Tuesday, March 1, 2011

February's Reads

Another month has gone by, and I've been busily reading. There have been some real gems this month, especially in juvenile/young . Without further adieu (and alphabetically by author):

Masked by Lou Anders, editor

Anders' anthology about life in a world where superheroes exist is great! He chose both writers who have worked primarily in comics and those who have worked primarily in prose, and all were entertaining. For anyone who thinks comics are just silly kid stuff, read it and weep.

Blood Music by Greg Bear

A biochip designer has created cells that seem to think for themselves. When his employer orders them destroyed, he injects some into himself. The cells are, in fact, intelligent, and start physically changing Vergil, before going on to completely restructure our world. Holds up pretty well for a book I first read more than a decade ago.

The Name of This Book Is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

This tale of mystery, magic and adventure has a narrator who is determined not to give away The Secret who keeps inserting himself hilariously) into the narrative when he thinks the reader needs protecting. The story is fun, but the way it's told is fabulous. I can't wait to read more.

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

Bourdain pontificates on food and the food industry, sparing no one. It works because Bourdain applies the same caustic honesty to his own foibles as well. He's a tremendously funny writer, and like the best food writers can describe a dish so well you find yourself craving it, even though you know you'd it.

Eighth Grade Bites: The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod Volume 01 by Heather Brewer

Too cutesy to be scary and too scary to be cute, a combination that should work, but somehow didn't. Maybe as Vlad matures the story will, too.

The Brief History of the by Kevin Brockmeier

When you die, you go to a waiting place until the last person who remembers you also dies. In alternating chapters Brockmeier tells the story of Laura Byrd, a flack for Coke struggling for survival in the Antarctic and the disparate group of people waiting to move on who are trapped by her memories of them. Thoughtful and sad, but a good read.

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson

Bartholomew Fortuno is a performer at Barnum's Museuem of Curiosities in New York. Billed as The Thinnest Man in the World, Bartholomew believes that he is a true prodigy; that his condition is a gift meant to teach people about themselves. Those who are not prodigies, those who choose their conditions, are gaffs and cheats. Fortuno's worldview takes a major shift when Barnum brings a new act aboard and Barthy falls in love. A fascinating milieu with great atmosphere.

Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins

Wow. Just...wow. A fabulous wrapping up of a fabulous series. Great characters that we have come to really care about face a huge threat, and they don't all survive. Collins is adept at creating well-rounded characters, with heroes not totally in the right and villains not totally bad. Collins gives a melancholy, bittersweet ending that rings true.

The Education of Hailey Kendrick by Eileen Cook

When Hailey's Mom died, her grandmother took her aside and told her she had to be a good to make things easier on her father. Since then, she's been perfect: studious, courteous, helpful, and quiet. The problem is, it hasn't helped. Her father ignores her, and her seemingly perfect boyfriend is nice, but completely passive. When her father changes her summer plans at the last minute (again), Hailey snaps and this good goes rogue. A fun read, but even the villain is fabulously wealthy and famous and the one “townie” we meet is just working to make money to attend Yale, so it's a bit hard to relate.

The Search For WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi

A modern fable featuring Eva 9, a human raised by MUTHR, a robot, in a controlled environment who is forced to make her way in the world when her sanctuary is attacked. Some great characters and awesome illustrations by DiTerlizzi.

Sapphique by Catherine Fisher

The sequel and conclusion to Incarceron finds Finn still suffering the effects of his years imprisoned in Incarceron and Claudia beginning to doubt if Finn really is the long-missing, presumed Prince Giles. Still imprisoned, Keiro and Attia are determined to find their own way out, and the Warden is as mysterious and infuriating as always. It's a good ending: not “happy” but right.

Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs

Teddy grew up in the wilds of Africa with his primatolgist mother and his photographer father. But when war tore up the Congo, his mom took a job at FunJungle, a new animal park/research center in Texas. Teddy has the run of the place, but everything changes the day Henry the Hippo, the mean, irritable, poop-shooting mascot of the park, turns up . Henry has been ed, & it seems like everyone is trying to cover it up. So Teddy starts his own investigation, and now someone's trying to kill him, too. Exciting, great mystery, lots of neat animal facts, and a great main character make this book a real winner.

The (And Further Adventures) Of Silas Winterbottom: The Body Thief by Stephen Giles

Three kids, vain, snotty Isabella, quiet, verbally abused Adele, and sad, bent-on-revenge Milo, are called together by their dying Uncle Silas, who's rich but evil. He pits the children against one another for his inheritance, but he's got a darker plan in mind. Okay, I suppose, but I wasn't overly excited.

Worldshaker by Richard Harland

Okay, clearly steampunk is not for me, at least not when wedded to a story that's this didactic and predictable. What soars in a world like Stephen Hunt's merely clanks along here.

The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman

Two teens, June and Wes, kind of ally fall in love, then are separated when June's father gets a job hundreds of miles away. June & Wes fight to keep the relationship going through all sorts of roadblocks. Wes & June are great characters: likable but fallible and full of insecurities, and the story concludes gracefully.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Kinney's illustrated journal is hilarious, giving us a completely believable narrator who's far from perfect, yet ridiculously likable. The problems and personalities all seem very real, and the way things work out is generally hilarious. No wonder kids love it.

The Harvard Psychedelic Club by Don Lattin

In the early 60s at Harvard professors Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert (later Ram Dass), and Huston Smith were all experimenting in expanding human consciousness. Undergrad Andrew Weil did some experimenting himself before joining with the administration to bring Leary & Alpert down. Lattin argues that each of these men were instrumental in changing the way we view consciousness, religion, and , both for good and bad. Fascinating.

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself by David Lipsky

This book consists of Lipsky's notes (and occasional commentary thereon) from the time he accompanied David Foster Wallace on the final leg of his book tour for Infinite Jest. It's a fascinating portrait of a young man struggling with fame, with genius, and with the depression that would eventually cause him to take his own life. Powerful and sad.

The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart

After the worst week of all-time (lost her boyfriend, lost her best friend, lost all of her other friends, lost the lacrosse game, failed the math test, was immortalized in graffiti in the 's bathroom) 15-year old Ruby Oliver has a panic attack. Her parents send her to a shrink, who asks her to make a list of all of the boys she's ever been interested in: the Boyfriend List. The story that comes out of the list is alternately hilarious and painful as only high school can be. I can't wait to hang out with Ruby some more.

Strangers in Paradise: Heart in Hand by Terry Moore

Francine realizes that she loves Katchoo, but doesn't know if she's ready to actually make a life with her. Her waffling drives Katchoo crazy, then, just as Francine has decided to go for it, a misunderstanding drives the s apart again. AAAAAAAAARGH! I love Terry Moore, but sometimes I really him, you know?

Srangers in Paradise: Flower to Flame by Terry Moore

Francine has run home to Mom & the life Mom expects for her. Casey has convinced Katchoo to let Francine go and make a new life. Tambi is still unsuccessful in her efforts to have a child, and we discover that Katchoo's therapist is really an old Parker out for revenge. Tambi takes care of that little blip. Francine loses the baby and moves up the wedding. Katchoo finds out and crashes the wedding (hilariously putting Francine's mom in her place), but Francine sends her away. How good is Terry Moore? He told us a long time ago that this was coming, but we wanted a different scenario so badly, we let ourselves hope we'd get one. And yes, by “we” I mean “me”.

The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo

A body is found with a red, five-pointed diamond placed under the eyelid. Soon after, a severed finger arrives at police headquarters wearing a ring boasting a red, five-pointed diamond. With a possible serial killer on the loose, the case is assigned to Harry Hole, a raging alcoholic. He's partnered with the man that he believes killed his former partner, and things go downhill from there. A twisted mystery and an unreliable main character: it just doesn't get any better than that.

Sabriel by Garth Nix

The Old Kingdom, where magic holds sway, is separated from Ancelstierre by a wall that is constantly guarded. The further you get from the wall, the less likely you are to still believe in magic. Very few denizens of the Old Kingdom come to Ancelstierre, but one who did was Sabriel. Her father, Abhorsen (a necromancer who specializes in putting the back, not raising them up), sent her to Ancelstierre to go to school. But now he's (maybe) , and Sabriel must take up his position at a time of great crisis from the Underworld. Simply fabulous. Hat tip to Staci Gray, who insisted that I read this one.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

Years ago, a very rich American decided, for reasons of his own, to start an English-language newspaper in Rome. Rachman's novel is a series of inter-connected vignettes about some of the individuals affiliated with this now-declining paper. Some nice humor and some well-drawn characters made this bittersweet tale a really nice read.

The American ZigZag, Volume 1 by Van Reid, editor

Reid has re-created a turn-of-the-century journal, complete with original fiction, poetry, art, etc. It has a lot of charm, and some of the stories (I'm thinking of the one about a sentient hedge) are a real delight.

Vesper by Jeff Sampson

Shy, unimpressive teen geek Emily is suddenly dressing provocatively and capable of impressive feats of strength and agility, which is all kinds of scary/fun until she grows fur and claws. She also quickly realizes that someone is trying to kill her and others like her as she desperately tries to figure out what's going on. Some excellent internal dialogue and Emily is a fun character. Clearly book one of a series, and I'm interested in following up.

Mad Love by Suzanne Selfors

Alice is the daughter of Belinda Amorous: The Queen of Romance. Life should be easy. But Alice has a secret: her mother is not in Europe doing research; she's in a local mental hospital and most days can't even recognize her daughter. Now the publisher wants a new book or they're going to take back her advance, the hospital wants to be paid or they're going to kick Belinda out, Alice has an unrequited crush on Skateboard Guy, and some lunatic named Errol is claming to be Cupid—the actual Cupid—and wants Alice to write the story of his life with Psyche. Fun, but somehow not as fun as I expected.

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

Stephenson creates a world that's a fascinating melange of Victorian England, ancient China, and cyberpunk sensibility. I wish that I had read it when it came out, as I suspect the impact was diluted by all the stuff I've read in the intervening years that was influenced by Stephenson.

The Third Bear by Jeff VanderMeer

A collection of short stories full of humor, pathos, and the downright weird. There are subtle connections between the stories, and VanderMeer always bears re-reading.

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens by Jack Weatherford

Genghis Khan: warlord, conqueror, feminist? Strange, but true. Weatherford goes back to a part of the Mongol history that was literally cut out of the chronicle: the story of its queens. When Genghis was dividing up his kingdom, he didn't give it all to his incompetent sons. He married off his daughters to strategic allies with instructions for them to rule, and rule they did, better and longer than their brothers. Fascinating.

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