Posts tagged ‘debut author’

Sketchy

SketchyTitle: Sketchy
Series: The Bea Catcher Chronicles: Book 1
Author: Olivia Samms
ISBN: 9781477816509
Pages: 236 pages
Publisher/Date: Amazon Publishing, c2013

A light floods my rearview mirror, shining bright in my eyes. What the . . . ? I adjust the mirror and see a car behind me. The lights barrel toward me, pulling up close.
“Shit,” I say out loud. “What’s their hurry?”
I speed up, thinking I’m driving too slowly. But the car speeds up with me and is now tailgating me–dangerously close.
My street is coming up ahead, on the right. I wait until the last second, without turning my blinker on, and pull the steering wheel hard to the right. My tires screech and fishtail as they follow my order. The car behind me turns and screeches along with me, speeding up, getting even closer. The bright lights shine and flicker in my eyes.
“OH MY GOD! It’s going to hit me!”
I abruptly turn left, careening into my driveway. I slam on my brakes with both feet, and the menacing car speeds off into the darkness.
Holy shit. I try to collect my breath.
My cell rings in my purse. My heart won’t stop racing.
I take a deep breath and answer. “Hello.” The phone wobbles in my shaky hands.
A slurred voice. “Monday, before school at seven. The antique barn on Lilac Lane. Meet me–”
“Willa? Is that you? Was that you following me?”
She hangs up. (78-79)

Seventeen-year-old Bea Washington is starting over at a new high school near Ann Arbor, MI after getting kicked out of Athena Day School for Girls. Just coming out of rehab, no one trusts her and she’s struggling to make friends while fighting the call of drugs and alcohol. It doesn’t help when she discovers a secret that could ruin Willa, the perfect head cheerleader and newly crowned homecoming queen. Maybe Willa knows more than she is telling police about the man who killed two women and left Willa for dead. Bea’s mysterious artistic ability could aid in the investigation, so long as it doesn’t first draw the killer’s attention. Whoops, too late.

Amazon has entered the publishing business. I guess it was only a matter of time before the retail giant started producing its own products. Big name author James Patterson provides a glowing recommendation on the cover, and is thanked in the acknowledgements (along with two other people) for “reading my pages, encouraging me to continue, and slipping them onto [agent] Lisa’s desk.” Maybe here are some previous connections at work, but a blurb from a big name is impressive for anyone’s first book. To be honest, I didn’t expect quality, suspense, or high-interest writing from what I though of initially as a self-publishing enterprise. I was happy to be proven wrong.

Bea is a likeable, flawed character who is desperately trying to get her life back on track. It was interesting to see a character attempting to recover from an addiction as opposed to spiraling into the habit. While we saw little of the rehab portion of Bea’s recovery, that wasn’t the focus of the book, and we do see symptoms such as taking up another habit (in this case smoking) to replace the drug and alcohol use, being tempted to relapse, and the use of AA meetings and incentives to stay clean and sober. The chapter headings are an account of how many months, days, and hours Bea has been sober. She faces temptation head on, tracking a suspect into a bar and almost giving it all up for a drink with a cute guy. But another very realistic aspect of recovery is finding out who your friends are, and Bea definitely finds a kindred spirit in Chris, who recognizes Bea from an art camp they both attended. Chris is supportive of Bea’s efforts to stay clean, isn’t freaked out by her unique ability, and is a purely plutonic friend due to his homosexual orientation. Oh, if we could all have a friend like Chris.

The mystery isn’t really a mystery like I would think of one, although Bea does have to track down the suspect and the identity of the killer is unknown. It’s a surprisingly light mystery, with the suspense coming towards the end of the book and the crimes taking place primarily “off stage” and Bea learning about them afterwards. Bea is aided in the end by a surprisingly competent police force and caring parents who are not overbearing or apathetic, but care about her well-being and are struggling just like her to navigate the position and situation they’ve found themselves in. I’d like to read more books featuring Bea, and I would like to see further development of the sweet crush that is hinted at by the end of the book. Overall, a really well-written debut novel that proves me wrong about self-publications.

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.

The Peculiar

Title: The Peculiar
Author: Stefan Bachmann
ISBN: 978006219518
Pages: 376 pages
Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2012.

Then a great many things happened at once. Bartholomew, staring so intently, nodded forward a bit so that the tip of his nose brushed against the windowpane. And the moment it did, there was a quick, sharp movement in the yard below, and the lady reached behind her and jerked apart the coils of hair at the back of her head. Bartholomew’s blood turned to smoke in his veins. There, staring directly up at him, was another face, a tiny, brown, ugly face like a twisted root, all wrinkles and sharp teeth.
With a muffled yelp, he scrabbled away from the window, splinters driving into his palms. It didn’t see me, it didn’t see me. It couldn’t ever have known I was here.
But it had. Those wet black eyes had looked into his. For an instant they had been filled with a terrible anger. And then the creature’s lips had curled back and it had smiled. (23-24)

Bartholomew had been told by his mother time and again to not draw attention to himself. He and his sister are Peculiars, half faery and half human, feared and distrusted and occasionally loathed by both races as oddities. So when he gets spotted while observing a beautiful lady, a lady who whisks away a neighboring Peculiar into a whirlwind of black feathers, Bartholomew is understandably concerned. Peculiars seem to be disappearing at an alarming rate, and the skins of their bodies are being found in the river. His concern for his friend turns to fear for his own family as he and his sister might be marked as the next to be taken.

While this book was billed as “part murder mystery, part gothic fantasy, part steampunk adventure”, I really didn’t get a steampunk feel from it. Certainly not in the way the Sherlock Holmes movies or Westerfeld’s Leviathan series is steampunk. Just because there is a clockwork bird and an automaton doesn’t make it steampunk. I’ll agree however about the murder mystery and gothic fantasy. Bachmann knows how to set the scene for the action that follows:

Fog slunk among the headstones of St. Mary, Queen of Martyrs, that night. It smelled of charcoal and rot, and spread in slow shapes down the sloping graveyard. Above, clouds drifted, snuffing out the moon. Somewhere in the maze of streets beyond the wall a dog barked. (205)

Readers might get a little lost in the culture and interactions of faeries and humans, as Bachmann thrusts you into the world from the beginning and worries about explaining things later. While it makes the story flow more naturally, assuming the reader know what they need to know, it helps that Bartholomew and the other main character we see things through, Arthur Jelliby, are somewhat clueless and trying to figure things out as well. Arthur Jelliby is someone who would rather not be investigating the disappearance of Peculiars, as that isn’t really his job, but finds himself being drawn in by coincidences, natural curiosity, and dare I say a sense of duty. I found myself being very sympathetic to both his and Bartholomew’s plight, as the stories intertwine and they are both just trying to get back to normal lives after they unwillingly became involved in this predicament.

I was not informed that this debut book (which it says in the back jacket Bachmann wrote when he was sixteen) is the first in a series, which proved very frustrating to me. Bachmann has nailed building tension by shifting viewpoints after a suspenseful turn of events or a Hannibal Lecter-esque piece of dialogue, where you know something bad is right around the corner. And that, unfortunately, was how the book ended. I definitely foresee a change of setting for book two as the reason for Bartholomew getting involved as yet to be resolved. (That’s really all I can say without spoiling plot points). The good news is that it appears Arthur Jelliby will be along for the ride as well, and we can only hope that Bartholomew and Jelliby interact a little more in book two.

2 the Point Tuesday — The Seven Tales of Trinket

Each month where I work, the librarians write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be adding my contribution to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Title: The Seven Tales of Trinket
Author: Shelley Moore Thomas
Illustrator: Dan Craig
ISBN: 9780374367459
Pages: 369 pages
Publisher/Date: Farrar Straus Giroux, c2012.

“What are you going to do with it?” Thomas asked.
“What do you think?” My fingers trailed yet another direction, over the mountains to the forest.
He looked at me with eyes that widened as he understood my purpose.
“You are not going to follow it!” He spit when he yelled, which made it a good thing that Thomas the Pig Boy yelled very little.
“I am.”
“You are only eleven.”
“Almost twelve. A year older than you.”
“What will you do out there?” Thomas asked, flicking the map with his hand.
“Why, find my father, of course.”
And I will leave this place, and all the pain, behind.
But I did not say this aloud.
Thomas thought for a moment.
“If you go, can I come?” (13-14)

After the death of her mother, strong-willed Trinket heads out to find her father, a wandering bard who never made it back home after his last trip. Accompanied by Thomas, the Pig Boy, and an old map, they are called upon to save a Gypsy seer, rescue a baby stolen by selkies, banish a banshee, trick a fairy and escape a deadly highwayman. Realizing that she could follow her father’s footsteps in more ways than one, she starts practicing to become a bard. The story she really wants to find an ending for though is her own, but no one seems to know where her father went. A story about bards and telling stories based on Celtic folklore begs to be read-aloud. Trinket does not walk an easy road and must make some hard decisions about the true meaning of friendship. Fans of the movie Brave will not be disappointed.

Picture book and early reader author Shelley Moore Thomas shows her experience and talent as a professional storyteller in her first middle-grade novel.

Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms

Title: Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery & a Very Strange Adventure
Series: Stuart Horten #1
Author: Lissa Evans
ISBN: 9781402798061
Pages: 270 pages
Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books, c2012.
Publication Date: April 3, 2012 (originally published in 2011 in Great Britain as Small Change for Stuart)

“An entertainer,” answered his father. “A prestidigitator.”
“A what?”
“A magician. He used to do conjuring tricks on stage.”
“A magician??” Stuart repeated. “You had an uncle who was a magician? But you never told me that.”
“Oh, didn’t I?” said his dad vaguely. “Well, I know very little about him. An I suppose it didn’t occur to me that you’d be interested.” [...]
“So, what sort of tricks did he do?”
“I’m not sure.”
“And what was he like?”
“I don’t remember him at all, I’m afraid. I was very young when he disappeared.” (12-13)

His father might not think so, but ten-year-old Stuart is VERY interested in his great-uncle Tony, the magician who disappeared without a trace several years after a fire burned his factory. After discovering coins in an old money-box and receiving a mysterious phone call on an obviously broken pay phone, Stuart realizes that these might be clues to where Great-Uncle Tony’s rumored second, secret workshop has been resting, undisturbed for all these years. Dodging the pesky, prying eyes of the identical triplets next door who purport to being reporters isn’t Stuart’s only problem, as his curiosity in his ancestor catches the attention of someone who is just as interested in finding the workshop and claiming the contents.

A highly engaging and thoroughly engrossing debut middle-grade novel by Lissa Evans. Quickly inhaled in less than two hours, time just disappeared (pardon the pun) while reading this compact book (and I’m not just referring to the book or poor Stuart’s small size). I would go so far as to compare this to Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me as it’s mostly realistic fiction with hints of magic/fantasy until you get to the very end where’s there a twist.

While adults are distant and almost nonexistent in the plot, that doesn’t mean they are absent completely, with both Stuart and April’s parents disciplining them for their disobedience, which is more than we see from most parents. Stuart and April have more than enough personality to carry the book, with April’s knowledge and confidence playing nicely against Stuart’s self-consciousness and curiosity, and they’ve both got determination to spare. They ask questions when they need answers, but they are otherwise very self-sufficient in discovering and deciphering the clues and don’t need to rely on adults for assistance.

Speaking of which, I got a little moment of librarian joy that Stuart enlists the help of library archives to solve the mystery, using “old-fashioned” sleuthing skills such as consulting a map, gathering first hand accounts, and examining photographs. The story reads as almost timeless, with only one mention of computers that I can think of. The cover artwork (with no credit that I can find on the book) also seems to play up an older appearance, with the monochromatic illustrations making it look very different from the colorful cover artwork we’ve gotten used to seeing. This might put it at a disadvantage on the shelf, but readers who enjoyed the mechanics of The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick might be pulled in by the title’s promise of “Miraculous Mechanisms”. While probably a shelf sleeper, the availability of the sequel, Horten’s Incredible Illusions: Magic, Mystery & Another Very Strange Adventure (published in September), might help it gather more attention, and the description of book two makes it sound like there are still more adventures to come for Stuart Horten.

Read it before everyone else discovers it, then find yourself recommending it.

2 The Point Tuesdays Flying the Dragon

For my new job, all the librarians write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be adding my contribution to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Title: Flying the Dragon
Author: Natalie Dias Lorenzi
ISBN: 9781580894340
Pages: 233 pages
Publisher/Date: Charlesbridge Publishing, c2012.
Publication Date: July 1, 2012

Ever since she had translated something for Hiroshi that morning, Kevin wouldn’t leave her alone. “Ching chang wong wang!” He snickered, obviously pleased with himself.
“That doesn’t even mean anything.” Skye rolled her eyes, hoping no one else had heard him. As luck would have it, she had to peer around his big head to copy the reading homework from the board. But whenever she tried to look, he blocked her way.
She sighed. “Cut it out. I can’t see the board.”
“Why don’t you ask your Chinese boyfriend what it says when he gets back from ESL class?”
“He’s not my boyfriend; he’s my cousin. And he’s not Chinese, duh. He’s Japanese.”
“Whatever.”
Ignore him. Ignore him. Ignore him. (48)

Sorano (called Skye) was excited about finally securing a spot on this coming summer’s All-Star soccer team. Instead, she’ll attend Japanese classes due to her cousin Hiroshi and his family moving to the United States. Hiroshi’s just as surprised as Skye about the move, angrily missing his own summer goal of continuing the family tradition and competing in the annual kite battles. The conflict grows as Hiroshi closely guards the little time he has with his ailing grandfather and Skye is embarrassed by Hiroshi’s very Japanese manners. When Skye accidently damages the kite that Hiroshi and his grandfather built together and carefully transported from Japan, it looks like their friendship is over before it got off the ground. Peppered with Japanese phrases, words, and cultural tidbits, this debut novel realistically portrays a collision of cultures and emotions and how two very different people can help each other succeed and soar.

I’d say more about how much I loved this book and the cover, but since it’s To the Point Tuesday, you’ll have to satisfy yourself with following the links. Looking for more information? Literary Rambles has an interview with author Natalie Dias Lorenzi and the author has a whole host of links to reviews and interviews on her website.

Between Shades of Gray

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Narrator: Emily Klein
ISBN: 9780142428979
Pages: 344 pages
Discs/CDs: 7 CDs, 8 hours
Publisher/Date: Penguin Audio, c2011.

“Davai!” An NKVD officer grabbed Jonas by the shoulders and began to drag him away.
“NO!” screamed Mother.
They were taking Jonas. My beautiful, sweet brother who shooed bugs out of the house instead of stepping on them, who gave his little ruler to splint a crotchety old man’s leg.
“Mama! Lina!” he cried, flailing his arms.
“Stop!” I screamed, tearing after them. Mother grabbed the officer and began speaking in Russian–pure, fluent Russian. He stopped and listened. [...]
Mother pulled a bundle of rubles from her pocket and exposed it slightly to the officer. He reached for it and then said something to Mother, motioning with his head. Her hand flew up and ripped the amber pendant right from her neck and pressed it into the NKVD’s hand. He didn’t seem to be satisfied. Mother continued to speak in Russian and pulled a pocket watch from her coat. I knew that watch. It was her father’s and had his name engraved in the soft gold on the back. The officer snatched the watch, let go of Jonas, and started yelling at the people next to us.
Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch. (26-27)

Fifteen-year-old Lina, her younger brother Jonas, and her mother are violently taken from their home in the middle of the night by the Soviet police. Being deported to who knows where, it’s a constant struggle to survive as they travel by train car to first one labor camp and then another. Forced to do back-breaking work in deplorable conditions with little food or medical care, Lina spends her days alternatingly fearing the worst and hoping for the best. But when you’re faced with insurmountable odds, is there really any difference between hoping for life or begging for death?

It really amazes me the coincidences that happen when no one is aware of them. The fact that this book and Breaking Stalin’s Nose could both be about Stalin’s rule during World War II, events that most Americans including myself have very little knowledge of AND be published within six months of each other is amazing enough in my mind. To have them both be recognized by the various awards committees is even more remarkable, with Breaking Stalin’s Nose receiving a Newbery Honor and Between Shades of Gray receiving a host of recognition, including nominations for the Cybils Award for Young Adult Fiction, the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and the ALA Teens’ Top Ten list. I feel like I should go hunting for more books about Stalin’s regime! The beauty of this coincidence that with these two books you have perspectives from both sides of how life was like from authors who both have personal connections to that time in history. The fear that Sasha suffers from in Breaking Stalin’s Nose is almost incomparable to what Lina and her family go through in Between Shades of Gray, although it did slightly prepare me for what I would find in Between Shades of Gray.

Ruta Sepetys stresses at the end of her book that to this day, seventy years later, still no one talks about the horrors that happened at the beginning of the war. Librarians, teachers, military professionals, lawyers, and doctors along with their families were just some of the professions that were rounded up, shoved onto trains, and forced to hard labor in the camps for years. As a librarian, knowing about this left me thinking if I would have survived the journey, and the answer would have most likely been no. They took the educated, the informed, and the influential, and reduced them to scavengers, sickly citizens, forcing them to sign documents that marked them as criminals and labeling the train car they rode on as carrying prostitutes and thieves to further demean their existence.

There were so many scenes in this book of the torture that these people endured that stand out to me so vividly even after finishing the last page and closing the cover. I can’t lock those descriptions away and put them on the shelf as easily as I can close the book and put it away. From being threatened with being buried alive to suffering from lice, scurvy, and other diseases to picking up and eating the trash that is pelted at you just so you have something to eat that night, to watching a new mother be shot for mourning the death of her new-born, which suffered the irrevocable fate of having been born to someone on the “list”. The United States, as far as I’m aware of, doesn’t share the histories of atrocities that other countries do, as even slaves back in the 1700s were taken care of to some extent because they had value. These people were seen as worthless by the NKVD and made to feel worthless by any means necessary.

Sepeyts spares nothing and no one when portraying the hardships, but the book is also filled with instances of caring and the small actions that helped Lina, her brother, and everyone around her maintain a shred of hope and decency. When asked to undress for the first time in the open air for showers, the women avert their eyes and turn around so as to give the boys some modicum of privacy. Jonas gives his school ruler as an ineffective splint for a crotchety and pessimistic man who broke his leg in a failed suicide attempt. The prisoners share what little knowledge, food, and warmth they have with each other because they recognize that sometimes the littlest things could mean the difference between hope and despair, between another day above ground or the first of many below.

Emily Klein narrates the book, and the part she excels is Lina’s varied feelings and the clipped and impatient tones of the NKVD officers, many times shouting just one hated word: “Davai!” While her differentiation between characters is only really noticeable with Lina, Jonas, and one or two others, the emotion is raw and palatable and certainly is a welcome addition to the experience. However, you should also take a look at the map included in the printed text, which gives a visual of how far Lina, her family, and the rest of the captives had to travel over the course of more than a year.

Ruta Sepetys summarizes the conflict succinctly in the video on the book’s website. She also recently wrote a piece for NPR, explaining how her book is frequently confused with that “other shades of gray book” but that’s she’s embracing the opportunity to educate people who wouldn’t normally have been interested and claims the “mix-up is a victory.” It’s a powerful novel, both informative and inspirational in the same way that Anne Frank’s diary was for the Jewish Holocaust, and I highly recommend not only for book groups and school reading, but for individual reading as well.

2 the Point Tuesday — Tua and the Elephant

For my new job, all the librarians write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be adding my contribution to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Title: Tua and the Elephant
Author: R.P. Harris
Illustrator: Taeeun Yoo
ISBN: 9780811877817
Pages: 204 pages
Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books LLC, c2012.
Publication Date: April 18, 2012

“I have an elephant,” Tua said, ignoring the question. Then she began to relate the story of how she had rescued an elephant from a pair of rogues who were mistreating it, how they had stolen money from a poor woman and her baby, and what else was she to do?
“That’s nice, darling,” Auntie Orchid yawned. “Every girl should have a ‘special friend.’” The yawn reminded Orchid that it was quite late after all.
Kha, Auntie. Can I show it to you?” [...]
“Yes, you may,” said Auntie Orchid “if you must.”
Tua opened the door and gestured with her head for her auntie to look outside. [...]
“Tua, darling,” she calmly asked, “would you please tell me why . . . there is an elephant standing on MY . . . back . . . porch?”(45-46)

In this debut tale of courage and tenacity where Homeward Bound meets Dumbo, ten-year-old Tua is visiting the night market in her town of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Running across a baby elephant clearly in need of rescuing from her abusive and questionable owners, Tua whisks the elephant away into the night while they are sleeping. Naming her Pohn-Pohn, clever Tua reasonably rationalizes that “Taking an elephant home was definitely out of the question.” But what should Tua do with her? So beings an incredible journey across rivers and Thailand farms, in search of a home for the elephant. The purple and yellow illustrations emphasize how out-of-place poor Pohn-Pohn is in the populated yellow fields of rice and corn. But Pohn-Pohn’s previous owners are intent on getting their valuable possession back, using whatever means necessary.

If you want to read a longer synopsis of the book, it was reviewed in the New York Times by none other Sara Gruen, author of her own elephant based book Water for Elephants.

Ready Player One

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
ISBN: 9780307913142
CDs/Discs: 13 CDs, 15.5 hours
Pages: 374 pages
Publisher/Date: Crown Publishers, Random House Audio, c2011.
Awards: 2012 Alex Awards

“You’re first instinct right now might be to log out and make a run for it,” Sorrento said. “I urge you not to make that mistake. Your trailer is currently wired with a large quantity of high explosives.” He pulled something that looked like a remote control out of his pocket and held it up. “And my finger is on the detonator. If you log out of this chatlink session, you will die within a few seconds. Do you understand what I’m saying to you, Mr. Watts?” (142)

In the year 2044, humanity escapes from what is left of the world by plugging int the OASIS, a virtual utopia similar to the Sims where people can be anything and do almost anything. It’s here we meet Wade Watts, a seventeen-year-old who has been competing against millions of other people in the biggest scavenger hunt ever created. The massive fortune of the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, has been put up for grabs for the first person to complete a series of challenges and puzzles that range throughout the virtual OASIS. Based on aspects of 1980s pop culture, including movies, music, books, and especially video games, the hunt has gone on for five long years, and quite a few players have lost hope. Then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle, and the frenzy of the hunt resumes. Wade must outwit and outplay the entire world in order to win, but he’s especially worried about the Nolan Sorrento, the CEO of a conglomerate company who’s only goal is to monopolize and monetize the free virtual escape.

Full disclosure: I was not a teenager in the 1980s like James Halliday was, but I still throughly enjoyed listening to Ready Player One. I was yelling at my speakers, laughing along at Wade’s exploits, and was pleasantly pleased at how many references to 1980s culture I was already familiar with, including Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Star Wars and Star Trex, Pacman, and Dungeons and Dragons. Some of the more obscure trivia I think would have even people who lived during that era scratching their heads, unless they are well versed in hacking history.

While the start is somewhat slow as Cline takes the time to explain his world building and the background behind the events, it quickly escalates after the first clue is found. Geeks might actually enjoy knowing the ins and outs of the OASIS, although non-geeks might get turned off by the technical talk. The characters are all most certainly grandiose geeks, and while there are some spots where the information is repeated, in my opinion it’s better to have a refresher of the information than not receive it at all. I think the action moved a little too quickly for my tastes towards the end, as clues are deciphered very quickly by multiple players, when the first clue took everyone five years to figure out, but listeners get caught up in the excitement and the hunt and really don’t have time or an inclination to quibble about the breakneck, escalating frenetic pace and epic battle at the end.

Wade is a likeable enough character, participating in the competition as an underdog since he has almost no experience points, financial assistance, or even a secure physical home where he can reside. Sorrento, the head of the commercial conglomerate (the company is nicknamed the Sixers in the book due to their avatars six digit identification numbers) is a stagnant and one-dimensional, stereotypical greedy bad-guy type character. Wade’s four top human competitors are a little more three-dimensional, although still stereotypical in certain ways.

Although Wil Wheaton struggles with female voices, most of the narration is first person from Wade’s perspective, which allows him the ability to really develop Wade and delve into his role. It’s an added nod to the 1980s culture to have him narrate, since Wheaton portrayed Wesley Crusher in the Star Trek: The Next Generation television show in the 1980s and 1990s. I can definitely see geeks and gamers of both genders gobbling up this book.

The Probability of Miracles

Title: The Probability of Miracles
Author: Wendy Wunder
ISBN: 9781595143686
Pages: 357 pages
Publisher/Date: Published by Penguin Young Readers Group, Produced by Alloy Entertainment, c2011

In the past month Cam had been to an acupuncturist, a Reiki practitioner, a reflexologist, an herbalist, a hypnotist, a taulasea– a Samoan medicine woman who made her drink breast mile–and had had a phone call with a “distance healer” from New Zealand named Audrey. They had paid eighty-five dollars Australian, plus the cost of a phone call to New Zealand, to hear Audrey hum into the phone for a while and then send Cam an e-mail with the “results” of the healing, which included bar graphs measuring the strength of her aura.
At least they got a good laugh out of it.
Cam had vowed that that was it, though. She was done trying stupid New Agey crap. In fact, if she heard another note of Yanni or Enya or anything on the harp, she was going to lose it. (36-37)

Self-proclaimed hope-resistant Cam has suffered from cancer for years, and they’ve finally received the diagnosis that there is nothing else to be done or tried. Cam’s mother refuses to give up, and packs Cam and her younger sister Perry from her Disney World Florida home to Promise, Maine for the summer. Promise is known for the unexpected, such as flamingos in the Atlantic, purple dandelions, and sunsets that last for hours. Showing no optimism and sulking over a fight with her only friend, Cam keeps receiving help from local boy Asher, who literally keeps popping up when she least expects it. Trying to make the most of her time and with nothing better to do, she starts crossing things off her own version of the bucket list that she’d made years earlier. When surrounded by people who see miracles in the everyday, Cam struggles to maintain her outlook on life and her belief that miracles are coincidences. Will Cam come to believe in miracles so that she can receive one of her own?

I’ll admit that this book has been sitting in my to be read stack for way too long. Personally, I really think it needs a new cover. But by the time you finish the book, you forget how glaring the cover is. The characters are all multi-faceted and developed. Cam’s mother is trying so hard to hold the family together. Although I think she could have been portrayed as a little more of a realist and hands-on, especially regarding her daughter’s illness, I can see she’s struggling with what the “right” thing to do is in this unique situation. Cam’s mood swings are evident, oscillating from “What’s the point” to “Let’s do what I can” to maybe even a little bit of restrained hope. Perry expresses what I think every sibling of a cancer patient must feel, but isn’t supposed to say:

“I make a lot of sacrifices for you.” Perry’s voice quavered. “Like being here. Do you think I want to spend my entire summer away from my friends? No one ever has time to think of what I want or what I need because your needs are so tremendous. You have tremendous needs. And that’s fine. Really, I’m used to being an afterthought. But the least you can do is let us believe that this might work. I do a lot for you, Cam,” said Perry, and one tear finally broke loose and slid down her face. (183)

The only person I wasn’t a huge fan of was Asher. Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked the knight in shining armor allusions and that he was always there for Cam, and the fact that he was afraid of flying added some humanity to his character. But the little we find out about his previous… “relationship” just irritates me. Yes, I guess to each his own, but still. Eh.

However, I loved the ending. I think I need to say again that I loved the ending. I can’t say anything else about the ending, because that would give everything away, but wow. The last 50 pages, and especially that last chapter, packs an emotional punch. I loved how Cam handled events, and although Asher’s actions seemed a little overly climatic, it sort of fit somehow. Cam really redeemed herself in my eyes when she puts other people’s needs ahead of her own for once.

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