Posts tagged ‘450-499 pages’

Seraphina

SeraphinaTitle: Seraphina
Author: Rachel Hartman
Narrator: Mandy Williams with Justine Eyre
ISBN: 9780307968920 (audiobook), 9780375866562 (hardcover)
Pages: 465 pages
CDs/Discs: 11 CDs, 13.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, Random House Children’s Books, c2012.
Publication Date: July 10, 2012

“We find your security inadequate, Captain Kiggs. This is the third attack in three weeks, and the second where a saar was injured.”
“An attack you set up shouldn’t count. You know this is atypical. People are on edge. General Comonot arrives in ten days–”
“Precisely why you need to do a better job,” she said coolly.
“–and Prince Rufus was just murdered in a suspiciously draconian manner.”
“There’s no evidence that a dragon did it,” she said.
“His head is missing!” The prince gestured vehemently toward his own head, his clenched teeth and windblown hair lending a mad ferocity to the pose.
Eskar raised an eyebrow. “No human could have accomplished such a thing?” (25-26)

Forty years after a treaty was drafted and agreed upon, relationships between the dragon and human populations are strained at best. When the human Prince Rufus is murdered in a draconian manner, all eyes turn to the dragons. Dragons, who can assume the physical appearance of humans in order to interact with them, are being taunted, attacked, and held under suspicion. With the treaty anniversary approaching and official dignitaries from both sides meeting, Seraphina is kept busy as the newly hired music assistant. But her close, long-time friendship with a dragon puts her in a unique position to understand their analytical, emotionally detached way of thinking, and Seraphina quickly finds herself aiding Captain/Prince Kiggs in his investigation. They’d better act fast though, as the dragons and humans are meeting soon, and there may be a murderer in their midst with plans for more mayhem.

What can I say about this book that hasn’t been said already? I’ve tried really hard to avoid all the praise that has been heaped on this debut novel, but it’s almost unavoidable. Even the cover is stamped with praise from such big names as Christopher Paolini, Tamora Pierce, and Alison Goodman. I truly fell in love with this book, and the audio was excellent from start to finish. Yes, the dragons might be the stereotypical unemotional beings, but Hartman does manage to add depth to the dragon characters’ rationality, even though feelings are treated like the plague for their kind. If I remember correctly, I compared the story to someone as if Star Trek Vulcans could fly and were plopped down in Renaissance court, something of a Spock meets Shakespeare.

The language is beautiful, the setting has depth and breath and, since Seraphina is a music teacher, sights and sounds come alive. Hartman has created a world with social and cultural background, from a full pantheon of diety-like saints and court etiquette to navigating political turmoil and espionage. Mandy Williams does an excellent job with her voices and has the inflection spot on, in turn emphasizing the emotion of the humans and the reserved nature of the dragons. I really appreciated the choice to have Justine Eyre contribute (I won’t say in what way) because it clearly separated those two narrators and indicated the shift to readers. I have to feel sympathetic towards Kiggs because you know by the end of the book he has some of this figured out and he’s just trying really hard to ignore the obvious inconsistencies of Seraphina’s personality. What a personality Seraphina has though, it’s no wonder she makes friends so easily. She’s very likable in her naive sort of way, which aids her in convincingly lying when necessary to aid her in treading that fine line between navigating and mediating for the two distinct worlds. She’s got a quick mind that is showcased throughout the book, something we don’t really see in strong female protagonists very often who are usually too busy trying to save their own skin or getting involved in some sort of love triangle. Seraphina does both at some point throughout the story, but it’s not the whiz-bang action but more a thinker novel. If you’ve seen the newest version of True Grit, I view her as very comparable to Mattie Ross (the little girl) in regards to her wits, intuition, and tenacity.

There were two things that I do have to complain about though. At the very end with the scene between Kiggs and Seraphina, I kind of wish that had gone differently, just because they have an amazing friendship that is built over their mutual collaboration and admiration for each other. Seraphina’s humanity and her struggle to find her place in the world really ring true, with the author exploring some topics that some teenage girls are faced with in terms of self-acceptance. The other thing that fell flat for me was Seraphina’s “mental imaginings” (what would you call them without giving them away) until you figured out what they actually were. Then they just struck me as massively convenient. As in “REALLY? You just did that because you’d backed yourself into a corner and needed somewhere to go with this, so you added this stuff to make it work.” I think the story would have been much more interesting and Seraphina much more relatable if she didn’t have this mental block hanging over her head and she didn’t have all these clues to fall back on. Isn’t one distinguishing aspect of her enough, now she’s a freak of nature? I hope this makes sense to people who have read the book.

Both of those things played a very small role in the book, and while I think they’ll later have a larger impact on my appreciation of the series, it should by no means detract from anyone’s enjoyment of this book. I’d heard good things about this book, but the real reason I finally made an effort to snag a copy was that it was named a finalist for the Morris Award, YALSA’s award for a work of young adult fiction by a debut author. YALSA’s blog The Hub has issued a challenge to readers everywhere to finish the finalists before the award is announced next week. Go check out the Hub’s interview with Rachel Hartman that they just recently posted, along with information about the challenge itself. It’s also a Cybils finalist for the Teen Science Fiction and Fantasy category. At least take a look at this book before the sequel, titled Drachomachia, is released this fall.

Behemoth

Title: Behemoth
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Illustrator: Keith Thompson
Narrator: Alan Cumming
ISBN: 9781442334106
Pages: 485 pages
Dics/CDs: 8 CDS, 9.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Simon Pulse, c2011. (Audio: Taped Editions)

His words faded as a metal groan filled the air, the world tilting beneath them. Deryn’s dress boots skidded sideways on the silk carpet, and everyone went stumbling toward the howdah’s starboard side. The railing caught Deryn at stomach level, and her body pitched halfway over before she righted herself.
She stared down–the foreleg pilot below had toppled from his perch, and lay sprawled in a circle of protesters. They looked as surprised as the pilot did, and were bending down to offer help.
Why had the man fallen from his saddle?
As the machine stumbled to a halt, something flickered in the corner of Deryn’s vision. A lasso flew up from the crowd and landed around the shoulders of the rear-leg pilot, then he, too, was yanked from his seat. A man in a blue uniform was scrambling up the front leg.
“We’re being boarded!” (115)

In this sequel to Leviathan and predecessor to Goliath, Deryn (still assuming the identity of a boy on the airship Leviathan) and his crew have arrived to Istanbul to deliver Dr. Barlow’s mysterious packages. On the way there, Alek and his guard are involved in a misunderstanding that portrays them as treasonous. It doesn’t help when war is officially called against Austria-Hungary, and Alek is forced to flee certain imprisonment. Both Deryn and Alek find themselves enlisting the help of an American reporter there to cover the war, but can they really trust a man whose goal is to publish the secrets that he uncovers? As resistance against Istanbul’s government increases, Deryn and Alek might have gotten in over their heads.

I couldn’t believe that it had been over a year since I had read Leviathan! The plot just stays with you so strongly, I was able to pick up right where the story left off like I had read it yesterday. Just as fast paced as the first one, Scot Westerfeld keeps the action high with attacks on whale ships, mechanical vehicles that remind me of Star Wars ATAT and ATST walkers (even if they are described as resembling animals), and the characters themselves. We see Deryn engage in some unique hand-to-hand combat as well as some destructive espionage and spy maneuvers. The politics are described extremely well, although they still might prove confusing to some readers. The only quibble I have is that the genetically modified animals appear less unique to me in this book, with quite a few displaying mimicry skills. However, this could easily be accounted for as a skill that is most desired during war-time.

I listened to the audiobook this time, and Alan Cummings did an amazing narration job. But I found myself craving Thompson’s drawings and requesting the print copy just to better visualize what was being described. Once again, Thompson’s drawings bring everything to life and allow readers a glimpse into this fantastical world that Westerfeld has created. Either listening or reading the book, the one supplements the other and you get an amazing experience no matter which method you prefer.

I had this book on the public desk beside me just waiting to be checked in, and one 13-year-old immediately turned it around and was flipping through the pages. When I told him it was the second one but we had the first one in, off he happily trotted, leaving a very satisfied camper who was excited to start the series. I hope he is every bit as involved in it as I am, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the third one. But, alas, I do have to wait a few more days until it’s returned by the current borrower. A fine middle novel with a satisfying ending but an ending that also sets the scene for a much-anticipated sequel, which is already available. Recommend this genre bending book to advanced readers who aren’t quite ready for the guts, gore, or romance of the older teen materials.

The Undertakers

Title: The Undertakers: Rise of the Corpses
Author: Ty Drago
ISBN: 9781402247859
Pages: 465 pages
Publisher/Date: Sourcebooks, Inc., c2011.

Pratt was the neighborhood grouch. Somewhere in his seventies, he lived alone, kept to himself, and got pissed off more often and with less reason than anyone I’d ever met.
“I’m talking to you, Ritter!”
I tried to speak–I really did–but no sound came out. When you turn around expecting to see something familiar–not particularly pleasant but familiar–and instead see something else altogether, it takes a little while for your brain to catch up with your eyes. Some people might call it shock. I call it the holy crap factor.
Ernie Pratt was dead–very dead–which didn’t make much sense because as far as I knew, dead men didn’t get pissed.
He was wearing what he usually wore in the mornings: a white terry-cloth robe and slippers, except the skin inside the slippers had gone as dry as old paper. His face was gray and pulled tight around his skull. One of his eyes was hanging out of its socket, dangling by a short length of thick, corded tissue. The other one, looking milky and sightless, nevertheless stared at me. His lips were gone, receded, revealing a black-gummed mouth with only half the teeth it should have had, and even those were as yellow as old eggs.
Which is also how he smelled. (4-5)

Twelve year old Will Ritter wakes up one morning and realizes that his next-door neighbor has become a walking corpse. His day unfortunately goes from bad to worse when Will escapes on the school bus, only to realize when he gets to school that his assistant principal and math teacher are less than alive as well. After being rescued by classmate Helene (pronounced like it has three a’s) , Will becomes involved in a secret organization of kids called the Undertakers who are among the few people able to identify these Corpses. Will is less than pleased about being drafted into their organization, but soon realizes that there are few other options. As the organization is forced to consider switching their tactics from defensive to offensive, Will just might be the recruit they need to tip the scales in humanity’s favor.

My coworker and I were very intrigued when this book came in to see a zombie book for middle schoolers. How many other zombie books are out there for this age group? The cover is appropriately creepy and blood-red toned, which definitely adds to the appeal in my opinion.

The story itself rises to the occasion as well. The zombies–excuse me, Corpses–are described in gruesome detail. In the dedication, the author thanks his son “who read it and offered helpful (and often profound) insight into the realities of his age, his culture, and his mysterious language.” It definitely shows, with the text riddled with mild cussing (crap, hell, pissed, etc.) that is definitely warranted and rings true to the horrific, scary, and adventurous outings that the teens experience. Will’s pleas for his mom at one point is also unique, because so many times in children’s books the main character is just thrust in their world saving position and blindly accepts their new role. Will doesn’t, and is really reluctant to joining this group and getting involved, and his actions realistically reflect what some scared tweens would be feeling. I really appreciated that aspect of the story. Another realistic aspect of the book: people die. Books where no one dies in an end of the world preservation fight really annoy me, and the fact that the characters were affected and mourned the loss of their fellow fighters is even more authentic. The fighters solve their problems with ingenuity, technology, physical confrontations, and a little bit of luck. Okay, in some cases a LOT of luck, with people coming to the rescue just in the nick of time on more than one occasion. But Ty Drago (even the author’s name is cool!) does an admirable job explaining these last-minute saves, and it works without any trepidation crossing your mind as you’re reading.

It’s a fast paced, high energy novel that should get readers invested in the story. I could definitely see myself book talking this title to tweens and teens, especially around Halloween. There are twists and turns that readers don’t see coming, and although the ending is satisfying, it’s also open-ended enough to leave people excited about the sequel, Undertakers: Queen of the Dead which is coming out in October 1st (perfect again for Halloween!) AND there’s apparently a third one in the works too!

UPDATE: I did book talk this to fifth and sixth graders during my summer reading visits, and they wanted to get their hands on it immediately, especially the boys.

A World Without Heroes

Title: A World Without Heroes
Series: Beyonders #1
Author: Brandon Mull
ISBN: 9781416997924
Pages: 454 pages
Publisher/Date: Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2011.

He attempted to double back to the reading area, but could not find that, either. Instead, he came to a different open area, where the only furnishing was a black pedestal surmounted by a huge book.[...]
The book appeared to be bound in human skin. Upon close-examination Jason observed that the fleshy covering had tiny pores, fine hairs like the ones on his arm, and light blue veins visible beneath the surface.
Aghast, he tentatively touched the surface, withdrawing his finger instantly. It was warm to the touch, with a yielding texture that suggested more thickness than he had expected. It felt alive. [...]
Thumbing through the remainder of the yellowed pages, Jason found them all blank. He closed the tome.
The covering of the book had broken out into gooseflesh. So had Jason.
Could the admonitions he had read be real? Surely the book was of no great importance if it lay up here in this dusty attic. Behind the most intricately locked door he had ever seen. In a library hidden in the middle of the forest. Oh, crud.
Suddenly a flap of skin lifted on the center of the cover, revealing a glaring eye. A human eye. (61-64)

Jason Walker’s day starts out like any ordinary day. He does some batting practice with his friends, chats with the girls who pass by, and then volunteer at the family owned local zoo. It’s then that Jason’s day becomes anything but ordinary as he gets sucked inside the hippo and transported into Lyrian, a world of political intrigue and fantastical magic, both of which make it difficult to know who to trust. Paired with a home-schooled girl from Jason’s own world named Rachel who also appeared in Lyrian at about the same time Jason did they both unknowingly get thrust into a battle of wits and endurance against the dictatorial ruler, the wizard Maldor. Will Jason and Rachel be able to help their new “friends”, or are they doomed to spend their time running for their lives? Or, when given the chance, will they abandon their search to save themselves and return home?

Brandon Mull is at his best here. Filled with twists and turns, readers are just as clueless as Jason and Rachel on who to trust and what to do next. The world building is extraordinary, with new creatures at every turn, with my favorites being the displacers, creatures who look human but have the ability to remove and then reattach parts of their body. The trials are equal parts brain and brawn, and I loved how unique this concept was. There’s enough fast paced action to leave any reader breathless, as the body count quickly mounts. There’s just a hint of romance, which begs for elaboration in future books.

Actually, there’s a lot that begs for elaboration in the upcoming sequels. That ending… Oh what can I say about the ending without giving anything away… I can’t. It’s a cliffhanger if I ever saw one, which leaves readers protesting “But…. WHAT!? But what about Rachel? What about Jason? How are they going to…” Nope, can’t spoil it. You’re just going to have to take my word for it and read it. It’s downright unfair, and I can’t imagine how they’re going to get out of the problems they are facing. The sequel <em>Seeds of Rebellion</em> doesn’t come out until spring, so you have a while to wait just like me.

The Throne of Fire

Title: The Throne of Fire
Author: Rick Riordan
ISBN: 9781423140566
Pages: 452 pages
Publisher/Date: Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group, c2011.

If you didn’t listen to our first recording, well . . . pleased to meet you: the Egyptian gods are running around loose in the modern world; a bunch of magicians called the House of Life is trying to stop them; everyone hates Sadie and me; and a big snake is about to swallow the sun and destroy the world.
[Ow! What was that for?]
Sadie just punched me. She says I’m going to scare you too much. I should back up, calm down, and start at the beginning.
Fine. But personally, I think you should be scared. (1)

It’s been several weeks since Carter and Sadie Kane rediscovered their powers as descendants of an Ancient Egyptian house of magicians. They though they would have a chance at mastering their new skills before being called upon to save the world again, but the gods have other ideas. The Chaos snake Apophis is breaking out of his cage, and the set of siblings believe the only way to fight the Chaos is to revive the sun-god Ra. That’s easier said then done, as they first have to recover the three separate pieces of the Book of Ra, then find the slumbering sun-god since no one knows for sure where he is. And did we mention that not all the gods are thrilled with the idea of waking Ra in the first place?

Okay, I can see now the benefits of having some previous knowledge regarding Greek and Roman mythology. I was able to follow Percy Jackson series, and even the Lost Heroes series. The last time I discussed Egyptian gods and goddesses was probably in grade school, where we learned about mummies and the Egyptian empires and the Pharoah’s hat that looked like a bowling pin. Suffice it to say, it’s CONFUSING, especially since apparently they sometimes had more than one god or godly incarnations for the same thing, like Ra, who has three incarnations (morning, noon, and dusk).

That being said, I still think it’s the action that draws readers to these stories. The cliff-hanger chapter endings work, but since this is supposed to be a recording of Sadie and Carter telling the story, it gets a little choppy, since I can’t see most people stopping in the middle of the story and saying “Okay, you tell your story now, and I’ll continue mine when you get halfway done.” It just doesn’t work that way. The magical workings also seem a little haphazard, as the rules seem to skew to “this is how it works when it’s convenient” as opposed to “this is how it works — period”. I have to admit, some of the tricks the Kane kids pull out of their bag sound really cool, like applying magic to a smaller representation in order to affect something larger. Some of the twists towards the end are appealing unexpected, and add a dimension to the story that will definitely affect the plot in future books.

I’m a little worried that Rick Riordan is going to become something like James Patterson at the rate he’s writing these books. Is he going to start “collaborating” with other people in order to produce more books? I certainly hope not. While I liked the series, I found I had forgotten quite a bit of what happened in the first book, and that’s a sure sign that it’s not going to make my top ten list for the year.

Revolution

Title: Revolution
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
ISBN: 9780385737630
Pages: 482 pages
Publisher/Date: Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, c2010.

I laugh out loud. “No, I’m not.”
“No arguments, Andi. You’re coming to Paris and you’re taking your laptop with you. We’ll be there for three weeks. Plenty of time for you to work up an outline for your thesis.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something? What about Mom? What do we do about her? Just leave her here by herself?”
“I’m checking your mother into a hospital,” he says.
I stare at him, too shocked to speak. (48)

Andi Alpers has been going crazy trying to deal with the death of her brother, her absentee father, and her emotionally distant mother, not to mention her quickly declining dismal performance at her private prep school. When Andi’s father receives word that she might end up getting expelled, he swoops in, ships her mother off to a mental institute, and basically forces Andi on a plane to go with him to Paris. Andi is able to negotiate with her father a compromise; finish an outline and introduction to her thesis, and she can go home early. Andi’s resolve to leave gets tested when she not only meets a guitarist who shares her passion, but also discovers a centuries old diary of Alexandrine Paradis, a girl her age who worked in the palace during the French Revolution. These two girls might have more in common then Andi realizes when their lives intersect in a startling manner.

Full disclosure: There is a small element of time travel, which I don’t feel too bad revealing and I hope no one else counts it against me, but this is how it was explained to me. The time travel element is by no means the core of the novel, but I thought the minor details that were scattered throughout the novel came together cleanly by the end. Those minor details are scattered about the gorgeous cover, including the key on the spin, which plays an important role in the book. That’s a great touch that I’m sure has caught the attention of more than one reader. I wouldn’t classify the story as science fiction even with the time travel element, but then again I wouldn’t classify it as historical fiction either, even though some might consider it due to the diary. This is a solid modern-day tale that has a timeless quality because of its connections to the past.

The characterization is extremely well-developed. Readers are drawn into both Andi and Alex’s personality, understanding their motivations and convictions. Andi’s passion for music is evident from the beginning, and the fact that her thesis involves proving how a late seventeenth century composer influenced modern-day music is not something that I would have picked. But the musical history, influences, and pieces are explained in a manner that makes sense.

The parallels that could be drawn between Alex and Andi are multi-faceted, and the romances that develop for both characters are refreshingly subtle. I think it’s fairly obvious to readers that Alex has more than a passing fascination with the prince, just as Andi has more than a passing fascination towards Virgil, a boy she meets in Paris. Virgil is perfect for Andi at this time, because he’s willing to take things at her pace, but he also recognizes her pain and is not so willing to let her self-destructive tendencies take over. He is the one good thing in her life that serves as her anchor. Their love of music draws them together, just as the revolution draws Alex to the prince, and both relationships taken together shows love in its many forms.

I have to comment that I’m thrilled that Alex’s diary entries read like a diary, without an excessive amount of direct quotes. The present tense and jumping around the timeline makes it a little difficult to follow at times, but we don’t relate stories linearly in real life, so I’m willing to assume it was an attempt in authenticity. Readers view not only Alex’s “present”, but she also flashbacks to previous events, all while being presented as old diary entries. Plus, the presentation allows us to get Andi’s reactions to what she’s reading instantaneously, instead of waiting for the next chapter.

The details pull readers in and really set the scene for the action. It’s quite obvious that Donnelly has done her research here, describing everything from the sights and sounds of Paris to the smells of the catacombs. The fact that the centerpiece of Andi’s father’s research actually exists is fascinating. I’m not a history person, and I found myself understanding the complications and causes of the French Revolution. I felt like I was actually there, following in both Alex’s and Andi’s footsteps. Although the size of the book presents a daunting facade (weighing in at over 400 pages) readers who stick with it will be well rewarded.

Virals

Title: Virals
Author: Kathy Reichs
ISBN: 9781595143426
Pages: 456 pages
Publisher/Date: Razorbill, c2010.
Reviewed from ARC furnished by Traveling ARC Tours
Release Date: Nov. 2, 2010

Since I realize ARCs (Advanced Reader Copy) are not the finalized book and can go through the editing process still, I figured I’d quote from GoodReads.com rather than the ARC itself. The cover image was also taken from GoodReads.com.

Tory Brennan, niece of acclaimed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan (of the Bones novels and hit TV show), is the leader of a ragtag band of teenage “sci-philes” who live on a secluded island off the coast of South Carolina. When the group rescues a dog caged for medical testing on a nearby island, they are exposed to an experimental strain of canine parvovirus that changes their lives forever.

As the friends discover their heightened senses and animal-quick reflexes, they must combine their scientific curiosity with their newfound physical gifts to solve a cold-case murder that has suddenly become very hot if they can stay alive long enough to catch the killer’s scent.

Fortunately, they are now more than friends they’re a pack. They are Virals.

Although I’ve watched the TV show Bones for years, this was my first exposure to Kathy Reichs, whose books are the inspiration for the television show. This is her first foray into teen fiction. Tory reminds me a lot of Temperance, a brillant but socially unstable teenager. I mean, come on, what fourteen year old do you know who would spend her free time cleaning and cataloging shells, which is how we first meet Tory. Tory describes her relationship with her female classmates as just not clicking “with any of the resident Mean Girls,” calling them “terrible, horrible, despicable fembots [...] shallow and vapid, and never showed the slightest interest in their superficial world. So the disdain had been mutual.” (65) She’s self-deprecating about her looks, which is proven wrong by the end of the book. Although I wish she had at least one GIRL friend, instead of all these guys who live on the same island as her. I realize I sound like her father and his annoying … girlfriend(?), but seriously! The girls can’t be all bad. Hannah proves the most promising, but things just don’t seem to work out with her.

Tory is obviously the leader of this group of friends/virals. She convinces and coerces her guy friends to go on one outlandish adventure after the other, most of them illegal. The fact that the guys eventually cave into her demands and blindly follow her lead speaks either of their loyalty to her or their stupidity. Because let’s face it, Tory gets lucky, sometimes extremely lucky, in her discoveries. She just happened to be there, she just happened to do this, things just happen for Tory.

The transformations (or “flares” as the characters call it) in the book from normal human to super senses pack mood are well done. And although I can’t speak for the accuracy of the science behind all these things, they are clearly explained for even the non-science person like myself to understand. I’m not sure I would want this to be an ongoing series unless they take their show on the road (so to speak), because as I mentioned the conincidences would just add up if more than one murder, espionage, crime ring, etc. existed on such a tiny island. The writing is suspenseful, with the book beginning halfway through and then back-pedaling to catch the reader up to speed. It’s an attention-grabbing technique that works here. I might be interested to read her adult stuff, now that I’ve had some exposure to her style.

Someone’s review on Goodreads compared this book to Scooby Doo meets Nancy Drew meets Animorphs. Yes, the book is a mystery, but I personally think that’s where the comparisons stop between Nancy Drew and Tory (ok, they live with their fathers too, but Nancy seems just too wholesome to be hanging around Tory.) Although the ending does follow the “I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for these meddling kids” format that Scooby Doo is famous for, I’m not so sure about the Animorphs comparison either. The teens don’t become werewolves, and if anything I would compare it to Rogue’s power in X-Men, because they came in contact with the animal and then started reflecting it’s “powers,” aka the amplified senses, strength, and stamina.

And I know it doesn’t show up well on the cover, but yes those are dog faces in the VIRALS letters. Nice touch in my opinion, although the cover is already eye-catching. Look for the sequel to come out summer 2011.

The Search for WondLa

Title: The Search for WondLa
Author: Tony DiTerlizzi
ISBN: 9781416983101
Pages: 477 pages
Publisher/Date: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, c2010.

Smoke wormed its way into the kitchen from under the door, carrying a nauseating stench of smoldering metal and melted plastic. Outside, Eva could hear a loud hum followed by a piercing sonic vibration. The kitchen door buckled from the explosion, but did not open. Muthr spoke in that slightly distorted melodious voice. “Eva, I love you very much, and I hope that I will see you again,” she said, “but you must go, NOW!”
Muthr moved away from the grate. Eva pounded on it, screaming, “No! No! No!”
A metal covering slide down, sealing the exhaust vent shut. Eva could hear a tremendous explosion and the kitchen door blow open. Frightened, she sat frozen at the bottom of the vent for the longest minute of her life. She listened to the rummaging and pilfering going on beyond the grate covering in what had once been her kitchen — what had once been her home. (42-43)

Eva Nine is twelve years old and has lived under ground her entire life being raised by Muthr, a robotic caregiver. Muthr has trained her for the upcoming day when Eva Nine can leave her secure home, walk outside, and see the sun. Those plans get moved forward when they are attacked and Muthr literally pushes Eva Nine out into the world, a world that bears little comparison to the one she has learned about her entire life. While Muthr encouraged her to find a new safe haven, Eva is drawn by a plaque she has discovered in an abandoned portion of her home promoting humans and robots living together in WondLa. Now all she has to do is find this mysterious location without getting captured by the surprise intruder that has ransacked her home and is now looking for her.

To quote the back cover of the book: “Inspired by stories by the likes of the Brothers Grimm, James M. Barrie, and L. Frank Baum, The Search for WondLa is a new fairy teal for the twenty-first century.” I however, kept seeing Star Wars more than Peter Pan running through my brain. Arius (the picture on top) reminds me of a miniaturized, floating, many-armed Jaba the Hutt. Rovender Kitt reminds me of a much less annoying and much more enjoyable Jar-Jar Binks. (I feel so horrible making that comparison, because I like Rovender so much better than Jar-Jar.) Muthr is a feminized C3PO, there are holoprojectors much like the ones used to communicate in Star Wars, and even Eva Nine’s hair style is reminiscent of Leia’s famous buns, rocking the braided pigtails. Please tell me I’m not the only one who sees this! (the pictures are taken from Mr. DiTerlizzi’s blog — if that’s against some rule, please let me know… )

These comparisons to Star Wars however do not dampen the intrigue, the mystery, and the delight that readers experience when unravelling the enigma that is this world. Eva Nine has quite literally stepped into a world that is completely different from what she expected. She’s stepped into the wardrobe, through the looking-glass, and fallen down the rabbit hole, but in a completely new way. Her holographic computer confirms this belief, continuing to affirm that the species of animals and plants she encounters are “unknown”.

DiTerlizzi’s detailed two-toned drawings enhance the experience, allowing readers to submerge themselves in the world they’re reading about. Most of the pictures lead off new chapters, but extra pictures are scattered throughout the novel, leaving a welcome surprise to readers. Creatures and plant-life surround the contents pages, which detail the short chapters that encourage further reading and make the thick tome just fly by. I could make another comparison to an equally thick book with striking pictures and wonderfully detailed world *cough*here*cough*, but I won’t.

And that’s the thing about this book, is that everything is so detailed, not just the world, but the characters and their emotions and reactions. Even at the end of the book, a foreign alphabet and writing system is included, along with a map of this world (more on that later). Rovender is initially reluctant to help Eva, especially considering the trouble she seems to be in and the ignorance she displays. Eva herself is initially reluctant to trust anyone, and rightly so considering the first thing she comes in contact with besides Muthr destroyed her home and forced her into the world. Both Rovender and Eva form a friendship, which comes in handy along their many adventures. Absolutely clueless about where she came from and where she can find more humans, Eva embarks on this quest of self-discovery and finds more than she bargined for in the end.

The ending is just the beginning in what is promised to be a trilogy. Also just the beginning is the book itself. Utilizing new technology, DiTerlizzi explains how readers can use the book to unlock “a hidden feature: a three-dimensional interactive map allowing you to follow the sights and sounds of Eva Nine’s journey”. There’s a movie on Youtube of DiTerlizzi describing the feature, and someone who has already tried to this technology. Honestly, I was a little skeptical of the quality and content, as it sounded a little gimmicky to me. And while I still think it sounds gimmicky, I was unable to get the software to load on my computer at home, so I wasn’t able to test drive it myself.

Instead, I played the matching game available on the website, and that is quite addictive. It’s actually not a true matching game, but one of those games where you’re supposed to identify the differences with “one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other” playing in the background. But based on what I’ve seen of this book, the website is an added bonus, because the book stands on its own in an incredible way. A home run hit, with an ending that will have readers satisfied and yet anxiously awaiting the next adventure.

Peter and the Secret of Rundoon

Title: Peter and the Secret of Rundoon
Author: Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Narrator: Jim Dale
ISBN: 9781423338659
Pages: 482 pages
Discs: 9 CDs, 11 hours
Publisher/Date: Disney Editions Hyperion Books for Children, (Brillance Audio), c2007.

Peter felt it on the outside of his right thigh just above the knee, a sharp pain like a bee sting. He looked down, fearing he would see an arrow in his flesh. His fear turned to relief when he saw that the arrow had merely grazed him. He was bleeding, but it wasn’t a serious wound, just a scrape . . .
“Uhh!”
Peter grunted as the muscles in his right leg suddenly contracted in violent cramps, which almost immediately spread to the rest of his body. He doubled over in excruciating pain, and, unable to control his flight, began to tumble from the sky.
Peter, Peter!
He could hear Tink shouting as she flitted around him, but he couldn’t answer her, couldn’t do anything except moan in agony as he tumbled through the air while waves of cramps racked his body. It was the poison, he knew. The arrow had barely scraped him, but still the pain was almost unendurable. Fighting Prawn had warned him. He had not heeded. And now . . .
Peter! (64)

Peter’s mates on the island are growing discontent with their life on the island, but their quiet existence is soon shattered by the invasion of a fighting tribe known as the Scorpions. In the heat of battle, Peter is wounded and he and the boys are kidnapped first by Captain Hook and then by a mysterious group in a strange sea craft. Meanwhile, Molly and her father receive information that indicates Lord Ombra might still be alive, and head to the island, only to find Peter missing and in need of rescuing from King Zarboff (the Third) and his pet snake, Kundalini. With flying carpets, flying camels, flying carpets, and flying boys, there’s got to be a way home, if only they are able to get ahold of enough starstuff.

This action packed third installment of the series will not disappoint fans. With three and sometimes four plots going at once, it can get confusing at times. But the plots seem to intersect and disconnect almost effortlessly, leading me to believe there has to be a master timeline available somewhere that they constantly consulted while writing the book.

Peter is actually vulnerable in this one, getting hit by an arrow at one point in the story and losing his ability to fly. I won’t ruin it for readers and telling what happens next, but it’s nice to see that he does need help on occasion. There are some tough choices to be made as well, which separate the gang at points in the story. It’s a nice detour from the normal presentation of the Peter, George, and Molly being like the “Three musketeers,” regardless of the fact that George and Peter work together only reluctantly. Peter’s “mates” also find some backbone, which is refreshing because I did wonder how they would react to the prospect of … well, you’ll just have to see, because again I don’t want to spoil it. I did see the “writing on the wall” so-to-speak, and predicted what would happen in the end.

One complaint I did have was I wish some of the minor characters had more personality and distinguishing characteristics. I won’t go into more detail than that, but there are two groups (one of them being the pirates in Hook’s gang) that quite often are lumped together because that is how Peter or someone else met them. I would hope in the next book they evolve into their own people, similar to what happened with James, Prentice, Thomas, and Tubby Ted between books one and two. I kind of doubt it though, since overall they are minor characters and the cast is rather large at this point already. The other complaint was the explanation of how Peter’s shadow gets separated from him, which I felt was somewhat of a disappointment in comparison to all the amazing and well-thought out plot points. But again, those are minor quibbles.

Jim Dale, as always, does an amazing job narrating, and I wish I could do even half the number of voices he has consistently maintained throughout the three books. In this one he continues to impress, with the addition of sound effects, including booming cannons and swift arrows firing through the air.

The Help

Title: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Narrators: Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, and Cassandra Campbell
ISBN: 9780143144182
Pages: 451 pages
Discs: 15 CDs, about 18 hours
Publisher/Date: Amy Einhorn Books, (Penguin Audio) c2009.

“I want to interview you. About what it’s like to work as a maid.” [...]
I turn and look at her. This what she been trying to ask me the past two weeks in Miss Leefolt kitchen. “You think Miss Leefolt gone agree to that? Me telling stories about her?”
Miss Skeeter’s eyes drop down some. “Well, no. I was thinking we wouldn’t tell her. I’ll have to make sure the other maids will agree to keep it secret, too.”
I scrunch up my forehead, just starting to get what she’s asking. “Other maids?”
“I was hoping to get four or five. To really show what it’s like to be a maid in Jackson.” [...]
I just stare at her. Is she crazy? “Did you hear about the colored boy this morning? One they beat with a tire iron for accidentally using the white bathroom?”
She just look at me, blink a little. “I know things are unstable but this is–”
“And my cousin Shinelle in Cauter County? They burn up her car cause she went down to the voting station.”
“No one’s ever written a book like this,” she say, finally whispering, finally starting to understand, I guess. (102-103)

Aibileen and Minny are best friends, comparing notes about the women they work for as maids in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi. Things aren’t great, what with Hilly Holbrook pushing the issue of building a separate toilet in every home for the help to use, and Minny loosing her job and being black-listed due to accusations of theft. But what are they supposed to do to change that, since this is the way things are. Then 22-year-old Miss Skeeter returns from college in the hopes of securing a writing career, only to be granted a house-care column in the local paper. She’s told to write about something she knows and is passionate about, so she pairs up with Minny and Aibileen to write an examination of “domestic helpers” in the south. But can this controversial subject stay a secret from everyone else, especially from Miss Holbrook in high society south, where everybody’s business is her business?

This book was recommended to me by my supervisor. Because the wait at the time was shorter for the audiobook, I requested that instead of the printed copy. I am so glad for that happy accident. These four ladies do a superb job, and I could just picture Miss Skeeter, Minny and Aibileen striving to keep their secret safe from everyone else. There were lines delivered where I could picture the maids, hands on their hips, or heads cocked, or eyes downcast as was appropriate. Their pacing was appropriate, and I’m so glad I took the time to listen to it because I know I would have read this book too fast and missed some of the nuances and intricacies. The audiobook forced me to slow down and really listen to what was being said and absorb what it meant.

I feel like this could be in the teen section, and it could replace some of the required reading that is shoved down throats at the high school level. The writing was gorgeous, eloquent, and lyrical, drawing readers in with that slow southern drawl and keeping them hooked with tight dialogue and narration. The book would be ambling along, and then something shocking would happen that just sticks in your gut and stops your heart because you feel for these women. They have been brought to life.

These maids have attitude. Aibileen is the more patient and practical of the two. In addition to the house, Aibileen takes care of white children, moving on before the children reach double digits and they lose their unconditional love. Aibileen knows that once they hit double digits, they start learning how things really are in the world, instead of how they should be, and her heart breaks when the children learn the racism their parents and community encourage them to develop. The care these children receive in Aibileen’s hands is often better than what their own parents provide them, with the mother being apathetic at best about her daughter’s care and well-being.

In contrast, Minny seems especially suited to handle the elderly. Minny is the one who lands into trouble running off her mouth, but older people either don’t hear or don’t remember her sarcastic and abrasive quips. She’s the one I liked the most, and I kept picturing someone similar to Mammee from Gone with the Wind, regardless of her description. Each of these maids have their own hardships to overcome, with Aibileen suffering alone after her son passes away and Minny’s home is overrun by children and a husband. When revelations regarding her home life come to light, I grow even more impressed by her character.

Miss Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan evolves from this timid follower to a strong and opinionated woman, even if she doesn’t always voice them to other people. I was pleased with how her budding romantic relationship eventually ended up, although I was yelling at my radio at some parts because of the route she took to get there. What started off as a selfish endeavor to get writing experience becomes so much more. I seriously believe that in a different decade, Skeeter, Minny, and Aibileen could become life-long friends. Because of the year, and the environment of that time period, we’re not 100% sure that’s really going to happen. But it’s amazing what is accomplished between these three ladies in such a short time frame, and the effect they have on the community. They don’t change everyone, but they bring exposure to feelings that were, and still are, considered taboo.

To be perfectly honest, there were two very minor things that disappointed me. The first was that Skeeter’s ending is the only “happy” one. Oh sure, there is change in the wind for the two maids, and it obviously wouldn’t have been true to the time period if there weren’t any consequences, which the maids suffer from more acutely than Miss Skeeter. But the shift that happens to both Minny and Aibileen are heart-breaking, although portrayed with a note of optimism.

The second disappointment was that the “Afterword” by the author was not included in the audiobook. Kathryn Stockett provides perspective regarding her writing process and her first-hand experience with maids in Mississippi during that time period. It lends authenticity, and just as Skeeter’s editor Miss Stein encouraged Skeeter to include her story about her own maid in the fictionalized book, I feel Stockett’s reminiscence, however brief it is, should have been included in the audio.

Can you believe that the book is already being made into a movie? Here’s the Internet Movie Database entry and here’s an article that reveals a little bit about the collaboration between author and long time friends producer/director/writer Tate Taylor and Tate’s partner Brunson Green. And I’m absolutely thrilled to see Octavia Spencer, who I’m pretty sure was Minny in the audiobook, reprise her role for the movie. As I said before, she’s my favorite.

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