Thursday, December 30, 2010

Anticipated Reads for 2011

Since I finished my list of my favourite reads of 2010, I thought I'd look forward to my long list of anticipated reads for 2011. The list for this year is longer than last year's, mainly because a lot of my anticipated titles are continuations of series I began reading this year.

Without further ado:

The Hidden - Jessica Verday, third installment of The Hollow series.

Luminous - Dawn Metcalf
This one looks gorgeous based on the cover alone, and the plot looks good too (about a girl who can take off her own own skin).

Nightspell - Leah Cypess, sequel to Mistwood

The Water Wars - Cameron Stracher
This is a new dystopia one based off the concept that our water supply is running out.

The Warlock - Michael Scott, 5th installment of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series

Huntress - Malinda Lo, companion novel to Ash (same universe, different characters)

Imaginary Girls - Nova Ren Suma

Hunt for the Unicorn - C.C. Humphreys
This is on my list purely because it's a unicorn story and I haven't read one of those since I was 6 ^^;

Desires of the Dead - Kimberly Derting, sequel to The Body Finder

Where She Went - Gayle Forman, sequel to If I Stay

Illusions - Aprilynne Pike, third installment of the Wings trilogy

The Iron Witch - Karen Mahoney
This is a new fairy/faerie novel with a nice dark twist to it

Plague - Michael Grant, 4th installment in the Gone series

The Dark and Hollow Places - Carrie Ryan, sequel/companion to The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves

Outside In - Maria V. Snyder, sequel to Inside Out

Dead Reckoning - Charlaine Harris, 11th book in the Sookie Stackhouse series (aka True Blood)

Annnd, all the books that don't have cover images available yet:

-Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
Pleaseeeee let this come out this year, I wanna read it so bad!

- Clariel: The Last Abhorsen by Garth Nix
I read the Abhorsen Trilogy back when I was in high school, so this unexpected addition to is comes as a pleasant surprise

- Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson
sequel to Chains and Forge

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

End of the Year Review - Best of 2010

Continuing from my post back in June where I posted on the best books from the first half of 2010 , this is a list of the best books I've read in the second half of this year. Again, since I read more YA than other genres, there will be more of those listed than in any other category. Since I don't have a rating system (ratings are subjective anyway), you'll have to skim the reviews to see if these will impress you as much as they did me. These are in no particular order, and the books aren't all necessarily published in 2010 (but most are), I just happened to read them in 2010.


1. The Grimm Legacy - Polly Shulman

2. Mirror Mirror - Marilyn Singer

3. Once - Morris Gleitzman


1. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larsson

Young Adult

1. The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie

2. The Vinyl Princess - Yvonne Printz

3. Lies - Michael Grant

4. Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins

5. Keturah and Lord Death - Martine Leavitt

6. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks - E. Lockhart

7. Life As We Knew It - Susan Beth Pfeffer and The Dead and The Gone - Susan Beth Pfeffer

8. Monsters of Men - Patrick Ness

9. The Girl With The Mermaid Hair - Delia Ephron

10. Enchanted Ivy - Sarah Beth Durst

11. The Scorch Trials - James Dashner

12. Jane - April Lindner

And even though it isn't published yet, I'm adding Wither - Lauren DeStefano to this list too, if for nothing else than to get people excited for it come March.

*Note: the picture I used for the title image in this post is from Ron Gonsalves' collection of paintings.

Jane - April Lindner

Title: Jane
Author: April Lindner
Publisher: Poppy (Little, Brown and Company), 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 365 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Classic, Realistic Fiction
Started: December 26, 2010
Finished: December 28, 2010

From the inside cover:
Forced to drop out of an esteemed East Coast college after the sudden death of her parents, Jane Moore takes a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Practical and independent, Jane reluctantly becomes entranced by her magnetic and brooding employer and finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance.

But there's a mystery at Thornfield, and Jane's much-envied relationship with Nico is soon tested by an agonizing secret from his past. Torn between her feelings for Nico and his fateful secret, Jane must decide: Does being true to herself mean giving up on true love?

An irresistible romance interwoven with a darkly engrossing mystery, this contemporary retelling of the beloved classic Jane Eyre promises to enchant a new generation of readers.

As soon as I saw a listing for this book back in the summer and realized it was a modern retelling of Jane Eyre, I knew I had to read it. Jane Eyre is my favourite of the old classics, and it made me so mad that we never got to study it in my university English classes...we had to do the Austen works, which I hated. Yes, I'm a literature major and an English teacher and I'm the first to admit I cannot stand the Austen books for the life of me, but I fell in love with Bronte's Jane Eyre. I've read some very good retellings of classic stories, and they always have a similar feeling about them. In my opinion, a good retelling needs to embody the same kind of spirit that the original story had, just with different details to modernize it or otherwise change it. Jane does that. I remembered what I felt the first time I read Jane Eyre as a kid, and I had the same experience reading Jane.

Jane is an extremely faithful retelling, and all the changes made are appropriate and work well in the modern context of the story. I was actually very impressed with just how well everything worked together. I could tell that the author obviously loved the original story in order to make such a good and proper retelling; and after reading the author's note at the end, turns out she really does. Jane's character is serious and practical, but feisty and fierce in her own way, and that came across really well. Making the Mr. Rochester character (Nico Rathburn) into a rock star was pure genius, it allowed all the class issues and such from the original to work in a modern setting. Rather than take the first portion of the novel to delve into Jane's childhood as the original does, Jane catapults the reader right into her applying at the nanny agency and we see her childhood through flashbacks, usually while talking about one of her family members, which I think works much better than the method taken by the original.

If you've read the original story you'll know how the plot goes, so it won't be much of a surprise, but the beauty is in the details. Jane first encounters Nico after almost running her over in his sports car rather than a horse, Nico pretends to be engaged to a "Bianca" Ingram as opposed to "Blanche" in the original. Jane is as familiar as an old friend, but one that you've been apart from and enjoy reconnecting with.

This is a retelling I could see my students reading. A lot of kids today would like the subject matter of a lot of the older classics but get turned off by the language used and don't end up reading them. That's why I like retellings that are properly done, like Jane. They allow kids to enjoy a story they might not otherwise have read in the original format.

Stellar and beautiful. Read this whether you're a fan of the original or not, it's one of the best novels I've read this year.

Thoughts on the cover:
Pretty yet haunting too. I like how Jane's eyes are closed and her head slightly off to the side. I also like how she's dressed in what could be modern Victorian style inspired clothing. The grey and hot pink colour scheme works well together, plus the inside cover pages are the same hot pink, a severely under-represented colour.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Zombies Vs. Unicorns - Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

Title: Zombies Vs. Unicorns
Author: Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (Simon & Schuster), 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: December 26, 2010
Finished: December 27, 2010

It's a question as old as time itself: which is better, the zombie or the unicorn? In this anthology, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (unicorn and zombie, respectively), strong arguments are made for both sides in the form of short stories. Half of the stories portray the strengths--for good and evil--of unicorns and half show the good (and really, really bad-ass) side of zombies. Contributors include many bestselling teen authors, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan. This anthology will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?

This is the kind of book a geek carries around for the sole purpose of acting as a conversation starter or attracting the attention of the opposite sex (or the same sex if that's what floats your boat). Not only is it wonderfully entertaining, it's one of those incredibly geeky things that will be the stuff of inside jokes for eons.

Zombies vs. Unicorns is edited by Holly Black (Team Unicorn) and Justine Larbalestier (Team Zombie), and includes short stories from various young adult authors (all big names too) that seek to answer the question of what is better: zombies or unicorns? Reading the book didn't really sway my opinion, I still think unicorns can kick zombie butt any day: huge, massive, horse-like creatures with a weapon fused to the middle of their heads? No contest.

The selection of authors gives every YA reader something they like, they even had a story by Garth Nix (my fave YA author from when I was actually in the target demographic of YA). Like all short story anthologies, some stories you're going to like better than others, which the same is true here, some are stellar and some aren't so hot. The stories range from humorous to serious across different subject matter (but always including either zombies or unicorns or both). Some of my favourites were "Purity Test" by Naomi Novick and Carrie Ryan's "Bougainvillea". Better even than the stories is the commentary by Black and Larbalestier before each story where they square off to defend their respective teams, it's hilarious to say the least.

This is a must read for geeky readers who after hearing the title respond with "that is awesome!", or for readers that just have a really unique sense of humour.

Thoughts on the cover:
This is one of the more unique covers I've seen. The black dust jacket actually doesn't cover the entire cover all the way, so it allows you to see the mass of colour battle scene beneath it. The battle scene itself is amazingly detailed, I really hope the paperback version retains these things.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Crusade - Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie

Title: Crusade
Author: Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie
Publisher: Simon Pulse, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 470 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: December 18, 2010
Finished: December 26, 2010

From the back and inside covers:
“For thousands of years the Cursed Ones hid in the shadows, fooling mankind into thinking they didn’t exist. Then one day they just…stopped. Skeptics turned into believers one fateful dawn. And no one was ever safe again.”
—From the diary of Jenn Leitner, discovered in the ashes

The Cursed Ones have made their presence known, and the world will never be the same.

For the past two years, Jenn has lived and trained at Spain’s Sacred Heart Academy Against the Cursed Ones. She is among the few who have pledged to defend humanity or die trying. But the vampires are gaining power, and the battle has only just begun.

Forced to return home after death takes a member of her family, Jenn discovers that San Francisco is now a vampire stronghold. As a lone hunter apart from her team, Jenn is isolated—and at risk. She craves the company of her fighting partner, Antonio: his protection, his reassurance, his touch. But a relationship with Antonio comes with its own dangers, and the more they share of themselves, the more Jenn stands to lose.

Then Jenn is betrayed by one who was once bound to protect her, causing her to doubt all she has held as true. To survive, Jenn must find the courage to trust herself—and her heart.

Real vampires, the ones I remember from my childhood stories, sure as heck don't sparkle. That's one thing this book got completely right. This is a vampire-centric story, but with "real" vampires that are actually dangerous and kill people. This book reminded me of a young adult version of True Blood (the show or the books): Vampires come out of the closet and pretend to not be as bad as we assume they are, but secretly take more control than we realize. This book even had a more family-friendly concept of True Blood's "fangbanger" - girls who vow to date vampires rather than human boys.

Anywhoo, there are bands of hunters that keep humanity safe from nests of vampires across the world, and this book follows a team of hunters after they graduate from Sacred Heart Academy in Spain (known as the Salamanca Hunters). Jenn, Antonio, Skye, Holgar, Jamie, and Eriko are all teenagers from different areas of the world that chose to train to become hunters. Better yet, Skye is a witch, Holgar is a werewolf, and Antonio is actually a vampire himself. Who is also in love with Jenn. But manages to control his blood-lust issues around his team. You were waiting for that weren't you? It seems cliche, but this book actually presents the plot quite well, even with the cliche inclusion of supernatural elements in the team itself. The team members are actually very distrustful of each other, I loved it, everyone's slyly thinking the worst of's nice not to have everybody so lovey-dovey right off the bat, makes it more realistic.

The book does an excellent job of character development. Each of the 6 main characters gets a chance to have things told from their point of view (including what they think of their teammates), as well as their backstory. This omniscient third person point of view allows the reader to really get to know each of the main 6, and results in extremely well-developed characters. I liked that each character had a distinct personality but each of them were very realistic. I loved Jamie even though he was a bit of a bastard, Holgar is just plain cool, Eriko is determined as befits her leader role, Skye is soft-spoken but not a wimp, Jenn is forever doubting her contributions to the team, and Antonio is the tortured soul (did I mention he's an extremely religious Catholic vampire?).

The plot is very action-filled, especially towards the end; but I felt the plot dragged nonetheless, I think it could've benefitted from being shortened by about a hundred pages, some of the descriptions of secondary plot points were not that necessary.

If you're looking for a vampire story of the non-sparkly variety that would appeal to guys as well as girls with wonderfully developed characters, read this!

Thoughts on the cover:
Very cool. The black and red colour scheme with Antonio's cross against the gates makes for a great piece of eye-candy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wither - Lauren DeStefano

Title: Wither (Book 1 in The Chemical Garden Trilogy)
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher: Simon & Schuster BFYR, March 22 2011 (Hardcover) (Review copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 358 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction
Started: December 22, 2010
Finished: December 22, 2010

From the author's website:
What if you knew exactly when you would die?

Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limted time she has left.

I can't tell you how immensely happy I was to receive an ARC of Wither (thanks Simon & Schuster!), especially after seeing so many people who had already read their ARC copies rave about it. My voice will be added to those raving reviews about Wither, it was a truly amazing book.

Wither opens up in an interesting premise. Sometime in a future where North America is the only land still standing, human beings have managed to cure cancer, allergies, and pretty much any life-threatening ailment. Any babies born during this generation (called the First Generation) benefitted from these advances and are essentially immortal, though they do show their age. However, something went wrong when these individuals tried to apply the same medical advances to their own children, and all generations born afterwards have contracted a virus that results in death at the age of twenty for females and twenty-five for males, no exceptions. Every human is literally a ticking time bomb.

With so many of their children dying early in life, First Generation scientists are trying to uncover a cure. At the same time, teenage girls are kidnapped by Gatherers from their homes and families and sold into polygamous marriages in order to keep the population thriving (not to mention provide new test subjects for experiments relating to the cure that everyone wants).

Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery lives in Manhattan with her twin brother Rowan after their scientist parents are killed, and finds herself held in an expansive estate in Florida after being kidnapped with a group of other girls. She is chosen by Housemaster Vaughn to be one of three new brides to his son, Linden Ashby, along with 13-year-old Cecily and 18-year-old Jenna. The girls are treated like queens and are given anything they want, but they are confined to the grounds of the mansion and are essentially expected to be baby factories until they die. Wither essentially chronicles Rhine's efforts to escape the estate and regain her freedom.

Okay, enough retelling of the plot, on to the good stuff.

This book had me hooked from the first page; it's hard not to get caught up in Rhine's plight and to really feel for her as a character and want her to succeed. I'm really glad this book fulfilled all the hype and expectations I had, because I had thought that The Hunger Games books had created a new unattainable threshold of YA novels for me and that I'd never be able to fully enjoy other books again, but thankfully there are still equally wonderful authors out there that create a piece like Wither that just envelops and sucks you in until you wish the rest of the series would materialize in your hand so you could hibernate for a few days and just finish the whole thing. Yes, it was just that good.

I loved the character development in this book, all the characters are very fleshed out, even Vaughn. I especially like the development with Rhine and Linden. Rhine is determined to escape the mansion and wants to hate Linden with all her being for separating her from her brother, but when she realizes that Linden is as much a victim as she is and that he actually does care for her, she argues with herself over whether she could just stay and be the favourite wife and all the benefits it entails. I liked how the author showed Rhine wavering in her decision, because I'm sure it would be pretty tempting offer for most people. I kind of wish we got to see more of Gabriel, but what I did see of him I liked; plus I'm sure we'll get to see more of Gabriel in the upcoming installments.

The issue of ownership is wonderfully explored in this novel. As soon as these girls are orphaned at a young age as so many are, they are fair game for anyone that wants to take them. Everyone knows that these girls are forcefully taken and have no freedom, but because they appear on the arm of their husbands on television looking like celebrities and they seem to be better off for it, everyone ignores the fact that the girls are being forced into marriages and childbirth. There are a lot of teachable moments in the book: issues of ownership, ethics and morality related to enslavement and forced reproduction, not to mention biological and scientific ethics...this book is a gold mine for discussion in a class.

Although sex plays a big role in this novel (the girls are brides in the full extent of the word and are expected to perform in that way), the issues relating to it are presented very tastefully. The act of sex between Linden and the girls is hinted at but never actually explicitly stated, and the idea of pregnancy is also handled quite well, meaning it doesn't glorify teen pregnancies for anybody who's worried about that. The girls are never forced into anything sexually, although the idea of tiny 13-year-old Cecily having sex still squicks me out regardless, but I'm pretty sure that is intended in order to see how messed up Rhine's world really is.

The writing is beautiful. Rhine's voice is eloquent, yet not pretentious; and there's no issue of showing versus telling, the author does a wonderful job of showing the reader everything through Rhine's eyes without having to spell it out for you.

The plot is well done and layered with the issues of escape as well as Vaughn, not to mention that it goes along at a good pace, so there's no boring lag that most books I've read lately tend to suffer from.

The book really reminds me of a YA version of The Handmaid's Tale, but much better. I'm a teacher, and a Canadian, and I'll be the first to admit that I can't stand Margaret Atwood's books. I loathed it when we had to read her stuff when I was in high school and I still apologize to my classes if we have to read her stuff nowadays. It's just not an enjoyable reading experience for kids today. I'm a big proponent of using modern YA books with similar themes in classrooms to replace certain outdated "classics" that we force kids to read. I'm still trying to get some of my local schools to drop Lord of The Flies in favour of Michael Grant's Gone, without much success, but I'm still trying. Wither is a book that I can say as a teacher that I would consider using to replace The Handmaid's Tale as a more approachable novel with similar themes for use in a classroom. This is going to be a book that I'll talk about in my class for sure, either to recommend to my students or to go on a reading list for a final project if I can't actually use it as a full-class novel study.

This book is the beginning of a trilogy, so there are more installments forthcoming; and I can guarantee you that I will be impatiently waiting until I see a listing for book 2, which I'm hoping will be sometime within the next year, and will be the first to pre-order it. Wither comes out on March 22, 2011, so mark it on your calendars!

Did you see how much I wrote up there? All positives. It's awesome and brilliant. Just trust me, pick up this book when it comes out on March 22, 2011, you won't be disappointed! Due to the content, I wouldn't give it to anyone younger than high school aged, so not for the kiddies.

Thoughts on the cover:
I think people have been buzzing about the cover just as much as the content of the book. It's gorgeous, probably one of my favourite covers that I've seen period. The pink font fits well against the dark purple background, and I like the circles and the boxes and how some of the text is aligned on its side, it really makes for a dynamic image. Rhine looks just as I pictured her, and I especially like how the circles connect her face to the wedding ring, and the bird in the cage. I could have a whole class discussion on the metaphors and allegory just in the cover alone.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Blogger Holiday Swap Part 2! (plus extra mail surprise)

Today was the culminating effect of a crazy weekend. My husband got sick with a bad head cold on Saturday (he never gets sick but reverts to a whiny 5-year-old when he does), my first family Christmas get-together of the year on Sunday was plain nuts and not enjoyable, and today I had to take my skittish dog to the vet for her bi-annual check-up (which was stressful for her and in turn, for me).

So I come home and calm down the dog and get the mail, and I find two super awesome surprises waiting for me. One was the last part of my Secret Santa package from the Book Blogger Holiday Swap 2010 from Cindy in Quebec.

And it's Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson! For anyone that's read my blog, Laurie Halse Anderson is one of very few authors that I will read anything they write regardless of the subject matter because they are just that good. I read a book of hers that dealt with anorexia, Wintergirls , and actually enjoyed it even though eating disorders are one of the topics I tend to avoid in my reading. Forge is the sequel to Chains , which I read earlier this year and loved (obviously), so I've had Forge on my wish-list since it came out. So thank you Cindy! You made my day yet again, and made me smile when I really needed something to smile about ^_^

If finding Forge in my mailbox wasn't enough of a pleasant surprise, I received yet another package that resulted in yet more squees of delight.

That's right, it's Wither by Lauren DeStefano. One of the most anticipated YA books in the blogsphere, and Simon and Schuster sent me an ARC copy 3 months before its release date! Like everyone else who reads YA, I've been really looking forward to this one, especially since it's dystopian, so getting an unexpected ARC of it is a really nice bonus. Hopefully the book lives up to the hype it's receiving.

So between my well-loved historical fiction and a dystopian ARC, I've got plenty to keep me happy and reading over the Christmas break until I join my students again in the new year ^__^

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The King's Speech - Mark Logue and Peter Conradi

Title: The King's Speech
Author: Mark Logue and Peter Conradi
Publisher: Penguin Canada, 2010 (Paperback)
Length: 230 pages
Genre: Adult; Nonfiction
Started: December 16, 2010
Finished: December 18, 2010

From the back of the book:
One man saved the British Royal Family in the first decades of the 20th century-and he wasn't a prime minister or an archbishop. He was an almost unknown, and self-taught, speech therapist called Lionel Logue, whom one newspaper in the 1930s famously dubbed "The Quack who saved a King".

Logue wasn't a British aristocrat or even an Englishman-he was a commoner and an Australian to boot. Nevertheless, it was the outgoing, amiable Logue who single-handedly turned the nervous, tongue-tied Duke of York into one of Britain's greatest kings after his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936 over his love of Wallis Simpson.

This is the hitherto untold story of the remarkable relationship between Logue and the haunted future King George VI. Written with Logue's grandson and drawing exclusively from his grandfather Lionel's diaries and archive, it throws an extraordinary light on the intimacy between the two men-and the vital role the King's wife, Elizabeth, known to a later generation as the Queen Mother, played in bringing them together to save her husband's reputation and reign.

The King's Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy offers astonishing insight into a private world. Logue's diaries also reveal, for the first time, the torment the future King suffered at the hands of his father, George V, because of his stammer. Never before has there been such an intimate portrait of the British monarchy-at the time of its greatest crisis-seen through the eyes of an Australian commoner who was proud to serve, and save, his King.

I had the opportunity to see an advance screening of The King's Speech film a few days ago (it doesn't open in wide release until Dec. 22), and loved it to bits. The history behind the film is something that peaked my interest, and after I didn't win a raffle copy of the book they were giving away at the screening, I went out and bought my own.

I was surprised to find that the movie actually preceded the book, that Logue's grandson was inspired to write the book after being invited to the movie set. Apparently the scene in the film where Logue recites Shakespeare with his boys is true, since the grandson remembers his father (Logue's son) doing the same with him.

The book is nicely laid out and devotes a few chapters each to the early lives of Logue and the Duke of York before their meeting in the late 1926. The section on the Duke of York's early life was the most interesting to me, since the film touched on a few details from that period that I wanted to see if they were true or not (they were). The book also goes beyond where the movie ends in 1939, to the deaths of the King and Logue in the 1950s. There were a few key differences between the film and the book that made me glad I'd read the book. The film makes it out like the Duke's stutter is mainly a mental thing, whereas the book says the opposite, that it was purely a physical thing that could be corrected through the use of special techniques. The passage of time is also hard to tell in the film, it's made out as if the Duke and Logue saw each other constantly from 1926 until the big war speech in 1939, but in reality they saw each other frequently until around 1928 and then met very infrequently from then on since the Duke had a handle over his speech issues (though Logue was with him for every speech he had to give).

If you end up seeing The King's Speech and want to get some of the facts straight, or if you find the subject matter interesting in general, pick up the book version of The King's Speech and enjoy this quick little read.

Well worth reading if the subject matter interests you, but don't expect a novelization of the movie, this is much more factual than the film.

Thoughts on the cover:
Not sure how I feel about having Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush on the cover, I'd kinda prefer photos of the actual King and Logue, but I'm pretty sure Firth and Rush are nicer to look at either way ^^;

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Once - Morris Gleitzman

Title: Once
Author: Morris Gleitzman
Publisher: Puffin Books (Penguin), 2010 (Originally published in Australia in 2005)
Length: 150 pages
Genre: Children's Historical Fiction
Started: December 13, 2010
Finished: December 14, 2010

From the publisher's website:
For three years and eight months Felix has lived in a convent orphanage high in the mountains in Poland. But Felix is different from the other orphans. He is convinced his parents are still alive and will come back to get him. When a group of Nazi soldiers come and burn the nuns' books, Felix is terrified that his Jewish, bookseller parents will also be in danger. After escaping from the orphanage, Felix embarks on a long and dangerous journey through Nazi occupied Poland, befriending a little orphan girl called Zelda and a kindly dentist, Barney, who hides and cares for Jewish children. But when the Nazis discover them, Barney makes the ultimate sacrifice for the children.

This book is extremely similar to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, it was almost eerie. Felix is left at an orphanage in his native Poland for nearly 4 years by his Jewish parents, telling him they will return for him once their bookseller business recovers. The 4 years go by and it is now 1942, and Felix is still convinced that his parents will return for him. After seeing Nazi soldiers burn the books at his Catholic orphanage, he escapes back to the town he used to live in for fear that his parents' store will meet the same fate. Once there he finds other people living in his old house, and rescues a little girl named Zelda after her parents are killed. Felix and Zelda travel to the city, where they are rounded up and placed in the Warsaw ghetto, where they are hidden by Barney, a dentist.

Throughout the whole story, Felix begins to lose his innocence in small increments. He starts off thinking the Nazis are soldiers brought in to reorganize the orphanage's library and they're burning the books because they had too many leftover. Then he realizes the Nazis aren't after the Jews for their books, that they're after the Jews themselves. Felix refuses to believe his parents aren't still alive until Barney tells him about the concentration camps, and that's when Felix loses his love of stories.

The idea of books and stories is a metaphor for Felix's childhood innocence and sense of hope in a desperate situation. As he learns more about the horrors the Nazis are inflicting upon his people, Felix begins to resent stories as he is thrust into reality. Once differs from The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in that Bruno was still very childlike and naive throughout the book, whereas Felix in Once is forced to accept his situation and then he makes a decision on how he's going to react to everything he's heard.

Because of the themes and they way Felix goes through the story, I think this novel would be better suited to older children (10-12), but it should definitely be read, one of the best children's books I've read this year due to the writing alone.

Thoughts on the cover:
Eh, it's okay, but it looks like everything's just been badly photoshopped into it. The copy I read was the Australian one, so not sure what the domestic release cover looks like.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mercury - Hope Larson

Title: Mercury
Author: Hope Larson
Publisher: Atheneum Books (Simon & Schuster), 2010 (Paperback)
Length: 234 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Graphic Novel
Started: December 13, 2010
Finished: December 13, 2010

From the back of the book:
In 1859 French Hill, Nova Scotia, Josey Fraser has just met handsome Asa Curry-a man with a mysterious and traveled past. While quickly winning young Josey's heart, Asa reveals a secret ability to locate gold on the Fraser's farm. But there is a darkness in the in Asa.

In the same town one hundred and fifty years later, Tara Fraser is dealing with the aftermath of her house burning down; a house that has been in her family-and Josey's-for generations, when Tara discovers a pendant that turns out to be much more than a simple heirloom. As Josey's story plunges into tragedy, Tara's emerges with the promise of gold.

A compelling combination of history and romance, marked with Larson's signature touch of magical realism, Mercury is a remarkable depiction of two girls tied by blood and separated by time.

Mercury operates in two timeframes that occupy the same setting: the fictional French Hill in Nova Scotia. Josey Fraser lives in 1859 before Confederation, and Tara Fraser lives in modern day 2009. Both girls are living typical teenage problems: Josey is trying to be true to her heart that loves Asa Curry while dealing with her family that doesn't approve of him, and Tara is dealing with a mother working in another province that wants her to move away from the place where their family is from. The mercury in the title refers to a necklace with a drop of mercury in it originally owned by Asa that gets passed down to Tara that has the ability to detect gold, almost like a divining rod for finding water. The necklace is a catalyst for change in both the girls' lives, both positive and negative.

What amazed me was that the author/illustrator isn't Canadian, but she told the story with such attention to detail that I assumed that she was Canadian, she even incorporated local myth and legend from the area. I love her little footnotes explaining what a "loonie" and a "double double" are for the non-Canadian readers.

The switch between the time periods was very frequent, but signified by a darkened black border (1859) or blank white border (modern day), so it wasn't confusing at all. The author made the switch at the right times, just when each girl's story began to see similarities to the other's.

All in all, a really engaging historical fiction aligned with realistic fiction, with a touch of magic.

One of the better graphic novels I've read this year, a good choice for kids that like historical fiction or that just like unique concepts in general.

Thoughts on the cover:
Very cool. The way the silhouette of Josey/Tara turns into the shadow of the crow that all originates from the smoke of the burning house is very well done.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Too funny not to share

Sorry, this was too true-to-life and had to post it. Found from Incidental Comics .

Folly - Marthe Jocelyn

Title: Folly
Author: Marthe Jocelyn
Publisher: Tundra Books, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 250 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: December 11, 2010
Finished: December 12, 2010

From the inside cover:
It is the late 1800s, and a few moments of folly lock together the destinies of four people.

Mary, who begins "exceedingly ingnorant" (apart from what a girl can learn from family mayhem, a dead mother, and a grim stepmother), but who learns more than she'd like to about lust and betrayal in the fine London house where she works as a servant.

Eliza, another maid, is Mary's nemesis-but who is the betrayer and who betrayed?

A teacher named Oliver avoids feeling anything, while knowing too well what matters.

And then there's the fostered boy, James, torn away from the only family who cares for him to grow up in the stern confines of a foundling home. What chance does he have without knowing his roots?

In the chaotic way of true history, where the past, present, and future collide, Marthe Jocelyn uses four voices to tell a spellbinding story that brings Victorian London to life and explores emotions, joy, and sorrows that are as current as today's news.

Folly is a short read, but a good one. Four voices from the 1870s and 1880s merge together to show how one simple act can affect the lives of numerous people, although all four characters are seemingly strangers until readers piece together how they're connected. The story is mainly Mary and James', but Oliver and Eliza were good additions to round things out: Mary is sympathetic but naive, Eliza is blinded by jealousy, Oliver is a kind and enigmatic, and James is a spunky little guy (I had a soft spot for James). The alternating points of view aren't confusing since all four characters have such distinct voices (right down to the slang they do or don't use), but readers need to pay attention to the dates that accompany the character's name at the beginning of the chapters to really make sense of everything.

I loved the history of this novel. Victorian era England is always interesting in my opinion, especially the social history of the lower classes. In this story in particular, you get to see how things were for the general public before social welfare programs were instituted and just how bad things could get for people. Through James we see the Foundling Hospital (based on the real-life Coram Foundling Hospital in London) and exactly what became of children who were lucky enough to find themselves there. The children were told that they were the "progeny of sin" and thus had to devote their adult lives to useful pursuits to repay the kindness of others towards their unfortunate situation. Through Mary we see what it was like to be sent off to work outside of the home if your family was poor enough to need your income, or just wanted to be rid of you. You also see just how few options someone had if things went completely downhill, most choices narrowed down to the workhouses, which weren't an attractive option by any means.

I can't say much more because I'll give away how everything's connected (though it doesn't take much to figure it out), but the writing is good and engaging, the characters are appealing, and the author really makes this particular style (numerous interconnected voices) work for this novel. Plus, the fact that the author based the whole novel from her family's history is pretty interesting too.

This book's been getting excellent reviews for a good reason, read this!

Thoughts on the cover:
Beautiful. You can't help staring at this cover, it just sucks you in. I like the detail on Mary's skin that makes it look like she's made out of stone that's been weathered or chipped away.

Beautiful Darkness - Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Title: Beautiful Darkness (Book 2 in The Caster Chronicles)
Author: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Publisher: Little Brown, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 503 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: December 6, 2010
Finished: December 11, 2010

From the inside cover:
Ethan Wate used to think of Gatlin, the small Southern town he had always called home, as a place where nothing ever changed. Then he met mysterious newcomer Lena Duchannes, who revealed a secret world that had been hidden in plain sight all along. A Gatlin that harbored ancient secrets beneath its moss-covered oaks and cracked sidewalks. A Gatlin where a curse has marked Lena's family of powerful Supernaturals for generations. A Gatlin where impossible, magical, life-altering events happen.
Sometimes life-ending.
Together they can face anything Gatlin throws at them, but after suffering a tragic loss, Lena starts to pull away, keeping secrets that test their relationship. And now that Ethan's eyes have been opened to the darker side of Gatlin, there's no going back. Haunted by strange visions only he can see, Ethan is pulled deeper into his town's tangled history and finds himself caught up in the dangerous network of underground passageways endlessly crisscrossing the South, where nothing is as it seems.

I read the first book in this series, Beautiful Creatures , this time last year and loved it, not necessarily for it's plot, but for the atmosphere and the details that went into it. Beautiful Darkness is very similar. This book picks up after the events of the first book, with Lena and Ethan attending Macon's funeral. Lena becomes different afterwards, and starts to distance herself even from Ethan. He decides to find out exactly what's up with Lena and becomes part of the battle over Lena's future as a Light or Dark Caster.

Like the previous book was infused with metaphors from To Kill a Mockingbird (the book Ethan and Lena study in English class), this book is essentially Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde (another highlighted book from Ethan's English class). The whole novel revolves around Lena's choice to go Light or Dark, since the claiming that was supposed to happen at her 16th birthday never occurred. Again, the plot is nothing to write home about, the themes are common enough to most readers, and as soon as you clue in to the whole Jekyl/Hyde thing you know exactly how the novel is going to end. The beauty of this installment, like the previous book, is in the details. The southern setting is unique and refreshing (it's good to have a book that doesn't take place in a big city for a change), and the characters have such well-developed and dynamic personalities. My favourite of course is Amma, she's the Southern, mystic equivalent of the hard-edged grandmother that doesn't take crap from anyone, and she made me laugh my head off so many times I lost count.

Like in the previous book, I love how the whole experience is narrated from Ethan's point of view...a supernatural romance where the girl is the one with the powers and the mortal boy falls in love with her is a nice change of pace from the usual fare from this genre. We do hear more from this book about Ethan's mother and what happened to her; actually, we get a lot of development of the Caster universe period since a lot of the focus is off Ethan and Lena, which was good to see.

The plot's not stellar, but if you're looking for a supernatural romance with a unique setting, characters, and narration, then read the first book, Beautiful Creatures, and give this a try.

Thoughts on the cover:
So pretty. The theme from the first cover is carried over here, except with blue accents rather than purple. The shade of blue they used here is nice, and the whole cover is shiny and shimmers in the light. The font used for the title is very flow-y, which I like.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mirror Mirror - Marilyn Singer

Title: Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse
Author: Marilyn Singer (Illustrated by Josee Masse)
Publisher: Dutton Children's Books (Penguin), 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 32 pages
Genre: Children's Picture Book, Fairy Tale
Started: December 9, 2010
Finished: December 9, 2010

From the inside cover:

Isn't this a fairy tale?
A fairy tale this isn't...

There are two sides to every story, from princess and frog, to beauty and the beast, to Sleeping Beauty and that charming prince. Now, in a unique collection of reversible verse, classic fairy tales are turned on their heads. Literally. Read these clever poems from top to bottom. Then reverse the lines and read from bottom to top to give these well-loved stories a delicious new spin.

Witty, irreverent, and exquisitely illustrated, this unique collection holds cheeky mirror up to language and fairy tales, and renews the magic of both.

I was introduced to many excellent sophisticated picture books (meaning that they can be enjoyed by older readers too) during my literacy course for teachers that I took over the summer, and I'm constantly on the look out for more. I should really review the ones I ended up buying over the summer, because all of them can be used in a classroom to illustrate a concept taught in language class (pardon my pun).

I adore this book, mostly because the concept is so unique. The author wrote poems based on one point of view from various classic fairy tales, but when you read those same poems from bottom to top (reversing the original poem), you get a poem from a completely different point of view from the same fairy tale! The book has both poems printed side by side on the same page for effect, along with a picture on the opposite side that's split in two representing the two points of view. For example, one of the poems is about Cinderella being all "woe is me" about her usual situation in stuck doing chores without being able to go to the ball. When you read the reversed version of that same poem right beside the original, you're hearing from both stepsisters saying how unfair it is that Cinderella is hogging the prince to herself and actually makes you feel sorry for them. The beauty of it is that the words are exactly the same...only the punctuation and capitalization are different from the poem on the left to the reversed poem on the right.

Each fairy tale in the book gets this same treatment, and I can't express how wonderful the whole thing is by the time you're done. This book not only works as entertainment due to the fairy tales, but it can also be used to teach poetry, as well as point of view. When I teach older students about point of view, I always use fractured fairy tales (specifically The True Story of The Three Little Pigs by John Scieszka) in the lesson and then have them recreate their own fractured fairy tale to show they understand how different points of view can give a completely different view of the same story. After coming across this little gem of a book however, I'm going to start using this one as well. If I was ambitious I'd even want to have students create their own "reverso" poem (as the author calls them), but I don't even think I'd be able to pick the right words that mean something completely different when read in reverse order let alone a 13 year old, but my students always surprise me (sometimes in ways I actually appreciate), so I think I would try this with them eventually.

You have to read this book, trust me. I'm not saying this because I'm a teacher and I think it can be educational (which it can), but for a pure level of enjoyment too. This is one of the most innovative books I've read this year, and it's definitely going on gift lists for various people and kids.

Thoughts on the cover:
The illustrations really help make this book what it is. These pictures show two halves of the same thing and they blend in so well that the pictures play with your mind just as much as the poems do.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Came Early: Book Blogger Holiday Swap Part 1

I had a crazy day today. I was teaching grade 1s all day (I normally teach older kids); so although I love the little kids and find them adorable, I feel that I'm saying "Anthony, stop touching Jacob", and "Sarah, stop tattling on Sophia" more than I actually teach on days like today.

But, I came home today to this: part of my Secret Santa package from the Book Blogger Holiday Swap 2010! The package came from Cindy in Quebec. Thank you so much Cindy, you totally made my day ^_^ I was craving chocolate today, and Lindt just happens to be my favourite, so that will be gone by the end of the day ^^; The star ornament is already on our Christmas tree here at home (so pretty), the beaded bookmark is gorgeous, and the notebook is uber cute (and pink!) and well received, I was running out of cute things to write on ^_^

Monday, December 6, 2010

I Am Canada: Blood and Iron - Paul Yee

Title: I Am Canada: Blood and Iron (Building the Railway: Lee Heen-gwong, British Columbia, 1882)
Author: Paul Yee
Publisher: Scholastic, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 233 pages
Genre: Children's/Young Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: December 5, 2010
Finished: December 6, 2010

Heen's father and grandfather have brought their family in China to the brink of ruin with their gambling habits. To solve their money troubles, Heen and his father come to Canada to build the railway - a decision plagued by disaster. The living conditions provided for workers are wretched and work on the railway is excruciating. Transporting tons of gravel and working in tunnels about to be dynamited proves to be deadly for many of his co-workers. Soon the friction between the Chinese workers and the whites, who barely acknowledge these deaths, reaches a fevered pitch. As an added stress, Heen's father has found some men to gamble with, which puts all of their earnings at risk. Heen's only solace is his journal, where his chilling observations of the injustice and peril heaped upon the workers serve as an important testament to this dramatic era in Canadian history.

After stumbling across the Dear Canada series by Scholastic a few years ago when I began teaching, I thought it was the greatest thing to hit history classes. Modeled after the Dear America and I Am America series by Scholastic in the States, the Dear Canada series are a series of various diaries written by fictional female characters from different periods in Canada's history. I have several of them and recommend them to my students that have a hard time with grasping the point of why we study history. The Dear Canada series covers various topics through the experiences of their young girls: the Halifax explosion of 1917, the escape of slaves from the US to Canada via the Underground Railroad in the mid 1800s, the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, the experience of Chinese immigrants in the early 20th century, the internment of Ukrainians in WWI, and the Filles-du-Roi experience in the 1600s, among others. The only thing I lamented was that there wasn't a similar series focusing on male characters in Canadian history like the I Am America series in the States, since lots of boys won't read books where a girl is the main character. Well, I finally got my wish.

The I Am Canada series just debuted this year with two titles: Blood and Iron, and Prisoner of Dieppe. The first thing I thought of when I heard this series was finally coming out was, "oh man, it's just going to be all World War I and II stories with nothing else like half the other historical fiction series for boys out there." Thankfully, based on future releases as well as the two current ones, there appears to be choices other than the typical World War fare, hence why I chose to read Blood and Iron, about the experience of Chinese immigrants building the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 1800s. It's an issue a lot of kids today aren't really aware of unless they pay attention in history class, so I'm glad this period of history was included for this series.

On to the book itself. The author does a wonderful job of showing the dangers Chinese men experience building the railroad in BC, so the actual history of the issue comes across nicely. In terms of making a good story to go along with that history however, the book falls short. A lot of descriptions about anything except the injuries and working conditions are missing, you would barely know the characters are even in BC as opposed to somewhere else. There are a ton of secondary characters that are named and pop up every now and then but they never receive any character development, they are just around to be injured or killed and that's that. You never really get to know Heen much either, his journals don't really delve into himself as a person, so you don't feel a lot of connection to him other than the horror of the injuries and working conditions around him. This problem happens in the Dear Canada books too, the history comes across wonderfully but there isn't a good story to accompany it to make you really enjoy the book as a piece of historical fiction rather than as just a pretend diary written for an insert into a 13-year-old's history textbook. Each book from both of these series is written by a different Canadian author (some authors write multiple books), so there are some authors that do these books justice more than others, and when you read enough of them, you know which ones are worth picking up if you want more than just a diary about the historical experiences. Keep in mind, I'm saying this from the point of view of an adult female reader that likes character development in her novels...a lot of boys that this series is targeting could care less if you knew anything beyond the character's name so long as the thing is action-packed, which this book delivers on. So most tween/teen boys will probably eat these books up, but I'll be on the lookout to see if any of the current and future releases in this series are well-written as well as historically informative, both for myself and for boys with possibly more discerning tastes in their books.

Thumbs up for exploration of an issue that is rarely explored in Canadian historical fiction novels for children. Thumbs down for bad writing. Most boys will still read this and love it regardless of the writing issue though.

Thoughts on the cover:
Whereas the Dear Canada books featured a ribbon banner with a central portrait of the girl in question, the I Am Canada covers are a little more dynamic. You have the photo of the boy in question in the upper left, the title to the upper right, with an action shot photo across the bottom. The borders and edging gives it the look of an old notebook that's "been through the war" so to speak, so there's no sissy diary insinuations that can made for this series.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bakuman Vol. 2 - Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

Title: Bakuman Volume 2
Author: Tsugumi Ohba (art by Takeshi Obata)
Publisher: Viz, 2010 (Paperback)
Length: 200 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Graphic Novel, Manga
Started: December 4, 2010
Finished: December 4, 2010

From the back of the book:
Is becoming a successful manga artist an achievable dream or just one big gamble?

Average student Moritaka Mashiro enjoys drawing for fun. When his classmate and aspiring writer Akito Takagi discoers his talent, he begs Moritaka to team up with him as a manga-creating duo. But what exactly does it take to make it in the manga-publishing world?

After Moritaka and Akito collaborate on a manga together, they venture to publishing house Shueisha in hopes of capturing an editor's interest. As much potential as these two rookies have, will their story impress the pros and actually get printed?

After reviewing Volume 1 of this series back in September, I knew I liked it, despite the cultural idiosyncrasies apparent here (read: blatant sexist remarks) that some readers (and reviewers) did not understand. The same is true of volume 2: the story is unique among manga and because of that, there's going to be some things that the average reader won't get.

A lot of shonen manga are fantasy stories that take place in alternate universes that barely resemble the country they were created in, so stuff that goes on in the story is believable automatically because it's a fantasy universe. Because Bakuman is based in modern day Japan and is about two boys that go to school and want to be manga creators, some of the stuff in the series is unique to the modern day experiences of Japanese teenage boys. One part for example had Moritaka sitting beside Miho (their seats in the classroom were moved), and he was literally spazzing internally over sitting next to this girl he's crushing on even though both of them have essentially agreed to marry the other. This kind of reaction isn't that out of line with how a real Japanese kid might react in the same situation. Relations between the sexes, even when they're kids at school, is very different from our experiences as Westerners, so it's not completely out of line that a well-raised middle class boy like Moritaka would be completely clueless about girls and freaking out over simply sitting beside the girl he likes, especially since Japanese kids (on average) don't have much of a life beyond school, they may not actually date much, some schools even have rules about their students dating or holding down part-time jobs. So readers can trust me when I tell them that a lot of the content in these books is quite realistic considering they were intended for Japanese audiences, not Western ones.

The story itself continues to impress me plot-wise. It's very slice-of-life with no real conflict thus far, it's purely about two boys that want to be manga creators and their experiences with it. It's actually kind of refreshing, even their "rival" character that was introduced in this volume didn't even fill a typical rival role, he's more of a wunderkind that's so absorbed in his own work he literally breathes his creations, I don't think he would notice competitors if they tapped him on the shoulder. I'm interested to see where this series will go, there's 10 volumes out now in the original Japanese, of which 2 have been translated, with the rest coming out at a rate of 1 every 2 months. I like the story, but I'm not sure if I could take the same thing for 10 volumes and not get sick of it, unless the plot changes beyond what we've seen so far, which I'm sure it will, just not sure of the degree at which it will change.

Again, I like that it's different from the typical shonen fare, but there is a lot of cultural content (including gender roles) that might confuse Western readers and turn them off the series.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the use of the original Japanese covers, aside from the bordering and some colouring differences in the title font they're almost identical.

Cardcaptor Sakura Omnibus Vol. 1 - Clamp

Title: Cardcaptor Sakura Omnibus Vol. 1 (1 of 4)
Author: Clamp
Publisher: Dark Horse, 2010 (Paperback)
Length: 600 pages
Genre: Children's Graphic Novel/Manga
Started: December 4, 2010
Finished: December 4, 2010

Fourth-grader Sakura Kinomoto found a strange book in her father's library - a book made by the wizard Clow to store dangerous spirits sealed within a set of magical cards. But when Sakura opened it up, there was nothing left inside but Kero-chan, the book's cute little guardian beast, who informs Sakura that since the Clow cards seem to have escaped while he was asleep, it's now her job to capture them!

Ah, Cardcaptor Sakura, one of my favourite manga, it was actually the first manga I owned in the original Japanese language (and added many more after that). CCS is one of my favourites from creators Clamp as well, it's such a sweet story and the artwork is adorable too. I've always thought it's a perfect way to introduce young girls to manga because the story is so appropriate for a younger age group, which not a lot of manga is.

The first English translation of the original 12 volumes (around 200 pages each) in the series was done by Tokyopop in the early 2000s (I still have them in a box somewhere), and the original translation left a lot to be desired. The translation was peppered with "Americanisms" since publishers were afraid that kids wouldn't read comics with intact foreign elements in them, which nowadays the opposite is true: the very ethnic origin of these comics is sometimes the only reason kids are interested in them. Thankfully the translation has improved in this release, it's a lot more faithful to the original Japanese, they even left the honourifics and certain vocabulary intact (for which there is no direct translation). Leaving some of the Japanese aspects intact is fine for someone like me who speaks Japanese and understands a lot of the peculiarities of the language, but for I would have liked to see a glossary included for younger readers that have no clue what "Onii-chan" means. But for seasoned manga readers they'll have no problem reading this.

I have several editions of this series: the original Japanese, the first English release, the revised English release, plus the special edition Japanese release. These Omnibus volumes from Dark Horse are very similar to the special edition Japanese releases that came out a few years ago, except that these English volumes will contain three original volumes bound in one omnibus release (making for 4 omnibus releases total) whereas the Japanese ones came out in 12 volumes. The covers of the English omnibus releases use the same covers as the original volumes, framed by a soft pink boarder with the title logo at the bottom. I was happy to see that the omnibus releases apparently retain the original Japanese katakana title as well (my copy of volume 1 does, so I'm assuming the future releases will as well). The Japanese special editions were in hardcover, and the omnibus editions are in paperback, but since they're putting three volumes into one big one, I'll forgive them that. The omnibus has decent binding too, but I have my doubts as to if it'll hold up to a reader that severely bends the spines on their books.

The thing I liked about the special edition Japanese release was that it included colour pages of all the artwork used as title pages almost to show the divide between chapters, including the images of the bookmarks that were included in the Japanese releases. The omnibus release has that as well, so it's almost as if you have part manga and part mini-artbook, which is great for fans of the gorgeous Clamp artwork. Because the omnibus release here encompasses three original volumes (of which only one cover image is used on the actual cover), the colour pages include the remaining cover art from the other two volumes as well as the other colour art.

And now on to something about the actual story (all I've done is talk about how pretty the physical book is ^^; ). Cardcaptor Sakura is one of my favourite stories: manga, anime, you name it. It's so unbelievably cute, it has a plot that hooks me along and is entertaining even though this is geared towards readers/viewers a heck of a lot younger than me, and you actually care about all the characters involved, not just Sakura. The other thing I've always liked, which might be a huge turn off for other readers, is that Clamp is famous for pushing the boundaries as far as portrayals of relationships in their manga. The fact that Sakura has a huge crush on her older brother's best friend (16 years old to her 10) is the most tame thing you'll see: one of her classmates is engaged to their teacher, Sakura's female best friend is in love with her, and her brother is in love with his male best friend. So we have taboo relationships all over the map. Granted, none of these are ever explicit (not even as much as kissing), and half the references will go over most kids' heads, but the hints are still there, and that might be an issue for some parents that will give this to their daughters thinking it's all flowers and magic wands (which it mainly is). A lot of children's manga from Japan have taboo relationships in them, but it's a cultural thing, they just don't make as big a deal of it as we do. Other that that aspect, the story is very kid-friendly: Sakura's respectful of her dad, tolerates her big brother but isn't an outright brat, is a good student, and even the fighting of the Clow cards doesn't involve a lot of violence (all magical powers and such). Tomoyo makes Sakura different outfits for every card she captures, which of course will appeal to young girls...who doesn't love constant outfit and costume changes?

The first of four big volumes, the omnibus release is pretty, cleaned up the original translation, and has pages of colour art. It's a manga that is appealing for older and younger readers, but some parents might have issues with some of the relationship portrayals (as tame and innocent as they might be). The second volume (which will complete the first arc of the story line) comes out a few days before Christmas, so I'll definitely be picking all of these up to replace my older English releases.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like how it retains the same type of cover as the Japanese special edition these are (presumably) modeled after. The shade of pink is slightly different and the dust covers on the Japanese ones are slightly sparkly, but all in all, the omnibus cover is what I expected from an English release: nothing super fancy, but not a downgrade from the older covers either.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pegasus - Robin McKinley

Title: Pegasus
Author: Robin McKinley
Publisher: Putnam
Length: 404 pages
Genre: Young Adult: Fantasy
Started: November 28, 2010
Finished: December 1, 2010

From the author's website:
Because of a thousand-year-old alliance between humans and pegasi, Princess Sylviianel is ceremonially bound to Ebon, her own pegasus, on her twelfth birthday. The two species coexist peacefully, despite the language barriers separating them. Humans and pegasi both rely on specially-trained Speaker magicians as the only means of real communication.
But it’s different for Sylvi and Ebon. They can understand each other. They quickly grow close—so close that their bond becomes a threat to the status quo—and possibly to the future safety of their two nations.

Ah, Robin McKinley, I love her books in terms of subject matter and she has a beautiful writing style, but there's something about it I just can't stand.

Robin McKinley writes beautifully, she also tends to write in a very non-linear format, which some people like. Other authors write in a non-linear format and I like it, but for some reason when McKinley does it it just confuses me. One minute Sylvi and Ebon are talking in the present and a second later they're remembering long segments of something that happened years ago without a lot of lead up to the change, it made for a lot of flipping back pages to make sure what time period I was reading about. Combined with the fact that close to the first 200 hundred pages of the novel are just world building and exposition (background information) with no real plot to it, it took me a while to get into Pegasus. But once you get past the world building and become a little used to the non-linear segments, Pegasus is just beautiful. I can't think of any book I've ever read that deals with this area of fantasy (pegasi/flying horses in general), and the author does it justice.

Sylviianel (Sylvi, or Syl) is the 12-year-old princess of a kingdom that made an Alliance with the Pegasi hundreds of years ago, and one of the visible aspects of the Alliance is the bonding between all the high-born human children and the children of the Pegasi king. As the lowly 4th child after three brothers, she's lucky to be bonded to Ebon, 4th child to the Pegasi king, Lrrianay. But Sylvi and Ebon are different from the moment they meet, they can speak to each other telepathically without the use of a Speaker (a magician that acts as interpreter) that every other bonded pair requires in order to speak without the use of awkward sign language. As Sylvi and Ebon grow older (next time you see Sylvi she's 16), certain figures of the court resent the fact that they can speak so easily because it jeopardizes the power that the Speakers have come to possess, especially after Sylvi becomes almost an ambassador of sorts to the Pegasi kingdom.

The one thing that's extremely well-done here is the world building (despite the sometimes annoying amount of it), which is good since this is a high fantasy. You really get a sense of the Pegasi as a people and ideas about their culture and spirituality. I love how the Pegasi dream of having hands like the humans dream of having wings, and that Ebon wants to be a sculptor. You almost forget that the Pegasi aren't actually real because they're described in such in-depth way. The whole history of the Alliance was very well explored, as was the circumstances of being a bonded pair to a Pegasus and what the experience is like. The characters are well-developed (though it took a while for Sylvi to grow on me, she was kind of bland at first), and the characterization of the Pegasi are particularly well done. My favourite part was when Sylvi encountered a little baby Pegasi, it was probably the cutest "awww-inducing" scene I've ever read in anything.

One thing you'll want to keep in mind. The ending will infuriate you, mostly because there is a sequel coming, but the cliffhanger ending is horrible, no ends tied up whatsoever, I can guarantee you will hate it. Again, there's a sequel coming (probably next year), but I figured I'd give you fair warning.

Stunning and beautiful once you get past the world-building and really into the heart of the book. The non-linear style might be a turn-off for some people, but for those of you who can stick it out, you're in for something that feels so classic it's a wonder it hasn't existed in the fantasy cannon for the past 50 years.

Thoughts on the cover:
Gorgeous. I love the juxtaposition between small Sylvi (it only heightens how short she is normally) and Ebon flying above her. The burgundy cursive font is pretty, and I like how it fades out t the edges the further away from Ebon it is.