Saturday, September 29, 2012

Book Review: Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

Book: The Brides of Rollrock Island
Author: Margo Lanagan
Published: 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

On Rollrock Island, there are no girls, and the women are beautiful, eerie, sad creatures.There's a good reason for that, as they're not women at all, but selkies, stolen from the sea to be the wives of the Rollrock men.

It wasn't always like this. Once there were human women, and human girls too, on Rollrock. Then the witch Misskaella conjured the first sea-wife from a seal-skin, and gradually all the human women left in protest as their men took passive, mysterious selkie wives instead. But the selkie women are not happy on land, even though they submit to their human husbands and take joy in their half-human sons. Will anybody ever have the courage to break the chains that bind them?

This book furnishes a lot to think about. Clearly it's saying a lot to a feminist viewpoint. The men pick a seal almost at random, the witch produces a girl from it, and they give her a name, put clothes on her, and take her home. There's no element of choice, and very little acknowledgement that this might be an undesirable situation for anybody. Yet the men know their wives have no real ties to their land-life, because they lock away the seal-skins that would allow the selkies to return to the sea that is their real home. It's easy to demonize them.

On the other hand, they're ensnared by the promise of easy love and the illusion of owning something mysterious and otherworldly. A selkie imprints on the man who takes her from the sea, totally trusting and dependent. As hideous as this is for the women, you can see how beguiling it is for the  men. Human relationships are tricky, thorny things. How many of us would really (now be honest) turn down the promise of a spouse who loves and pledges to you at first sight?

Not to mention, this is a situation that feeds on itself like a snake eating its own tail. Girls born of the sea-wives can't survive on land, so they're given back to the sea (to be seals, not to drown, lest this be an even darker book). With the human women leaving in disgust and protest, this means that there is no option for a wife and family unless you turn to the witch and ask her for one. Within a generation, this becomes the way things are, and that's much harder to change than an individual outrage.

This is a book that doesn't really have one central character. You could rightly argue that the main character is the community of Potshead itself. It produced the scorned and spiteful Misskaella, who knows what she is doing to the community and keeps doing it anyway because it is her power and her revenge. Yet it also produces Daniel Mallett, the half-selkie boy who becomes aware of the monstrosity of the island tradition and vows to do something about it.

Like Lanagan's previous book, Tender Morsels, this book is full of complexities and terrible human emotions, and no easy answers anywhere. It won't be for everyone, but those who do pick it up and stick with it will find much to think about.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Book Review: Captain Nobody by Dean Pitchford

Book: Captain Nobody
Author: Dean Pitchford
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

Newton Newman (yes, really) is used to being overlooked. He’s got that nerdy name, after all, and it’s really hard to shine in the shadow of somebody like his older brother, football star Chris Newman. It’s okay; Newt’s used to it.

But then Chris gets knocked into a coma during the Big Game, and all of a sudden, Newt feels more helpless than ever before. A Halloween costume comes to his rescue. Captain Nobody isn’t helpless. Captain Nobody is brave. He does stuff, like foiling robberies, stopping traffic, and preventing suicides. But can even Captain Nobody help an idolized big brother in a coma?

Yep, this is a pretty implausible setup. What helped was that Captain Nobody’s bravery largely stems from Newton innocently wandering or tripping into situations that he doesn’t fully understand, but handles nonetheless. He’s one of those good, decent kids who find themselves in over their heads but gamely start swimming. I remain annoyed with the parents for not only keeping him away from the hospital, but largely ignoring him during the entire ordeal, even though he has questions and fears. I guess I can forgive them because if they had been even mildly attentive, most of the book wouldn’t have been possible.

Monday, September 17, 2012

2012 Cybils News!

I have been doing a secret happy dance for a week. Why, you ask?

Do you need a reason to do a happy dance?

Well, in this case, I actually had a reason, and that reason is because I got asked to be a Round 2 Judge for the YA category! I'm awfully excited about this. Can you tell?

I'll be judging with these other magnificent bloggers:
Maureen Eichner
By Singing Light
Adrianne Russell
The Writer's Republic
Michelle Castleman
The Hungry Readers
Jessica Silverstein
Reading on the F Train

Congrats to all the other judges and the other panels. It's always a fun time, working on the Cybils. 

Nomination period opens up, as always, on October 1 and run to the 15th of that month. Follow the Cybils blog for the latest!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Book Review: The City's Son by Tom Pollock

Book: The City's Son
Author: Tom Pollock
Published: September 8, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Beth Bradley loves London. She runs the streets of her city at night, spreading her artwork with her faithful best friend Pen. But there's another London underneath the one she knows, one where the statues and lightbulbs and the very rubbish of the streets are alive, and powerful.

One night after a terrible betrayal, Beth runs headlong into the magic of her city, in the form of a boy. Not just any boy, mind you. This is Filius Viae, the Son of the Streets, whose mother is the incarnation of the city itself. But the Goddess is lost and gone, and her mortal enemy, Reach, is gaining power.

Beth gets sucked into a power struggle between Filius and Reach. In the process, she discovers the beauty, and the danger, of the city she's always loved.

A lot of books claim to be urban fantasy, and really just mean "chick in leather fighting vampires." This is truly urban fantasy, where the city itself is as wild and weird a landscape as any that George R.R. Martin ever dreamed up. Is there anybody who's ever lived in a city and not believed that it was alive? Not just because of the people in it, but the city itself. Pollock has harnessed that instinctive fantasy, brought it to life, and thrown it into political turmoil as pitched and white-hot as any human war.

The reason I kept picking up my e-reader to finish this book was the atmosphere. Sure, there's a pulse-pounding plot, and yes, Beth is pretty awesome, and true, there's a compelling subplot about her best friend. But truly, it was Pollock's imagination at work, sucking me in. There's something downright magical in his descriptions of sentient lightbulb spirits made of glass, coldly efficient chemical beings, and statues that house living, unwillingly immortal souls.

Not only is every detail of the city imbued with its own animus, there are complex politics at work, making every character or group of creatures a wild card in Filius and Beth's struggle against Reach. For my part, I can't wait to see how everything plays out in the rest of this proposed trilogy.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Book Review:Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

Book: Unspoken
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Published: September 11, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Kami has an imaginary friend. Which is okay when you're four, a little weird when you're seven, and utterly crazeballs when you're sixteen. Unfortunately, Kami is sixteen. She's learned to keep her conversations with Jared on the inside of her head, but despite all sorts of good reasons, she's never been willing to banish him completely.

Then the Lynburn family returns to their brooding mansion on the hill, and the town of Sorry-in-the-Vale gives out a chorus of "DOOOOOOOOOOOM!" The Lynburns were once the feudal lords of the manor, and still have more money and land than any of you, and don't you forget it. But more than land or money, they seem to have some dark power over the town, one that nobody will explain to Kami. Then she meets the ne'er-do-well, juvenile-delinquent Lynburn, who may have killed his own father . . . whose name happens to be Jared.

Kami's imaginary friend is suddenly not so imaginary . . . and maybe not so much her friend.

So you know how when there's an author that you totally fangirl for their first series, and when they start a second one with all-new world and all-new characters and everything, you're a little, "Erp!" because you truly don't know whether it was the premise or the author you were fangirling? Lay down your fears, people, because it's official: I'm fangirling the author in this case.

And I'm fangirling the author for almost the exact same reason: her characters. Kami, of course, the fast-talking, whip-smart girl reporter, and Jared, the brooding, sarcastic, possibly-evil-maybe-not black sheep. Then there's Kami's dad (I particularly liked his deeply affectionate insults), her bone-lazy best friend Angela, her new sexpot gal pal Holly, all people that you'd willingly spend a lot of time with, just to hear the repartee. The "good cousin," Ash, the villains and the daaaark mystery were all pretty stock, but that's not really what I was there for.

One of the most interesting little side threads, and one I hope continues throughout the series, is the maybe-maybe-not sexual tension between Kami and Jared. Kami has firmly friend-zoned Jared, while he seems to have a passionate crush on her, and both of these feelings stem from the same source: their close mental link. They've shared everything with each other, since birth, until lines between them have blurred. How can you trust your feelings for somebody who's in your head? Brennan wraps this up with a devastating but weirdly satisfying choice at the end, and ensures that I'm slavering for the next book in the proposed trilogy.

Bouncing merrily between a BBC village soap, a Gothic psychodrama, a Nancy Drew mystery on steroids, and a Cary Grant flick (because Kami at her best was straight out of Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday), Unspoken was exactly what I was hoping for from the next Sarah Rees Brennan book.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Book Review: Every Day by David Levithan

Book: Every Day
Author: David Levithan
Published: August 28, 2012
Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Have you ever wished you could step into somebody else’s life? This is what A does, every day. Every morning, a new body, a new family, a new life. He could be a boy or a girl, tall or short, fat or thin, beautiful or ugly, black or white, popular or ignored. But none of these lives truly belong to him. He’s just passing through.

With no body or family of his own, he’s made an art form of not affecting other people’s lives. He tries to live the day he spends in their bodies as they would have lived them. He doesn’t take anything for himself, because he knows the life and relationships aren’t really his--just on loan.

Then he meets Rhiannon and falls in love. For the first time, A is willing to upend his hosts’ lives, just to be with her for a few hours. Then it’s not enough, and A wants to be with Rhiannon for longer. But is it even possible to build a relationship when one lover is a permanent guest?

This has been getting a lot of love, partly because it’s David Levithan, much beloved of the blogosphere. But it’s also because it’s a genuinely good book, a unique premise executed well. As he tells A's story, Levithan takes the chance to reflect on different topics of empathy, gender, and how your outside affects how the world reacts to you, and how you react to the world

A is in a unique position. Because he has been so many different things, carving out his own identity is largely a matter of his moral choices. He has no inborn characteristics that shape his personality. What makes him A is largely his determination to tread lightly on the world and on his hosts' lives. Unfortunately, this also means that all his actions and choices are dependent on what other people think or do--a feeling that many teens, attempting to fit a mold, will empathize with.

His relationship with Rhiannon is an interesting one. After hiding in someone else his whole life, he finally meets someone who seems to see the real A, and he doesn't want to let go of that. (Whether she really does is something you could argue about for awhile.) It comes in conflict with his first rule, but isn't that what everybody wants? For someone to see you? And of course, the first time he breaks his own rule, he puts himself in ongoing danger of discovery, as a host becomes aware that somebody else was controlling him for a day and starts to hunt him down.

Sweet and thought-provoking, this is a book that will linger in your mind. You'll look around at other people and wonder: What does it feel like from the inside?

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Reading Roundup: August 2012

By the Numbers
Teen: 18
Tween: 9
Children: 5

Review Copies: 11

Purchased: 2
Library: 14

Teen: Every Day by David Levithan
I'm hardly the only person to fall in love with this story. Review coming soon.
Tween: Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberberg
The comic illustrations may catch the eye of Wimpy Kid fans, but this story about a boy struggling to deal with his mother's death from a brain tumor offers more depth. Best part? How Milo's believable middle-school angst is woven through the grief. Life goes on.
Children: Bones: skeletons and how they work by Steve Jenkins
Okay, this was just plain neat. Jenkins' distinctive art style illustrates this first look at the framework of our bodies. My favorite part was the animal bones he adds, especially the chameleon's.

Because I Want To Awards
Goriest: Shadows by Ilsa J. Bick
I was awfully excited for this book, the sequel to Ashes. I still gobbled it up--fast-paced, dark, and with multiple tangled storylines as we watch the world fall apart--but with a slightly queasy stomach, because holy crap, the gore. Blood spattering everywhere. You're warned.
Would So Have Gotten a Slapped Face in Real Life: Beat the Band by Don Calame
The main character is a 15-year-old boy. He's horny, stupid, and impetuous, and darned if I didn't like him and his horny, stupid, impetuous best friends in spite of all that. Calame is awfully good at toeing that line.
Yippee Sequel!: Super by Matthew Cody
Back when I read the first book, I knew this MG superhero novel was begging for a sequel. Cody spins out the threads that were left dangling from Powerless, and again leaves it in a spot that seems to promise bigger and better things for our pubescent heroes.