Hello again, everybody. As promised, here are some final Throwdown book comments.
Let's begin with the book whose cover is staring at you from the right: The Boy of a Thousand Faces by Brian Selznick. Clearly, I have a "thing" for Mr. Selznick, and I don't care who knows it. This is the story of Alonzo King, a boy born on Halloween, who grew up loving monsters. He reads scary stories, makes models, and worships Lon Chaney, the original Man of a Thousand Faces. He watches old horror movies on a show hosted by a masked man called Mr. Shadows, to whom he sends pictures of himself in monster make-up. He is not the most popular boy in school. He His only friend is Mr. Blake, his neighbor. But then, right before Halloween, a rumor starts: there's a monster in town! There are footprints here. Someone heard it over there. Now EVERYONE wants to know about monsters, and so everyone is talking to the kid who knows about monsters. There is huge excitement building in the town as Halloween approaches. Is there a monster in town? And how does Alonzo become "The Boy of a Thousand Faces?" This short sweet book has the answers, and is a love letter to anyone who grew up loving monsters and feeling left out.
And since I'm already talking about Selznick, his afterword to Wonderstruck made clear his affection for and debt to E.L. Konigsburg's classic From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, so I decided to re-visit it. What a delight! Two kids run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, washing up in the bathrooms, living off the money thrown into the fountain, and sleeping in the exhibits. They end up embroiled in an art mystery over whether a particular angel was created by Michaelangelo. The mystery leads them to the wealthy, no-nonsense and lonely Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, who holds the key to the angel in her mixed up files. If you're going to read Wonderstruck (and I wish you would), do yourself a favor and pick up this book first.
Next up is Jasper Fforde's Something Rotten, book four in his Thursday Next series. I really enjoyed The Eyre Affair, and liked Lost in a Good Book. The Well of Lost Plots was just okay, and I thought maybe I had burned out on the character, so I avoided Something Rotten until now. Describing a Thursday Next plot is well-nigh impossible (and you'll sound like a nutter if you try): a full-contact croquet match to stave off armageddon, obnoxious dodos (the birds, not stupid people), disappearing, re-appearing husbands, an evil corporation bent on world domination, Hamlet having an affair with Admiral Lord Nelson's mistress, book characters entering the real world, a minotaur on the run.. see what I mean? That's all one book, and there's much, much more I could have said. Is it as good as the first book? No. But I find it doesn't matter. This was such a strange, random little lark, and I enjoy the literature-infused world Fforde has created so much, that I had a great time reading it.
Rick Detorie's The Accidental Genius of Weasel High is where you steer kids who loved the drawing/writing combo of Diary of a Wimpy Kid but are a little bit older now. It's a sweet story of a guy who realizes that his best friend would make a perfect girlfriend only to find out that she doesn't feel the same way. There's a lot of humor, hijinks occur, but this isn't a simplistic story. Good stuff.
I don't know if they realized it at the time, but Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl created one of the best openings ever in Beautiful Creatures, ending thusly:
There were no surprises in Gatlin Couunty. We were pretty much the epicenter of the middle of nowhere.
At least, that's what I thought, when I closed my battered copy of Slaughterhouse-Five, clicked off my iPod, and turned out the light on the last night of summer.
Turns out, I couldn't have been more wrong.
There was a curse.
There was a girl.
And in the end, there was a grave.
I never even saw it coming.
How can you not want to turn the page? I was hooked hard, and was not disappointed. Yes, there's teen romance here (I said it was a YA book, didn't I?), but it's well done, with history and magic and Dark Secrets and books. The small-town details of place and people ring true, and even the outrageous characters make sense.
For those teens (or adults) who like their supernatural without all that romance stuff, may i suggest Rick Yancey's The Monstrumologist. It purports to be the journal of an orphan boy apprenticed to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, who studies monsters. It's scary and gothic and gory (and sometimes tough going as it's written to sound stilted and "of its time") and there's none of that sissy girl stuff to see here. But if horror is your bag and you like some blood and guts along with your moody atmosphere, then take a gander here.
Bill Willingham is best known for the hit comics series Fables, but he writes novels, too, including this little charmer of a juvenile fiction book called Down the Mysterly River. A Boy Scout called Max the Wolf for his woodsy skills finds himself in an unfamiliar forest with no idea how he got there. He's being chased by guys with glowing swords and then he finds the talking animals, including a warrior badger named Banderbrock, a gentle bear named Walden, and an outrageous pirate of a tomcat named McTavish. Together they have to figure out how they got here, where "here" is, and why they were brought here. It's a quest novel with some unexpected twists and turns, some ripping adventure, and a touching heart.
What have I not talked about yet? If you guessed Temeraire, you're spot on. Tongues of Serpents picks up the story as Laurence and his unknowning revolutionary of a dragon are transported to Australia to build and look after a new breeding ground. Both are depressed (and trying to hide it from the other). The situation in Australia doesn't help: terribly hot and dry, politically unstable, and full of criminals and the objectionable men sent to watch over them. Then one of the eggs they're looking after gets stolen, and a group unlikely to ever see eye to eye is sent after it. Sadly, this installment didn't have as much zing as the others leading up to it. I can't put my finger on why, but this one felt draggy and uninspiring. Hopefully the next will see Novik back in form.
Finally ('bout time!), there was Paula Guran's excellent anthology The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2011. I am a huge fan of anthologies. It's one of the best places to discover new authors, or to try an author you've heard of without dropping a pile of cash on a hardcover. No anthology is perfect; most are hit and miss. But this one was more hit than miss with a lineup including stalwarts like Neil Gaiman, Joe R. Lansdale, and Tanith Lee, and current faves like Maureen McHugh, Jay Lake, Stephen Graham Jones, Holly Black and Genevieve Valentine. It even includes a nice fat novella from George R.R. Martin, set in his Song of Ice and Fire universe. Guran's definition of dark fantasy and horror casts a wide net, and it's safe to say that whatever kind of story you like, you'll find something pleasing here.
For those that might have missed it, the final results of the Throwdown can be found here.