Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge

Page by Paige--Laura Lee Gulledge
May 2011 by Henry N. Abrams
192 pages--Goodreads

Paige Turner has just moved to New York with her family, and she's having some trouble adjusting to the big city. In the pages of her sketchbook, she tries to make sense of her new life, including trying out her secret identity: artist. As she makes friends and starts to explore the city, she slowly brings her secret identity out into the open, a process that is equal parts terrifying and rewarding.

Laura Lee Gulledge crafts stories and panels with images that are thought-provoking, funny, and emotionally resonant. Teens struggling to find their place can see themselves in Paige's honest, heartfelt story.

Page by Paige is an excellent coming of age story, applicable to all self-conscious teens, not just aspiring artists and writers.  While is fairly straightforward plot-wise (introverted girl learns confidence) it is emotionally and visually complex. The illustrations are fantastic.  They are deep and full of meaning, yet accessible to a casual glance.  Everything is in black and white, but it doesn't feel like we're missing anything because of the lack of color.  The illustrations perfectly capture Paige's insecurities, her aloneness, and her growing confidence.  I especially enjoy the duality between her cartoony outer self and the soft shading of her inner self.

I appreciate how much the book centered on friendship.  So many of these YA novels are fixated on romance as if it is the one sole goal of adolescence when there are so many other important things going on.  Yes there is a bit of romance in the book, but more important is her friendship with Jules, Longo, and Gabe.

Page by Paige is honest without being annoyingly angsty, which is another trap YA contemporary can fall into.  The book is genuine and I saw a lot of myself in Paige.  This is a book that will resonate with a lot of readers.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Book Pet Peeves

We all have things that get on our nerves in books and movies and things.  Here are my peeves.  What are yours?  

This really was the best thumbnail Youtube could come up with.  Lame.

Books and Movies and Things Mentioned:
Wings--Aprilynne Pike
The Hunger Games--Suzanne Collins
Eyes Like Stars--Lisa Mantchev
Clockwork Angel--Cassandra Clare
Entwined--Heather Dixon
Hush, Hush--Becca Fitzpatrick
Twilight--Stephanie Meyer
Cinder--Marissa Meyer
Seraphina--Rachel Hartman
Harry Potter--J.K. Rowling
Goose Girl--Shannon Hale
The False Prince--Jennifer A. Nielsen
Anything written by Brandon Sanderson

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Mini Review: The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

The Lions of Little Rock--Kristin Levine
January 2012 by Puffin
320 pages--Goodreads

As twelve-year-old Marlee starts middle school in 1958 Little Rock, it feels like her whole world is falling apart. Until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is everything Marlee wishes she could be: she's brave, brash and always knows the right thing to say. But when Liz leaves school without even a good-bye, the rumor is that Liz was caught passing for white. Marlee decides that doesn't matter. She just wants her friend back. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are even willing to take on segregation and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.

I liked the book.  We don't like to face the reality that narrow-minded racist attitudes are held by perfectly normal people.  Klan members were well standing members of society.  The South was not populated by monsters, but by normal people who did horrible things.  The Lions of Little Rock makes us face that reality.  And it goes even further than that by having Marlee's mom be a bit racist.  She's not shouting racial epithets or anything like that, but she's not comfortable with her daughters going to an integrated school.  So often, all the "good" characters in these historical novels are enlightened and see clearly through racism and bigotry.  This book is more real than that.  Life is complicated and people are made up of spectrums of grays.  

I also appreciated that the conflict was resolved realistically.  Levine didn't just wave a magic wand and make everything better.  Things end better than they started, but it's still messy, as it really would have been in history.  There are a couple uses of the N word throughout the book, which I was not expecting in a middle-grade novel, but I feel they are contextually justified.

All and all a good read, not terribly momentous.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The Rithmatist--Brandon Sanderson
May 2013 by Tor Teen
378 pages--Goodreads

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings — merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students study the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing — kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery — one that will change Rithmatics — and their world — forever.

I have liked everything I've read by Brandon Sanderson, and The Rithmatist is no different.  Well, it's less mindblowing than Way of Kings and Hero of Ages.  Like most of Sanderson's books, The Rithmatist took me a while to get into, but after the first few chapters I got sucked in and could not put it down.  

The Rithmatist has a very different feel from Sanderson's other novels.  It's simpler.  The characters aren't as intricately developed.  There's only one plot line instead of seventeen.  The world building is less rigorous.  We get a fuzzy sense of the Academy and the politics of the country, but not the hundred years of history that we usually do.  It's mostly a book of "Wouldn't it be cool if..."  There's no particular reason that Korea has taken over Europe and that America is an archipelago.  Its just cool and that's all.  But, not every book needs to be developed to the point of reasoning out the ecology of the animals and plants on a given planet, and Sanderson would lose some of his younger readers if he tried.

Oh, but the magic system.  I don't know how Sanderson does it, but he makes magical theory interesting.  Along with the snooping and sleuthing, I loved learning the principles of Rithmatics, the various strategies you can use, the limits to the system.  Somehow, the magical theory always ends up as one of the most fascinating parts of Sanderson's books.  I love seeing the unique challenges that a particular magic system presents and trying to find a way around it along with the characters.

As I said earlier, the character development is a bit toned down in this novel, perhaps a bit too far.  We do get some back story on how Joel and Melody's parents affected their personalities, but I wanted more.  Young readers can handle more complexity than that.  And we didn't get much of any development of our villains.  I can excuse that for the kidnapper, since we're not supposed to know who it is, but Professor Nalizar is just the  Snape figure we don't trust because...we don't.  Hopefully, we'll learn more about the Forgotten and get some villain complexity in the next book.

Can I just give a shout out here for platonic relationships?  Finally!  A young adult novel where a boy and girl can just be friends without being romantically interested in each other.  I have a feeling that that might change in later books, but at least for now, Joel and Melody are just friends.

The book is well paced, but I'm not perfectly happy with the way the ending.  I feel like there are some unacceptably loose strings.  But that only bothered me a little.  I will of course read book 2.  When it comes out.  In two years.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review: Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

Airborn--Kenneth Oppel
May 2004 by Harper Collins
544 pages--Goodreads

Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a huge airship that sails hundreds of feet above the ocean, ferrying wealthy passengers from city to city. It is the life Matt's always wanted; convinced he's lighter than air, he imagines himself as buoyant as the hydrium gas that powers his ship. One night he meets a dying balloonist who speaks of beautiful creatures drifting through the skies. It is only after Matt meets the balloonist's granddaughter that he realizes that the man's ravings may, in fact, have been true, and that the creatures are completely real and utterly mysterious.

In a swashbuckling adventure reminiscent of Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Oppel, author of the best-selling Silverwingtrilogy, creates an imagined world in which the air is populated by transcontinental voyagers, pirates, and beings never before dreamed of by the humans who sail the skies.

From the first sentence, I was glued to the page, err, to the ear phones...since it was an audiobook.  That idiom doesn't really translate.  Anywho, it pulled me in right from the start, and I don't know that I can actually nail down what exactly it was that pulled me in.  Maybe it's just the spirit of the adventure.  There's something terribly compelling about swashbuckling, sailing novels, and I especially love air ships.  Airborn is like Leviathan but without the geopolitical stuff.  Just sailing.  Flying.  Exploring.  Soaring.

And excellent characters.  Matt is one of those genuine, root-for-able, hardworking, underdog characters.  He's not a terribly deep character, but I did appreciate the angle with him dealing with his father's death.  Kate is annoyingly short sighted and irresponsible, but her rigid determination is part of why I like her.  In general, the characters are not particularly deep or dynamic.  Airborn is a bit gimicky in the same way Dark Life is with one life-threatening situation and escape after another.  But you know what?  I didn't care this time.  I just got caught up in the adventure.

The audiobook is excellent.  It's a full cast recording with excellent choices for each of the voice actors.  It's definitely worth it if you're looking for something to listen to.

After reading This Dark Endeavor, I was worried that Airborn would just be okay, but it was great.  I couldn't put it down, even when I was supposed to be reading books to plan for next year's curriculum.  It's a thick book, but you can whip through it quickly.

And also SKY PIRATES!!! What else do you need?


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