Saturday, February 27, 2016

Anna and the Swallow Man - Gavriel Savit

Title: Anna and the Swallow Man
Author: Gavriel Savit
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 230 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: February 19, 2016
Finished: February 26, 2016

From the inside cover:

Krakow, 1939. A million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. This is no place to grow up. Anna Lania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father, a linguistics professor, during their purge of intellectuals in Poland. She's alone.

And then Anna meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall, a skilled deceiver with more than a little magic up his sleeve. And when the soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see.

The Swallow Man is not Anna's father - she knows that very well - but she also knows that, like her father, he's in danger of being taken, and like her father, he has a gift for languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, even Bird. When he summons a bright, beautiful swallow down to his hand to stop her from crying, Anna is entranced. She follows him into the wilderness.

Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgement, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous. Even the Swallow Man.

Destined to become a classic, Gavriel Savit's stunning debut. reveals life's hardest lessons while celebrating its miraculous possibilities.

Wow. I'm truly at a loss for words in regards to this book. When I read the summary before the release date in January I knew I had to get my hands on this book. Let's just say the hype is very well deserved and I'm simply enchanted.

Anna lives in Poland in 1939 with her father, who is a linguistics professor at the university. By the time she is seven years old at the start of the book, she is proficient in several languages thanks to his upbringing. When her father is summoned to work one day and leaves her with a friend, neither of them consider that this would be the last time they would see each other. When the friend abandons Anna to her own devices, she soon meets the Swallow Man, a mysterious stranger who is a master of survival and deception, and like Anna's father, speaks multiple languages. Anna instinctively trusts him and decides to go with him:

"There was no question that the tall stranger was not a reassuring presence. There was a menace to him, a quiet intensity that that was in no way akin to the sot of quality that people cultivate in order to attract the affections of children. All the same, though, there was something in him - perhaps the part that had spoken so easily to the swallow - that fascinated her. He was strange, to be sure, this man, but his was a pungent, familiar sort of strangeness. Perhaps Anna and her father had not had a language of their own - or perhaps their language had been every language. Anna felt irresistibly that in this tall stranger she had found another of their rare tribe - a man of many tongues." (21-22)

And with that, Anna follows the Swallow Man out of Krakow and into the Polish countryside. They travel constantly over the course of several years, managing to avoid detection. The Swallow Man is at the same time someone to be feared and admired: he does not mince words with Anna over the dire circumstances they've found themselves in, but perhaps due to paternal instinct he makes things almost like a game for her, telling her they are travelling to find a rare bird, and comparing German and Russian soldiers to wolves and bears they must avoid in order to survive.

The writing in this book is superb. The author writes not only with intelligence, but with a sense of whimsy and magical realism. Every word is carefully crafted and chosen for its impact on the reader, take these two sections:

" 'A river goes along wherever the riverbank does. It never has to ask which way, but only flows along...What I mean, then, is I'll be the riverbank and you be the river. In all things. Can you promise me that?...And someday...when you are much, much older, you must ask me what erosion is.' " (43)

"There seemed to be no words worthy of speech, there and then, in any of the myriad languages between Anna and the Swallow Man. A word is a tiny moment of time devoted to the conjuring aloud of some small corner of what is - 'apple,' say, or 'running'; even 'fully' or 'mystery.' But there was no significance to anything that was, in that moment, only what was not." (175)

The characters themselves are well-crafted. Anna is a child throughout the book, and we're never made to forget it despite her being intelligent and precocious. The Swallow Man is perhaps one of the most fascinating characters I've ever seen. He is both frightening and reassuring, we constantly question his motivation, but like Anna, we know he is good, his goodness just doesn't manifest in ways we expect.

The war of course is a back-drop to the novel. Since the characters purposefully travel around the battles and pop into settled areas rarely, it's a subtle element that proverbially smacks us in the face now and then, like when Anna and the Swallow Man come across a mass grave for example.

The little details and hints, and the ending, still have me puzzling over the book even after finishing it. I can't muse too much here for fear of spoilers, but needless to say I need to find other people who have read this so I can have a book-nerd conversation with them about it.

You need to read this book. The writing is outstanding, the story is simple yet complex, and the characters are enthralling. This is a story you won't soon forget.

Thoughts on the cover:
Simple yet very fitting.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Passenger - Alexandra Bracken

Title: Passenger
Author: Alexandra Bracken
Publisher: Hyperion, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 486 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Started: February 12, 2016
Finished: February 24, 2016

From the inside cover:

passage, n.
i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.
ii. A journey by water; a voyage.
iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.

In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she's inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she's never heard of. Until now.

Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods - a powerful family in the colonies - and the servitude he's known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can't escape and the family that won't let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas' passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them - whether she wants to or not.

Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods' grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are playing, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home...forever.

I've read a few things from this author, from her debut book, Brightly Woven, which I loved to pieces, to her more recent series, The Darkest Minds, which was good but didn't endear me to it like her debut did. Passenger took a little while to get going, but when it did it blew me away.

Passenger's world building takes a while to develop, mostly because Etta is kept in the dark by her mother and so readers discover things at the same incredibly agonizing pace that Etta does. I had to push myself through the first 70 pages or so until things really picked up, and from then on the novel moves along at a quick pace and doesn't stop.

The characters are quite refreshing. Etta (Henrietta) is a violinist and Nicholas is a mariner, so I appreciated the music and sailing references the author worked into the book. Etta's feisty and independent, which compared to the times she travels to, it makes her stand out. Nicholas is a character I really appreciated: a biracial young man from the 18th century who works at sea to escape not only the racial tensions of his time, but also the Ironwoods who have controlled him in the past. I actually enjoyed Nicholas more than Etta; its rare that I enjoy the male protagonist more than the female, but Nicholas was just too appealing not to love (especially his 18th century chivalry). The romance between Nicholas and Etta was well done: the attraction was instant but the love developed gradually, both very respectful of each other while still maintaining their own sense of self, plus they are a biracial couple, something we sadly don't see very often in modern YA literature.

Passenger is the first book in a series (not sure how many as of yet), so don't get turned off by the cliffhanger ending because there is at least one more book coming. I'll definitely be picking up the next installment because Passenger's world has me hooked.

Excellent premise and world building with admirable characters, though it does start off slow.

Thoughts on the cover:
Beautiful. I love the ship in a bottle idea, except the ship is reflected on the bottom (Nicholas' world) with modern day New York most visible at the top (Etta's world). The colour scheme is appealing overall as well.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Lumberjanes #2 - Stevenson, Ellis, Watters, Allen

Title: Lumberjanes Volume 2: Friendship to the Max
Author: Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, and Brooke Allen
Publisher: Boom! Box, 2015 (Paperback)
Length: 112 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Graphic Novel
Started: February 7, 2016
Finished: February 7, 2016

From the back cover:

Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are not your average campers, and Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types is not your average summer camp. Between the river monsters, magic, and the art of friendship bracelets, this summer is only just beginning. Join the Lumberjanes as they take on raptors and a sibling rivalry that only myths are made of.

This New York Times bestseller and Eisner Award-Nominated series is written by awesome all-star Noelle Stevenson (Nimona, Adventure Time) and brilliant newcomer Grace Ellis, and illustrated by the tremendously talented Brooke Allen (A Home for Mr. Easter)

After finally reading some highly recommended comics over the summer, including the first volume of Lumberjanes, I am officially hooked on anything attached to Noelle Stevenson's name. This second volume of Lumberjanes is no exception, in fact, I think I like it even more than the first volume.

The girls are starting to figure out the magical occurrences at camp, if they can just evade counsellor Jen long enough to investigate. They soon get caught up in an ambush by raptors (I appreciated the Jurassic Park kitchen scene reference), as well as a fight for absolute power among Artemis and Apollo. The elements I loved from the first volume are still present here: off-the wall quirky humour, nice diversity amongst the characters (we even get a super cute LGBTQ kiss scene in this volume), and an all-around really powerful female-centric comic that we honestly need more of.

Pure awesome. Not to mention it's appropriate for all ages, even though I list it as young adult since I think some of the humour would go over little kids' heads, there's no inappropriate content. I can't wait for volume three that's supposed to come out in April of this year.

Thoughts on the cover:
Again liking the Stevenson over (Allen's art makes up the work itself).