Saturday, August 25, 2012

Persy -- Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom by Susin Nielsen

12-year-old Violet Gustafson is a bit bitter, a bit pessimistic, and a bit jaded. After the messy divorce of her parents and watching her father remarry, have twins, and steadily get richer and richer, she has sworn off love entirely. Her mother, on the other hand, is determined to find "The One". While taking care of her five-year-old sister Rosie, Violet also has to take care of sorting through her mother's suitors by whatever means necessary, but they all seem to be losers.
Enough is enough, she decides, when her mother introduces her and Rosie to her latest boyfriend, Dudley Wiener. If his name wasn't bad enough, he also likes puns. With the help of her best friend Phoebe and the cute boy from Winnipeg Jean-Paul, she must get rid of Dudley and find the perfect man for her mother. And the only candidate is George Clooney himself.
I was kind of doubtful going into Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom by Susin Nielsen. Page 14 and I was already wishing I could ditch the stupid thing, but I dutifully kept reading, and... well, I'm glad I did.
This is one of the few books that make me suck up my pride and admit that I like. Y'see, once I'm predisposed to hate something, I have to hate it, even if I do like it. I just can't admit to switching sides. But sometimes, something is so good, that I'll suck it up and proclaim the world that it is amazing (Life As We Knew It, comes to mind). "Dear George Clooney" is one of those things.
While at first Violet seems a bit silly and unoriginal, she rapidly became one of my favorite main characters of literature. She's outspoken (like, really), resourceful, and nerdy. Three of the best qualities in an MC. Her little sister Rosie is pretty darn adorable too, and Phoebe, the sidekick, is appropriately cool. And don't get me started on how much I like Jean-Paul, and trust me, it's hard to like someone named Jean-Paul.
I'm not sure exactly when I switched sides on this book. I think I started admitting the book's likeability when Violet calls Jean-Paul a grapefruit (in French). But I think I actually gave into the dark side when Violet breaks Ashley's nose. And I totally fell in love when she crashes a golf cart into George Clooney's car.
Now I kind of want to read it again.
But anyway, I'm not normally a fan of the contemporary-realistic-humor-genreless books, but every once in a while I find one I really, really like, and it's usually because of the same reasons: hilarious and awesome main character; strange but possible adventures; and brilliant character growth. Just when you start to think the MC has gone a little overboard, the MC herself realizes she's gone too far. It's almost like you grow along with the main character.
This is Susin Nielsen's second novel, and her first is actually set in the same world about a character who makes a brief cameo at the end of "Dear George Clooney". And I have to read it. And I will. Ha.
You might like this if you: like books like Audrey, Wait! (Robin Benway) and Lia's Guide To Winning the Lottery (Keren David); love main characters with true spunk, not that crap that passes for spunk in the literary and television world; if you're looking for a quick, enjoyable read; or if you're trying to get George Clooney's attention.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Arty -- The Highway Cats by Janet Taylor Lisle

There are times when you just need a quick read to make you feel happy.  The Highway Cats fits this criteria.

It's about a community of cats who live, fittingly, by the highway - a rough-and-tumble community, a rag-tag collection of tough cats who look out for number one and no one else.  Among these cats is Shredder, an older tom who prides himself on being just as hard as the rest of them.

Shredder is out by the highway one regular day, in time to witness three tiny kittens trying to cross the road - in horrible traffic.  Miraculously, the kittens survive.  Not only do they survive, however - they also take a shine to Shredder.

Shredder, against his better impulses, refuses to have anything to do with them.  Thus the three kittens fall into the hands of Khalia Koo, a once-beautiful Siamese who was scarred by a fire and now wears various pieces of trash over her head to hide her hideousness.  Khalia Koo and her henchcat, Jolly Roger, run a rat farm; they take the kittens in to use as pillows on cold winter nights.

But the three kittens make an unexpected impression on the highway cat community.  Suddenly these mangy, dirty, careless, foul-mouthed cats are cleaning up their acts around the kittens; the rat farm experiences a surge in productivity; and even Shredder and Khalia Koo find themselves softening.  Is it all the work of these three miraculous kittens, who seem to have a glow of their own?

Then a greater threat to their newfound peaceful lives presents itself, and it seems that even the kittens' particular brand of magic may not be enough to save the highway cats.

The Highway Cats is really short and really sweet and really... I don't know what.  Magical?  Actually, the friend who rec'd it to me may have the best word for it - surreal.  It's very surreal.  Kittens who glow, a she-cat who wears orange juice cartons to hide her deformities, a plan to drive off oncoming construction workers - it's just a very odd collection of things to work with.

But work, it does.

It's just adorable.  At just over one hundred pages, there's not a whole lot of time for anything, and yet it feels complete.  It's a bare-bones story and it works.  Sort of like Dread Locks, but fluffier.  And sweeter.  And, in a way, more fulfilling.

The characters are awesome.  Shredder was the perfect old-guy-who's-not-as-tough-as-he-thinks; Jolly Roger and Murray the Claw were funny (if shallow) henchcat types; and the three kittens, who could easily have come off annoying and perfect, were really just adorable.  Khalia Koo, however, is definitely my favorite.  She started off 'evil' and then sort of became just 'nasty' and then plain old heroic. (I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact that I love horribly maimed characters.  Khalia Koo actually does have horrific scars.  She has this awesome line... never mind, spoilers.)

It actually is hard to say too much about this book without spoiling a lot of the action that comes about. It's not that anything is shocking or unexpected, but... it's just the sort of book that you don't want to know too much about going into.  Let it surprise you.

Because the ending is terrific.  I started grinning when I read the last page - it's the perfect ambiguous ending.  Not a whole lot is explained, because it doesn't need to be.  It just... is.

So if you're in the mood for a quick, happy-feeling little book about cats and a bit of magic, The Highway Cats is definitely the right book.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Persy -- Author Interview featuring Robert Paul Weston!

This Wednesday Scrolls, I am privileged to bring you all an interview with Robert Paul Weston, writer of poetry and prose, and author of novels Zorgamazoo and Dust City. Zorgamazoo is written entirely in verse, and is strongly reminiscent of Dr. Seuss. Dust City is prose, and I'll let its label say it all: "When your dad is the wolf who killed little red riding hood, life is no fairytale."

Robert Paul Weston was born in Dover, England, and after living in various places (Canada, Japan...), he now resides in London, England. For more info about him and his books, check out his cool website.

And now, please give him a warm welcome!

1. When did you first start writing?
I started writing seriously when I was nine years old. For Christmas, I gave my 4th grade teacher a "novel" about two boys at a private school, who find a portal to another dimension in their closet. No idea what happened to that story, but I hope Mrs. Urch still has it (wherever she is).

2. Do you have a special "writing place"?
When I lived in Toronto, I rented shared office space with other writers, but now I live in London and the rents are a bit too steep! These days I write at a study carrell at the library, or else on the couch at home.

3. Is it hard to switch from verse to prose when writing?
It's not hard to switch from verse to prose; it's the switching back that's a killer. It always takes me a couple days to get into the rhythm of writing in verse.

4. Which do you enjoy writing more, verse or prose?
Difficult to say. Both have their ups and downs. With prose, because it's so wide open, it's easy to steer off the path and write yourself into a corner. With verse, on the other hand, I nearly always stick to the plan. You can't afford too many detours. I like the freedom of prose and the intense fulfilment that comes from finishing a long stretch of form poetry.

5. What is your favorite book(s)?
Right now, my favourite books for young readers are Skellig by David Almond and Momo by Michael Ende. My favourite book adults is The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill.

6. What if you could go anywhere in history?
I love reading about history, but I feel like I can get a lot out of a really thorough history book, so please send me to the future—anytime after Thursday, September 13, 2063 (according to, this is when I kick the bucket). That way, I'd get a rare peek at what becomes of the world after I'm gone.

7. Can you tell us what you're working on now?
I'm writing two new books. The first is an "upper teen" coming-of-age novel about music (and other things). The second is a middle grade fantasy novel, in prose this time. If I'm lucky both should come out in 2013, which is shaping up to be a very busy year for me.

Thank you, very much, Mr. Weston! I'll be keeping an eye out for the new titles next year!


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Persy -- The Prophecy of The Stones by Flavia Bujor

On their fourteenth birthdays, three girls are told that they aren't who they think they are. Jade is not the daughter of the Duke of Divulyon. Amber is not the daughter of the poor peasant woman she's loved all her life. Opal is finally given a reason to exist.

The girls are each given a stone, and then sent away. They are warned to trust no one. On their travels, they discover the land of Fairytale, where they can finally learn their true purpose and hear The Prophecy. Soon it's not only a matter of survival, but a great battle between good and evil. But exactly whose side are the Stones on?

Meanwhile, in a hospital in Paris, a young teenage girl named Joa is on her deathbed, all alone...

My favorite books from my childhood are rarely as good as I remember them to be, especially if years and years have passed since the first time I read it. The Prophecy of the Stones by Flavia Bujor (translated from the French by Linda Coverdale), is different only in the fact that I've never stopped rereading it, and so I gradually grew aware of the fact that it's actually pretty bad instead of suddenly realizing it. Nevertheless, I will never cease to adore this book.

I'm not sure if it's Bujor's writing (she was only 13 when she wrote it) or the translation, but the writing is painfully simplistic and repetitive. The world of Fairytale and the surrounding countries is very black and white with its representations of good and evil, and most of the characters have only two layers, some only one. Amber and Aidan are the the most obvious.

Amber is a very sensitive, emotion-driven girl who cries a lot whenever she's sad or happy, and is the most set on saving the world from evil and uniting everyone in friendship and goodness. Aidan is just... there. Jade has two layers and the most character growth, going from the spoiled princess to the warrior princess over the course of the book and turning into a very cool character. And then Opal, who has always been my favorite, is the cool and aloof one who never shows emotion, but learns how to love and feel etc. The Nameless One is the humble hovalyn, the traveling warrior who has no memory. Some things change about him over the story, but he essentially stays the same character.

The plot is hardly aimless, but not much connects one thing to the next. The girls do things either because they're told by a helpful passerby who happens to know what they should do next or because they "get a strange feeling and know that they should do such-and-such." This is just an excuse to get the plot moving along without actually giving it much thought.

So basically, it's really not very good if you're looking at the minor things like writing, and plot, and characters. But there is something irresistable about The Prophecy of The Stones. Every time I read it, the first few chapters are painful and hard to get through, but then I get to a point where I don't want to put it down. I just want to read one more chapter. And then it's over. Maybe it's just nostalgia, but there's no denying that this book has a certain magic.

So while a 14+ might recoil in revulsion from this brilliantly orange novel, a younger girl would certainly eat it up. I fell in love with it back when I was a little girl (all those years ago), and I've never quite gotten over it. This was the book I would read over and over again, back to front, day after day. This was the book my friends and I would read aloud to each other even though we could quote most of it. This was the book we decided to convert into a play and perform, even though there were barely enough of us just to be the main three girls.

This is a story of magic written by a 13-year-old girl full of dreams.


You might like this if you: like fairytale-esque stories; are a 10-year-old girl; like surreal stories; like books with personifications of Death; like light, young fantasy; or if you just want to feel like a kid again curled up with a favorite book.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Arty -- Time Stops For No Mouse by Michael Hoeye

Yeah, Arty's alive.  Sorry 'bout that, much importantness crammed my weekends.

So.  Time Stops For No Mouse.  I've seen other books in this series in various places, and they all look very cute - I mean, mouse detective stories.  Generally the only mysteries of any sort that I can abide.  The Great Mouse Detective springs to mind.  But I digress.

I finally found the first book in the Hermux Tantamoq Mysteries, and it took me way too long to read it.  But I finally did, and now I'm wishing that I had before now, because it's really, really cute.  That's the word that sums up basically everything about this book - cute.  (Even with the villainous youth-crazed mad scientists and the murder-by-mousetrap and such.)

Hermux Tantamoq is a humble mouse watchmaker.  He's minding his own business, fixing watches and clocks, when in strolls Linka Perflinger - daring and lovely aviatrix/adventuress mouse.  She broke her watch during an adventure, and needs it fixed posthaste (watches are critical to the timing and execution of life-threatening stunts).

Hermux is taken with Ms. Perflinger and readily agrees to fix the watch for her.  Unfortunately, Ms. Perflinger is involved with much more than just innocent, death-defying tricks.  When a strange, sinister rat comes into Hermux's establishment, demanding to have Ms. Perflinger's watch, Hermux knows something is up.  He follows the rat, and...

Okay, if I keep summarizing, then I'll never stop.

This is one of those books that's hard to sum up, because there are several threads of conflict that emerge later on and connect in unexpected ways.  It's not complicated, per se - just not simple.  You have Tucka Mertslin's cosmetics and shady new Millennium line that makes everyone look younger, the scientific exploration into a tribal community of rodents who never age or die, Dr. Mennus's 'Youthanasia Resort'...

One of my favorite parts about the book was the character names.  Hermux Tantamoq.  Linka Perflinger.  Tucka Mertslin.  Pup Schoonagliffen.  I've read reviews where readers were bugged by this, but I LOVE it.  So... cute.

Basically, if you don't like cute, then don't read this book.

Hermux is an adorable main character.  He's the perfect regular Joe, just doing what he does.  There is no real point where he's all I'm Going To Be A Hero now.  He just... is one.  Because he's cool.  And cute.  I love Hermux.  Officially one of my favorite literary mice, up there behind Reepicheep.

And then there are the surrounding cast, most of whom aren't particularly good people, but are still interesting.  Tucka Mertslin is appropriately nasty and obnoxious.  Dr. Mennus is a little cliché, but he still has a very cavalier feel to him that seems creepy.  Pup Schoonagliffen fulfilled his role very well.  And Terfle.  Terfle is Hermux's pet ladybug.  She was so. adorable.  Ladybugs have never been that adorable.

There are some downsides.  Like I said, it's a very cute book - well-written, definitely, but cute.  It won't appeal to a lot of people for that reason.  The mystery seems to be wrapped up very neatly at the end, although I don't know if anything besides a neat ending could suit this kind of book.  And the first half of the book, while incredibly amusing, might bore some readers - it's very much about Hermux's daily life.

In my mind, though, there was very little that was wasted about this book.  It's adorable.  It's about amateur mouse sleuths and fountain-of-youth chemical formulas.  Just... read it.  Read it.  It's awesome. I can't wait to get my hands on the sequels.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Wednesday Scrolls -- RAMFAP Roundup AKA July Review

That's right, folks, RAMFAP is over. Sad.

Except that I finished with an epic 22.5 favorite books completed and 7,031 pages read! I deserve a reward!

Instead of our usual Month Review format where we highlight best and worst books, I figured I'd just give you a rundown of everything I got read, since obviously, all the books were amazing and none of them were awful.

When I first invented RAMFAP month, it was because I wanted a good excuse to reread all the Harry Potter and League books in one month, but, as you might've noticed, the idea grew a little since then. So instead of getting through all seven of the Harry Potter books, I just got through the first three. But I'm determined to finish the last four by September! I also got all the League books read, except for the last one that only just came out (that's actually getting read by September too).

Here's a list of the other fabulous books I read: Hana-Kimi, Evil Genius, Night Gate, Sabriel, Graceling, Dragon Slippers, Ouran, Alice In Wonderland/Through the Looking-Glass, Fire, Brightly Woven, Bad Kitty, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Nightlight, The Comedy of Errors, and Jabberwocky & Other Poems. I also got halfway through The Prophecy of the Stones.

It was definitely a good month, but I'm looking forward to going back to a more leisurely reading pace and discovering brand new wonders and horrors in the world of literature. I will keep you posted.

What about you? How did y'all do on RAMFAP month, if you participated?


Arty here, coming it at 21 books read.  But... I have a small confession to make.  Only 11 of those were actually very-favorites. I know.  Shame on me.  If I could show you a picture of my To-Read Stacks, you'd understand.

Still, that's 11 favorites revisited!  Eleven favorites that include The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis (of course), Dread Locks by Neal Shusterman, The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan (RANGER'S APPRENTICE), Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer (ARTEMIS FOWL), Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, the whole Books of Umber trilogy by P.W. Catanese (which EVERYONE should read, I kid you not), the first two books in the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine, and The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter.

What you might appreciate: in the month of July, I read the first and last Artemis Fowl books.  Yep, I got The Last Guardian for my birthday.  And it was... well.  The ending.  The ending was... oh, just read it.

Like Persy, I'm ready to dive back into the unstable world of new books. (Actually I already have, since it's the second, but anyway.)  Happy August and good luck with your new stuff!