Tuesday, January 29, 2013


It really pains me that I didn't write a review of 'Cinder', the incredible novel by Marissa Meyer.  Thanks to my dear friend, Michelle, owner of  the book blog, http://thepassionatebookworm.blogspot.com/, and Lena, owner of http://ilovebooksclub101.blogspot.com/, I was able to read the newest addition to the series, 'Scarlet'.

Yeah...I know.  Yet another Young Adult story.  But YA stories have truly evolved over the years and have become such an interesting genre.  We can always read adult books and face our lives via the chains and dregs of adult situations, but YA allows us to escape into incredible fantasy worlds, which are a step up from Independent Reader stories.  Have you read The Hunger Games?  That, dear reader, is a Young Adult book.

But I still have to have my Harry Potter books.  Always.

And 'Cinder' and 'Scarlet' are no different.  Just a bit more...adult.

'Cinder' is the first in the series, The Lunar Chronicles, and while I was drawn to it because of my interest in fairy tale stories, I was hooked on it's dystopian setting.  Living in China, Cinder was adopted by the typical evil stepmother, who had two daughters:  One, a bitch.  The other, a sweetheart and friend to her adopted sister.  Cinder is a master mechanic, and meets the Prince.  THE prince.  And they like each other, which is so evident in legend.  But Cinder has a history, one that is a vital secret.  A secret that no ones knows about, except for a select few.  You see, Cinder is a cyborg and could be the savior of Earth, the one who could put an end to the evil reign of the Lunar Empress, a real bitch if there ever was one.

And so...onto 'Scarlet'.  Scarlet Benoit lives with her grandmother on a farm, and they sell to restaurants in small cities in France.  But her grandmother has gone missing, and it is Scarlet's mission to find and rescue her beloved grandma.  But Grandma has her secrets, and those secrets involve Cinder.  And every Red Riding Hood story has a wolf, and this wolf is stranger than that written about in the fairy tale.  Wolf, too, has his secrets, and it is difficult to gauge his allegiance.  

It's safe to say that the main characters meet.  And it's safe to say that romantic entanglements ensue.  But the reason I am so drawn to these stories is because the female characters are so beautifully realized.  They are sharp and strong.  They are innocent, yet wise.  They are weary, but energetic.  Ready for any challenge.  Ready to save the world.

So, Marissa, bring it on!  You've got a fan in me.

'Scarlet' will be published by Feiwell and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing, in February 2013. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

'Splendors and Glooms'

Children's fantasy novels of today seem to be a bit different from those I read when I was a little kid.  The princesses are still here, of course, but now they tend to rescue themselves, which is a step in the right direction.  Dragons still rule, but instead of rampaging throughout the land, they have a tender side; instead of taking the princess prisoner, she takes hold of the beast's heart through communication and love.  It's similar to a girl's love for a horse; steady, true, and heartfelt.

I've also found that children's fantasy stories are darker and more complex.  Children today are confronted and confounded with adult situations that would have never been thrust upon them a few decades ago.  Although life isn't so innocent anymore, the slow progression of the Harry Potter books gently led children into dark territory; they grew along with Harry and, together, became older and wiser.  It's all fun-and-games until Voldemort shows up.

'Splendors and Glooms', the new children's book written by the brilliant Amy Schlitz, takes the reader into a world that is at once dark and depressing.  A witch burns, an artifact rules her life, thievery is an antidote to her suffering.  And then the story lightens up...but just barely.  In Victorian England, Clara, the only child of a wealthy doctor and his wife, is preparing to celebrate her birthday.  While at a park days earlier, she sees a puppet show and asks her father if the troupe could entertain at her party.  Although the puppeteers are a poor, dirty bunch, the father agrees to Clara's request.

The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is an expert at his craft, making his puppets seem very lifelike.  His helpers, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, are dazzled by Clara's home; the warmth, the abundance of food, the fine clothing.  But Clara hides a secret, one she is scared to reveal.  When Clara vanishes the night after her party, Grisini is the main suspect.

Lizzie and Parsefall soon learn about their master's criminal past, and while on the hunt for Clara, are caught in a trap set by Grisini's ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance that must be passed down.

'Splendors and Glooms' is all about secrets and lies, misplaced intentions, and the loss of innocence.  Evil lurks around every corner, but strength, love, and courage vanquish even the darkest places.

Schlitz has written with compassion, and the gothic flavor blends beautifully with the darkness of everyday life for those living under the poorest circumstances in Victorian England.  She shows her young readers that life wasn't always fun, that even those with the greatest wealth didn't have the greatest comfort.  And those who offer false friendship should be avoided at any cost.

Amy Schlitz is the author of 'Good Masters!  Sweet Ladies!  Voices from a Medieval Village', which was a recipient of the Newbery medal.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

'Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore'

You'd expect that on a mild Winter day such as this I would be out walking the granddog and enjoying the first rain-free moment of the hour.  I would be, of course, if I hadn't found the most marvelous, entertaining, and puzzling book yesterday at the library.

Booksellers will be enchanted, especially serious booksellers.  Publishers (especially the independents), too, will find something to adore.  And those who enjoy a good mystery might get a kick out of it.  But it's serious; a bit mildewy and medieval, a lot technological and modern.  It's a love story, it's a journey, it's a puzzle, all rolled into one.

I speak of 'Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore', written by Robin Sloan.

It is not a book for those wanting a certain something to entertain them for an hour.  It's a deep, big-hearted love letter to booksellers and book printers, alike.  You must devote yourself to the story or you might miss something.  

Clay Jannon is a web-designer and he has lost his job.  While walking on the streets of San Francisco, he spots a Help Wanted sign in the window of an odd bookstore, and, out of sheer curiosity, goes in and applies for a bookseller position.  But it becomes more than that.  With the ability to climb the ladders like a monkey, and the good sense to be discreet, he discovers a mystery, one that goes back for centuries.  The few customers that come in never really buy anything; they are there to borrow obscure titles from the owner, Mr. Penumbra, a gnome of a man who has the mind of a puzzle-master.  Clay soon feels that something else is going on, and enlists the aid of his friends; in particular, a woman with whom he is enchanted.  She works for Google, and with her help, they all work together to solve the mystery.  They find that the answers they seek stretch out farther than they thought...all the way to New York and beyond, and back many, many years.

Robin Sloan has given us all a great gift of fine writing, clever clues (not to speak of the wonderful names of some of his characters), and interesting information dealing with our current technology.  His characters are old and wise, young and brash.  

This book truly 'spoke' to me, and once I thought I had it all figured out, I was happily proven wrong.

Take a chance.  Try to solve the mystery.

And pray that Robin Sloan's next book will be just as wonderful.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

'The Last Dragonslayer'

When a new year rolls around, I always think it should be greeted with silliness.  2012 was much too serious, so 2013 requires a push of humor to get it through the door.

It's that way with stories, too.  If we always read serious stories, I think we lose an essential part of ourselves.  In other words, we need to lighten up.  And one of my favorite authors, Jasper Fforde, is just the guy to help us do that.

When this Book Hog needs some silliness, I immediately turn to Fforde's incredible 'Thursday Next' series, 'The Eyre Affair' being the first.  Fforde's wit fills each page, and although the stories can be a tad confusing, a few rereads will clarify everything.

I needed a silliness fix recently, but having just finished rereading the Thursday series a couple of months ago, it was time for something new.  But something by the same author.

And I found it, thanks to my local library!  I am forever grateful that those good librarians have the good sense to display new titles right near the front door.  That's where I found Jasper's new book, and this time, it's a series for independent readers.  That's right:  Independent Readers.  The land of 'Harry Potter' and 'The Chronicles of Narnia' and Judy Blume titles (Superfudge being one of my favorites).

'The Last Dragonslayer' contains much silliness, but not so much to confuse tender minds.  The characters are the most interesting to be found.  Magic rules the world, but corporate shenanigans (which are ever-present in the Thursday Next series) seek to replace the wonder by playing on people's greed.  Sound familiar, dear reader?

Fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange is in charge of Kazam Mystical Arts Management, a business that hires out wizards for household projects, such as clearing drains and repairing buildings.  But magic is slowly fading, and business is down.  Then visions appear and one in particular sees the death of the world's last dragon at the hands of the last Dragonslayer.  A battle between two kingdoms is waiting on the outskirts, while the populace waits impatiently for the dragon's demise.  When the dragon dies, the race is on to claim the beast's land, a place of pure streams, sweet air, and nature at it's finest.

Jennifer is feisty and smart, courageous and loyal.  Her friend, a frightening Quarkbeast (but only to those who don't really know him), is always by her side.  But it is the wizard Lady Mawgon who reminded me most of the Thursday Next series (you'll know what I mean if you've the books.  And if you haven't, do it now!)

Fforde's story carries a deep message, despite the humor.  Perhaps that's the only way he can get our attention.  We must preserve what is pure and fine, and always stay vigilant in the fight to hold back the basest greed.

So, start out 2013 reading a bit of silliness.  Children's books are a great place to begin.

Just ask a librarian.