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

{book} deadweather & sunrise

The Chronicles of Egg: Deadweather & Sunrise (book 1) by Geoff Rodkey

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012.

hardcover, 296 pages.

It’s tough to be thirteen, especially when somebody’s trying to kill you.

Not that Egg’s life was ever easy, growing up on sweaty, pirate-infested Deadweather Island with no company except an incompetent tutor and a pair of unusually violent siblings who hate his guts.

But when Egg’s father hustles their family off on a mysterious errand to fabulously wealthy Sunrise Island, then disappears with the siblings in a freak accident, Egg finds himself a long-term guest at the mansion of the glamorous Pembroke family and their beautiful, sharp-tongued daughter Millicent. Finally, life seems perfect.

Until someone tries to throw him off a cliff.

Suddenly, Egg’s running for his life in a bewildering world of cutthroat pirates, villainous businessmen, and strange Native legends. The only people who can help him sort out the mystery of why he’s been marked for death are Millicent and a one-handed, possibly deranged cabin boy.—jacket copy

When you read “debut author” you are ready to make some allowances, you needn’t with Geoff Rodkey. He has spun this juvenile fiction adventure story like a pro. He’s funny and earnest and has the pacing, villains, and gore well in hand. He is also able to throw in plenty of keep-you-on-your-toes plot twists that do not, wonderfully enough, feel like they come out of nowhere. He is convincing and consistent if you are willing to slow down long enough to admire the job; which is harder than it sounds.

Rodkey does take time with the beginning establishing Egbert’s unfortunate circumstances and giving the reader a feel for this fantasy culture. His wit is high energy, which works for this kind of adventure, and I see Rodkey eventually catching up with the likes of N.D. Wilson and Eoin Colfer. In the meantime, the pages sail by, even if one cringes to think ‘how is Egg going to get out of that one?’ Rodkey draws out some pretty good action sequences.

Melissa at The Book Nut captures the feel of the characters perfectly when she writes: “Think of it as Pirates of the Caribbean with a 13-year-old Will Turner. There’s a Jack Sparrow character in Egg’s friend Guts, and Millicent could be Elizabeth Swan.” Yeah, they are younger, blonder versions… It wasn’t something I hadn’t thought about while reading, having forgotten it since reading Melissa’s review, but they are very reminiscent. There are other characters, of course, some a bit more caricature-ish, but Rodkey uses it wisely, I think; illustrating where he needed so as to not bog down his read unnecessarily, certainly not at the expense of the pace. He maintains a successful balance of Egg’s inner dialog with the action, and not just balance in how Rodkey spends his time, but how he uses one to affect the other (and vice versa). Who Egg is affects his choices which affects the outcome, but he is also made to react or is placed due to the actions of another.

As Book One Deadweather and Sunrise could stand alone, but I can’t think why one would want it to. While Rodkey wraps up a few things, he’s laid out quite a bit more to entice the reader. The reader is going to like at least one character and are bound to be intrigued by at least one lure Rodkey has set for the next adventure. I am happy to say I am interested in the outcomes of more than a few characters and plot trajectories.

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recommendations: ages 10 & up. boys or girls, avid reader or no, those who love adventure stories, pirates (maimed or otherwise), and/or first crushes. fans of N.D. Wilson and/or Rick Riordan.

of note: Rodkey writes boys and boats really well. and Guts is my favorite. I adore his rough language, blood-thirst, and the way he tells Millicent to shut-up…yeah, the bickering was great.

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Here’s the link again for Melissa’s review. (If you read many middle-grade novels, you should think about following her blog if you do not already; although she does read outside of mg, too.)

"review" · Children's · Illustrator · Picture book · recommend

{book} freckleface strawberry

DAY 15

Freckleface Strawberry by Julianne Moore

illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Bloomsbury, 2007.

I reviewed sequels Strawberry Freckleface before and was pleased to find that the Library happened to have the first on the shelf to read. Whichever book in the series you pick up first, just be sure to pick up the others. These are not some quaint little foray by a celebrity into picture books. Moore is good and she and Uyen make a great team.

If you have freckles, you can try these things:

1.) Make them go away. Unless scrubbing doesn’t work.
2.) Cover them up. Unless your mom yells at you for using a marker.
3.) Disappear. Um, where’d you go? Oh, there you are.

There’s one other thing you can do:

4.) LIVE WITH THEM!

Because after all, the things that make you different also make you YOU.

From acclaimed actress Julianne Moore and award-winning illustrator LeUyen Pham comes a delightful story of a little girl who’s different…just like everybody else.—jacket copy.

A little girl aka Strawberry Freckleface shares similarities with her playmates, but she also has differences. And it is a difference within her family, too; and though her baby brother has freckles, “he was just a baby.” It would be one thing if the difference aka the freckles did not invite comments from people and make her feelso different. But trying to get rid of them draws unwanted attention as well. And hiding? well, hiding her freckles means making herself unrecognizable and the little girl did not care for this option either. It was uncomfortable—and she was missed! “Who cared about having a million freckles when she had a million friends?” She comes to learn that she is just going to have to embrace the fact that she has freckles—even if it does make her unusual among her friends and family.

Freckleface Strawberry would be good for the len’tiginous one in the family, but it works with any visible or less visible difference, because the jacket copy has it right, Freckleface Strawberry is “delightful story of a little girl who’s different…just like everybody else.” Julianne Moore sets up the story for the reader/listener to understand how similarities and differences work, even if the little girl herself is still going through the process of learning her lesson: how differences come about can be mysterious, and they vary, and while awkward at times, it isn’t always terrible to be unusual, actually it is quite normal.

The very talented illustrator LeUyen Pham is not without her own valuable contributions of course. Besides translating a vivacious red-head with freckles into energetic visuals, she populates the pages with children who sport their own obvious and sometimes more subtle differences. A tall boy says she looks like a giraffe while a shorter boy corrects the simile by referencing her own short height. A boy in a green space suit (?) asks if he can smell her freckles—and if that isn’t weird… There is a set of identical twins. There are different colors of skin and hair, shapes of facial features and bodies. There are differing abilities and personalities—and capturing their personality is all Uyen.

Freckleface Strawberry is humorous and smart. It makes no promises that the whatever it is that makes you unique or stand-out is going to “go away a little” or that it will garner less attention or that you will stop wishing to be a little less unusual. In Freckleface Strawberry, what promise can be found is in how a change in perspective can make all difference better.

{images belong to LeUyen Pham}

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

{book} uglies

Uglies by Scott Westerfield

Scholastic Press, 2005.

paperback, 448 pages. borrowed.

There is, very probably a canon of Young Adult reads. The sort of collection where if you want to be taken seriously as a reader of YA you must have read certain authors and titles. Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series is on it—as it should be. I have heard it referenced often, and thanks to Natalya who brought it home from school on Friday, I finally made the excuse to read book one: Uglies.

This is where I admit to disliking the titles in this series (Uglies, Pretties, and Specials) and their continual use throughout the novel. I also admit to loathing the ridiculous name of that section of the city called Pretty Town. Why? I feel immediately sucked into that hideous simpering hole that is the cliché of prissy female adolescence. Westerfield is a genius.*

In this future-scape, Tally is only a few short months away from a full-body-altering surgery that will make her “pretty”—and she needs to be pretty. Her best friend Peris (such an unfortunate spelling for the male) has had his surgery and is already in Pretty Town where life is just one party after another, to say nothing of the social ramifications of left being Ugly. All she has to do is behave and wait it out until she turns 16, too. But Tally makes a new friend, Shay, who despite their being the very same age has different views about the impending change—in fact, Shay is going to run away to where other rebels have fled, to live in the wilderness. This shouldn’t have affected Tally except she is the only one who knows where Shay went and the government wants Tally to find that settlement. Tally has to betray her friend or risk never becoming “pretty” and lose everything.

Tally has to follow clues in order to find the settlement and she is daring and resourceful if nothing else. She is also able to grasp the full scope of what is going on as the Utopic shine begins to tarnish and the truth behind all those Pretty faces is revealed. But the homespun wilds is no cake walk either. Growing up, peeking behind the veil of propaganda or idealism, it seems, is serious business, people. It is a testament to Westerfield’s ability that he can draw characters who have their moments of wisdom as well as absolute foolishness—characters who can be neither likeable or heinous.

Westerfield writes great action and adventure and any romance serves to develop the characters further and melds seamlessly into the turn in the plot. However, the question at the center of Tally’s adventure remains throughout: which promises will she keep and whom will she betray? Her own interest rarely figures in after the first—after we come to understand how being Ugly versus Pretty figures in. And even then, Westerfield paces the world-building, using the initially narrow scope of our first person narrative as an excuse to tease out new and enlightening perspectives as the character learns more and more about the society/world about her.

Needless to say, there is a lot of criticism regarding appearance, conformity, stereotyping and there is a healthy dose of eco-criticism as well. Westerfield creates a sensical Utopia, taking the reverse of Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron and prettying everyone up rather than catering to the lowest denominator. While it may not seem fair from the first, it doesn’t seem wholly unreasonable, feeding into our own contemporary “understandings” about social and biological interaction. Tally is a good average adolescent, a reliable avatar. Passive and typical until she becomes more willingly decisive and singular as Westfield slowly introduces complications until he ups the ante irreparably. He turns the pages and it would do to have book two (Pretties) on hand.

recommendations: 12 -17 (middle school-12th); anyone human; those interested in sci-fi, dystopia, and/or action/adventure; social and/or ecological critique done in a surprisingly non-heavy-handed way considering how it dominates the story.

*although “genius” in this way may not have been intentional.

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

{book} grave mercy

Escaping from the brutality of an arranged marriage, seventeen-year-old Ismae finds sanctuary at the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts — and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must be willing to take the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany, where she must pose as mistress to the darkly mysterious Gavriel Duval, who has fallen under a cloud of suspicion. Once there, finds herself woefully under prepared — not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?-jacket copy

You know those teen/young adult novels featuring a strong heroine coming of age during an hour of great intrigue and world-altering events? Most (if not all) feel they must have a romance, coming to terms with sexuality being a key ingredient to bildungsroman; and for the sake of presenting a strong heroine they would play the romance as a secondary part of the plot. Unfortunate for some of these stories, the text finds the romance much more interesting and cannot seem to keep it out of focus. Grave Mercy takes its cue from adult fiction and suggests, why not do both? Authors like Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Lowell, and Jayne Ann Krentz write kick-ass female protagonists taking on the traumatic, the criminal, and the steamy swoon-worthy romance all the time. And with Grave Mercy you needn’t worry about the more explicit nature of “not-young-adult” books—or even other young adult books, or Teen lit…I get to this later.

So if you like historical political intrigue that is twisty but not so complicated as to be indecipherable, Grave Mercy is good. If you like a good bildungsroman of a traumatized girl learning to find her own path, her own calling—ditto. If you like a classic romantic tale?—welcome. If you are intimidated by a 500+ read, don’t be. Grave Mercy’s balance and thus accessibility to such a wide range of audience makes it an easy Christmas gift—for girls.

I picked up Grave Mercy because I was fascinated by the idea of Death having daughters, their being assassins and what the author will do with this in a historical Brittany setting. Now, I know there will be a discomfort with this concept of a god/saint of Death as it follows through. If you have a good grounding in mythology and old lore, you may have less an issue as Death does not necessarily mean Devil or Satan or wholly villainous and handmaidens needn’t mean black witch. Assassin, of course, remains discomforting, which works beautifully as one of the major conflicts in the novel. The author also uses the uncomfortable perceptions of Death (and its cult) to create tension, especially when Ismae comes up against such a sainted figure as Gavriel Duval turns out to be.

Ismae is fairly typical in that despite her rough upbringing and her training as an assassin, she is naïve about most things. Then there is the part where Ismae skips some of her classes—excused, of course—and she is just young and raised in a convent. The effect should be comedic and necessary to the development of the character. And Ismae does become more sure of herself, learning, earning a more commanding presence.

I think Gavriel Duval is mid-twenties to Ismae’s 17 when they meet. His station affords him a handful of extra years as well so he gets to play the older and wiser who also happens to be a loving and loyal person who has worked out his issues with his saint and is as virginal as he can be without risking his masculinity. He comes dangerously close to being nauseatingly perfect—as I think about it, he is, but while reading, he wasn’t—which is disgusting that LaFevers pulled this off and I must re-read at some point to figure out how she does it. It likely has to do with a) I have yet to be vaccinated against a classic romance hero, and 2) the narrative choice. Grave Mercy is a first person limited to Ismae. Her earliest observations cue the hero (Gavriel) and we are, afterward, as subject to his charms as she is.

Grave Mercy is restrained and somewhat prim on sexual matters—but then, so is our narrator and the setting. The allusions are strong enough to get warm or repulsed depending on the situation. I have to say that it does this better than Divergent, which gets kudos for tempering the sex, too.

I am eager for the second book in this His Fair Assassins Trilogy, not because I can’t get enough of Ismae and Gavriel, the historical setting, or its political conflicts, but because of Sybella and Beast. LaFevers teases the reader with a very interesting supporting cast; and having them also relieves us and author of the pressure of having to extend out that famous instantaneous physical response romances harbor. I appreciate the unapologetic nature of the romance, especially as LaFevers balances it well enough within her ambition for historical adventure and intrigue.

LaFever imagines a gorgeous 15th century Brittany, transporting her reader with ease. Though, really, she makes everything easy. Drama does not seep into hip-wading melodrama; the action carries us along through world-building, multiple conflicts and characters with very little trouble. She uses shorter sentences, which at times make the “I”s and “My”s dizzy, but it moves the story and balances the action and introspection. The narrator never addresses the reader, but is conscious of them, a storytellers device I don’t see enough and was excited to see.

The opening pages are gorgeous. There was a lovely simile the text couldn’t seem to do without a bit further in, but there were few awkward moments and a reminder that clever segues aren’t needed to carry the reader along. The premise, the simplicities in the story with their added fascinations, the characters, the setting, and an inability to anticipate everything compels the reader.

I am a huge fan of LaFevers’ Theodosia Throckmorton series and I am impressed with how differently the author has styled herself in this new series. She goes by R.L. LaFevers for Theodosia, so I had to verify the connection. And yet, that which is so so delightful in Theodosia is what makes Grave Mercy so successful: LaFevers’ finesse for historical detail; including lore and new perspectives on the “old ways;” and unorthodox, clever and daring female characters.

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I picked up Grave Mercy for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) and it works: Death is a figure; it has the dark, dank, and creepy; it features an intrigue. It could’ve been darker, more disturbing, but the author minds an audience and I like that she doesn’t feel the need to follow things down the darkest or most impossible holes.

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

Hardcover, 549 pages (that fly by). Library book (but if N has her way, we will be owning this one).

shorter and sweeter reviews:

Deanna @ Polishing Mud Balls review

Melissa @ Book Nut review