Saturday, September 25, 2010

Arty -- The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter

There are three Hardscrabble children. Otto is the oldest, and he hasn't spoken aloud or taken off his scarf since he was eight years old. Lucia (pronounce it Lu-CHEE-ah or she'll get annoyed) is in the middle, and she keeps the two boys in line. Max is ten years old and probably too smart and thoughtful for his own good.

They live in Little Tunks, with their father, Casper, who paints dethroned royalty for a living. Classically, their mother is missing or dead, and no one seems to know which. Fortunately, nothing else about this book is very classical. When their father leaves suddenly and the Hardscrabble children are left alone in London... well, a lot happens. Castles and castle follies, missing sultans, bikes in the air, and perhaps a misshapen freak of a boy haunting the woods... and more.

While the plot (or plots, really) is definitely complex enough to keep your attention, it's really the characters that stand out. In fact, all three main characters were amazing. If that's not a feat, I don't know what is. There's silent, mysterious Otto (my favorite), with his sign language and penchant for animals and perhaps a few secrets up his sleeve. Lucia, who could have easily turned out horrible, was perfect as a business-like but sweet sister (look at her picture on the cover - that's pretty much her). Max was cute and believably intelligent without being too over-the-top. And they all work perfectly together. The other characters, though perhaps not as fully developed, are almost as engaging.

There are several plot points at work in The Kneebone Boy. Curiously, the titular entity isn't the main point - or is he...? Then there is of course the missing mother, the castle folly where the Hardscrabbles stay, even their relationships with each other (Lucia and Otto - one of the most priceless pictures of sibling relations I've ever read).

Sadly, Kneebone Boy is one of those books that reminds you not to celebrate over a book until it's over. The ending wasn't disappointing, per se; it was just... easy. It was so easy that I had to read through it a couple times to make sure I hadn't missed something. Yes, it all makes sense; but it was drab compared to the caliber of the previous adventures. In the words of an Amazon reviewer, "...All Is Explained. And this is the kind of book where you kind of wish it weren't."

Don't look for a happily easy ending, either. It's really rather sad once you get past the shock of not being shocked. But it fits somehow. And honestly, the colossal fun of this American-written-British-quirk book is worth the ending.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Persy -- Night Gate by Isobelle Carmody

Rage Winnoway's mother is in a terrible car accident, and she falls into a coma. The doctors say there's no reason why she shouldn't wake up, but she remains asleep. Everyone expects her to die, but Rage will not accept it.

And if her mother does die, Rage will have to give away all her dogs. Mr. Walker, a small chihuaha who tends to be in charge; Bear, an older, cold dog who has had a harsh life; Billy Thunder, Bear's cheerful puppy who just wants some love; and Elle, an unattractive but loyal and brave dog with limitless energy.

No one will let Rage visit her mother, so she runs away with her dogs to try and get into the hospital. Maybe if her mother can just hear Rage's voice, she'll wake up!

But Rage and her friends don't get to the hospital. Instead, Rage finds a strange gateway in the forest and a mysterious creature called the Firecat appears to her and tells her to go through. On the other side, the Firecat says, is a wizard with extraordinary powers, and the only hope of saving her mother. Believing it all to be an elaborate trick, Rage goes through the gateway with her dogs. But when she wakes up on the other side, She finds that there's definitely something strange going on.

Mr. Walker is transformed into a tiny, furry little man. Bear turns into a real bear, Billy Thunder is a teenage boy, and Elle a brave warrior woman. And then Goaty, the neighbor's goat, seems to have wandered after them and gone through the gate as well, and is now a sort of faun!

With only the Firecat's cryptic directions and explanations, Rage and co. set off through the strange land of Valley in search of the wizard, who can hopefully both send them home and save Rage's mother.

Let's start off saying that Isobelle Carmody is Australian. Unfortunately, she's not quite as awesome as, oh... Garth Nix or Catherine Jinks, to name a few other Australian authors. Apparently, Carmody is more well-known for her series Obernewtyn, which I've actually never heard of before now. Though I hadn't heard of Isobelle Carmody herself until stumbling across Night Gate in the library the other day.

I honestly wasn't expecting much from this book. The cover wasn't all that interesting (I know, I know, don't judge a book by its cover...), and the plot didn't sound very fabulous either. But I was pleasantly surprised to find this story enjoyable and oddly thoughtful at times.

The whole thing has this strange dream-like atmosphere that was kind of disconcerting at times, and which would've been awesome if the ending had different. But the ending wasn't different, so it just made the book seem a little off. The characters weren't very impressive either. Rage seemed a bit forgetful and just plain uninteresting, while most everyone else did nothing but argue. Goaty is definitely my favorite, with his adorable, pessimistic self.

Billy Thunder does have one of the most interesting and, let's just go ahead and say, coolest quotes ever. "'I don't think I'd like to be completely human ... I thought I would, but now I can see that human minds are growing all the time, until they are like enormous houses with thousands of rooms and twisty passages and dark hallways all full of cobwebs and shadows and forgotten things. No wonder there is so much confusion in human minds. Dog minds are like standing outside. There are no walls, the wind blows freshly, and the light falls everywhere.'"

Carmody's writing really is very pretty. She's built herself a pretty cool world, with a city that sounds an awful lot like Billy's description of the human mind. I don't know if she did that on purpose or not, but either way it's cool.

I'd give this book to kids maybe 10-14 who like simpler fantasy stories. It certainly wasn't a great book, but I do think it's worth reading.

There are (supposedly) two more books in the trilogy (which would make sense). The second book is Winter Door, and the third book is supposed to be Firecat's Dream. But it doesn't look like Firecat's Dream is actually published, and isn't even listed in the Gateway trilogy on some sites. Since Night Gate was published ten years ago, I really have no idea if Firecat's Dream will ever actually exist or not. Isobelle Carmody doesn't have her own website, so there's really no source to go to.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Arty -- Un Lun Dun by China Miéville

To try to sum up Un Lun Dun's plot would be a futile effort, achieving only your confusion and a 'why in the world would anyone want to read this book?' But I'll try, and then explain my reasons for loving it later on.

There's London. And then there's UnLondon. That's what Zanna and Deeba find out one day when they take a trip underground and find themselves in place that's both familiar and unfamiliar. UnLondon is where the trash of London goes. Broken umbrellas. Milk cartons. Clothes. Washing machines. Anything you could think of that people throw away, it's there.

There are people in UnLondon too, odd people. There's also a prophecy (in a talking book, no less). Supposedly, Zanna is the Schwazzy, the long-awaited Chosen One that's going to conquer the Smog, UnLondon's gaseous enemy. Deeba finds out she has the role of 'funny sidekick.'

Or does she?

The front blurb describes Un Lun Dun as "London through the looking glass, an urban Wonderland of strange delights..." and I have to agree. The world is a totally strange, unfamiliar, sometimes scary place, like Wonderland. Unlike Wonderland, UnLondon is also vividly real. You can feel it, almost taste it, in the best parts. Even in the most ridiculous of situations - binjas, pet milk cartons, a man's body with the head of a birdcage - you don't stop to think about it, unless it's to marvel at the genius of the author.

The characters are full-bodied, with motives, personalities, and traits that make them seem even realer. Though it's hard to really picture them, it's easy to imagine the weird people that come and go in UnLondon's world.

At nearly 430 pages, Un Lun Dun is not a book for the faint of heart, but once you've started, it's not going to be put down. The pacing isn't slow, and it isn't fast; it simply tells the story with the necessary details and descriptions. The chapters are short and sweet, making it easy to think 'Oh, just one more and then I'll put it down...' Most readers know what happens when they think that.

That said, at a few points, it felt as though Miéville was trying too hard to mimic the backwards logic found in Alice in Wonderland. There were a few scenes that could have been at least shortened, without the 'subtle' points he tried to inject.

There is also something of an environmentalist agenda hidden inside Un Lun Dun - the main villain is, after all, the Smog. But in most cases, the villain is simply the villain; there are no we-awful-humans-are-destroying-the-earth moments. In fact, one of the Smog's associates is the Minister of Environment.

The bottom line? Read this book. It won't let you down.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Persy -- Wednesday Scrolls

Is that not the prettiest thing you have ever seen? I think it's positively beautiful. And it just came out a week ago. Have you ordered your copy yet? I have.

This is the first novel in Cassandra Clare's new series, Infernal Devices. This series takes place in Victorian London, centuries before Clare's first series, Mortal Instruments. She's still writing Mortal Instruments, and the cover of the fourth book, City of Fallen Angels, is supposed to be released later this year. In my opinion, I think that series should end while it's still going good. The third book, City of Glass, ended rather nicely, but whatever. Clare has already signed on for two more books in the series after City of Fallen Angels, so she's obviously not tuning into my thoughts. But hey, they could be fabulous, so let's not read too much into my pessimistic predictions...

Clockwork Angel (I go SQUEEE inside every time I hear that title) follows the story of Tessa Gray, a young woman of Victorian England. She ends up in London's Downworld, a place full of Vampires, Werewolves, Warlocks, and more. Her only help (and probably hope) of finding her brother are the Shadowhunters, a mysterious group of people dedicated to fighting demons.

I'm a little apprehensive about Clare's new series. I mean, Mortal Instruments was fantastic, but I'm sort of wondering if her new main character, Tessa, will be exactly the same as Clary. Like she just moved all the characters back in time a few centuries, turned them all British, and added a bit of a different plot. Hopefully, this isn't the case and Clare is fully able to create new characters.

Some more news in the world of Cassandra Clare: Mortal Instruments is (supposedly) going to be made into a movie. I say supposedly because it's listed as one of those "can only be seen if you have IMDbPro" on In my experience, those movies hardly ever come out. Maximum Ride, for instance? That was originally set to come out in 2010. It's actually still listed on IMDb, but is now set for 2013.

Anyway, back Mortal Instruments. I am very uneasy about this. Perhaps my 'faith' in book-movies has been shattered by the atrocities of Prince Caspian and Percy Jackson (to name a few of the many), but I just have a baaad feeling about this one... Honestly, this is a book I'd rather remained a book. You ever read a book like that? It's a hard feeling to explain, but it's like you have it all imagined in your head already, and you don't want to end up with someone else's image stuck in your head (that's what happened with Twilight: Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart erased my pictures of Edward and Bella). Mortal Instruments isn't supposed to come out until 2012 (and like I said, it could keep getting postponed for eternity), so I've got a while to... I dunno, let my unease fester.

Another book-movie that's actually coming out next month is It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. This is the story of Craig, a teenager who is enrolled in a pre-professional high school. Before this school, Craig was considered a genius, but in this school, he's just average. Eventually, the stress ends up too much and Craig attempts suicide. He can't quite do it, though, and calls a help line, checking himself into a mental hospital.

I read this book a loong time ago, probably before I should've. I was like, eleven or twelve, and lots of things in there didn't make sense back then. Let's just say they do now. So don't give this book to someone under thirteen or fourteen, kay?

My first thought when seeing it had been turned into a movie was, "Huh..." and I went on about my business. Needless to say, this isn't one of my top-priority movies to see. I don't remember a ton about the book; it wasn't fabulous, but it wasn't awful. At times it was funny, but in general it was just "okay".

The movie stars Keir Gilchrist, who hasn't really been in anything of note, as Craig. Co-stars include: Zach Galifianakis (playing Bobby), Emma Roberts (playing Noelle), Lauren Graham (playing Lynne), and Zoe Kravitz (playing Nia). The movie comes out October 8.

And for the final piece of news... The eighth book in the Bloody Jack Adventures by L.A. Meyer (who is in fact a dude; I thought he was a woman for the longest time...) just came out! It's called The Wake of the Lorelei Lee, which sounds preetty interesting. I myself am only on number five (Mississippi Jack), so I've got some catching up to do.

The Bloody Jack Adventures follows the story of Jacky Faber, a very impetuous young woman of the early 1800s. In the very first book (Bloody Jack), she disguises herself as boy and becomes a ship's boy on the HMS Dolphin. Hijinks ensue.

I was an... 'adventurous' kid, so I read this book when I was barely into my double digits (maybe even before then), but I'd recommend it to maybe thirteen and up. But these have always been some of my favorite books, even if the basic plot (reckless and feisty girl disguises herself as a boy and gets in tons of trouble and saves the day, etc. etc.) isn't the most original. Sometimes, it's not about originality.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Persy -- Unwind by Neal Shusterman

In the future, a terrible war is fought over abortion. It ended with a compromise: that once a child had been conceived, that child was legally alive and illegal to terminate, but between the ages of thirteen to eighteen, a child's parents could sign him or her over to be unwound. It's not technically killing a child, they claim, since every part of the child is bound by law to be reused for someone else. The Unwind is still alive, just in many parts.

Connor Lassiter discovers that his parents have signed him over to be unwound, and resolves to run away. During his escape, he turns a tranquilizer gun on a juvey-cop (police assigned especially to Unwind runaways) and earns the nickname of "The Akron AWOL", and so becomes a legend among Unwind runaways.

He also meets up with Risa Ward, a ward of the state of Ohio, and Levi (Lev) Calder, a tithe. Tithes are children raised to be Unwound. They grow up hearing about how they're "special" and are a tenth of the family, so they are given to God. Trying to save Lev, Risa and Connor kidnap him and they end up on the run.

First of all, this is Neal Shusterman we're talking about, so of course it's going to be awesome. What I forgot about when I started this book, though, is that Neal Shusterman is also creepy as heck when he wants to be. This book was puh-retty disturbing at times.

In the beginning, none of the characters are all that awesome. Connor has a bit of an angery issue, Risa's just meh, and Lev is annoying. But as the story progresses, they all gain more depth and I think they actually mature as they continue on their journey. I have to applaud Mr. Shusterman on not only making his main characters round, but giving orotundity to the less important ones as well.

At first I really couldn't see where the plot would go. It seemed like the trio would just wander around eternally and never get anywhere, but there's a reason they call Neal Shusterman "The Storyman". Several points in the story felt a bit strange, but other than that, it was all smooth and perfectly paced, never dragging out boring scenes or rushing over something too fast to figure out what was going on.

I don't want to say too much about the ending, because I really don't want to ruin it, but let's just say it was fantastic. About three quarters of the way through, I had no idea how it was going to end. It was all set up for an unhappy ending, but... well, I'll let you find out for yourself.

It's also written in present tense, which can be confusing at times. After about two seconds, you get used to it and it's fine, but sometimes it'll abruptly pop out at you and you'll have to pause to orient yourself. In my opinion, only really good books can get away with present tense, so thumbs up to Neal Shusterman.

This isn't my favorite Neal Shusterman novel, but a not-as-awesome Neal Shusterman novel is still really awesome. It's one of those science fiction/futuristic novels that's not the space kind of science fiction (in case you didn't get that from the summary), so I wouldn't recommend it to fantasy or hard sci-fi fans. Also, I wouldn't put it in the hands of anyone under thirteen.

Now, you might remember a Wednesday Scrolls ( mentioning Unwind being made into a movie. It's still set to come out in 2012, but I haven't found any new news about it. You can still check out the movie website ( for various contests, links, and such.

After reading the book, I'm not sure if it'd make the kind of movie I'd really enjoy. I can certainly see it as a movie, but it seems like there's a bit too much thoughtfulness in there to make anything other than a "meaningful" movie without a lot of diologue, if you know what I mean. So I'm a bit apprehensive... but still hopeful. I guess we'll just see in 2012.