Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

Reading, Writing, and The Search for Buried Gems of Literature

What I’m Reading #39: Mercury July 16, 2010

After reading Journal: The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Amy Zoe Mason, I decided to go back to a genre close to my heart: Graphic Novels.

Graphic Novels were an important part of my Master’s Project, so I’m always interested in what’s out there.

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Mercury by Hope Larsen

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010

A striking cover, one that in retrospect is particularly appropriate...

I wasn't able to find the real source of this postcard, but I like the color effects used here. The book itself is entirely done in black and white.

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 8 Up—Set in Nova Scotia, this book relates two coming-of-age stories in tandem, showing how the past interweaves with the present. In the present, Tara and her mother have lost their old farmhouse in a fire, and Tara’s mother is struggling to support them from far away while Tara lives with relatives. She loved the old house and wants to rebuild it, but her mother is pressured to find a job elsewhere. In 1859, Josey, Tara’s ancestor, falls in love with a gold dowser who has convinced her father to open a mine. Her mother, who has supernatural sight, is sure that the dowser means no good. The stories collide as Tara goes searching for the gold said to have been hidden on her property, and Josey’s tale reveals how it came to be hidden. Elements of the supernatural echo in both settings as Josey experiences the same visions her mother has and Tara discovers that she has a knack for dowsing. Though the end of the story leaves things hanging for Tara and her mother, the actions that the girl takes to gain control of her destiny suggest that she will find a way to achieve her goals. The storytelling, both in words and pictures, brilliantly offers details from Canadian history and modern life. The dialogue varies from funny to poignant. An excellent graphic novel, particularly for fans of Faith Erin Hicks’s The War at Ellsmere (Slave Labor, 2008).—Alana Joli Abbott, James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, CT
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Larson (Chiggers, 2008) won an Eisner Award for Special Recognition in 2007 and is establishing an oeuvre of thoughtful, girl-centric graphic novels that often feature touches of unobtrusive fantasy, lending a dreamy quality that helps characterize her distinctive storytelling style. Mercury tells two tales: one of Josey, who lives in a small Canadian town in 1859; and the other of her descendant, Tara, who has returned to the same town in 2009, a year after her house burned to the ground. Tenth-grader Tara’s burgeoning relationships and her difficulty reacclimating to her old school will be more identifiable than Josey’s forbidden courtship with itinerant prospector Asa, but the use of two time lines delineates the different eras’ outlooks on family and romance, which brings some immutable human truths into high relief. The gentle dose of magic realism doesn’t feel incongruous and underscores the powerful ways in which past touches present. The insights unfold leisurely, but patient readers will find themselves deeply invested. Comparisons to Craig Thompson’s Blankets (2003) wouldn’t be inappropriate, but Larson continues to perfect her own unique style and offers something the graphic format is sadly short on: a coming-of-age story for girls. Grades 9-12. –Jesse Karp –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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I like the Booklist review because of its focus on the coming-of-age story for girls.  I’d say I’m pretty much on board with both reviews here.

Strengths: This will have a broad appeal for many readers.  For obvious reasons, it will probably speak to girls more.  However, the appeal of the graphic novel will pull in other groups as well.  Graphic novels are excellent alternatives for those who may struggle with reading.  Larson’s illustrations are straightforward and the dialogue easy to follow:

A page from "Mercury," courtesy of ComicBookResources.com

Tara is a likable heroine, but not perfect, and many readers will identify with her social awkwardness.  As the narrative alternates between the past and the present, it’s easy to follow, not just by the plot changes.  Larson emphasizes through format and the use of black backgrounds on the pages of the story in the past.  It’s another helpful visual cue for a struggling reader.

A page from the past. Courtesy of ComicBookResources.com.

Overall, it’s a fast, interesting read.

Potential Flaws: I didn’t have too many complaints about this one.  The ending is a little abrupt.  Without giving spoilers, it’s hard to verbalize why I feel this way.  There are also details about Tara from before the beginning of the narrative that I wanted, as well as details about Josey’s life afterward.  I suppose it’s the author’s choice what to add and what to lose, but as a reader, I was left yearning for more detail.

My Rating:

A fast-paced, unique tale.  Applause to the author for featuring a girl’s coming-of-age tale in a graphic novel.  Excellent use of the alternating past/present narrative.

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What I’m Reading #35: Leviathan July 5, 2010

I’ve always had a penchant for beautiful books.  Beautiful writing, beautiful illustrations, etc.  In this case I was absolutely NOT disappointed.

I’ve had Scott Westerfeld’s “Uglies” series in my TBR pile for quite some time.  After I moved to Arizona, they were lovingly boxed and are still in my storage unit.  I turned my attention to the books I DON’T have in storage and the books I stumble across in used bookstores.

I found a copy of Westerfeld’s Leviathan on Saturday.  I’d finished it by Sunday night.  All 440 pages of it.  What Ellen Hopkins does for verse novels, Westerfeld does for Steampunk.  I’m officially in love with it.

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Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Simon Pulse, 2009

B

Lovely metallic touches here...

B

This is one of those covers that begs to be touched.  It’s rich and dark and steely.  I couldn’t keep my hands off it.  And when you open the book, the inside cover presents you with this:

B

This is the kind of art that makes me want to STEAL books. But I resisted the temptation and paid for it…


Synopsis: (from jacket flap)

“It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up.  The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition.  The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry.  Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

“Aleksander Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run.  His own people have turned on him.  His title is worthless.  All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men.

“Deryn Sharp is a commoner, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service.  She’s a brilliant airman.  But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

“With the Great War brewing, Alek’s and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure.  One that will change both their lives forever.”

See more of the delicious artwork (by Keith Thompson) on Westerfeld’s website.

Other cover art:

An ARC cover, perhaps?

UK Hardcover

New Cover Art

And, not to be missed, the sequel, Behemoth:

Coming October 2010

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Ok.  Here goes:

Strengths: This book is like your favorite food; you want to wolf it down but know you need to savor it.  I wanted to sink my teeth into it and devour it.  Westerfeld creates his alternate reality, Steampunk vision of WWI in epic proportions.  Meticulously detailed, the two main plotlines converge upon each other without losing their individual character and strengths.  Seamless melding creates an even richer narrative, aided by Keith Thompson’s outstanding illustrations.  It’s visually sumptuous.  [As an aside here, I’d label this as a hybrid novel–your experience of the book is critically dependent upon the illustrations, but it’s FAR from being a picture book.]  Alek shines as a flawed and impetuous youth forced to become a man by circumstances wholly beyond his control.  Deryn is a spunky, edgy heroine with more courage than most of the men with whom she serves on the Leviathan.

Readers will find the world of the Clankers and the Darwinists irretrievably interesting.  Fans of Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars will be intrigued by the mechanical war machines of the Clankers.  The creations of the Darwinists, or “beasties,” as they are frequently referred to, pull the ideas of the present day back into a bygone era.  Further, the historical timelines of this period remain largely intact; the war is in fact started with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the alliances of the different powers mirror the reality.  As fantastic as the ideas are (particularly with the notion of the whale-ship Leviathan as a floating ecosystem), anyone who picks this book up will be sucked in.  Westerfeld combines historical accuracy and utter fantasy with amazing skill.

Skillfully written and richly envisioned, with effortless flow, particularly in action scenes.

Potential Flaws: I’d have to be reaching to find much wrong with this book.  On a superficial level, I’ll say I prefer the 2009 cover art to the new art which is designed to match Behemoth.  The new art makes me want to go watch Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

The only hiccup in my reading dealt with the age of the characters.  Throughout the book, despite being told the age of the hero and heroine (15-16), I simply could not see them at that age.  It seemed more appropriate to view them as younger, perhaps aided by Thompson’s illustrations.  I was quite happy to envision them as younger, so much so that when Deryn begins to react differently to Alek, I was knocked a bit askew.  Call it a continuity problem.  To me, this was the only wrinkle in an otherwise outstanding tale.

I know.  I’m reaching.

My Rating:

Rich and gritty at times, solidly constructed on a fascinating premise, and full of believable characters.  A delightful balance between fantasy and reality and Steampunk.

 

What I’m Reading #31: Growing Wings June 13, 2010

So life happened.  I took an unplanned hiatus from reading.  Just lost interest in it for a while as the rest of life’s drama continued.
Today I went back and picked up a book I started several weeks ago…

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Growing Wings by Laurel Winter

Sandpiper; Reprint edition (January 18, 2010)

I had never heard of this, and only picked it up because I thought the cover was fabulous.

Sweet and whimsical, I think this cover really captures the essence of the story.  The other covers I was able to track down pictures of (much more easily, I might add) aren’t nearly as good a fit, in my opinion…

This one is from the first edition, and looks darker, with a heroine that’s maybe a bit older and more worldly than Linnet (the main character) actually is.  Plus, it makes her look like she has wings INSTEAD of arms, which isn’t the case.  Not my favorite.

The original hardcover is my least favorite cover.  I just don’t like it.  It looks like a poorly lit Christmas decoration.  I MUCH prefer the new edition’s cover.

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

Amazon.com Review

When 11-year-old Linnet discovers she is growing wings, her bewilderment is confounded by her mother’s obvious distress. As it turns out, her mother also grew wings on the cusp of adolescence, only to have them cut off by her mother. Linnet’s life seems to speed up rapidly after her shocking discovery; she soon finds herself alone on her estranged grandmother’s doorstep, and shortly thereafter, at a type of secret residence for winged people like herself. As she tries to adapt to a life she never expected, Linnet struggles with desires common to anyone who has ever wanted desperately to fit in, while simultaneously seeking to embrace uniqueness.

This unusual novel will strike a chord with young readers who long to both blend in and stand out. Linnet is a sensitive, strong, fallible girl, easy to relate to (in spite of her unusual physical traits). Her adventures as she tries to learn how to fly (just having wings isn’t enough–it takes hard work and practice), make friends, find her mother, and, with her winged community, avoid being noticed by the media, make for an entirely new kind of science fiction-fantasy story–one that soars. (Ages 9 to 12) –Emilie Coulter –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Grade 5-8-When 11-year-old Linnet begins to grow wings, her single mother explains that she, too, experienced the same changes as she approached puberty, but her mother brutally cut off her wings, leading to their eventual estrangement. When Linnet’s mother inexplicably abandons her, the girl finds her grandmother, the only other person she thinks might be able to give her information about her wings. The woman then takes her to a secret sanctuary of winged people and cutwings-those who have lost their wings-in the wilds of Montana. As she and the other young people who live there experiment with flying and have some scary brushes with nosy reporters, Linnet begins to understand that she is not alone in the world and learns some secrets that will help her survive and thrive. Eventually her mother finds her and the residents of the sanctuary make plans for their future. While readers will relate to a preadolescent girl on the brink of big changes questioning her place in the world, the theme often overwhelms the plot, which is driven by several unbelievable contrivances, including Linnet’s mother’s disappearance. Wooden and unrealistic dialogue slows down the first chapter, but after that youngsters will discover a fast-paced and suspenseful fantasy.
Ellen Fader, Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Gr. 4-6. Eleven-year-old Linnet does not know why her shoulders itch and ache, or why there are weird bumps on them. But Linnet’s mother, Sarah, does: she once grew wings, which her own mother cut off. Now that Linnet’s wings are unfolding, Sarah must find another solution. Linnet winds up in Montana, abandoned by her mother, but taken in by a group whose members have wings or are “cutwings.” This is Winter’s first novel, and there’s some awkwardness in the narrative, including an ending that discloses the existence of a worldwide network of winged people, who send a helicopter, no less, to save Linnet and her roommate, Andy, who are lost in the wilderness. Growing wings is a fascinating premise, but the book is at its best when it is revealing relationships: especially the rivalry between Linnet and Andy, and the jealousy between the winged Linnet and the scarred Sarah. The title and an evocative jacket will draw readers in. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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I’ve included a rather overwhelming amount of reviews here, but mostly because I am on the fence about this one.  I agree with some of these reviews in parts and not in others.  (Unlike Booklist’s review, I don’t find the hardcover’s jacket in the SLIGHTEST bit evocative, but that’s irrelevant at this point.)

Strengths: I thought the premise of the story was charming and original, and quite different than anything else available right now.  Winter characterizes Linnet (I really loved this choice of name) remarkably well, and she fits easily into what I would expect of an eleven-year-old.  Too often authors that try to create younger characters make them a little too worldly for their age, I find.  This was not the case in Winter’s tale.  Linnet’s teenage friend Andy is also well-conceived; she’s a much darker girl, frustrated and confined, hoping for something better, and her antagonism toward Linnet and on-again, off-again friendship with her fit perfectly with her personality.

Potential Flaws: While I don’t find the level of weakness in the plot that School Library Journal does (Unbelievable plot contrivances?  Not so much.), I do think there were points of instability in the plot.  The ending is a little abrupt and leaves the reader hanging, and I found myself craving the backstories of the other characters and was disappointed not to get them.

My Rating:

For a charming, original story.

For a story that deserved a little more fleshing-out.

Overall, 3.5 Stars.  Enjoyable to me and most likely to younger readers, esp. young girls.

 

What I’m Reading #24: Epoch April 11, 2010

This particular book I picked up because of the teaser on the back cover.  I really thought it sounded quite clever…

“MEMO
To:  All senior managers
FROM: Pharley Seamore Edwards, CEO
RE:  The end of the world as you know it.
There have been some changes to the format of the apocalypse.
1.  There will be no horsemen, not even one.  Just demons — hungry ones — with lots of teeth.
2.  Trumpeting angels are out.  We’ve had some reports of pixies and elves, but those should be cleared up soon; see point 1, especially the part about teeth.
3.  Rivers of blood and hellfire are canceled due to environmental concerns.  There will, however, be some seriously bad weather, though that will be the least of your concerns (see point 1).
4.  Rumors about the faithful being spared at the last minute are just that: rumors.  Don’t hold your breath.
That is all.  Have a nice death.”

And the artwork was also an attention grabber…

I just wish the story had lived up to my expectations…

—————–

Epoch by Timothy Carter

Flux, 2007

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

Product Description

In his fourteen years, Vincent Drear has been sure of a few of things. First, the world is going to end. And until it does, he has two jobs: saving souls and protesting movies about boy wizards. But Vincent wonders if there’s more to life than this. His suspicions are confirmed when he finds an elf at his school science fair. Vincent’s excitement fades, though, as the elf informs him that his family’s religion is right about one thing: the end of the world is coming—in forty-eight hours!

Vincent can’t save the world. His only hope is to get his family off Earth before demons wipe out everything, paving the way for a new epoch.  Timothy Carter combines humor, fantasy, sci/fi, and satire into a novel that is the missing link between The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Left Behind.

The end has come. But the fun has just begun.

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First off…let me say that I had a very difficult time finding a non-customer review of this title.  (I always try to find reviews from School Library Journal or Booklist if I can.)  Eventually I gave up looking.  I think it says something that they don’t appear to have reviewed it…

Strengths: I went into this read with a great deal of anticipation.  The premise of the story is solid, quite clever and unique.  In terms of marketing and cover appeal, it’s bound to get people to pick it up.  The initial development of the plot is also pretty promising, with some very interesting and amusing  devices that really bring color to the story (such as the obyons, which are insects inserted into the nose of a being and used to control them by elves).

Potential Flaws: For all of the good set-up, I became increasingly disappointed as the book progressed.  As it nears the climax, the plot seems to dissolve into a series of loosely connected, rather trite battle scenes.  The cleverness wanes, and the pace picks up to a ridiculous speed and rushes to the ending, almost as though Carter just wanted to get it over with.  My hopes for recovery were pretty much dashed by the first two pages of Chapter 8.  Critical passages of time/events are conveniently dealt with with either a), the protagonist’s unconsciousness, or b) a disappointingly brief and woefully trite summary.  (I don’t like to reuse words so much, but “trite” seems the best word for it.)

—————–

My Rating:

Promises much, delivers little.  Disappointing.

 

What I’m Reading #13: Incarceron March 6, 2010

Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron was published in Great Britain in 2007.  Released in the US in 2010.

And I’m so glad that it was.

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Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Dial, 2010

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2010: The shifting landscapes, unexpected plot punches, and bold, brave characters found in Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron are nothing short of thrilling: fans of Garth Nix and Suzanne Collins will take to this epic, twisty fantasy instantly, but it’s also the kind of book that will draw in the most hesitant fantasy reader. The mysterious world of Incarceron—and its factions of daring Prisoners, led by an incorrigible team in Finn and Claudia, who are both searching for a means of escape—is wonderfully imagined, at once frightening and full of seduction, and marks the beginning of an addictive new series. —Anne Bartholomew

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Okay, I’m normally NOT a big reader of fantasy.  I’m one of those people who LOVES the Lord of the Rings movies, but for some reason can’t get into reading the books.  My collection of historical fiction dwarfs my collection of fantasy texts tenfold.

Why I decided I wanted to read this, I’m not entirely sure.  It was probably profiled on someone’s blog, but I can’t remember.

Strengths: This book had one of the most well-built plots I’ve ever read.  Gaps and missing information are intentional, an essential part of the plot itself.  As I read, I went through a constantly evolving progression of theories about who was who, and what was what.  It’s fantasy, but a futuristic one; the technology angle is definitely futuristic.  This clashes brilliantly with the world OUTSIDE the prison, which exists in a forced antiquation called The Protocol.  Their denial of technology (but not really, considering the technology they used to create the prison, Incarceron) leaves the reader strangely intrigued with what outside would be like WITHOUT Protocol. Fisher’s characters are well-developed, and CONTINUE to evolve and develop throughout the book in a way that I don’t find in a lot of YA books.  Definitely NOT static.  The climax of the plot converges in a delightful explosion of action and plot revelations that lead marvelously into the ending, which of course sets the book up for the sequel, which, thank goodness, is coming.

Potential Flaws: I will address this with an indelicate *snort*.  None to speak of.

My Rating:

Brilliantly written.  Excellently paced.  I just hope I can manage to wait for the sequel without splurging to order it from overseas.