Saturday, July 30, 2011

Geek: Fantasy Novel by E. Archer YP FIC ARCHER

Ralph is your typical computer geek.  Better with code than with people, he’s had everything riding on getting a job at his favorite game company.  Once rejected and at his lowest ebb he gets an unexpected invite to a for real life English castle from relatives he never heard of.  Soon he finds out that there is a dangerous and magical family secret that makes any wish uttered aloud come true (but with the usual TERRIBLE consequences usually reserved for a monkey’s paw). This puts poor Ralph in the middle of a strange and terrifying fantasy world unfortunately stuck as the hero. Ralph will need all of his prodigious geek knowledge of monsters, mazes, dungeons, and dragons to be the hero he always dreamed of becoming.

This is a funny little book.  Not just because it IS funny, also because it’s odd.  In a good way.  The fantasy world is twisted and will make really appeal to fans of fantasy, because it is a hilarious send up of classic fantasy elements.  Probably my favorite aspect of the book is how the narrator begins to interfere with the action and Ralph starts realizing he is a character in a story.  I am a huge fan of metafiction and think that it really fits in a book taking apart fantasy stories.  It ends up being a story about the power of stories and the way they change us and our world.  It is very successful on that level, but occasionally other things suffer.  While I like the characters and several are very amusing, none are particularly deep (then that is common in a lot of classic fantasy too).  This is one you’ll want to stick with as it just gets better and better and careens full force into a strange mind bender of an ending. 

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray YP FIC BRAY

A plane full of beauty queens crash lands on a desert island, but this isn’t the start of a cheesy joke!  They must band together to survive the elements and a dangerous cabal of drug dealers using the island for less than noble purposes.  More importantly they must struggle to find their inner beauty and common strength or be trampled by the misogynistic hegemony of the patriarchy!  Also, they need to get their dance routines down in case they are rescued.

Libba Bray has hit it out of the park.  Her last book, the hallucinatory bizarre epic Going Bovine won raves and adulation and acclaim and other good things.  Beauty Queens has all the wit and daring of Bovine but with a more straight forward (and to me more enjoyable) narrative.  The James Bondesque adventure plot actually is thrilling and action packed, it’s just also filled with hilarious social satire and genuine emotion.  The genuine emotion and satire can come from the same characters because Bray makes what seem like stereotypes at first (like Miss Texas the brash go-getter with big hair and big dreams) evolve into real young women.  A good deal of humor and satire comes from footnotes added by the corporate sponsors of the pageant. This isn’t JUST a super funny and exciting book. The problems it tackles of how companies sell young women horrible ideas of beauty and how that affects female identity are really intelligently and bravely addressed. A great read for anyone looking for a lighthearted dark comedy with adventure and Big Ideas!

Red Glove by Holly Black YP FIC BLACK

Cassel Sharpe thought he was the only normal one in a family of curseworking con artists, but that was the biggest con of all.  He has the most powerful curse of all: transformation. Anything he touches changes into whatever he wants.  Now that the love of his life is transformed back into herself she’s also been cursed to love him. So now her love is as phony as his old life.  when the Sharpe family loses one of its own, Cassell is recruited by the Feds to catch the killer all while dodging the mob and keeping two steps ahead of the feds and out of their cuffs. Cassel is finding out that love is the biggest con of all, but can he pull it off?

Holly Black writes fantasy that almost anyone can enjoy.  Her world seems real even when it deals with the unreal.  She does this by thinking about all the details that would exist in a world where magic is commonplace and also understanding how to bring a criminal lifestyle to the page.  She has vibrant characters with real motivations and depth and she knows how to pace a novel as well as the best thriller authors.  This is the sequel to White Cat, so definitely read it first (which works out nicely because it is also excellent!).  What makes these novels so enjoyable is the mix of danger, intrigue, and the satisfaction of a well pulled off con (which both novels end with a doozy of a big twist con). Last but not least, I really love that Black always includes loads of characters from a multicultural background that don’t exist to represent an ethnicity (tokenism!) and are in n way stereotypes.  It helps to see people of color in fantasy.  all in all this is a compelling series that could appeal to book lovers of many stripes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Library Wars: Love and War Volume 1 by Kiiro Yumi YP FIC YUMI

The government of Japan has set up the Media Betterment Committee to police all forms of media for appropriateness.  In response the Library Defense Force is formed to defend books and freedom of choice for all people.  A war of words soon leads to a battle of arms.  Iku Kasahara was inspired by a chance encounter with an officer of the LDF to join the fight. Now she trains her hardest to make her mystery mentor proud by being the first female member of the LDF, but is undercut at every turn by her hard driving drill instructor Dojo.  But sometimes she sees a softer side of Dojo, what does it mean and where is she supposed to find the Genealogy books?

Of course I had to read a shojo manga about heroic librarians.  And while I may be biased, I think this one has a lot to offer shojo fans.  The characters and romantic plot are somewhat typical, but the setting is fun and very unique.  I love the focus on the devotion to preserve knowledge and art (any librarian’s true calling!).  The passion the character’s feel adds a level of humanity to the book.  These people have a truly noble goal and it made me like them a great deal more than the average shojo cast.  I look forward to further volumes where we can hopefully see more actual conflict between the LDF and the MBC.  Check it out if you love libraries and/or shojo.

P.S.  this is a very realistic account of library life.  We fight wars and fall in love with each other all the time for reals ya’ll.

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol YP FIC BROSGOL

Anya sort of just blends in at school. She has one real friend and guys seem to think she’s invisible.  It could be worse she could be a total FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) like her fellow Russian √©migr√©, Dima. All that changes, when she falls down a well (that really happens?) and meets a ghost named Emily.  Emily decides to follow her home and Anya finds having an invisible friend makes test time a lot easier.  Soon Emily is helping Anya get noticed by guys too, but as Emily starts doing more for Anya she wants more control. When Anya tries to break away she finds that Emily has a dark side and a hidden past that could prove…DEADLY.

Anya’s Ghost is funny, touching, and has excellent art.  The large eyes are cartoonish and filled with character and emotion.  Her works reminds me of Faith Hicks who did War at Ellsmere which I reviewed earlier.  What I like about the book is that Anya’s turn around feels earned and deserved.  The basic plot is dangerously close to an episode of iCarly where Carly totally learns the value of friendship, but some excellent art and well chosen dark turns of the plot keep it from being a trite story.  It’s a hugely enjoyable read for fans of comic art and good storytelling.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis Art by John Romita Jr. YP FIC BENDIS

The Avengers are back after Civil Wars, alien invasions, bad guys running America’s top security forces, and other assorted wackness. Now Hawkeye, Iron Man, Captain America (the Bucky one), Wolverine, Spiderman, Spiderwoman (they SERIOSULY needed both?), Thor, and Noh-Varr have to head to the future and stop a never ending war that will destroy the entire time-space continuum.

After probably the 33,467,898th roster change we have an Avengers line up worth caring about (except for Spiderwoman and Noh-Varr. Nobody cares about them). And with the parenthetical exception all our new avengers have big budget movies coming out or have recently come out. Smart move Marvel! All imputing of crass marketing motives aside, this is an awesome roster of awesome heroes. Bendis makes good use of the heroes too and gives us plenty of super powered mega battles of EPIC proportion. When time gets all herky-jerky the Avengers have to fight foes from all sorts of alternate time streams, which gives Bendis and Romita Jr. to through in a bunch of shout outs to older Marvel stories that the super fans will appreciate (I did!). The art (as with anything Romita Jr. does) is superb. The plot is brisk and action packed and there is no drawn out soul searching or political allegories! A great read for fans of superhero comics and awesomeness

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey YP FIC YANCEY

Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist grabs you by the throat from Page 1 and doesn’t let go. The more you struggle, the more it gleefully squeezes you deeper into its gruesome clutches. And then it swallows you with a flourish and licks its chops.

That’s how over-the-top shivery and scary this riveting gothic tale is. Do you like monsters? Check. How about violence? Double-check!

You won’t be able to look away! Even when you’re covered in gore!

The Monstrumologist is told through the eyes of 12-year-old Will Henry, who serves as the hapless but ever-stalwart assistant of Dr. Pellinore Warthrop in the New England town of New Jerusalem. Warthrop calls himself a doctor of philosophy, which would be accurate if by “philosophy” you really meant “things that go bump in the night.”

One spring night in 1888, a grave robber deposits a grisly find on the doctor’s doorstep. To say what, exactly, the creature is would be to deprive you of the same shock, horror and disgust that both Will Henry and I felt as it was unveiled. Suffice to say Yancey does not subscribe to the current trend of vampires, werewolves and zombies.

The discovery of the dead creature sets in motion a race against time. Warthrop suspects more of them survive and if so, the people of New Jerusalem are in grave danger. This leads to Warthrop taking drastic measures, including inviting a fellow monstrumologist, John Kearns — though Warthrop’s morals may be questionable at times, we come to learn Kearns is devoid of a moral compass at all. Mayhem and carnage ensue.

Yancey does an excellent job of weaving an atmosphere of tension and dread and then punctuating it with brutal, detailed scenes of bloodshed:
"The massively muscled forearm followed, rotated ninety degrees, and the next second found Burns’s head buried in the grip of the huge claw. With a sickening pop the beast tore his head completely off his shoulders and yanked it back through the hole punched through his heaving gut."
You have to hand it to the man. Yancey’s creative even in his descriptions of butchery.

Those scenes, however, ensure that this book is not for the faint of heart. Better yet, you should probably have a strong stomach, too. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m trying to read all the books on the 2011 Lone Star Reading List. The Monstrumologist is on that list. I definitely have to give props to the Texas Library Association's Young Adult Round Table for putting together such a diverse selection. This novel was my first taste of horror and I find I rather like it.

What I like about this book is that you come to care for its main characters, which ratchets up your fear for their survival amidst such depictions of slaughter. Will Henry is an earnest boy who’s seen far more than any boy — or any man — should have to see. But he remains stubbornly devoted to the doctor, realizing he truly has no one else and that the same case applies to the doctor.

Warthrop, for his part, doesn’t do much to dispel the mad-scientist stereotype. His mania for monsters goes hand-in-hand with his absentmindedness: obsessively focused on his hellish hunt while caring little for the prosaic details of day-to-day life like eating. Even then, we find sympathy for him as we learn a little of his background and the terribly legacy left to him by his monstrumologist father.

The story's most intriguing conflict does not revolve around the monster's rapaciousness but rather the cruelty of man. There are shocking instances of inhumanity and mercilessness among the novel's human characters, requiring readers ask themselves, "Who really is the monster?"

This could be you having fun at MMPL!

For the past few weeks at Moore Memorial Public Library, YA Librarian Luke has been busy with tons of fun stuff for teens to do as part of our annual Summer Reading Program. That's included a weekly session of "Board Games You've Never Played" (Check them out! We've got our final session this Friday from 2-5 p.m.!) as well as an some unique one-time events like "Bend It," an introduction to yoga, and "Splatter! Paint! Pop! Make Modern Art," a program that focused on paint styles and subjects like pointillism, drip art and geometric shapes.

Check out the videos below to see what we've been up to:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Superman: Mon-EL byJames Robinson Illustrated by Renato Guedes and Jose Wilson Magalhaes YP FIC ROBINSON

Mon-El met Superman when he was just a Superboy, and young Clark Kent thought he had found a fellow Kryptonian, but unfortunately Mon-el was a Daxamite and Clark accidentally poisoned him and had to banish him to the Forbidden Zone. Oops. But after the Phantom Zone started to vanish Mon-El was freed and cured. Now with Superman off trying to help build New Krypton (long story) someone has to keep the world safe. Mon-El steps in to be the world’s hero only to find that his cure was temporary and he is flying on borrowed time.

Okay, so all that up there is confusing, but the book does a great job of including short comics to introduce all the main characters of the book, so when the storyline gets going even a total newbie will be able to follow. What makes Mon-El such a fun book is to see someone with all the powers of Superman, but without his training. The book is filled with loads of action and a bunch of weird lesser known DC heroes and villains from around the world. The art by Guedes and Magalhaes is top notch. I think this is a good read for someone wanting an interesting and fast paced super hero story.

Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski Illustrated by Shane Daniels YP FIC STRACZYN

Clark Kent just wants to be normal and fit in, unfortunately he can see through walls, has lasers come out of his eyes, he’s more powerful than a locomotive, faster than a speeding bullet, and he can fly. He’s very super, but he just wants to be a man. With his great gifts he could be the world’s best athlete, a rich scientist, or toil thanklessly to police and save the entire Earth. Just as he thinks he’s made his decision an enemy he never knew existed comes to Earth with one mission: Kill the last Kryptonian.

Sort of Straczynski’s answer to Miller’s Batman: Year One, but not as groundbreaking, Earth One is good but not one of the greats. Con: Tyrell the villain invented by Straczynski as the destroyer of Krypton just looks plain silly. Straczynski has a habit of this, inventing a brand new villain that looks unimpressive but saying they are the Greatest Foe the hero has ever faced!!! He did it multiple times with Spider-Man and it didn’t work then either. Another Con: Nothing in this story seems new or different enough to reboot Superman as just another modern dude trying to find himself. Pro: the idea of Superman playing sports is great fun. Pro: good art and action (except for how silly the villain looks). All in all a good read for Superman and super hero fans, but far short of a new classic.