I read this when it was passing through the query trenches, so I'm interested to see how it has developed since then. Unfortunately, the cover doesn't...moreI read this when it was passing through the query trenches, so I'm interested to see how it has developed since then. Unfortunately, the cover doesn't do the story justice. Not by far.(less)
I ADORE this book. I never realized how much fun an author/illustrator could have with rather ordinary text and illustrations that are all but ordinar...moreI ADORE this book. I never realized how much fun an author/illustrator could have with rather ordinary text and illustrations that are all but ordinary. There's so much going on in the illustrations that you'll find some new thing to laugh at every time you read it. And if you're a parent, you'll probably be reading this one again . . . and again . . . and again. But this one is not painful at all as a read-again picture book because there's just enough adult humor in there to keep you entertained on the 734th reading.
Really, I love this book. If you can't tell.(less)
The moment I saw Lemony Snicket's name on the cover of The Composer Is Dead at the library the other day, I kn...more Originally posted at Libri Ago.
The moment I saw Lemony Snicket's name on the cover of The Composer Is Dead at the library the other day, I knew I had to read it. I knew it would be funny; what I wasn't expecting was this musical masterpiece.
The story is somewhat basic: a composer has been murdered, and the detective must sound out the man, er, instrument who committed the crime. The text, however, isn't what makes this book so amazing.
This isn't just a picture book, nor is it just an audio book or just a soundtrack; it is an experience. The book is funny enough on its own, but play the accompanying cd with soundtrack, and it's even greater. The experience, however, doesn't reach fever pitch until you add in Snicket's exceptional narration (also included on the cd).
Daniel Handler, the man behind the Snicket, must have played in an orchestra at some point in his life. It's the only way to explain how all of the humor in The Composer Is Dead is spot on.
While marketed as a children's picture book, young children won't get most of the jokes. Instead, the musically inclined adult reading (or listening) to the book will be laughing to the point of hyperventilating.
Don't believe me? Watch the book trailer, which demonstrates a bit of what I'm talking about.
I played this book for my stepmom, a concert cellist cum cello instructor. She laughed and nodded at all the jokes and one-liners, and then immediately went out to purchase a copy to share with her students.
I highly recommend this book as a gift for the music major/orchestra teacher/flautist in your life. If they've played in an orchestra, even just in high school, they will be rolling by the time the experience ends. Then buy a copy for yourself.
*Because this book deserves much more than 5 stars.(less)
I've been fascinated for a while now with the fusion of text and graphics that comprise graphic novels. The problem I f...moreOriginally posted at Libri Ago.
I've been fascinated for a while now with the fusion of text and graphics that comprise graphic novels. The problem I find is that most comics and graphic novels are geared toward a male audience. While it's great that there are books for the numerous guys who are reluctant readers, I wish there were more graphic novels that appealed to women—especially women who are strong, smart, and dress in actual clothes. So I was ecstatic when I found Gunnerkrigg Court, a captivating series of graphic novels for teen girls.
In the first volume, Orientation, Antimony Carver arrives at the gloomy Gunnerkrigg Court, a British boarding school that looks more like a factory than a school. Sounds normal enough, but that illusion fades within the first few pages as strange things start to happen.
Soon enough Antimony discovers that her parents—her mother recently deceased and her father missing—are intricately tied to this school and the mysteries that surround it. Events at Gunnerkrigg may even hold the key to understanding what happened to her parents.
Antimony's world is a dark one populated with robots, demons, and forest gods, but it also one in which she and her pre-teen classmates can still have fun. This isn't a humorous book by any means, but there is a quirkiness to the situations and scenes that give it a certain kind of depth I've only found in graphic novels. The best comparison I can make is to Emily the Strange, another graphic novel series* I absolutely adore. As with Emily the Strange, there's something youthful but dark about the illustrations that I find fascinating.
While some of the chapters in this volume feel a bit episodic—which makes sense considering the series started out as a web comic—enough of the the overarching plot threads are woven throughout that it all fits together well.
This volume ends much like the Harry Potter books: at the end of the school year but with enough mystery to propel readers immediately into the next book.
* There is a series of books for teens featuring Emily the Strange that are mainly text-based but with graphic elements. The original graphic novels are much darker, though just as compelling, and fit more into the traditional comic style. (less)
Before the paranormal romance craze, the concept of this book would have seemed utterly bizarre: in Victorian England...moreOriginally reviewed at Libri Ago.
Before the paranormal romance craze, the concept of this book would have seemed utterly bizarre: in Victorian England, the daughter of an Egyptologist and one of the mummies he brought back from Egypt fall in love. (Plus accidental murder, kidnappings, and Queen Victoria being tossed in the Thames River.)
Now, there are other zombie love stories floating around, but when The Professor's Daughter was originally published in France in 1997, it was a completely novel idea. The reason it works? The simply gorgeous illustrations by Guibert convey so much emotion, especially the beginning, when the pages were illustrated in Sepia tones.
The colors actually shift as the book progresses. The changes have meaning within the story, so I won't describe it here, but Elizabeth Bird shared an excellent review (much better than mine, actually) that explains why.
My favorite of the illustrations is on page 11. For some reason, the composition and colors strike me as being near perfect, even if there is a mummy wearing a suit in it. I would honestly hang a print of it on my wall, I find it so fascinating. It might require some explanation for visitors, though.
The storyline itself is rather bizarre, but combined with the illustrations—and a good dose of suspended disbelief—it transcends the stereotypical comic or graphic novel to become a piece of literature. I heartily recommend buying The Professor's Daughter, even if only to gaze at the lovely images.(less)
I originally picked up this book (metaphorically speaking) because of the fun premise: a reversal of roles with the ba...moreOriginally posted at Libri Ago.
I originally picked up this book (metaphorically speaking) because of the fun premise: a reversal of roles with the bad girl setting out to corrupt the good boy. I expected a fun read, but what Bennett delivers is so much more than that. It's an honest portrayal of a wounded girl finally making peace with herself and her past.
Jen is a product of the foster system. After a huge disappointment with a family she truly loved, she shuts herself off emotionally. As she bounces around from home to home—some good and others horrible—she becomes the typical rebel teen to protect her heart from future hurt.
The story is fairly predictable, but that's not what makes this book shine. It doesn't need plot twists to pull readers in. It's the startlingly honest portrayal of Jen, her wounds and struggles, that tugs at you. I even cried at one point, which hasn't happened with any book in recent years. It wasn't tragedy that struck me to the point of tears, either, but the emotional honesty that leads Jen to truly find herself.
That said, there is plenty of fun, especially if you're a closet nerd like me. You could think of it as a mild, teenage Big Bang Theory. I whole-heartedly recommend Geek Girl to teens—male and female—as well as adults. The struggle to find oneself is universal, regardless of background or age, and Jen's journey is beautifully told.
Cool fact: Bennett originally self-published Geek Girl before it attracted the attention of a publisher. It proves, in part, that a well-told, self-published story can find success.
Note: The publisher, Cedar Fort, is a smaller independent press in Utah that in the past has focused on Mormon fiction and nonfiction. It looks like they're branching out into mainstream with books like Geek Girl, which doesn't reference religion at all. Plenty of their other books do revolve around Mormon culture, such as The Next Door Boys (review to come). It's not good or bad; just something to note when selecting future reads from this publisher.
There are so few books that have touched me deeply enough that I couldn't imagine my life without having read them: The Alchemist, The Little Prince,...moreThere are so few books that have touched me deeply enough that I couldn't imagine my life without having read them: The Alchemist, The Little Prince, The Graveyard Book. And now, I add to that list The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech.
The story is simple. It goes like this: an angel lives in a tower in a small village in the Swiss Alps. This angel, he isn't sure what his purpose is. "Me, I am an angel. I am supposed to be having all the words in all the languages, but I am not. Many are missing. I am also not having a special assignment. I think I did not get all the training. . . . Do the other angels know what they are doing? Am I the only confused one? Maybe I am unfinished, an unfinished angel."
This angel watches over the people of this little village, and then one day, an American family comes to live in the house attached to his tower. Zola, a young girl vibrant with life and colors—she wears three different colored skirts and numerous bright ribbons at the same time—meets angel and actually sees him. Thus begins an unlikely friendship between a vivacious girl and a grumpy angel.
Though the events of the story are ordinary, there is an uncommon grace and elegance to the prose, even with an angel narrator that cannot speak English properly and often fuses words. ("Zola smills, smuggles, what is the word? What is it, that word for happy teeth??") But more than that, the beauty of the story outshines any I have read in a long while.
Through often misguided efforts, angel watches over his town and his "peoples." By the end of the book, angel realizes he has a purpose, and we recognize the goodness that there is in the world and the hearts of the people who populate it.
"I am feeling most hopeful watching these peoples. I don't know what to say about this feeling. I don't eat food, but if I did, maybe it is as if I were hungry, so hungry, and I didn't even know it, and then I found a mountain of food and I ate and ate, and then I sat back contentful and there was still more mountain for the next day and the next day. Maybe it is like that. I don't know. Since I don't eat food, it is hard to say."
After reading this striking story, I am feeling contentful as well.
In conclusion, this mesmerizing story is one that will become a classic, and I would not be too far off in saying I see this as a strong contender for the Newberry. Every child, every adult should become friends with this unfinished angel and let him help you become more of a finished person.
P.S. I have serious issues with the book's cover design. Had I not read a review of the book previous to buying it, I would most likely have passed it over.(less)
Overall ★★★★★ Story ★★★★★ Characters ★★★★★ Writing ★★★★★ Ending ★★★★★
It’s incredibly rare that a book manages to vault itself onto my “favorite books ever...moreOverall ★★★★★ Story ★★★★★ Characters ★★★★★ Writing ★★★★★ Ending ★★★★★
It’s incredibly rare that a book manages to vault itself onto my “favorite books ever” list within the first two paragraphs. Only one book comes to mind, at least within recent memory: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman captivated me by the first line. Now I’ve found a second: Cliff McNish’s Savannah Grey, and it did so with incredible force.
What did it? Paragraph number 2: “Reaching number thirty-three, Savannah Grey’s house, the Horror dropped its star-shaped head on one side, knotted its murderous claws behind its back, and tried to work out the most entertaining way to reach Savannah’s bedroom. There were many ways available, but the Horror was young and like all young things, it liked to use its teeth.”
How, I ask, can a book be dull with an opening like that? I was immediately captivated. Not even the change in narrative styles to first person once Savannah awoke diminished the storytelling. I was delighted when I saw that the original voice returned every few chapters to detail more of the Horror and the ancient Ocrassa that controlled it. Neither voice suffered, instead offering a depth to the already compelling story.
While the human characters were well crafted, the monsters came to life with a vibrancy that made me want to see the child-like Horror prance about in a stolen leotard and chasse and leap about while terrorizing humans. The way McNish tells of the Ocrassa’s history is as though he is telling of the Earth itself, incredibly powerful and moving. While explicitly evil, the Ocrassa is rendered in such a way that its actions seemed logical given what it was. I’ve never seen a writer make monsters feel so natural in our world. It’s incredible and not something I can accurately express in a brief review.
In addition to all this, the book ends exactly where and as it should. While there are some flaws (which I’d daresay are minor in comparison to its incredible strengths), I’ve read so few books that seemed nearly perfect in so many ways. This is one you have to read for yourself. Although many of you may disagree with my thoughts, you can’t read this and not wonder at the incredibly rich and original universe McNish created here. It’s astounding. (less)