Friday, December 19, 2008

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Imagine a great deal of raving about a truly wonderful book. Okay. That's my blog about The Graveyard Book. I can't find words except to say that I really, really loved it. It is a sure bet as a gift - Grade 5 through to adult - if you are still looking for ideas.

Listen to the author read the book at

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gay America: Struggle for Equality by Linas Alsenas

Short entries and lots of photos and illustrations make this history book easy to dip in and out of. The index appears to be thorough; I used it to refer back to material I'd previously read. The origin of the lambda symbol is an example of something I went back to, because this is a question that has been asked of me in the past and I don't remember being satisfied with the answer I found. (And it was so long ago that I don't remember what that answer was, anyway.)

The Gay Activists Alliance adopted the lambda as their logo in the 1970s. "The official reason was something about it symbolizing a 'complete exchange of energy' - but really, the designer had picked it because he thought it looked cool." According to the notes, the quote within the excerpt from Gay America is from Out for Good by D. Clendinen and A. Nagourney. I would still like to know more about the lambda logo - who was the designer, for example - so I'm pleased to have this lead on another source.

I noticed only one slip (page 123) where the author used language in a way that may not be understood outside of the GLBTQ community of a certain age: "even the crunchy Olivia Records company had shifted gears." 'Granola' in the lesbian context isn't explained anywhere in the text, so 'crunchy' (from crunchy granola) may seem an odd usage.

This book should appeal to readers from Grade 6 all the way up to adults.

Graphic Novels for Kids 7 - 12 Years Old

A request from an elementary school generated this list. They were looking for 5 or 10 graphic novel format titles to add to their existing collection of Bone, Babymouse, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. They wanted suggestions that would appeal to both boys and girls, ages 7 - 12, and did not want to purchase manga.

Rapunzel’s Revenge. Shannon & Dean Hale. Grade 4 – up
Robot Dreams. Sara Varon. Grade 3 – up
Owly. (Series; they can be read in any order.) Andy Runton. Grade 1 – up
Clouds Above. Jordan Crane. Grade 2 – 5
The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea. Anne Sibley O’Brien. Grade 4 – 8
Pinky and Stinky. James Kochalka. Grade 3 – up
Sardine in Outer Space. (Series; they can be read in any order.) Emmanuel Guibert. Grade 3 – 7
Jellaby. Kean Soo. Grade 3 – 7
The Stonekeeper. (Book 1 of the Amulet series). Kazu Kibuishi. Grade 4 – 8

For beginning readers, look at the Toon Books imprint. Try:

Benny and Penny: Just Pretend. Geoffrey Hayes. Grade 1 – 2
Otto’s Orange Day. Jay Lynch. Grade 1 – 2

Saturday, December 13, 2008

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

If you're looking for lots of Buffy the Vampire Slayer-type action with a teenage romantic triangle thrown in, the first book of the Mortal Instruments series has all of that. Demons, wizards, vampires and werewolves; all kinds of exciting supernatural characters and the shadowhunters who interact with them. Ordinary humans are called "mundanes" in this book. There are long-kept family secrets, dark betrayals, acts of courage and strong friendship loyalties.

Clary, apparently a mundane, isn't good at following instructions; the first thing she does when her mother tells her over the phone NOT to come home is to return to her apartment, where Clary is attacked by a demon. A shadowhunter named Jace comes to her rescue and then joins her in her quest to find her mother. Clary looks when she is told not to and stands still when she is instructed to run. Still, she discovers that she has unique, innate abilities and holds her own with her shadowhunter companions.

The writing style is not at all to my taste, relying heavily on cliches: raven black hair; blinding white table linens; frozen in horror; sat bolt upright (with a sudden realization of something that this reader had figured out 100 pages earlier); "dropped the truth on them with the weight of a crushing blow" and so on.

Sometimes the descriptors were oddly chosen, as when Isabelle was "holding a round spoon in her hand" -- since all spoons are rounded, why not describe it as wooden, or metal or long instead, and "in her hand" seems redundant; only mention if she was holding it in some other way, like in her mouth. The tarot cards were "tied up in a silk ribbon." There's nothing wrong with "silk" per se, but why not give us a colour? None of the characters are blind, after all. "White smoke" came out of the teapot when Clary sat down to have her fortune told. There was real tea in the pot, not incense. (I couldn't help but unfavourably compare this bit to the poetic writing by Sonya Harnett in The Ghost's Child where, when Matilda sets down a pot of tea, "quiffs of white steam waltzed and vanished.")

Other times, phrases did not make sense. Clary's arms were "aching and stinging like raw meat." They may have looked like raw meat after her fall, but does meat feel hurt? A "folded piece of paper fluttered to the floor." Clary picked it up and smoothed it out and discovered that it was a photograph. Unless they have been printed on regular bond paper, as on a computer printer, photographic paper is heavy and doesn't "flutter." This was a photo of Clary's parents and a circle of their friends, taken before she was born. There doesn't seem to be any problem of crease lines interfering with the clarity of the image.

Quibbles and overwrought prose aside, the plot kept me interested to the end. This would appeal to fans of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, especially those readers looking for someone with a little more pluck than Bella.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Ghost's Child by Sonya Hartnett

Ahhhh... I love the feeling of being caught up in masterful storytelling. Australian author Hartnett has written a fable that already feels like a classic.

Matilda, an old woman in her 70s, tells a young boy her amazing life story. As a girl, Maddy was a solitary child with emotionally distant, though wealthy, parents. Her only confidante was a nargun, a creature of stone from Australian mythology. Maddy falls in love with an unusual boy. They make a life together, for a time. But, as often happens in real life, two people who love each other can have different paths in life. It is the parting of ways from her loved ones that has a profound impact on Maddy and what shapes the woman she is to become.

Matilda hesitates at some points in her story because of her audience. The boy is not much interested in love, being too young. In another place, "She did not know how far a child should be invited into the world of his elders. With its hard laws and complicated outcomes, the grown-up world was not a good place for children."

A book that explores existential questions in luminous prose. Perfect for thoughtful teens or adults who are looking for something similar to (and much better than) Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist or Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

The Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes

Sometimes visceral shivers, an exploration of the darker side of humanity and a little psychological suspense is exactly what I'm looking for in a book.

Deborah Noyes has written five short stories set in the same haunted mansion in Brittany. The first is a retelling of Edith Wharton's classic ghost story, Kerfol. It takes place in 1613 and is told from a maid's viewpoint. The young noblewoman Perette works for is terrified of her insanely jealous and much older husband. He ends up dead, apparently torn apart by a pack of dogs... but there are no dogs at Kerfol. No living dogs, anyway.

The subsequent tales move forward in time; 1802, 1926, 1982 and 2006. Each weaves in threads from the earlier stories. Intriguing and, appropriately, haunting.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Shadow of Malabron by Thomas Wharton

A young adolescent boy, mourning the death of his mother and angry at the world, becomes lost in the world of story where he must battle monsters and a great evil in order to find his way home. That is the premise of both John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things and Wharton's The Shadow of Malabron.

It's a great premise. Too bad that Wharton doesn't pull it off as well as Connolly did. If I hadn't been motivated by the good experience of reading previous books (Icefields, The Logogryph) by Wharton, I would have put it down before page 30. It takes quite a while for the story to really get going, but the greatest flaw for me was that I didn't feel strongly about any of the characters. On top of that, the dialogue was stilted and the challenges too easily resolved.

The action seemed to flow in time warps, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. It was twilight when Rowen found Will. She led him to a shelter where they ate delicious bowls of vegetable and grain soup, then Moth led them to a town called Fable, where the night streets were busy with people, many carrying rolled papers and books - in the rain! - and then to Rowen's house, where Will had a bath and then a meal of fried sausage and eggs (he was really hungry), then Will explored the house, met Rowen's grandfather, told him how he came to the Perilous Realm, then they had tea and sandwiches... and then finally to bed.

I would find myself having to rework the pictures in my head because of conflicting story details. When the company of adventurers sets off, Finn is wearing the long grey coat of the knights-errant. Two pages later, still setting off, we learn that everyone is dressed in inconspicuous garments of green and brown cloth. Everyone except Finn, I presume. Or is that what Finn is wearing under the coat? A few paragraphs later, we learn that Will and Rowen are wearing leather tunics and boots. Again, I'm puzzled. Tunics over or under the green and brown clothing made of cloth? Why didn't Wharton describe their outfits all at once?

Speaking of garments, the cloak worn by one of the bad guys was obviously evil because it was spelled in an olde English way; the shrowde. (Kind of the way a "wyrm" in other fantasy novels is much larger and more dangerous than plain old "worms.") That was a good part.

There are other good parts. Amusing made-up quotes at the start of each chapter, for example. I liked the source of a bit about wolves: Balthazar Budd's Flora and Fauna of Wildernesse. There is a fine ice dragon... in a deus ex machina role. I enjoyed the references to other tales; Little Red Riding Hood, The Lord of the Rings, The Three Little Pigs, even The Paperbag Princess.

For diehard fantasy fans only. Age 10 and up.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi

An adventure fantasy set in a world much like Japan of the middle ages, starring a woman warrior. Basha is a bodyguard hired to protect a young prince from his own father, the Mikado, as well as from a monster who lives a parallel world. Skillful with her short spear and a master of martial arts, Basha needs all of her strength, courage and wisdom for this job.

It was the cover art, reminiscent of Hokusai's woodblock print, The Wave, that first drew me to this book. The story drew me in from Basha's spectacular initial saving of the prince, when he was thrown from a high bridge into the river (the scene depicted on the cover). In the author's note at the end, I learned that there are ten more tales in the series, that it is available in manga format and that it was recently made into an animated series for television. Good news!

Moribito is an excellent choice for a reader looking for something like Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otari.