"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · Tales · young adult lit

{comics} delilah and her lieutenant

or is it The Lieutenant and his Delilah…?

delilah-dirkDelilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (book 1) by Tony Cliff

First Second Books, 2013. Tradepaper, 176 pages. first half sample.

Delilah Dirk is the heroine of a series of adventure comics set during the early 19th century. Each story is completely self-contained, and they’re suitable for readers of all ages!” –site.

as for the and the Turkish Lieutenant:

“First, Delilah Dirk causes his execution. Then, she saves his life. Honour-bound to return the favour, Selim, the titular Turkish lieutenant, plunges into a world of danger and excitement. What will he sacrifice to repay his debt?”


Tony Cliff renders 4 truly beautiful chapters of a Delilah Dirk adventure narrated by Selim, a gentle, tea-loving Turkish lieutenant swept up in her latest scheme: to rob a dangerous Sultan in Constantinople.

delilah dirk excerpt

Using Selim as the narrator facilitates a wonderful introduction to Delilah Dirk. Raised an English ambassador’s daughter, she has traveled the globe and learned skills from various exotic locations that contribute to a completely daring bad-ass heroine of epic-Indiana-Jones-proportion. Selim is less the risk-taker of this unlikely pairing; and as far as the story goes, he is the more mysterious character. His own characterization pulls her back from becoming a caricature—if having such a heroine could be deemed caricature-esque.  Their individual personalities, senses of humor and adventure collide and complement in entertaining ways. He is gentle where she is ferocious; longing for comforts while she mans an airship; and their aptitudes differ. That the story is one of friendship is as unexpected as their companionship.

delilah dirk bk 1

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is as dynamic visually. It is flat-out pretty, illustration, ink, color, letters, its one of the easiest-on-the-eyes comics you’ll come across. And it is fluid, so much so that you eye-blink your way out of a magically real sequence that encloses one of the loveliest illustrations in the book—page 64. The energy is in the figure and antics of Delilah Dirk, in the expressive range of Selim’s visage , and the carefully paced frames racing and climbing across pages, looking for the restful vista of a full-page panel. There are tensions between the carefully contained and the explosive energy in the pairing of Delilah and Selim, and panel and page. The crafting is subtle and I had to recover from an infatuation with the art to re-view it.

delilah dirk coverLovers of potentially foolhardy adventures will enjoy Tony Cliff’s beautifully rendered work, but I think those who also possess an eye for craft will experience the most pleasure. Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is an exciting comic you’ll not want to miss.


a concenter-quality read: significant poc characters, foreign setting, gender defiance

{images belong to Tony Cliff}

"review" · chapter/series · Children's · juvenile lit · recommend · series · Tales

{book} taking the case

Ivy_and_Bean_Take_the_Case_FC_HiResIvy + Bean: Take the Case (Book 10)

by Annie Barrows + Sophie Blackall (illus)

Chronicle Books, 2013. Hardcover, 126 pages.

Modeling herself after a classic film noir detective from her mother’s favorite film, Private Investigator Bean “laughs at danger! […] And she and her assistant, Ivy, are ready, willing, and able to solve any mystery you can throw at them.” If there were any mysteries deemed mysterious enough in Pancake Court, that is…

Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall deliver yet another delightfully creative and intelligent Ivy + Bean adventure. I was surprised to find, however, that plenty of the usual fans on goodreads did not care for this 10th installment. Most of the explanations focused on their “boredom during the first portion of the book” and its “untidy ending.” And I can see that, especially if one misses what is going on in the story.

A mystery was a question you couldn’t find the answer to. In Al Seven’s world, the mysteries were things like Who took Hester’s jewels? or Where was Sammy La Barba on the night of May twelfth? Bean didn’t have any jewels and she sure as heck didn’t know anyone named Sammy La Barba, but there were plenty of questions that she didn’t have answers to. […] What’s inside the cement thing in the front yard? What’s behind the Tengs’ fence and why do they lock it up? and What’s the matter with the mailman? when she asked these questions, her parents usually said something like It’s none of your business. That meant that there was an answer, but they didn’t want her to know it. (13-4)

Investigator Bean and her assistant Ivy are having problems solving mysteries that are impressive enough to satisfy the crowd (e.g. the other kids of Pancake Court), and apparently the reader (e.g. goodreads reviews). Or, rather, it is the answers that their investigations reveal that lack audience interest, because Ivy and Bean are not the only one’s who’ve always wondered about the cement thing, Teng’s backyard or the mailman. When they solve the mystery, the answer turns out to be a lackluster one. The girls are increasingly mocked and the pressure intensifies to find a mystery “strange” enough to satisfy their difficult crowd (which, granted, includes themselves).

Suddenly a rope appears and know one knows who hung it from Dino’s chimney. Every night knots add length as it begins to wind about Pancake Court. This is where the “big mystery” kicks in–but obviously not the story. In Film Noir, this is where the story would start, too. But this is Pancake Court and Bean is not a hardened, tormented detective. And this is Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall breaking from the formulaic. In many ways, their willingness to dare something unexpected and different reclaims the word and idea of mystery; and in doing so, they do what they do exceptionally well: argue on the side of creativity and its prerequisite imagination and different points-of-view.

ivy and bean $(KGrHqNHJF!FFwcJd6+(BRkZVQp7cg~~60_57

Some mysteries are going to remain mysteries, like the one presented in the first chapter: Why would a mother who restricts Bean’s screen-watching-time to ten movies with a strict personal-parental rating allow her daughter to watch a film that breaks all but one of those rules? Barrows could have launched Bean’s new obsession from another source (as many other picture and early chapter books have done).

Clues to who-dunnit appear throughout the early mysteries before we’ve arrived to the Big Case. There is a lot to suggest the who and why by the time the crowd is threatening a revolt. Did the investigative reader consider all the angles? In Mysteries, does the reader really leave it up to the Investigator to do all the work?

<<spoilers alert!!! spoilers!!!!>>

Noting his presence/timing in text/illustration: Jake the Teenager. Why? to help a nutty neighbor out, or to amuse himself, or both? But why leave “The Mystery of the Yellow Rope” unsolved? because the magic of having a mystery is really what Ivy and Bean have discovered to be the most enticing part of a mystery. Think about how quickly the attitude shifted when questions were answered. Boring ol’Pancake Court became even more so.

“Al Seven is always wanting to solve mysteries,” Bean said. “That’s what I don’t get about him,” said Ivy. “Why does he always want to solve them? You solve problems, but a mystery isn’t a problem, so why does it have to be solved?” “Sometimes it’s a problem,” said Bean. “This one isn’t. Nobody’s getting hurt or anything. It’s a nice mystery.” [Ivy said.] (105-6)

Yet again they “solve” the mystery and it isn’t satisfying; the answer’s lack of logic doesn’t help. I am fascinated by the inclusion of the children’s impulse to inform their parents of the rope and inquire of the answer of them. It couples well with this (oft frustrated) need for immediacy and for any work they put in to be rewarded in a way that feels rewarding. The neighborhood kids aren’t getting the “niceness” of the Yellow Rope Mystery, nor are some of its readers, apparently; which is okay. I just find it a smart, creative shift of perspective.

<<spoilers!!!! over……>>

ivy and bean illu-IB_WalkAwayNot all mysteries can be solved, some you do not want to solve, and many have really lackluster answers. That the audience longs for creativity, not only in the mystery but its answers is a central conflict that Take the Case handles beautifully, because it remains a mystery as to why the demand for creativity often ends up in a loathing of the creative revelation or response; or is it? Is this all too much for a grade school chapter book? Hardly…which is why I really love knowing Ivy+Bean exists. In Literature, we expect the form to contribute to the coherence of the work. You needn’t a degree to discover it; if it does, I suppose it fails. I do not believe Take the Case fails. I am continually impressed with how thoughtful the crafting of this series has proven itself to be while yet possessing utter charm and entertainment.

For all the talk of mysteries, Barrows/Blackall keep the friendship center stage as the two explore a childhood and all its strange mysteries together. Like the mutually supportive fictional duo, Blackall’s illustrations are without fail a flawless partner in the rendering of personality the text would infuse into the characters and story. There is no second-guessing or mystery as to whether these to two will stick together come what may.

recommendations…girl or boy, gradeschool, who like humor, contemporary fiction, and friendship stories. A series for those who desire to nurture their young (or to-be) creative writer and reader of Literature. Not for readers who expect (and desire) a transparent tale and its simplistic ribbon-tied ending for their young reader.

{images belong to Sophie Blackall}

"review" · Children's · concenter · Picture book · recommend · series

meet annelore parot’s kokeshi

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Twenty-Four: Kokeshi Kimonos Book 

by Annelore Parot

Chronicle Books, 2011.

kokeshi_kimonos_1“With a padded cover and slickly designed pages, this interactive book introduces traditional kokeshi dolls, popular in Japan. Rendered in manga style, the dolls wear kimonos; readers are invited to help one kokeshi select her kimono, assist another as she samples new hairstyles, and lift flaps to locate another kokeshi’s apartment. With a clean aesthetic and diminutive animal friends throughout, it provides an insider’s view into a gentle world of dress up. All ages. (Sept.)” Publishers Weekly

Browsing the shelves, it wasn’t only that Kimonos was faced outward, but it stood out. You can guess why…and it isn’t only because my eye is drawn to red. Once I had it in hand, I knew it was coming home with me. I love these interactive books. And well, I do love pretty things. Kimonos is pretty. Annelore Parot, is not afraid of color and patterns. Her choices alone recommend a lingering look, but most of the activities require an attention to details.


There are games of differentiation and matching and memory. There are lifting flaps and turning of pages that engage the reader/listener interact in the layering of the story. The educational quality includes translations of Japanese words as well as an introduction/exploration of cultural dress and relationships. Playing dress up usually involves a scenario that reflect social/cultural scripts and Parot optimizes this.


{of the bottom image: the two characters in their apartments are who you see when lifting the flap; on the flaps are text.}

We meet different Kokeshi characters in Kimonos, but French author/illustrator Annelore Parot has a series of Kokeshi books and products, Aoki (below) is just one I happened to find on the shelf. There is also a Kokeshi club site. These would have been dangerous for me when Natalya was young.

aoki coverAoiki (a Kokeshi book) by Annelore Parot

Chronicle Books, 2012

“Meet Aoki She may be the smallest Kokeshi, but Aoki’s infectious enthusiasm can make anyone laugh. On her whirlwind trip to Tokyo, she will ride a high-speed train, dance under cherry blossom trees, and visit a zen garden. With sneak-peek flaps, fun die-cuts, and lavish gatefolds, this interactive exploration will enchant Kokeshi fans of all sizes.” –publisher’s comments


aoki interiorThere are even more flaps, memory games, translations, and ways to keep the reader/listener on every page. While Parot constructs a story to follow, it is not so tight that the book couldn’t be picked up or set aside depending on time or interest. It could easily work as a quiet activity book, but I think, like Kimonos, this is one to play with together–because one, it is fun; and two, there is no answer key. This one is good for early grade school. It is doll-play. But even so, use this as an excuse to interact with that lovely child in your life.

{*books are translated into English; images belong to Annelore Parot}

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · series

{book} a rebel alliance

origami yoda jabba the puppettThe Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett: An Origami Yoda Book

by Tom Angleberger

Amulet Books, 2013

hardcover, 208 pages + folding instructions.

Dark times have fallen on McQuarrie Middle School. Dwight’s back—and not a moment too soon, as the gang faces the FunTime Menace: a new educational program designed to raise students’ standardized test scores. Instead, it’s driving everyone crazy with its obnoxious videos of Professor FunTime and his insidious singing calculator! When Principal Rabbski cancels the students’ field trip—along with art, music, and LEGO classes—to make time for FunTime, the students turn to Origami Yoda for help. But some crises are too big for Origami Yoda to handle alone: Form a Rebel Alliance the students must. United, can they defeat the FunTime Menace and cope with a surprise attack from Jabba the Puppett?—publisher’s comments

When I held this up in triumph, coming out of the Library, my 13 year old sighed. With the wisdom of a new 8th grader she had to wonder over the plausibility of middle-schoolers with finger puppets. Did I mention she is attending an Art School? I will ask her again mid-year. Meanwhile I wondered, “Do you not interact with your male classmates?!” I also reminded her that she does interact with her male classmates in math class over geek-sessions regarding certain Doctors both Horrible and Who. I am going to convince her to read The Secret of The Fortune Wookie which is all about celebrating the awesome existence of the SFF nerd-girl. As it was, the brief conversation of shrugs ended with mine, “I find them entertaining, and very pleasantly dangerous.”

I’m sure there are those who see the obvious Star Wars tie-ins and think “gimmick” or clever merchandising and continue on to check-out with it or dismiss them out of hand. The clever isn’t in gaining Lucasfilm Limited’s permission, it’s in convincing people that these are harmless easy pop culture fare that are sure to entice the reluctant male reader. Really the intelligence is in the way Tom Angleberger captures the angst, quirk and wit of middle-grade humans, encourages them to continue as such and gives them a voice.

In The Surprise Attack, fears anticipated in the previous novel are realized. The art, music, drama, LEGO-robotics, yearbook, field trips…and yes, even sports are cancelled and replaced with the FunTime educational program designed to send the sane screaming to the fields, I mean, get those standardized test scores back up. Feeling frustrated and powerless, Tommy and others turn to a figure who (however uncannily) has yet to let them down. Under the advice of Origami Yoda (as wielded by the returned Captain Dwight), the Origami Rebel Alliance is formed and Star Wars characters are dispensed with the Origami Yoda characters in mind. [Part of the entertainment in these books is how Angleberger finesses Star Wars story-lines and characters into a vision that is very much his own.] Yes, Angleberger empowers his middle-school students to rebel against the powers that be.

“That’s the crazy thing about this whole rebellion business. You can’t always tell who is going to be a rebel and who’s just going to be lame.” ~Tommy

Protest takes several forms through the course of The Surprise Attack. A few of the core ideas found in the advice: consider risk, timing, and focus. Selfish motives aren’t going to wash, like not wanting to do sit-ups in P.E. The book advocates peaceful protest, for example, Remi would like to do something about colossally annoying path-hogging behavior. In the book it is the three BFFs walking down the hall in a line at their own pace oblivious (or uncaring) that no one can get by. On Larimer it is the three-to-five-or-eight mimicking aforementioned behavior but with the added frustration of teasing you with small gaps that you really wish you could negotiate. Sometimes Angleberger’s books find an echo in the most unexpected ways. Remi and company come up with a plan (with Origami Yoda’s encouragement). It’s good stuff. There are petitions, letters, education and recruitment, fearful explanations to parents…

Arguments are made from different sides: the administrators concerned with public opinion and money and their students’ future;parent’s concerned with their children respect of authority, mental health (i.e. maturity), and their academic career present and future; young people concerned about their whole education and being competitive with their peers at other schools as they proceed into, you know, their future. The challenge is in seeking out the right solution to the problem at hand and marshaling forces behind it. The adults (at first) appear to only need to be in an immediate position of authority. The young people in the novel (and outside of it) must learn to articulate their concerns and persuade others to their side—as well as figure out how to adjust to those surprises that crop up—especially the one involving Jabba the Puppett.

Angleberger does drama and humor well, and most importantly he is thoughtful about it. He is entertaining, and he translates a lot of human anxiety into brave smiles, but he is also very careful with what he would have his audience know. Rebellion is a complex topic and one he tackles rather deftly—you get that much of the novel’s aplomb stems from the author’s confidence in his young characters and their readers.

The novel ends on with one of those “to be continued” ellipses after creating more intrigue than it resolves. Will the Alliance succeed? Is the Dwight/Origami Yoda mystery really as schizophrenic as it appeared in this novel? Will Harvey reveal his hidden crush?*


recommendations: boys, girls, 9-12, not only for fans of Star Wars, though there are references galore. a good read together series… like paper folding, crafty in general, read humor, and/or you live in Texas and attend public schools…

*I’m betting it’s Sara. Watch out Tommy.

L’s previous Origami Yoda book reviews (wherein you’ll get more of my response to the writing style, etc.)

(#1) The Strange Case of Origami Yoda 

(#2) Darth Paper Strikes Back

(#3) The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series

{book} the rithmatist

rithmatist coverThe Rithmatist (bk 1) by Brandon Sanderson

Illustrations by Ben McSweeney

Tor, 2013

hardcover, 370 pages. SFF, ages 12 & up.

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings — merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.
As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students study the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing — kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery — one that will change Rithmatics — and their world — forever. (Jacket Copy)

I know I will no longer look at the chalk art paving a good quarter of our summer evening walks the same again. Thanks for that Mr. Sanderson. Flayed bodies and ingested eyeballs… Of course, The Rithmatist is just a fantasy fiction, I’m just still a bit caught up in it is all. The novel is set in 1908 (?) and the United States are the United Isles (see one of Ben McSweeney’s wonderfully helpful illustrations below). There are “gearpunk” technologies, and somewhat altered histories…like the existence of Chalklings and the rise of a chose group of humans imbued with a special abilities to counter them using their own “magic:” Rithmatists. Sanderson translates his strange imagination well. And he has created a very capable character/guide in Joel who is obsessed with Rithmatics.


Aged 16, Joel attends a private and prestigious Armedius Academy in New Brittania, one of 8 schools for Rithmatists, but he isn’t there to study with the guarded and private group. He is in the general education section, and only because his acceptance had been finessed by his late father, the Academy’s chalkmaker, and his still living and overworked mother who is a cleaning lady on the grounds. Not only denied an opportunity to be selected as a Rithmatist and kept separate from their society, he is also incredibly poor and held apart from the more elite of his fellow students. This stings; yet it is especially hard for Joel to have so much passion and knowledge about Rithmatics and not have been “incepted,” chosen, it is insult to injury when disallowed the opportunity to learn alongside them. Especially when he finds himself in the company of loud and provocative Melody, a Rithmatist who is resistant to her calling (she has her reasons).

Melody is a live-wire. She brings out some of the best and worst in Joel. Another great source of exchange with Joel is Professor Fitch (who was voiced by Jim Broadbent in my brain throughout). These are the type of characters who move stories and grow our protagonist with the kind of heart and humor I look forward to in a work. The most sinister goings on are also quite satisfying. Like Joel (and even Melody), I found myself conflicted, the crime, the adventure of it is exciting, I shouldn’t wish for more… Sanderson can be chilling.

Sanderson plays a light but deft hand in building a world and its fascinations (characters, places, politics, histories, religions, peculiarities and gear-works), as well in garnering my interest and comprehension despite topics that sound suspiciously belonging of geometry (maybe calculus, but I couldn’t identify that when, how would I now?). The story moves and while I appreciated the first two Parts allowing me 100 pages stretches after which I could mind dinner or the late hour, I was always happy to return. The Rithmatist was able to surprise and delight me and I looked forward to the “what next”…still looking forward to it, actually.

I look forward to the next installment, but I would hate to leave the impression that this is one of those Teaser Book One’s that fulfill none of their promising threads. The disappearances? there is a resolution there, and Joel is at a place of satisfactory progress (as well as Melody and Fitch).


a few things in particular that I appreciated: The illustrations that accompany every chapter and within adding that visual dimension to the lessons on rithmatics; the unicorns are incredibly entertaining. I appreciate the inclusion of the guts and arrogance of youth as well as the affection with which adults are drawn. Sanderson is also very good with intrigue, teasing out a curiosity as to what he will do with allusions to other places and potential events while maintaining a very engrossing present. He is also very good with horror, so much so I really wanted a bit more of that; except I didn’t, if you know what I mean…

If you can’t tell: I do recommend Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist.

recommendations: boys & girls, 12 & up. Interest in Fantasy or Sci-Fi unnecessary: good characters, a taste of the historical, and good adventure (to include creepy villainy) will go far with less avid readers of the genres. I think many Harry Potter fans will be so pleased to find The Rithmatist, but I do not want to mistake any similarities beyond: brilliant characters, highly imaginative worlds, and the exhilaration and enchantment that keeps the pages turning, only to later fluster, suddenly realizing you will have to wait (until 2015) for the sequel (even if Sean refuses to sympathize because Sanderson should dedicate his precious time to another Way of Kings installment!). Joel and company are very much their own, and attempts to clone primary characters or plot turns  from HP will be frustrated, or maybe used against you quite deliciously.

{images belong to Ben McSweeney}

"review" · fiction · horror/scary · juvenile lit · recommend · series

{book} gustav gloom and the people taker

gustav peopletaker coverGustav Gloom and The People Taker (bk1)

by Adam-Troy Castro

Illustrated by Kristen Margiotta

Grosset & Dunlap (Penguin) 2012.

hardcover, 226 pages.

Gustav Gloom’s neighbors think he is the unhappiest little boy in the world. But what they don’t know is that the strange, dark house Gustav lives in is filled with more wonders and mysteries than could ever be explained. But explain is exactly what Gustav needs to do when Fernie What moves in across the street. And that’s when the adventure really begins…

When her cat chases his own shadow into the Gloom mansion, not only does Fernie get lost in Gustav’s house full of shadows, but she also finds herself being chased by the mysterious People Taker. With Gustav’s help, Fernie must save herself, her cat, and ultimately her family from what lurks in the Gloom mansion.  (back cover copy)

It wasn’t long into the novel that I got a sense of the Burton-esque, but it may be that I have watched Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton 1990) recently. It wasn’t that the narrator was channeling Vincent Price for me. It was the suburban neighborhood with a “fluorescent salmon house” across the street from a black, cloud- and fog-enshrouded castle, soon to be followed by Gustav Gloom’s unaffected replies to Fernie’s questions, and how the only world that truly seemed inexplicable was Fernie’s own.

There is also a cuteness about the story (despite the deliciously sinister villain) that places it closer to Burton’s darkling tales than say Brothers Grimm or Chris Priestley. There is a lot of energy and silliness that nears the over-the-top mark; the sort that has one wondering if the narrator is just too giddy with its own cleverness and humor to notice the “delightful” has begun to outweigh “dark;” thus I arrive at cute. The illustrations also tip those scales a bit.

gustav gloom image 3

{“Chapter One: The Strange Fate of Mr. Notes”}

David Roberts (for Priestley’s Tales of Terror) in its Gorey-esque illustrations would have been too stark and baleful for Gustav Gloom, that or I’m fully convinced by Kristen Margiotta’s full page illustrations introducing each chapter. They are adorable, aren’t they? The Goodreads page quotes “beautifully dark.” It certainly prints on the page dark, but I think they are too cute to be “beautiful.” Nicoletta Ceccoli is beautifully dark. Margiotta’s work carries off the kind of sweetness the book is offering a young audience; there is just enough seasoning of sinister to thrill a young reader.

gustav gloom image{“Chapter Ten: The Gallery of Awkward Statues”}

Before long it revealed itself as a sculpture—and not just any sculpture, but one of those massive, looming, white marble sculptures of a heroic-looking, muscle-bound man. Fernie had seen a number of sculptures like that in museums and in movies set in museums, and had always been impressed by the way the figures in the sculptures were constantly doing noble things like waving swords or standing at podiums making speeches or holding the Earth over their heads.

This one, though, didn’t look nearly as important.

The statue depicted a man, as muscle-bound as a mythical hero, stooping to examine the sole of his right foot to see whether he’d stepped in something.

It was such a realistic marble sculpture that Fernie could tell that he had. It wasn’t just that it looked gooshy and smeary, but his stone face was also contorted with disgust at the smell.

“Ewww,” said Fernie, pleased.

“It’s one of my favorites,” Gustav agreed. (122-3)

So the narrator reads a bit hyper at times for me, and I would roll my eyes at seeming digressions but they rather cleverly pass the time and flesh out the characters while the author is able to retain the scale and grandeur of Gloom’s house. And it is fantastic—the house. The imagination is incredibly entertaining. Castro is really good with the action sequences. And the exploration of “shadow” is stellar: how does one work, are there some good metaphors, like:

“The way Great-Aunt Mellifluous once explained it to me is that people who spend their entire lives sitting around never doing anything become shadows of what they could have been, so they deserve a room here as much as anybody.” (148)

gustav gloom image 2

{Chapter Three: The Odd Tale of Mrs. Adele Everwiner and the Rude Cashier}

Second only to the imagination of both the Gloom house and the safety hazards/procedures, Castro imagines some superb characters. The villain is awesomely bad. The beast is something we learn to laugh at–eventually. The children are smart and daring and are, in what is ultimately a friendship story, the kind of people the reader will want to be and know. The adults can be pretty silly, if even a little frustrating. I mean, who are these people and why do they wield so much power over children? Fernie and Pearlie’s dad has to be the most helicopter-y parent realized in kid-lit—but in an affectionate way. (His wife would be the most hands off.) He is also subject of one of the most amusing punch-lines in the novel (I won’t spoil it). Of the non-shadow adult figures in the Gustav Gloom, he is the one genuinely cares. The others are fairly grotesque. Older readers will read the social commentary, young readers will just find resonance, laughter (a really good coping mechanism), and the sort of optimism a good story of friendship set in adventure can provide.

As Gustav Gloom proceeds we learn more about our protagonists Fernie and Gustav, (not that the secondary characters remain flat by any means), but both carry loads of personality and loads of back story—especially Gustav. Just who is this boy and how did he come to be in his situation, tethered to the gated lawn and house within? Needless to say, Book One sets up plenty of tantalizing material for series. Go ahead a make sure you have book 2 on hand, Gustav Gloom and The Nightmare Vault (April 2013); the 3rd book The Four Terrors looks like it is set to release mid-August 2013.


Recommendations:  ages 8-11, boys & girls. for readers who like their houses to have crazy imaginations and a bit of silliness; and who can appreciate enough humor and childhood antics to blunt the sinister edge a bit. This is a good one, too, for parents to read along with, to enjoy together: maybe for Carl’s R.eader’s I.mbibing P.eril challenge in the Fall? or these long summer evenings. Plan to finish it off with a pancake dinner or chocolate chip cookies (or both?).

Of note: Early on, I kept thinking, a picture book by Castro could be interesting. Too, the final portrait of Gustav confirmed a suspicion that was forming: he could related to the Culkin boys (Macaulay & Kiernan).

{images belong to Kristen Margiotta, check out her site and be sure to peruse her illustrations and paintings, especially if you like what you see here; she is certainly familiar with figures of horror, fairy tales, & the macabre}

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · series · Tales

{book} jinx

jinx sage blackwood coverJinx by Sage Blackwood

Harper (HarperCollins), 2013

Hardcover, 360 pages.

In the Urwald, you don’t step off the path. Trolls, werewolves, and butter-churn riding witches lurk amid the clawing branches, eager to swoop up the unwary. Jinx has always feared leaving the path—then he meets the wizard Simon Magnus. […] But in the Urwald, a little healthy fear is never out of place, for magic—and magicians—can be as dangerous as the forest, and soon Jinx must decide which is the greater threat. –publisher’s copy.

Jinx seems aptly named, those who would be his caretaker do not appear to survive it. But as with most occasions in the novel, lies are spun and perceptions skewed. Situations and people are difficult to read–even for a peculiarly gifted Jinx.

In a world of magic such as the kind we find in tales/lore, we learn that the greatest power is actually knowledge. Jinx’s access to learning–whether by apprentice, books, or first-hand experience–creates a dramatic shift in the boy over the course of the novel. That knowledge is power is evidenced in other ways, and the means in which it is acquired is of explored as well.

So Jinx has good take-aways, but it is also an absorbing adventure. When we first meet Jinx he is a child, quite vulnerable and left up to ‘fate’, but he becomes more and more self-determining, aware and curious. One of the things I enjoy with middle-grade/juvenile fiction is they are not burdened with the bildungsroman of teen fiction. Their heroes are still on the journey of becoming, they needn’t become sufficient in every way necessary to be viewed as an adult (autonomous). I do not have to expect Jinx to be more than a boy still figuring out his magic—if he has any; or how he is meant to deal with the adults in his life. The world can still harbor glorious mystery, and danger. In the Urwald, Jinx experiences close escapes and troubling captivities, to say nothing of that witch Dame Glammer.

The lore in the novel is fantastic, negotiating fibs and encountering horribly true creatures. The curses are particularly enjoyable, and while some tale/lore aspects will feel more original to the tale than others, Jinx is undeniably Blackwood’s. It is the sort of story I love, enjoying the influences of old tales/lore and crafting your own. Jinx is also a bit dark, of the sort of uncomfortable realities we find in tales/lore.

Blackwood moves the story in a pace that never lingers too long and covers quite a bit of time and yet it’s hardly racing. The world is there and references to how things are for this person or that place are made, some more quietly relevant than others. There were paragraphs that threw me a bit there at the first (awkward sequences, strange paragraphing). Maybe it was myself and the author becoming acquainted. Nevertheless, I was easy swept back up and along. The first parts to the first chapters were especially inviting, however, it really is the imagination that is the strength in Jinx–in world and story (not a bit of the plot felt contrived). The characters are singularly lovely, down to the most minor and repulsive. Jinx’s nausea is delightful, as is Reven’s curse and Elfwyn’s red hood and pink clouds. Simon and Sophie were particular favorites in concept and interaction.

They do not seem to care to write “book one” on these things, but Jinx leaves some lines unresolved for a sequel. It is has the cliffhanger, and yet not. It could stand alone, though you wouldn’t care for it to. Basically Blackwood tantalizes the reader with promises of more adventures, and mysteries, and even some really good humor—Jinx has a wry wit to accompany the comedy in his bouts squeamishness and incredulity. I am very much excited to see the return of Blackwood’s characters and imagination in the sequel—which I believe we can anticipate in January 2014.

recommendations: boys & girls, 8-12, who love the fairy tales, magical adventures involving wizards/witches and orphaned children. these are books others have associated with the read: Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage, Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull, and The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley. I found it to be something close to what Gail Carson Levine or Cornelia Funke would’ve concocted.

of note: I was sold on Jinx by Melissa’s review at The Book Nut (do check it out).