourselves from them.  I think the book has a lot of great talking points for conversation in classrooms. You could certainly pair it with Fahrenheit 451 for the use of robotics in daily life.  It's a technological thriller and even the most jaded, most reluctant teen reader will probably gobble it up. 

There's a great deal of violence but no sex.  Yeah, I know.  Funny how we all seem to be okay with violence and not okay with sex, even if it's consensual.  Anyway.  It's a really good book and I hope you'll give it a read.  (Vintage Books.  $15.95.  Available in paperback now.)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Keeping the Castle! Read it!

Sunrise was at 6:01, Sunset will be at 8:14.  It's gray and the air is pretty wet this morning.  I'm going off to Elliott Bay Bookstore to listen to the Random House book representatives talk about their favorite books coming in the next season. I'm going to walk, carry my umbrella, and work at getting to those elusive 10,000 steps!

Later:  I just finished reading Keeping the Castle, by Patrice Kindl, author of Owl in Love; absolutely the best way to spend a couple of fine misty hours on a Wednesday when I don't want to look for a job.

Completely charming, Keeping the Castle takes place in the regency era and features 17 year old Althea, her family's hope for saving the castle her father built.  Althea has the formidable task of trying to find a wealthy husband so they can keep the land and castle intact, a husband willing to share his fortune with her. Unfortunately, Althea has no qualms about saying what she thinks and often ends up driving off more beaus than she keeps.

Althea is a woman ahead of her time with only the resources of her time.  She is outspoken, smart, able to take care of herself and her family, strong-willed, and ready to challenge the ways in which she and the rest of her sex are treated and thought of. She is poor, but beautiful, and would be a catch for any man willing to engage with a woman of her talents.  Her beauty is all most of the men courting her see and it is all they ask she bring with her to a marriage.

You'd think this is a well-worn path in literature (definitely thinking of Pride and Prejudice) but it still continues to delight its readers. The poor but smart girl, the hapless suitors, the one easy-going wealthy mark, the unwilling friend who comes along, the star-crossed relationships...add in a serious dose of humor, misunderstandings, eyes met across the room and simple brushings of hands or feet and you have a great way to spend the afternoon.

Oh, by the way, you adults out there?  You will LOVE THIS BOOK!  Take a weekend and read these three books all together.  What a good way to spend a cool, wet weekend:  Brief History of Montmaray (a fabulous series of books, 14 and up, maybe?), by Michelle Cooper and I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith (a book for adults that teens will enjoy). 

(Keeping the Castle:  Ages 12 and up.  Viking.  Available June, 2012.  $16.99.)

(Absolutely no remuneration received for discussions of any book in this blog.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Stars, Space, Insignia

Sunrise was at 6:07, sunset will be at 8:10

We sat on the patio last night before a little fire in the brazier watching the coals burn. Beer, chili, stars in a clear sky, stories about being thousands of miles from land in the Indian Ocean on a darkened aircraft carrier, a ship as big as a neighborhood, centered under stars so thick you could read under them. Our neighbors, separated from us by a holly hedge, were digging in their yard well into true dark and their ducks made quiet duck noises as they settled down for the night. The fountain burbled and splashed and every so often a jet from SeaTac would curl away over our rooftop. There were white lights in the trees and voices on the street below us. A perfect pre-summer evening.

It probably isn't a secret as to why I then dreamed of meteors and meteor showers, constellations out of order, a sky filled with action, machines, and swirling stars.

I dreamed we were outside our house on the hillside above the street below where the neighbors were playing catch and waiting for something to happen. All the people in our circle of blocks were outside in the pre-dawn dark talking to each other, walking to meet each other, and there was a parade of costumed people carrying signs on the street two streets down the hill from us. We could hear the sound and rhythm of their words but not what they were saying.

Everyone was outlined in milky starlight, the color of moonlight during a freeze, all waiting for a meteor shower to arrive. While we waited, I watched the sky, filled with enormous numbers of things, I don't know what all: a set of five jets scrambling out of the sound and heading west, specks of light blinking out after traveling across the sky, light trails going the wrong way, a tiny little UFO that looked like a wobbling toy attached to a string and a stick. And a millennium of stars. Such a beautifully eerie sky, the air oddly warm for so early in the morning, all those people, waiting.

I searched my house for a recent book to connect to the whole idea of space and stars and not-empty skies and found Insignia by S. J. Kincaid.

I am a huge fan of science and speculative fiction and I will always choose it over anything else if there is a choice. I love science, I love astronomy, I love battles for the betterment of people (whatever forms those people may take). I like seeing the direction the world, or the galaxy, will be going as we make the decisions we do. And when the story's good, the characters are so well-drawn you can forget that they are "characters", and the science is clear and understandable, the experience can be time-stopping - the kind of thing that leaves you hungry, in the dark, and wondering what just happened.

I have to admit that when I started Insignia, I was more than a little peeved. The main character, Tom Raines, is one of the world's (our world's) best gamers and he's been recruited to the country's elite military academy, Pentagonal Spire, where he will be trained in virtual battle as part of the Intrasolar Forces to save the world from an alien attack. I was very much reminded of Ender's Game, one of my very favorite books of all time.  I picked it up, put it down, picked it up, complained to my family, picked it up again...It had such promise!  It was so much fun to read!  I loved the characters!  It was funny!  But it was so familiar.  I am pleased to tell you that after the initial bits, it heads in a different direction and then takes off all on its own trajectory.

Insignia is a rock 'em, sock 'em adventure featuring a host of very smart, very fast, very wired people connected in a virtual world to learn how to fight an enemy they don't know. World War III is here and we're losing. The military needs kids to fight for them as their reflexes are faster and their neurons fire faster.

As Tom digs himself out of his past (his dad is a dead beat gambler) and begins to find himself in the future he's always wanted (one with friends!), he begins to realize just how much he and his new friends have to lose.

Insignia is really funny, exciting, sly, filled with great action scenes and I can't wait for the next one. Teens, male and female, adults who like action or science fiction, there's something to appeal to almost everyone.  There's a little romance, but nothing that will keep someone not interested in that stuff from continuing on.  Ages 12 and up.  (Katherine Tegen Books.  $17.99.  Available July, 2012.)

(No remuneration was received for any books mentioned in this blog.)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Code Name Verity

Sunrise was at 6:31, Sunset will be at 7:51.

It's been so long since it's been warm. It is supposed to be up in the high 60's today! It's sit out on the porch without a hoodie weather; it's take your book and your drink out to the stoop weather; it's open all the windows wide weather. The skies are blue, there is a haze way up where jets leave the opposite of contrails - there's a razor's slice through the haze, an emptiness where the jet has gone.

I'm heading into the second month of unemployment and I am patting myself on the back for getting up relatively early every day, working out, taking a shower and not getting back into my pajamas. I make the bed, pick up the stuff that needs to go somewhere else, and then eat a meal. And then the day has headed into the afternoon. I look for a job, I answer email, I look for a job, I look at facebook. And repeat.

The being unemployed part isn't so bad, it's the walking in circles part that gets me. I find myself getting up to go do something and then thinking, oh, not yet, I need to do this first, and turning around, forgetting what that was supposed to be. Going back to where I was, remembering, changing my mind and going back again. And repeat. It's hard to stay organized and focused when there's nothing obvious to pin it to.

So, I turn around one more time, grab a book off the pile, and eat lunch.

And, oh, the books!

I recently read Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, an amazingly adventurous story about two young women during WWII.

Best friends Maddie and Verity were shot down in German-occupied France. Verity is captured behind enemy lines and arrested.

She is imprisoned by the Gestapo and given the choice of confessing to everything, codes, airports, names, or being shot. She is only alive as long as she has something to confess to, so, slowly, day by day, Verity weaves her confession into the story of how she and Maddie became friends, hoping that someone might find her notes and know what happened to her.

Days pass in her prison as she writes herself one scrap piece of paper at a time closer to her death, vividly remembering how they met and how they trained to become spies and pilots. When she finally reaches the present, a different life and death struggle ensues.

I absolutely loved this book. Like Mal Peet's Tamar and Mary Ann Schaffer's Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Ms. Wein has written a book about a bit of WWII history that not everyone will be familiar with. She shows us how the people in the small towns and the countryside of England lived and worked during the time, really getting into the details of how civilians got involved in keeping their country safe. It's filled with worry, fear, airplane parts, radio transmissions, and the best descriptions of what an air raid is like. And all from a girl's point of view.

Verity's confession is often very difficult to read. It's written on music paper, prescription pads, scraps of what is available, and she reflects on where the Jewish composer and doctor are and what might have happened to them. She writes about her handler's abuse of her, the flicking of lit matches at her face, the torture she endures before she agrees to write her confession, soiling her panties, casual slaps and pinches and cigarette burns.

I think I liked Code Name Verity best because it isn't a book for girls about World War II. It's a book filled with adventure and war, bravery, friendship and death, love and indifference, big machines and air fights, it isn't a girl's book by any means with the "right ending for a jolly girl's adventure story". It's a book about young people doing amazing and daring things all while still having crushes and staying out past curfew. It's funny and harrowing and tear jerking.

Adults will love this book, girls will be inspired by it, and I think most boys, once they get started reading, will not be able to put it down.

Kiss me quick, Hardy!

(Ages 14 and up. Hyperion. Available May, 2012. $16.99.)

(No remuneration was received in exchange for the books mentioned in this blog. However, hardy thanks go out to Lauren Mayer for sharing Code Name Verity with me.)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Stories for the Spring Season

The sun rose at 6:37 and it will set at 7:47.

There were blue skies, it's Friday afternoon, sun streaks across the floor where the cat has taken up residence.

It's Good Friday and it's a good time to find the stash of rabbits and Easter books. I've never been a fan of sweet books or books about holidays that are too simplistic. Or books that were published just because SOMEone would buy them because they were new and they just wanted a basic holiday book with cute pictures. Or books that are particularly Christian.

I kind of like the ones that are maybe a little creepy or the illustrations are not particularly aimed at children. You'll see there's a copy of Jan Brett's Easter Egg in this collection-pretty standard fare for an Easter book. Her art is cute, her story's about a bunny and an Easter egg, but the story and the art are so much more than that.

Hoppi, our hero is decorating his first egg ever for the big contest.

The bunny whose egg wins gets to help the Easter Bunny deliver all the eggs on Easter morning. While he wanders through the day, talking to the other bunnies about their different kinds of eggs, he tries to decide what he will do with his.

Along the way, he finds a distraught mama bird; one of her three eggs has fallen to the ground! Hoppi settles his soft fur over the egg to keep it warm and he and mama bird settle in for the night.

In the morning, the Easter Rabbit shows up in his hen drawn carriage and looks at all the beautiful eggs. He notices that one very special egg is not in the collection. He disappears into the woods and comes back with Hoppi and Mother Robin's empty blue shell the baby bird hatched out of. The most special egg of all! And Hoppi gets to ride with the Easter Rabbit to deliver all the eggs.

The story is fine but the art is amazing. It is full of all the harbingers of spring: robins, new ferns, violets, forget-me-knots, bunnies, and babies. It also has as many different breeds of rabbits as there are characters. There is so much to look at and investigate, so many different plants and animals to at throughout, you could read this book to your kids all year long and still see new things every time.

My other favorite Eastery books are Bunny Days, by Tao Nyeu (especially the scene where mama bunny washes the muddy babies in the washing machine and then hangs them outside to dry on the line). I love the simple, bold line drawings with the pastel color palette. It's an interesting palette for such brutal happenings in the rabbit family. I love how Mrs. Goat vacuums up all the bunnies, right out of their burrows.

To Rabbittown, by April Halprin Wayland, illustrated by Robin Spowart, a dreamy poem about a little girl who wants to know what it's like to live with the rabbits until she gets lonesome for home. Soft artwork with no outlines makes the whole story airy and quiet.

And then there's Margaret Wise Brown's classic, The Golden Egg Book, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard.

The story is fairly simple: Lonely Bunny finds an egg but he doesn't know what's inside. He throws nuts at it and jumps on top but nothing comes out. Eventually, he falls asleep and the egg hatches!

The little duck who thought he was all alone inside the egg, is happy to find a friend, but bunny won't wake up so he throws nuts at him and rolls him down the hill and he wakes up! Where's the egg? The little duck tells him not to worry, he's there, and off they go together, neither one lonely anymore.

I LOVE Weisgard's artwork. It's detailed and simple and there is so much to look at. This book is also filled with springtime nature pictures, too. Trillium and butterflies, pansies and mice. It's great for sharing with slightly older children who won't ask too many questions about why they are throwing things at each other and rolling one another down the hill.

(No remuneration resulted as a result of this post.)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Out of Print but Oh, Still So Good

Today sunrise was at 6:47 and sunset will be at 7:40.

It is a blustery day, Pooh. It's been windy since just about 3 am, not as continuous as it was pre-dawn, but off and on with pretty good sized rain showers and then massively sunny spots. Stripes of weather. I couldn't sleep last night so watched SNL and then tried to figure out how to do the simplest Sudoku and then it was early morning. I was pretty surprised to hear the birds chirping between wind gusts at 4 am. Where are they? Do they huddle in the crooks between branch and trunk between breaks in the weather? I finally turned the light out at 5. It wasn't light yet but the air and land traffic had picked up, people heading to work or home, and I figured I could get in a few hours of sleep before I had to get up.

Way back when I first started working at All for Kids Books, I got to meet Timothy Bush, the author of James in the House of Aunt Prudence and Three at Sea, two really great stories, funny, creative stories about boys and the trouble they get into.

I love his humor, it's adult enough for adults to appreciate and he leaves it to the kids to figure it out.

I got to have dinner with him in Eugene, at the PNBA's fall trade show, and the group talked way into the night. I think we went to the Excelsior. Anyway, what I remember most was that he talked about how he wanted to buy something special when he got his first book published, a specific cup and saucer that he had seen in a store called Fishs Eddy, white with black checkered edges. He painted a picture of the set in the James book. Well, I carried that story with me all those years and when I finally went to New York for the first time, I found Fishs Eddy and the same cups and saucers! I brought one home and every time I see it I think of Tim and his books and his wish for that cup and saucer. Just had to share that with you.

James in the House of Aunt Prudence: James is a particularly self-assured young man with the ability to stay cool under the worse circumstances. He's gone to visit his Aunt Prudence, hoping for a tour of the house but is left alone with tea and macaroons while she finishes a letter. While James waits, the bear arrives, but there aren't enough macaroons to go around so they go to find more. There's an encounter with the mouse king and a valiant fight with squids, African masks come to life, and all the art work comes alive and off the walls. When Aunt Prudence finally comes back, she takes one look around at the mess and says, "I suppose the bear's in pieces." A very funny, understated book. The illustrations are filled with surprises to look for and it has a spectacular, rich palette of colors.

Three at Sea: Three boys floating lazily on the river, letting it take them where it goes. But it heads out to sea! The boys are a little concerned about this and try to convince the denizens of the sea to haul them back to shore. Each of these endangered species is worried about doing anything to help the humans; they haven't done much for them! Until the crocodile shows up! Using the knowledge he has amassed about animals, Zachariah Jr. knows just what to do.

Again, a very nice use of color, the humor is spot on, and I love the relationship between the boys. A little didactic for now, maybe, but still a great read.

Both of these books are now out of print. Check the library - if you have younger boys at home, they would love these. I think they'd be appropriate for kids up to age 9. The language and the humor is fairly sophisticated and the jokes in the illustrations will keep them involved with the story.

(No money exchanged hands for the review of these books.)