"review" · arc · fiction · series

{book} a new(er) Flavia de Luce

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

A Flavia de Luce Novel, book 7

By Alan Bradley

ARC via NetGalley w/ gratitude to Delacorte Press*

Release Date January 6, 2015.

“Hard on the heels of the return of her mother’s body from the frozen reaches of the Himalayas, Flavia, for her indiscretions, is banished from her home at Buckshaw and shipped across the ocean to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Toronto, her mother’s alma mater, there to be inducted into a mysterious organization known as the Nide.

“No sooner does she arrive, however, than a body comes crashing down out of the chimney and into her room, setting off a series of investigations into mysterious disappearances of girls from the school.”–Publisher’s Comments

I hadn’t expected another Flavia de Luce novel so soon, if at all. The Dead in their Vaulted Arches (Delacorte 2014) closed the overarching mystery of Flavia’s mother and suggested closure for Flavia’s antics in Bishop Lacey, thus relieving the small English village of more dead bodies. I’m not complaining. In fact, I was quite giddy to see As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust show up on NetGalley. While there was no expectation we would get a glimpse of Flavia’s new situation (as suggested in The Dead), there was a curiosity of how life at Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy would go. It goes well…that is, the story goes well.

One of the things I appreciate most about Alan Bradley and this series of his is his consistency of character. Sure, Flavia has grown over the course of several books, she is essentially a self that never fails to saturate the narrative in that lovely singularly dark way of hers. As it is, Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust opens with one of the most delicious Prologues ever. Bradley excels at opening a novel. The atmospheric arrives in the first sentence and settles in for the long haul. Where first person narratives splinter into multiple voices for set descriptions and the like, the de Luce novel never shifts from Flavia’s macabre and chemistry-obsessed point of view—which can be frustrating at times. She gets distracted by life-things instead of focusing solely on the case at hand. Neither is her distraction a complaint. The novels are character driven and if you’ve haven’t a fondness for Flavia near the beginning of the series, you are not going to be reading Chimney Sweepers.

We may think we have an inkling of the how the mystery will be solved, tracing the evidence as Flavia observes (straightforwardly or obliquely), Flavia will eventually withhold a conclusion. You’d think I’d tire of this formula, but I’m much too pleased that Bradley only withholds in a believable way and doesn’t cut corners by resolving the mystery in a leap even too imaginative for the clever heroine he’s constructed. No, much of the mystery of how the case will be solved is in the unpredictable nature of those life-things I mentioned. Flavia has a want to like people and belong. She requires sleep and emotions and the personalities of other characters. Bradley creates some interesting characters in Chimney Sweepers, many of whom are of Flavia’s ilk, defining Flavia’s difference in a newer way. We get a novel launching a query into whom Flavia really is and is to become. How much is she like her elder female relatives? What boundaries will she risk?

How much can one year change?

Bradley leaves some loose ends; relationships are still troubled; uncertainties still linger—some, anyway. What Bradley certainly does do is demonstrate an exhilarating ability maintain a good mystery in his heroine and her adventures. You can leave off at The Dead in their Vaulted Arches if you like and imagine the what-comes-next, or you can extend the anticipation another book, because I wasn’t expecting the way the what-comes-next is framed by this new conclusion in the Flavia de Luce series.

I really am curious: How much will one year change?

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*I received the Advanced Reader’s Copy in exchange for a fair review and nothing more.

 

"review" · fiction · Lit · mystery · recommend · series · series · young adult lit

{book} the dead in their vaulted arches

>>a spoiler-free review<<

flavia de luceThe Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

(Flavia de Luce Novel #6)

by Alan Bradley

ARC thanks to Delacorte Press and NetGalley

release date: January 2014

“Young chemist and aspiring detective Flavia de Luce once again brings her knowledge of poisons and her indefatigable spirit to solve the most dastardly crimes the English countryside has to offer and, in the process, comes closer than ever to solving her life’s greatest mystery-her mother’s disappearance…” –publisher’s commentary

Harriet de Luce has been the mystery haunting this Flavia de Luce series and I’ve been holding my breath not since that tantalizing conclusion to Speaking From Among the Bones, but from the beginning with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Harriet’s absence has stained everything: the grieving husband and distant father (the Colonel); the competition between motherless daughters (Ophelia, Daphne and Flavia) with the youngest left with only her mothers looks and mind, but no real memory of the woman who birthed her; and then there is an estate (Buckshaw) left with no known Last Will and Testament. Was Harriet a too adventurous young mother, careless of her husband, children, and inheritance when she went off to climb a mountain? Or is there something more to it?

We learn about what really happened—to a lot of people in The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. How did the Father and Dogger meet and what is the nature of their relationship? As if I didn’t already love Dogger to pieces. The course of the series has evidenced a deep love between Flavia’s parents: prepare for a terribly moving scene that makes his grief all the more stirring. Will the sisters come to peaceful terms? okay—let’s not be greedy.

There is some bow-tying in a book that would solve Harriet’s disappearance. But if you are looking for neat and tidy…  That consistency in the characters and their relationships we have come to love, has and continues to translates into messy feelings and complicated turns. For one, we still have Flavia struggling to find her place in a family where she receives the most affectionate parenting and siblingship from the servants and Dieter. In that audacious manner Flavia has become known for, she is going to attempt a rather grand scheme in The Dead in hopes to win her place once and for all. That is, if she can do something about that pesky and familiarly precocious cousin of hers that has come with Harriet’s return.

Natalya did not care for Undine and I cannot disagree. I find amusement, however, in just how similar in description she is to Flavia. Child-like, genius, sneaky, underestimated… But Undine is not the only distraction for Flavia, all sorts of people are littering the landscape and the mystery, old and new. The novel is no less ambitious than past books, but Bradley injects a turn that wends its way backwards through the series in an effort to fill in niggling details. It works, but will you be happy with where Bradley goes with the de Luce family?

Flavia has softened, become less heartless over the course of the series, and we see this growing-up girl in this finale. I sort of miss the morbid vengeful thing of the earliest books, but her emotional education is an appealing aspect to the story arc.

I read the Advanced Readers, Uncorrected Proof, but I do not imagine the ending will change all that much–which is too bad. I can get excited by the possibilities that raced through my mind with that one, how it translates into the spinning of tales, of futures, I’ve no guarantee of ever seeing. I do like what it all means for Flavia. I like that ending. But it is actually that very final lines that I wish I could get your opinion on, because it isn’t just that it rings a wrong note, it suddenly shifts the center of the Flavia de Luce Novel and that is not a good choice.

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches involves a handful of endings, knotting those bows, exiting stage right and left. Leading up to them, we have the chemistry, visit the personalities of Bishop’s Lacy with Gladys to transport us there, Dogger’s well-timed presence, tense family meals, and the high drama of a family grieving what it’s lost and the lies that have perpetrated the crime. At the center of it all, the brilliant and determined Flavia de Luce who will finally come to realize her place–but only after she solves the mystery behind her mother’s disappearance. It shouldn’t surprise you but it is going to be quite a bit heartbreaking and just a bit gruesome.

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recommendations: by this point, you have to read all the previous books as this one responds to the over-arching characterizations and plot. This is a great historical fiction/mystery series for middle-school and up.

my reviews of books: #1 The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie; #2 The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag; #3 A Red Herring Without Mustard, #4 I am Half-Sick of Shadows , & #5 Speaking From Among Bones (pending)

"review" · fiction · guestblogger · juvenile lit · Lit · mystery · N · recommend · series · series

{book} fly by night

Hopefully we will be seeing more and more of guest: N to the point she will have a regular “column” with clever name and logo and everything. This would be a really good thing. It is always good to see her and it was a pleasant surprise when she sent me the file for today’s post.

It is Banned Books Week and just so happens N picks up an already read copy of Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge. Okay, so it isn’t really happenstance, because if you’ve read Fly By Night you probably lack surprise that a conversation on censoring people’s reading material would bring this particular book to mind. The young heroine Mosca Mye’s father was sent into exile for writing dangerous material. Printing presses are illegal and if the printed word (no matter what the surface) does not have a seal of approval by the Stationers Guild, well, bad things can and will happen. So N doesn’t speak to this aspect of Mosca’s adventure, but offers a recommendation that should tempt you to give Fly By Night a go in celebration of Banned Books Week or any other week hereafter. ~L

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Maybe if Mosca Mye had been born on the day of Goodman Boniface and had been a child of the sun instead of the flies, maybe if her eyes had not turned as black as hot pepper, maybe if her father had not been Quilliam Mye the outcast from Mandelion who wrote dangerous books, maybe she would not have met Eponymous Clent.

As luck would have it for us readers, the book certainly begins with a determined Mosca Mye, having set her uncle’s barn on fire, encountering the singular Eponymous Clent, a very eloquent man whose abilities with words get him out of trouble–and occasionally into it. This time his talents land him an unruly secretary and her dangerous goose as they escape the flooding town of Chough and head towards the city of Mandelion. While Mosca had accompanied Clent for something new, she could never have prepared for the adventure that followed. Warring cities, hidden plots, conspiracy, an illegal printing press, the destructive bird-catchers and the sinister locksmiths challenge Mosca and Eponymous to decide who they should work for and whose lies should they believe.

This is a beautifully written story that grows on you the more you read it. Frances Hardinge applies her limitless imagination through fantastic descriptions, wonderful (and sometimes dreaded) characters, captivating dialogue, and a plot that will come at you from every direction and surprise you constantly. She continuously keeps her characters and situations believable, yet new and refreshing at the same time. The time and location it is set in is unbelievable, and it is always something I admire of her when I read Frances Hardinge’s books. In this case, you emerge from a flooded city into a fanciful land of teahouse boats that are pulled along by kites, small marriage houses, chapels full of beloved idols, towers far off, and rowdy bars. Hardinge’s funky, creative style shows in this masterpiece. Even her chapter titles reflect this, starting with A is for Arson and ending with V is for Verdict.

This book is a world filled with thieves, liars, dukes, duchesses, saints, good intent, mal intent, deviousness on both sides in general, wordsmiths, conspiracies, danger, and banned literature! I think I may be drooling.

Anyone who loves mystery, suspense, action, adventure and just reading in general should gravitate to this. Being an avid reader is suggested. Suggested ages are 10 and up.

~Natalya Lawren

Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge

HarperTrophy, 2008.

Tradepaper, 512 pages.

we own it.

L’s review of Fly Trap (the book following Fly By Night).

In which L makes nice comments about Fly By Night without actually “reviewing” it.

L on Hardinge’s Lost Conspiracy, a “review

N on Well Witched aka Verdigris Deep, her “review “

yeah, we’re fans.. how could you tell?

"review" · fiction · guestblogger · Lit · N · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · young adult lit

{book} adams’ hitchhiker’s guide

{“A Suprised Looking Whale and Bowl of Petunias” by Jonathan Burton}

The daughter is stopping in to share:

The inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s Trilogy.

I find it flabbergasting that one can lay in a field in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1971, being faintly drunk and having a horrible day overall, and brilliantly (though slightly deliriously) come up with a wonderful idea for a book, promptly forget about it for 6 whole years, and still come up with this wonderful, crazy series. I am utterly astonished…. and tempted (not the drunk part; I’m 12). Being a writer myself, I should know that these ideas come to you at the craziest times and that it is vitally important to have something to write on and write with at all times. However, while most writers have ideas at crazy, random moments, few, if any, have the ideas that Douglas Adams possesses. It takes some wicked skill to do what he did. Do you want to know what he did, and what is so fabulous about it? You should, and if you do not, then why did you come and read this blog in the first place?!

First of all (I know, dreadfully boring beginning, right? The boring essay beginning I am firmly against), he begins–or middles–the so-called, “trilogy” with the book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It starts us off by introducing his main character: Arthur Dent, a fairly normal English man who is fond of his house, because he lives  in it, loves tea, works at a local radio station, is against bypasses, and has a very strange friend who saves his life, but to his consternation, not his home.

Over the course of the book we meet: Ford Prefect (not a typo for “perfect,” I can assure you), a hitchhiker who got stuck on earth for fifteen years and is the reporter for the biggest, best-selling book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; Zaphod Beeblebrox, a crazy, froody president of the galaxy with two heads, three arms and an overdeveloped magnetism for trouble; Trillian, a human who got picked up by Zaphod at a party he gatecrashed who is probably the most sane and sensible of the group; Marvin, a depressed robot that was made by the Serious Cybernetics Corporation before they figured out how to make their genuine people personalities actually work; and Eddie, the annoying computer interface to Heart of Gold, a new, one of a kind spaceship that Zaphod just happened to steal. There are other minor characters I could mention at this point, but it might ruin it for you, which might cause you to join up with other discontented readers and spend all of your time plotting how to mob me, which is not suggested. Listing minor characters (however charming they may be) would take up too much space, and it would take a lot more time than I have to spend at this time on minor characters (no matter how amusing they are).

 {another of the talented Jonathan Burton’s illustrations, check out his portfolio and find more of his Hitchhiker’s images here.}

You might notice I am going on many digressions, well so does Douglas Adams in his books and that adds most of the humor, so you might as well get used to them if you want to read his books (which you do!).

<<spoiler alert! If you want to know something about the book that isn’t too big a spoiler in my opinion, but will probably be a spoiler nonetheless, please go to the very bottom of the post and read the asterisked spoiler there! Thank you for your time and consideration. >>

Overall, the first book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a story involving the disgusting Vogons and their nasty poetry, some tea, towels, tons of hitchhiking, lots of improbability, a realization that involves mice, and the answer of life, the universe, and everything. Oops, I forgot to add, a whole lot of ridiculousness—maybe you picked up on that though.

PART TWO PEOPLE! Or, the second book.

Now that all that silliness is done, I will move on to his second book, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. This starts off with learning that the main characters are still alive, annoying, and ridiculous as always while they are fleeing from the Vogon construction fleet. Stuck, Zaphod holds a séance to summon his crabby great-great-grandfather, Zaphod the fourth, whom inevitably launches them into an adventure of proportions which include: Frogstar World B, blowing off fate to go to the restaurant at the end of the universe, meeting a bunch of unlikely ancestors, escaping death for the millionth time, and a whole bunch of other nonsense.

PART THREE READERS!

See, that wasn’t so long, now was it? [it is N writing this, after all. ~L] In the next book, Life, the Universe and Everything, our gang of characters are split up; Arthur, living in a cave, being insulted, and slowly going mad on a prehistoric earth; Ford, wandering the same prehistoric earth, until they find each other, chase after a couch, find themselves in a cricket match, and learn about an entirely different, more deadly form of “Krikkit” (which Ford desperately tries to ignore and attempts to find a place to drink and have fun). Meanwhile, Marvin is stuck in a swamp, being dreary as usual, this time determined to depress a very exuberant mattress. At the same time, Zaphod is in a mood and is drinking himself silly to which Trillian responds by teleporting herself randomly somewhere else. Arthur finds himself in a very bewildering encounter with an unknown enemy and learns how to fly, before Trillian, himself and Ford reunite (to Fords delight) at a party, which is, of course, ruined and all four of them find that they are drawn in, whether they like it or not, to save the universe.

Now I’ll warn you, that I could go on forever, because the “trilogy” consists of 5 books, not including And Another Thing by Eoin Colfer, which is the sixth book in the trilogy. Instead of continuing or beginning to talk about each one separately, I’ll just say that they are great. All six books are equally ridiculous and I advise you to read them all.

Douglas Adams was able to lay in a field, a little drunk, and have a crazy thought; through doing this, he created a wonderful series of absurdity, of brilliance, of towels, and extraordinary universe. Reading this series will make you laugh and quote it out loud so many times that people will think that you have finally gone absolutely crazy. Crazy in a good way, I hope.

Here are some tips to being a true, obsessed fan of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

1. Read it over and over and over and over and over.

42. Repeat.

2. Always, constantly, no matter how many times they tell you to shut up, keep quoting the guide.

3. May 25th is towel day. It celebrates Douglas Adams. Only the geekiest people know about it and celebrate it, and it is celebrated all over the world. All you have to do is carry a towel around with you all day and quote like crazy.

 *the world is utterly destroyed as you know it. Just thought you ought to know.

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The daughter aka N aka Natalya should be a more frequent guest-blogger than she is. When she finally finished the whole Hitchhiker’s Guide series this summer, she agreed to write something and well, it was becoming a series in itself. She surrendered what she had and L  tuned the above “review” a smidge & added images.

The Guide is an experience, and few things make a dinner conversation more interesting than exchanging favorite sequences and quotes from the books. The Guide has an infectious quality, and the symptoms of an outbreak of fandom vary. However, the exposure comes highly recommended, and better earlier than late.

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · Lit · philosophy/criticism · poet-related · recommend · series · series · Uncategorized · wondermous

{book} my name is mina

Do you ever have the urge to write an author and transcriptionally hug and kiss them because of your profound gratitude for their having been born and having written this one particular book? I usually hug the book instead. And I’ve been hugging My Name is Mina the past few days. I should really write those living authors. I should write to David Almond.

I’d heard of My Name is Mina in passing. I think it was in a manner of whispers from the “Lucky Day” shelf in Juvenile Fiction at the Library. I picked it up the other day. I’m familiar with David Almond, should be good.  On the cover in small print: “One of the best novels of the last decade.” -Nick Hornby. I flipped open the cover and read:

Mina loves the night. While everyone else is in a deep slumber, she gazes out the window, witness to the moon’s silvery light. In the stillness, she can even hear her own heart beating. This is when Mina feels that anything is possible, that her imagination is set free.

A blank notebook lies on the table. It has been there for what seems like forever. Mina has proclaimed in the past that she will use it as a journal, and one night, at last, she begins to do just that. As she writes, Mina makes discoveries both trivial and profound about herself and her world, her thoughts and her dreams.

Award-winning author David Almond re-introduces readers to the perceptive, sensitive Mina before the events of Skellig in this lyrical and fantastical work. My Name Is Mina is not only a pleasure to read, it is an intimate and enlightening look at a character whose open mind and heart have much to teach us about life, love, and the mysteries that surround us. –inside jacket copy

I flipped pages and noted the unusual form. I balanced it on top of my seven volumes of Pluto. I was taking this book home to Natalya, whom instantly came to mind. She and Mina would be friends, minus the tree part. Well, maybe Mina could have talked her into climbing one. To be perfectly candid, I would linger in hopes of an invitation myself.

Then what shall I write? I can’t just write that this happened then this happened then this happened to boring infinitum. I’ll let my journal grow just like the mind does, just like a tree or a beast does, just like life does. Why should a book tell a tale in a dull straight line?

Words should wander and meander. They should fly like owls and flicker like bats and slip like cats. They should murmur and scream and dance and sing.

Sometimes there should be no words at all.

Just silence.

Just clean white space.

Some pages will be like a sky with a single bird in it. some will be like a sky with a swirling swarm of starlings in it. My sentences will be a clutch, a collection, a pattern, a swarm, a shoal, a mosaic. They will be a circus, a menagerie, a tree, a nest. Because my mind is not in order. My mind is not straight lines. My mind is a clutter and a mess. It is my mind, but it is also very like other minds. And like all minds, like every mind that there has ever been and every mind that there will ever be, it is a place of wonder. (11-12, though technically 3-4)

I could stop here, couldn’t I. But I won’t.

I had hopes with the first entry title page: Moonlight, Wonder, Flies & Nonsense. I found poetry upon the first page of written words, and I quickly found love within a short succession of pages; 4 and 5 and 6 pages in, pages 12-14. “I was told by my teacher Mrs. Scullery that I should not write anything until I had planned what I would write. What nonsense! […] I did want to be what they called a good girl, so I did try.” There are people who say they want to be a Writer, and there are people who say that they are. And I’m not mistaking Published Author for Writer and neither should you. My Name is Mina is for Writers, for Artists, Anyone, and for Birdwatchers.

I think people will want to give this book to youth they find “special.” And it is true that Mina is gifted and unusual (I think mostly due to her courageousness). You get that her mother is a profound influence, a mentor and guide; she herself is a Creative thinker. If for no other reason buy this for the sake of its portrayal of a loving, truly nurturing mother. “Raise your child in the way they should go,” comes to mind. Anyway, I think people should want to give this book to any young person. It is true that many people like Mina feel alone in their wondering and meandering and musing about themselves and the world; but the book does not impart a sense of “specialness” upon Mina outside of realizing a very rich character. It would assume every young person has (at the very most) an inner life, a distinction, and a loneliness. My evidence?

Now, I’m not going to say the book assumes absolute familiarity, Mina’s mind would be her own (11), but she will not be wholly unfamiliar on some intimate level (at least I desperately hope not). Better, Mina would challenge the reader to nurture their creativity, their wondering minds. If, like Mina, you’re not going to have it nurtured in a school setting or special programs, or unlike her, at home, be determined and a bit desperate and brave and find yourself an empty journal to meander your way through.

My Name is Mina has these fantastic “Extraordinary Activities” throughout. They are connected to her stories and contemplations where they are exampled, but they are meant to engage the reader, the creative. “Go to the loo. Flush your pee away. Consider where it will go to and what it will become” (124). “(Joyous Version) Write a page of words for joy. [or] (Sad Version) Write a page of words for sadness” (133). N did this one, pausing her reading to do so: “Write a poem that repeats a word and repeats a word and repeats a word and repeats a word until it almost loses its meaning. (It can be useful to choose a word that you don’t like, or that scares or disturbs you)” (97). N’s present essay project on present, future, past tenses: yep, the concrete poem Mina wrote on page 89 and following.

Mina is funny and serious and vulnerable and strong and restless and still and shy and friendly and outrageous and poignant and… I found her a beautiful character with which to become acquainted. Rather importantly, she is not charmingly quirky, or a cute puppy to indulge and smile over. She is deadly ridiculous.

If you’ve read David Almonds 1998 debut novel and awards-winning Skellig, you’ve met Mina. While you needn’t have read Skellig to enjoy My Name is Mina, My Name is Mina is cited as a prequel. You meet Mina from before Michael (in Skellig) moves onto her street. She sees him, occasionally observes, but there is a time before she finally introduces herself to him. Those familiar with Skellig will note references, people, and remember Mina. Those unfamiliar will not feel cheated, nor will they encounter any frustrating sense of inevitability like stories often written with another story in mind. You know those that are written to offer backstory. Mina isn’t a backstory. She is her own story.

When Mina writes that “the journal will grow just like the mind does” the book does take on this characteristic. She doesn’t date entries, but uses creative (summarative) titles. She’ll allude to an ending, and then move back and forth before she reaches it. “Afterwards, Mina tried to think of ways to tell the tale. Then she thought that maybe it’d be best to write it down, which is what she did” (58). She intentionally avoids stories until she feels ready to share them, still distancing herself from their discomfort; she’ll switch from 1st- to 3rd-person for similar reasons.  “Extraordinary Activity: (third-person version) Write a story about yourself as if you’re writing about somebody else. (first-person version) Write a story about somebody else as if you’re writing about yourself” (59). Some of the world about her is captured obliquely, what we learn of her mother’s is created thus. The book is a journal of Mina’s keeping after all, her preoccupations, her confessions, her stories, her own dramatic effects. She yells, she cries, she records poems and blank pages. Mina’s mind may be a mess, as she puts it, but the book is by no means jumbled into indecipherability. It doesn’t even feel unnatural. It doesn’t even exhaust the reader with cleverness–maybe because its less “clever” and more normal. Mina resists conforming, and I’m glad for it.

My Name is Mina culminates into an ending that isn’t remotely forced, or even inevitable for that matter. We have points we are alerted to look for, progressions we would see through, and then it slips into another story: Skellig. I was compelled to turn pages by my desire to spend time with Mina and the world she inhabits in her mind’s eye; to explore ideas of creation and death and life and belonging and cages and nonsense and story; to have fun and be brave and engage in healthy doses of nonsense and sorrow and long walks.

Thank you David Almond for your gift to the world, to my daughter, and to me. Thank you for introducing us to Mina.

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recommendation…ages 10&up, human (or beast), lovers of humor, occasional irreverence, poetry you can understand, adventure, birds, nonsense, absolute sense… For those who’ve experienced a loss, a found, an inquisitive mind, an understanding adult, an equally strange friend, the principal’s office

Bart’s Bookshelf did a really excellent (and short) review, which I just found. Check it out.

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My Name is Mina by David Almond

Delacorte Press, 2010

hardcover, 300 pages.

"review" · fiction · Lit · sci-fi/fantasy · series · wondermous

{book} old man’s war

When Carl V. (of Stainless Steel Droppings) highly recommends a book*, read it—you’ll be grateful. John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is incredibly fun; a wonderfully rendered sci-fi adventure with a very sweet love story. I read very few space Sci-Fi stories (I watch exponentially more). I read even fewer novels where the protagonists are in their later years. If you have similar avoidances, overcome them for Old Man’s War. Yes, when I highly recommend a read, you might should seriously consider it, too.

  John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce — and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine — and what he will become is far stranger.~publisher’s comments (back cover)

Congratulations John Perry, you are now among my favorite characters of all time. Why? He is just flat-out charming. As our first person narrator, Perry deftly navigates the emotional, technical, political, and comedic. Dialog captures diverse perspectives—and diverse personalities—so the narrative doesn’t feel too narrow or skewed. For those who want to use 3rd person benefits in a 1st person narrative (ahem, Young Adult fiction) Scalzi examples a successful way of doing this.

The sense of humor had me drawing out the read and savoring it. Someone could easily devour the book in a long sitting as it is quick-paced and engrossing. If you’ve been in a slump or inundated with non-fiction assignments at school, Old Man’s War is a comfort food. The rest of the time it is dessert.

I love the imagination in the fiction, especially in its coupling with comedic timing. The planets and aliens are marvelous inventions. I couldn’t get enough of them. And Scalzi’s capture of earthly familiarity (in particular, the military)is amusing and horrifying in their perfection.

  It might have been because of the Covandu themselves who in many respects were clones of the human race itself: bipedal, mammalian, extraordinarily gifted in artistic matters, particularly poetry and drama, fast breeding and unusually aggressive when it come o the universe and their place in it. Humans and the Covandu frequently found themselves fighting for the same undeveloped real estate. Cova Banda, in fact, had been a human colony before it had been a Covandu one, abandoned after a native virus had caused the settlers to grow unsightly additional limbs and homicidal additional personalities. The virus didn’t give the Covandu even a headache; they moved right in. Sixty-three years later, the Colonials finally developed a vaccine and wanted the planet back. Unfortunately, the Covandu, again all too much like humans, weren’t very much into the whole sharing thing. So in we went, to do battle against the Covandu.

The Tallest of whom was no more than one inch tall. (186-7)**

 

Old Man’s War isn’t just a fluff read. It not only explores the concerns and benefits of age, but imperialism, sexism, sexuality, humanity, religious fervor… Perry is a sensitive observer, naturally flawed enough to be believable, he is personable and reflective. Important to me: he isn’t misogynistic or macho.  If anything he is cautious in his own opinions, except when it comes to his love of his late wife.

I was impressed with the transitions from earth to space, age to youth, base desires to intellectual discourse, death to resurrection and back round again; the explorations throughout and the interconnectedness of them all. They follow and encircle the progression of the story, of John Perry’s life. Placing interrogative conversations with regards to our greatest institutions in the venue of future and space allows us engage in criticism more freely. John Perry is affable.  His is witty and he is loyal, and he is old. He is a brilliant choice as narrator/guide.

Scalzi proves himself to be a talented writer, but more importantly—a gifted storyteller. His pacing, his timing, his balance of dialog, illustration, explanation, and action is remarkable. The novel is immersive. You don’t even think about it as a book one in a series until the last part of the book as it introduces a potential continuation. Even then, the book ends with thoughts of its beginning. Scalzi has whetted enough of an appetite for a series, but the novel is sensitive to the creation of its own entity. It has done what it has promised to do: to follow John Perry on this new adventure, to give him back his “youth,” to give him a new beginning, a fresh start—and to do all this without loss of memory or purpose.

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recommendation: sci-fi and non-sci-fi reader, any sex, “big kids” (due to sexual content and language), fans of Heinlein.

of note: yes! finally one for The Sci-Fi Experience–deep sigh. check out the reviews site, here.

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*Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings reviews and rereads Old Man’s War.

** I adore Scalzi’s use of “whom” to identify personhood over referencing an object. Note the criticism of the human in the quick matter-of-fact listing of attributes, and setting/explanation for the present situation. John Perry rarely uses confrontational tones.

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Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Tor, 2005; tradepaper, 313 pages.

[borrowed from Library, should really own.]

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  “Though a lot of SF writers are more or less efficiently continuing the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein, Scalzi’s astonishingly proficient first novel reads like an original work by the late grand master. […]  The story obviously resembles such novels as Starship Troopers and Time Enough for Love, but Scalzi is not just recycling classic Heinlein. He’s working out new twists, variations that startle even as they satisfy. The novel’s tone is right on target, too — sentimentality balanced by hardheaded calculation, know-it-all smugness moderated by innocent wonder. This virtuoso debut pays tribute to SF’s past while showing that well-worn tropes still can have real zip when they’re approached with ingenuity.” Publishers Weekly

"review" · comics/graphic novels · Lit · recommend · series · wondermous

Love : Bayou

Bayou : volume one by Jeremy Love

colors by Patrick Morgan

DC Comics, 2009.

orig. web-comic at zudacomics.com

(volume one = first four chapters = (?) 8 on-line  installments)

It is 1933 in Charon Mississippi and 10-year-old Lee Wagstaff’s father has fallen into trouble; and, in a way, it is the bayou’s fault. “The bayou is a bad place. Ain’t nuthin’ good ever happened there.” When Lee’s white playmate Lily gets eaten by a monster in the bayou and effectively goes missing, Lee has to find a way to get her back before her father is lynched by the local and not-so-local racists. Overcoming her terror of things seen and unseen in the bayou, Lee dives in and begins a journey in which “strange gods and monsters” await; a “fantastic and frightening world, born from centuries of slavery and civil war.”

Lee meets a swamp monster, Bayou, who reluctantly agrees to become her guide. “Together they trek across a hauntingly familiar Southern Neverland, on a journey that will drastically alter both their lives…”*

Jeremy Love’s Bayou is as WIRED magazine observes, “as hypnotic as it is unsettling.” Flipping pages, I thought the artwork and color beautiful, and the premise clinched it; but Bayou was more than I had anticipated. I was pulled in and under and ultimately left gasping.

Bayou is not a comic to be left lying around or lingering on the screen with young eyes about. The content is uncompromisingly graphic; and yet coarse language and blatantly derrogative names are *#&@ out. But the setting is the deep South and the climate for its black population is bloody.

The story collected into this volume begins with Lee diving into the bayou to retrieve the body of Billy Glass, a boy not much older than herself who had been hanged recently. “My mama says Billy Glass deserved what he got. She said a n***** boy got no business whistlin’ at no white woman.”~Lily to Lee. Lee doesn’t only find Billy’s sightless, bloating body, but a form of him with butterfly wings hovering nearby. Afterward, Lee gladly heeds her loving father’s warning to stay away from the bayou. After all, it did take her mother.

Love moves in and out of panel form to enhance the narrative, in and out of the past fluidly, and his section of newspaper article text notable. The images are so beautiful, every page is eagerly turned, but what Love captures is so hard to take at times, a struggle ensues.

“The town was renamed from its original moniker, Clarksville, after the War Between the States. It was there, in the waning days of the epic conflict, that General Douglass Matthew Bogg made his last stand against Sherman’s Northern marauders. Bogg fought so fiercely that a Yankee writer likened him to Charon, the ancient Greek figure who ferried dead souls into Hades.”

Love melds history and myth rather effortlessly, captured in cultural lore and in the “magical” sight of his young protagonist. One plane seems no less violent than the other. Lee isn’t escaping with the Reader into a fantasy which hides its realist images in correlatives; for one, the earlier images of human evil is so firmly imprinted, the humanoid monster can hardly supplant it.

Not all the scenes harbor darkness, or lack the charm that magic can bring. But it is best to prepare yourself for only the unexpected, and hope you can get your hands on future chapters. This is a collection to own–and share.

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*quotes from back cover.

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A wonderful review by Don MacPherson at “Eye on Comics” wherein he talks about artistic reminiscence; the subversion of Cotton-Eyed Joe; the importance Patrick Morgan’s contribution brings to the work; and the unlikable Lily. He gives Bayou: Volume one a 9/10 rating stating,

While the point of the storytelling is abundantly clear, the way in which Love opts to convey his meaning is darkly delightful. This is an African-American vision of such fabled stories as The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. Southern and black culture, not to mention U.S. history, factor in heavily with Love’s character concepts and designs. He mixes the worlds of magic and the mundane incredibly well here. This unusual and mature take on the child’s quest into another world is mesmerizing.