Posts tagged ‘series’

SPF 40

Will Eisner Week 2014Did you know it’s Will Eisner Week this week, from March 1st through March 7th? Neither did I until I stumbled upon the announcement of the celebration in January. Will Eisner Week “is an annual celebration honoring the legacy of Will Eisner and promoting sequential art, graphic novel literacy, and free speech.” Looking for more information? Visit the website. In honor of Will Eisner Week, I’m going to take this opportunity to review graphic novels, which I’ll readily admit I don’t read enough of. My second featured book will be last year’s SPF 40 by Sharon Emerson and Renee Kurilla.

SPF 40
Title: SPF 40
Series: Zebrafish
Author: Sharon Emerson
Illustrator: Renee Kurilla
with help from Didi Hatcher and the team at Fablevision
ISBN: 978141697085
Pages: 117 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2013.

I didn’t realize initially that this was a sequel, but it is a continuation of a story. The other slightly confusing part is who wrote this. I originally thought that picture book author Peter Reynolds, since the cover proclaims “Peter H. Reynolds and FableVision present” but then the title page specifies the true author and illustrator, which I have always thought was a little unfair to authors when they don’t get cover recognition.

Regardless of who is responsible for putting together this story, it’s a sweet simple story with a lot of players. Gummy bear loving Plinko and fuscia haired Tanya (who’s in remission from leukemia) are off to be camp counselors, where they make friends with a diabetic named Scott and a red-haired Coley, who strikes me as overly enthusiastic about everything. Walt and Jay are teeming up not only to drive the library’s book mobile around, but also distribute Jay’s comic book. Purple haired Vita is the only one left behind, and while her first year in Southside High was huge, her first summer is turning out to be a bust. What will she do to occupy her time, instead of sitting in front of the television?

You might have noticed that I stressed hair color with a lot of the characters. That doesn’t just emphasize the colorful and varied cast, but it also signifies that you’d better be paying attention to names, because they are mentioned very infrequently and I found myself relying on their faces instead of their names to distinguish everyone. Maybe if I had read the first book first I wouldn’t have been so clueless with names. The hair color isn’t the only thing that is colorful, with all the pictures are bright and bold and eyecatching.

The book covers a lot of ground not only with characters, but also with topics. While they seem young, they are obviously also older then they first appear. Walt and Jay drive the library bookmobile, Vita has a dog friend Pepper who’s owner takes him to be read to hospital children, turtle hatching, and medical research involving glow in the dark fish and wireless insulin distribution. While I wish some of these topics were covered a little more, the limited exposure definitely keeps the story lines moving, making it a fast read.

Reboot

RebootTitle: Reboot
Series: Reboot #1
Author: Amy Tintera
ISBN: 9780062217073
Pages: 365 pages
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Publishers, c2013.

A low growl woke me in the middle of the night. I rolled over on my mattress, blinking in the darkness. Ever stood over my bed.
I bolted up to a sitting position, my heart pounding furiously. Her growling stopped and her bright eyes bored into mine.
“Ever?” I whispered.
She lunged at me and I scrambled out of bed and across the room. She bared her teeth as she turned to look for me.
I pressed my back to the wall as she approached, my heart beating faster than the time twenty townspeople had chased after me with lit torches and various kitchen knives. I’d been stabbed multiple times before I managed to outrun them, but somehow a weaponless, growling Ever was scarier.
“Ever!” I said, louder this time, and I ducked below her arm as she lunged at me again. (55)

After being shot in the chest three times and coming back to life after almost three hours, Wren is now known as Wren 178, the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. The longer it takes a Reboot to come to life again, the less human characteristics each Reboot maintains. Stronger, faster, able to heal, and much less emotional, Wren 178 is given first choice at training new recruits to become government controlled super soldiers and track down law breakers. With her success rate in question, she chooses Callum 22, an almost human Reboot who asks questions, has emotional responses, and is one of the worst soldiers imaginable. Wren finds herself caring not just about his training results, but about his future when the humans in charge threaten to pull him from the program permanently unless he improves. Wren is forced to ask questions of her own when Callum and some of the lower numbered Reboots start acting strange. Are the humans tampering with her training, or is something more sinister afoot?

I was somewhat surprised at how my book selections ended up, as I read this one so close to reading When We Wake which features similar themes of dead (or nearly-dead) teens being reawakened by governmental agencies for their own purposes. The zombie trend is alive and well it seems, although these teens don’t typically act like zombies. I really appreciated the blurb by Lissa Price on the back cover, who describes this book as “A bone-breaking heroine fights for her life, her love, and what remains of her humanity in this fresh take on a world gone wrong.” It’s almost like Graceling meets that movie Warm Bodies.

I thought the book was very well paced, as you see training happening between Callum and Wren, action scenes where they take down accused criminals, and servings of romance in between the more suspenseful mystery of what’s going on with the Reboots. As you can see by the above quote, the layers are introduced pretty quickly, and gives readers a variety of reasons to keep reading. Wren’s changes and progressions in behavior and attitude are a little predictable, but it’s easily forgiven as she grapples with alternative scenarios and information that contradicts everything she’s been previously led to believe. I also like Callum and Ever, who provide a nice counterpoint to Wren’s unemotional nature and an understandable catalyst for her change in beliefs. Squeamish readers need to be aware that these characters are essentially zombies mixed with Robocop, so by the end of the book there is a body count to consider as the fighting progresses. But while the book could end there, I have a feeling that there will be a sequel on the horizon sometime soon, and Goodreads confirms that sometime in May 2014 there will be a second book in the series. After all, what dystopian novel do you know of where saving themselves is enough and they really don’t need to bother saving the world…. yeah, that’s what I figured too.

What We Saw at Night

What We Saw At NightTitle: What We Saw at Night
Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard
ISBN: 9781616951412
Pages: 243 pages
Publisher/Date: Soho Teen (an imprint of Soho Press), c2013.

All I could see was white. One massive room: white walls, white carpeting, white woodwork. Except . . . right in the middle of the floor, next to the sliding doors, a young woman with dark hair–probably not much older than we were–was on her back. She wore only a bra. A man with his back turned to us was leaning over her. He seemed to be kissing her, then slapping her, then trying to pull her up. [...]
I said, “That girl looked dead.”
“Dead drunk maybe,” Juliet dismissed, drying her camera with her shirt.
“He was doing, like CPR, right?” I asked, mostly to myself.
“Good date gone bad,” Juliet replied. Her voice was flat. “It scared the hell out of me, though, when that light went on.”
The lightning crashed again. We heard a hollow boom–a tree or a light pole down. It happened all the time.
Then Rob said, “Who has a date in a room with no furniture?” (38-39)

Allie and her friends Rob and Juliet all suffer from a fatal allergy to sunlight called Xeroderma Pigmentosum, which relegates them to sleeping during the day and living in the night. Juliet, the more mysterious and adventurous of the three, discovers the sport Parkour and convinces the other two to begin practicing the free-wheeling jumps and leaps, utilizing their nightly sojourns as private practice in their urban playground. During their first attempt at something big, the three witness what appears to be a murder. While Rob and Juliet convince themselves otherwise, Allie pursues the deadly alternative that a murderer is loose in the city. Her investigation isolates her from her friends and also puts her in real danger as she plays detective at a time when most people are safely asleep in their beds. Sometimes the buddy system really is best, and as Juliet pulls further away the closer Allie gets to the truth, and Allie is forced to question who she can trust.

The best word I can use to describe this book is enigmatic. By the end of the book, you’ve followed Allie’s convoluted detective work and Juliet’s inability to answer a question to a suspect, but really no solution. I did not expect the ending, at all, which usually I’m praising because it surprises me. But then there’s a second curve ball after the first, and eventually the book and it’s questions only leaves my head spinning. The three friends seem to be really only friends because they are the only ones who can be friends with each other, due to their unique allergy to the sun. While I can understand that friendship lasting for a little while, I really question why Allie and Rob didn’t cut Juliet loose a long time ago due to frustration of her behavior. It exasperated me that we never got a straight answer of what happened, and by the end I didn’t really care about the characters all that much. They were underdeveloped and I had a hard time relating to their situation, even with all the information provided about their disease and situation.

The one thing that really did intrigue me was the portrayal of Parkour, which I’d heard of previously but never fully seen developed in a story until now. Unfortunately, it seemed like Allie and Rob only picked it up in order to keep their eye on unpredictable Juliet, and we never really find out what prompted Juliet to take up the sport. Besides referencing some Youtube videos, Mitchard does talk about what structures are used and portrays the characters building some core strength and exercising properly before attempting anything elaborate. It’s not a skill that can be gained overnight, and the dangers, illegality, and injuries of the sport are also portrayed realistically without getting preachy or didactic. Stories about mainstream sports abound, so this one peaks my interest and will probably stay with me because of its inclusion of Parkour. Otherwise, the too many questions and not enough answers story line leaves little for me to hold onto until the sequel arrives in December.

When We Wake

When We Wake
Title: When We Wake
Author: Karen Healey
ISBN: 9780316200769
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, c2013
Publication Date: March 5, 2013

“You can think of it as being in a coma,” she said. More and more of her face was swimming into focus now. “A sort of frozen coma that lasted a long time.”
Dr. Carmen paused, waiting for the obvious question, but my mind was whirring, and I missed my cue.
“It’s 2128, Tegan,” she said. “I’m sorry, I know that must be difficult to hear. You’ve been in stasis for just over a century.” (17)

Tegan Oglietti is sixteen years old in 2027 when she becomes the victim of a botched public shooting. When she wakes up 101 years later, her homeland Australia has changed almost beyond recognition. Slang, computers, culture, and homes have been refashioned in this world that, amazingly enough to Tegan, still suffers the same wars, environmental issues, and political problems that Tegan left behind in her past. The first successful revival, Tegan is placed under massive amounts of scrutiny as she navigates the publicity caused by her “undead” status. But warring political and religious factions are vying for her influence as an instant celebrity, and some will stop at nothing to claim her as their own. Is she really a person, or is she the property of the government that awakened her and trying to control her? Who can she trust when everyone and everything she knew and understood is gone?

Just look at that gorgeous cover! Almost three years ago, I read Karen Healey’s debut novel Guardian of the Dead and loved it. While I missed reading her sophomore novel The Shattering, this third book shows she hasn’t lost her touch. Full disclosure, this was my work out book at the gym, and I almost wanted to continue my time on the treadmill, just to finish a chapter or scene. If only every book I read while working out was as successful a distraction, I would be running miles by now! Yes, it’s that good.

Fans of The Hunger Games I feel would enjoy this book. Tegan is definitely not Katniss, as she really has no idea what she’s getting herself into when she signs the papers prior to her death volunteering her body to post-mortem science exploration. She also is much more involved in deciding her future than I feel Katniss ever was, from hunger strikes to running away to covert actions and threatening …. I’m getting ahead of myself. But like Katniss, she soon discovers that her intended use as a political pawn is NOT what she wants in life. While her school friends and their skills seem REALLY convenient for her purposes, I was willing to overlook it as Tegan struggles to figure out what’s really going on and claim of future of her own.

But the book isn’t all political intrigue, and we have some very funny and realistic moments between Tegan and her friends. One for sure stands out:

“Look, I’m not sure how to put this. So I’ll just ask. Are you sure you’re straight?”
My chin jerked up. She was sitting on the edge of the bed and swinging her feet. Her head was tilted at the ceiling, as if my answer was the least important thing in the world.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve never–yeah.”
She looked at me for a long, searching moment and nodded. “Oh, well,” she said. “It’d never work, anyway. I’m too bossy, and you’re too stubborn.”
“Plus, we don’t screw the crew,” I reminded her.
“Except for you and [spoiler] and your eighty gazillion babies.”
“Not happening.” (156)

A second thing I really appreciated is that Tegan doesn’t immediately jump into bed with the first person she lays eyes on, and while there is obviously romance mentioned in the book, it’s not the instantaneous teenage swooning that is so often attributed to young adult books. Tegan is athletic, religious, emotional, complicated, and multi-faceted — in other words a fully realized character who comes alive on the paper. She has a self-assurance about herself that’s refreshing. While I don’t think a sequel was necessarily required, the open ending definitely leaves readers guessing how she’s going to get her friends and herself out of this mess. Hopefully book two, coming out next year and titled While We Run, will find Tegan in a much better spot than this one left her.

The Lost Heir

Lost HeirTitle: The Lost Heir
Series: Wings of Fire #2 (Sequel to The Dragonet Prophecy)
Author: Tui T. Sutherland
Illustrators: Dragon illustrations by Joy Ang, Map and border design by Mike Schley
ISBN: 978054534919
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, c2012.

“Why did you do that?”
“Oh you’re welcome,” Tsunami said. “Just saving your life, as usual.”
“By attacking random dragons?” Glory cried. “In another moment they would have been gone! And what are you doing?” She jabbed Clay in the side with one of her wings.
“Uh,” Clay mumbled. “Fixing him.” He kept thumping the SkyWing’s chest.
“What?” Glory yelped. “You can’t let him live!” She tried to grab one of Clay’s forearms, but Tsunami shoved her away.
“We don’t have to kill him,” Tsunami said. “We’ll tie him up and leave him here.”
“Great,” Glory said. “How about a trail of cow parts, too? And a map of where we’re going? Or perhaps we could set this part of the forest on fire, just to make sure everyone knows how to find us. Would you like me to spell out ‘DRAGONETS WUZ HERE’ in giant rocks?”
“Fine!” Tsunami said. “Here he is. You kill him.” (16)

Tsunami has always imagined her homecoming like a fairy tale, and once she discovers that she actually is a SeaWing princess, she is even more determined to meet her family and see her kingdom. Maybe her own kind would appreciate her more than the dragonets, who seem to be questioning her leadership skills after the recent events and fighting with the Skywings. Upon arriving home though, Tsunami realizes that home is not a safe place, as the heirs to the throne continue to be killed by an unknown assassin. When her own life is threatened and she faces growing distrust towards her mother’s advisors and allies, Tsunami begins to wonder if maybe she is better off with her fellow dragonets of prophecy, but will she figure out who to trust in time to save her friends and family.

Fans of the first book in the series will find much of the same. Now that we’ve been introduced and readers are getting to know the dragons individually, it’s marginally easier to tell them apart. That doesn’t mean I still didn’t find myself flipping back and forth between the guide, the prophecy, and the part I was actually reading to keep the alliances straight. It was just being reintroduced instead of being revealed for the first time. It’s like getting introduced to a friend’s family at an event. The first time you meet the whole crowd, your head is spinning, but by the second or third time you start making connections–about who’s a cousin and an aunt or a grandparent or siblings–and saying to yourself “I remember that.” Hopefully, by the end of the series the characters will become more familiar to readers in that same way.

I enjoy how the author is featuring each dragon in their own book. We get to focus on more insular events instead of trying to grasp a nationwide war. I have a feeling each dragon is going to get their own book, and I’m especially interested to see how each dragon’s opinions differ from each other as we come to distinguish them from one another. There’s no denying that Tsunami is bossy, and discovering she’s royalty only augments her feelings of entitlement. But she’s also conflicted, especially when it comes to her own behavior and actions and how she is seen by others. She rationalizes her feelings in order to try to gain and keep her relationships, but her people pleasing, especially when it comes to her mother, just leaves her feeling out of sorts. It’s a story about not just who you can trust but whether or not you can trust yourself.

The mystery is intriguing and Sutherland sends up several red herrings before revealing the cause of the dragonet deaths. We also get little glimpses of what is going on with the resistance, and hints of a “back up plan” if the dragonets don’t succeed. What exactly Tsunami and her group are supposed to do, readers are still as clueless as the dragons. I’ll be continuing the series to see what happens and how events develop.

A Big Guy Took My Ball!

A Big Guy Took My BallTitle: A Big Guy Took My Ball!
Series: Elephant and Piggie
Author/Illustrator: Mo Willems
ISBN: 9781423174912
Pages: 57 pages
Publisher/Date: Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group, c2013.

Full disclosure here: I LOVE Elephant and Piggie. Willems writes them on the kids’ level, whether it’s naming the characters the species they are, the humor, or the spot-on facial expressions that convey everything that the characters are feeling without the use of a single word. Even the language, simplified and repetitive, but not dumbed-down, is just right for reading aloud by either adults or children. If you aren’t familiar with the Elephant and Piggie series, what is wrong with you and where have you been for the last years?

In the newest installment, Piggie discovers a big ball, which is promptly taken by a big guy. Sharing his story with Elephant upsets his friend. Indignant to think that his friend Piggie is getting picked on while still recognizing that he is a “big guy” too, Elephant heads out to confront this “big guy” and retrieve the ball. He returns to Piggie unsuccessful, telling Piggie “You did not say how big he was.” (30) But when all three finally come together, they all learn a lesson in perspective, sharing, and friendship. While the ending is syrupy sweet and could have been handled a little less obviously, it’s still a great story. And if you’re wondering “Where is the pigeon?” who appears in Willem’s books, don’t forget to check out the back jacket artwork!

2 The Point Tuesdays The Menagerie

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea 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.

MenagerieTitle: The Menagerie
Series: Menagerie #1
Authors: Tui T. and Kari Sutherland
ISBN: 9780060780647
Pages: 272 pages
Publisher/Date: Harper, and imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, c2013.
Published: March 12, 2013.

“What the . . . ,” Logan muttered. “Guys, who ate all your food?” And then put the lid back on?
“SQUUUUUUUUUUUOOOOOOOOOOOOOORP!”
Logan froze. That was a noise he had definitely never heard before. And it had come from somewhere in his room.
He turned around slowly, his heart pounding.
That’s when he saw the tail stretched out along his carpet, sticking out from the trailing edge of his comforter. A long, golden, furry lion’s tail.
There was a monster under his bed. (17-18)

Logan has just moved from Chicago to a small town in Wyoming with his dad, following the only clue in his mother’s sudden disappearance. Logan literally runs into Zoe and Blue, the weirdest girl and most popular boy in school, who claim to be searching for a lost dog. Discovering it’s not a dog they’re searching for but a griffin, Logan returns the cub to Zoe’s home and enters a world of mythical creatures. Everything’s in danger of exposure if the three teens can’t track down the rest of the missing griffins. Was it an accident, or is someone attempting to sabotage the Menagerie and shut it down? A light fantasy mixed with realism, sisters Tui and Kari Sutherland have created a fast read. Readers will enjoy this first book in an obvious series, which sets up a satisfying ending while still leaving enough unanswered questions for the upcoming sequels.

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.

Island of Silence

Island of SilenceTitle: Island of Silence
Series: The Unwanteds #2
Author: Lisa McMann
ISBN: 9781442407718
Pages: 406
Publisher/Date: Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2012.

“The attack makes it all to clear: Quill is struggling mightily to accept us–more than anyone had imagined. As much as our friend, High Priest Haluki, is doing to make this transition possible, it is still incredibly hard to introduce new ideas into a society that has been so set in its ways for al these years. [...] Clearly, we didn’t expect this kind of violent, organized attack. Clearly, we should have.” (156)

The magical secret world of Artime, filled with Quill’s creative outcasts, has been exposed. Quill is reeling from the death of their leader Justine, and Quillians are fleeing the floundering city for what they see as a promising future in Artime. But the privileged Wanteds of Quill are still holding tightly to their old way of life, and will do anything to restore it. On opposite sides of the fight are twin brothers, with Aaron leading a group of rag-tag Wanteds against Alex’s friends in Artime. Alex wants nothing to do with the leadership position that Mr. Today is offering him, but that doesn’t stop his friends from noticing his absences and resenting his opportunity. When the battle finally happens, will his friends be there to support him in his moment of need?

This is a series where it is quite necessary to read them in order. I would also suggest waiting until the third one has been published before reading this one. The ending here is not a tied up in a bow kind of conclusion, and it leaves you with lots of questions. I thought the first book in the series was a nice, free-standing fantasy, but I was proven wrong yet again. Why do these fantasy series have to always have at least one sequel!? The first one I raved over and book talked till I was blue, but this one just didn’t have as much appeal for me.

That’s not to say that McMann didn’t do a good job, because she did. Aaron’s efforts to build an army are realistic, and eerily reminded me of a Hitler-esque character. He wins over his subjects with food and slowly manipulates their feelings of abandonment to feelings of retribution and indignation. He has a lot of luck when he finally initiates his plan, which I also feel is somewhat realistic since revolutions are led by people who are in the right place at the right time. I actually like Aaron’s parts slightly more than Alex’s. It felt like the writing was tighter, and we really dig into the psychology of winning over the people left in Quill. Plus the secrets and spies added intrigue, as your left guessing with Aaron’s point of view who is truly loyal to him.

Playing off those differences, I was also struck by how different the brothers’ actions and ambitions played out. Alex has absolutely no desire to take over for Mr. Today, which I thought was unique to the genre. We always hear about the reluctant hero, but they all typically step up to the plate, no matter how reluctantly, and do what needs to be done. Alex on the other hand shows his cluelessness, relying on others to help him make decisions and maintaining till the end that he has no idea what he’s doing and is not cut out for this job. There is no false bravado there, only scared struggles to be what people need him and expect him to be. And what they need him to be is a figurehead, although Artimeans know that if Mr. Today wanted him to be trained, there must be something special about him, even if they don’t know and Alex certainly doesn’t realize why he was chosen either.

The reason I didn’t LOVE this book as much as the other one is because it didn’t have the same (pardon the pun) magic of discovery. We spend most of the first book learning about Artime and seeing everything it had to offer. (J.K. Rowling did a very good job of introducing new magical things in each book, where we could go “OOOOOH!” and the shiny thing would distract us and pull us in a little more.) In this book, we kind of know how things work already, and very little new things are introduced, so our attention has to be held by the tension of the impending battle. The one very strange thing, the Island of Silence the book is named after, is nonexistent for the first two-thirds of the book, and then it is flung in like a “Hail Mary” football pass before the game ends. When we finally arrive at the battle scene, there’s very little description of it, which is a let down of sorts. We hear about the battle second-hand, since neither Aaron or Alex really see much of it themselves (due to various reasons which I won’t elaborate here).

It will be interesting to see how the author pulls everything together. I honestly don’t know how many books are going to be in the series, but I’m hoping we get more answers in part three instead of a lot of unanswered questions. I think fans of the first one might be disappointed, but I’ll wait to pass judgement until the third book comes out. I might be waiting a while though, as I see two other books for 2013 (a new series and a contribution to the multi-author Infinity Ring series) on Goodreads, but not a third Unwanteds book listed yet.

Creatrilogy: Dot, Ish, and Sky Color

DotIshSky ColorAuthor/Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds     Publisher: Candlewick Press        Pages: unpaged

Title: The Dot                                    Title: Ish                                              Title: Sky Color
ISBN: 9780763619619                     ISBN: 978076362344                       ISBN: 9780763623456
Date: c2003.                                       Date: c2004.                                       Date: c2012.

Because it’s a series of picture books and they are all somewhat commulative, I thought I’d post these together. In the first, we see Vashti frustrated by her lack of talent until she is encouraged by her art teacher to “Just make a mark and see where it takes you.” It takes her on a journey of dots, and she uses that technique to encourage another little boy to draw. In the second, we see what I assume is that same little boy, Ramon, grown up just slightly and dealing with his brother’s teasing that his artwork isn’t good enough. With help from his little sister, he learns that there’s nothing wrong with his drawings not looking “right” but instead looking “ish”. In the third, just published book, Marisol (Ramon’s sister, which we know by the name and the hair-do) is part of a group painting a mural at school, and doesn’t have the blue she needs to do the job. Marisol learns the impact color can have on a piece of artwork, how to think outside the box and to observe the world around her. Through her interaction with a classmate, I feel like Reynolds leaves an open ending, so if he ever wanted to add to the series he could.

When you look at them together, you notice a gradual increase in color as you progress from the first to the third book. Besides Vashti’s drawings, the only color we have is a circle of color around the character that seems to reflect her mood, from pensive blue to angry red to more inspired colors of green, pink, and yellow. Ish features a more thoroughly colored background, although most are still limited to only one or two colors. Sky Color has the most color of all three, with one two page spread featuring the protagonist dreaming in a sea of color. This is also the first time we’ve seen the character colored, even if it is just on the cover and in that one dream sequence.

Not only do the books build on the amount of color, but they also build on the lessons they teach and the drawing styles they portray. I’m not a painter, so if I get these wrong please feel free to let me know and I’ll alter accordingly. With The Dot, there’s an obvious emphasis on abstraction, minimalism, and just plain trying something new. More literally, it makes me think of pointilism, where pictures are made of nothing but dots of color. Ish reminds me of abstract paintings, where subjects are painted in a very “ish” way, similar to the works of Picasso. The paintings don’t have to be perfect representations or copies in order to be called art. Finally, Sky Color has me thinking of impressionistic works like Monet, where they swirled colors together in the sky to add depth and fluidity and the passage of time. Marisol encourages kids to think outside the box, because a sky doesn’t have to be blue, and the grass doesn’t have to be green.

While the stories themselves are somewhat slight, the messages are very clear that art can take many shapes, forms, and colors. I think these would all be good starting points for very young children interested in the arts.

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