Archive | April, 2012

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

30 Apr

I have pushed Patrick Ness‘ bleak dystopian Chaos Walking trilogy on just about every reader I know for the past couple of years. You don’t like science fiction? I don’t give a damn, and why are we even friends, anyways? Whereas the Chaos Walking books read like 1,000 pages of tears and anxiety attacks (and I mean that in the very best way), his newest offering, A Monster Calls is a sombre, graphic exploration of guilt and loss adapted from Siobhan Dowd‘s final offering, unable to be completed due to her death.

The first time the monster visits thirteen-year-old Conor at seven minutes past midnight he is not frightened, but relieved that it is not the same monster he has been dreaming (nightmaring?) of since his mother first started her cancer treatments. This monster is a manifestation of the ancient mythological Green Man, and it has come to tell Conor three stories. In exchange, the monster wants one thing: the truth. As the monster’s visits continue, its stories of destruction and rage become indistinguishable from Conor’s own violent outbursts in reaction to his mother’s rapidly deteriorating condition, so that the reader is left to wonder whether the monster is real or if it is just a fevered imagining of Conor’s disturbed and grief-stricken mind.

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Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

22 Apr

I have a not-so-surprising secret to share:

I am a serious fantasy nerd.

I mean it. Before I went to college, became an English major, and learned that it is shameful to read anything but literary fiction, I was a rabid consumer of paperback fantasies of the $6.99 variety. If there was a dragon or a woman disguising herself as a man to become a mage/warrior/first class citizen or whatever the hell I was on it (and yes, I read A Game of Thrones waaaaaay before it became an HBO series). Then I was brainwashed into believing that if it wasn’t literary it wasn’t worth reading, and I spent years slogging through things that I didn’t really enjoy but appreciated. It was actually through delving back into the wonderful world of YA fantasy that I re-discovered my absolute mania for reading. However, my time as an English major changed me: I will still shamelessly indulge in genre fiction without coming close to giving a damn, but now I tend to filter my selections a bit more based on a little thing called “quality writing.” (But only a bit.) That’s where Melina Marchetta comes in.

I fell in love with Melina Marchetta’s writing when I read her Printz award-winning novel, Jellicoe Road. If you like really complex, slowly unfurling and beautifully written stories and like to cry a shit ton, then Jellicoe Road is probably for you. Once I read it I of course decided to pursue her other books, and that’s when I came across Finnikin of the Rock, her first fantasy novel for teens (which was published in 2008 but WHATEVER. I can’t be on top of every damn thing). Say what? Could a master of contemporary teen realism really make that transition? Well, in, short: hell yes.

When Finnikin was nine years old he received a prophecy stating that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh in order to save his kingdom, Lumatere. So, being a strapping young lad, he gets his two best royal buddies together on a rock and they each cut a chunk of skin out of their thighs all in the name of heroism. I mean, that’s pretty standard behavior for a nine-year-old, right? Right. So, right after they do the great thigh-cut-a-thon, the Five Days of the Unspeakable happens: the royal family is assassinated, Lumatere is invaded by a royal asshole of a cousin, half the kingdom flees, a healer/witch lays a blood curse on the land while she’s being burned at the stake, and then this crazy black mist thing engulfs the kingdom, trapping those who remained IN and those who fled OUT. Got that? Yeah, neither did I for the first hundred pages, but all in good time. Flash forward ten years to Finnikin, now a hunk of burning 19-year-old, wandering the land with Sir Topher, the assassinated King’s First Man, in an attempt to account for all the displaced Lumaterans in order to find a nice little chunk of land where they can settle without fear of being sold to slavers, abused, starved, forced to live in ghettos to die of disease, etc. This really pleasant past-time gets disrupted when Finnikin and Topher take on a mute Novice named Evanjalin who claims to be able to walk through the dreams of those still trapped in Lumatere. Oh, and she also says that the royal prince Balthazar, one of Finnikin’s royal thigh-cutting buddies, is still alive. Finnikin must rely on the evasive and suspicious Evanjalin to lead him to the Prince so that the exiled nation of Lumatere can return home.

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The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

2 Apr

I like to read, a lot. Obviously. However, sometimes I come across a book that sinks its claws so deeply into my imagination that I am transported beyond the average realm of simply enjoying the reading of it, to a place where literally all I can think and talk about is the BOOK. I simultaneously always want to be reading it but don’t want it to end, ever, because there really is nothing quite like the experience of meeting one of your literary soul mates for the first time, is there? Well, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races (Scholastic Press) was one of those books for me.

This book first landed on my radar when my friend/teen librarian goddess/Printz panel…wizard?, Sarah Couri, reviewed it for the School Library Journal blog “Someday My Printz Will Come.” I will admit that I was surprised to see that Stiefvater’s newest was a contender for the American Library Association’s Printz Medal for teen fiction; I read her novel Shiver a couple years ago, and while I enjoyed it she didn’t really strike me as the the kind of heavy-weight teen writer that normally wins the prize. However, I have a lot of faith in Sarah’s taste in books, so I put it on my to-read list. It catapaulted itself even higher when it was named as a Printz Honor book and even higher when I had several friends approach me and tell me that if ever there was a book for me, this book was it. Sold.

The Scorpio Races takes place in an alternate reality where every year tourists flock to the island of Thisby for the deadly Scorpio Races, in which the island men race the mythical capall uisce on a narrow stretch of beach, fighting each other to reach the finish line before the sea calls the predatory water horses and their jockeys into its depths. The narrative focuses on two young characters: Sean Kendrick and Puck Connolly. Sean Kendrick, who lost his father to the Scorpio Races when he was ten, has won four times on the monstrous and beautiful Corr. Puck Connolly and her two brothers were orphaned when a water horse attack claimed both her parents in one fell swoop, and after years of trying to hold their family together, her older brother, Gabe, announces he’s leaving for the mainland. Puck, desperate not to lose what little family she has left, declares that she is riding in this year’s Scorpio Races. As the two young contenders train for the race their strong yet strikingly different personalities draw them together, but their growing feelings for each other are threatened by one sad fact: only one person can win the Scorpio Races, and it is very likely one of them will die in the trying.

How amazing is this book trailer?

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