Houghton Mifflin should hire Brandon Sanderson to write their next geometry book. Or perhaps they can just buy rights to repurpose The Rithmatist sincHoughton Mifflin should hire Brandon Sanderson to write their next geometry book. Or perhaps they can just buy rights to repurpose The Rithmatist since he's going to be busy for the next fifty years trying to keep up with all the series he's writing.
The Rithmatist plot is fairly standard YA fantasy fare - it's set at a school where the magical and non-magical mingle but don't really play nice, there are two professors who fill the roles of Evil Adult and Paternal Adult, and our hero Joel has a quirky sidekick who provides the necessary comic relief. Nothing remarkable there, really.
But what the plot lacks in wow-factor, Sanderson more than makes up for with his setting and geometric magic system. The story takes place in an alternate world - the United States are islands with familiar-sounding names (Nebrask, Floridia, East Carolina, and Maineford) and are connected by spring rail systems. The states aren't integral to the story, but Sanderson includes just enough detail to get you curious about what the rest of this alternate world is like. He also touches on things like religion, politics, the monetary system, bullying and gender equality (women are now being allowed at the battlefront!). Overall he paints a very vibrant and imaginative setting.
And then there's the magic system - a series of lines and circles that Rithmatists draw to defend themselves and attack their enemies. The various stances described in the book are also provided as sketches so the reader can better understand what everything looks like. As someone who had to retake geometry in summer school, I appreciated the visual aids.
I do wish the characters had, had the same amount of depth as the magic system, but that might've over-complicated things. There's just enough background and insight into the personalities that younger readers will relate to the characters and what they're going through without detracting from the overall story.
This is actually the first Sanderson novel I've read, but if this is how he does YA, I can't wait to catch up on the Wheel of Time series. ...more
This modern fairy tale was a collaboration between Audrey Niffenegger, who wrote the story, and Wayne McGregor, the choreographer of the Royal BalletThis modern fairy tale was a collaboration between Audrey Niffenegger, who wrote the story, and Wayne McGregor, the choreographer of the Royal Ballet in London and guy who wrote the dance. The idea was intriguing and unique enough that I picked up the book (obviously), but I wasn't blown away by the story's execution.
A Raven and a Postman falling in love is at least as conceiveable a concept as a wolf who can eat a grandmother whole and then pose as her. Audrey gets serious points for creativity there, and bonus points in my book for being wise enough not to describe the mating sequence that resulted in the Raven Girl's egg.
But even though this is just supposed to be a fairytale, there were moments in the story that felt very rushed and underdeveloped. The Boy Detective was introduced rather awkwardly, so his dreams about the Raven Girl came across as creepy rather than sweet. If he weren't so creepy - and his entrances weren't so seemingly random - I might've been able to muster more sympathy for him upon learning his love was unrequited.
(view spoiler)[And no fairytale would be complete without a Prince! But it seems Audrey didn't think about that until the end. Literally. The Prince gets two pages - he's introduced, and the two live happily ever after, the end. There are a couple times earlier in the tale when a cat had visited the Court of Ravens and spoken with the Majestics, but no Prince was ever mentioned. And apparently he has a "nearly human voice," but there's no explanation as to why. (hide spoiler)]
But I did enjoy the concept, and I thought the artwork was exceptionally well done. My two favorites are: (1) the Raven, standing in the Postman's shadow and looking up, out of the page and almost at the reader; and (2) the illustration of the Raven with the body of a naked young girl overlaid in simple red line. It was also used for the cover, but the unmentionables were carefully censored by by the Gothic script used for the title. I'd love to see an exhibit of the Raven art work - it's showing in Chicago, which is more readily accessible to me than London.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I tried, I really did. I hate admitting defeat. But I just couldn't get past the first 100 or so pages of this book. It was the POV that really did meI tried, I really did. I hate admitting defeat. But I just couldn't get past the first 100 or so pages of this book. It was the POV that really did me in - I couldn't keep up with what was going on and who the speaker was talking about/to.
I've heard really great things about this book, so maybe I'll try it again some other time, but for now I need a very strong drink and a fluffy beach read....more
Precocious little Coraline Jones is an explorer. A bored explorer who goes investigating the building where she lives along with her rather inattentivPrecocious little Coraline Jones is an explorer. A bored explorer who goes investigating the building where she lives along with her rather inattentive parents and a few unique neighbors.
She discovers a door in her flat that leads to a brick wall. Or at least, it appears to lead to a brick wall. It actually leads to another world (or an "other" world, if you will), which contains slightly distorted replicas of everything in Coraline's world - an "other" house, "other" neighbors, and "other" parents. (The Other Mother might be one of the creepier concepts I've discovered in a children's story.)
When Coraline returns home from her "other" world explorations, she soon discovers that her real parents are missing and is forced to return to the "other" world to save them.
Gaiman does his usual masterful job of characterization. And he writes it all very matter-of-factly from the child's perspective. There are some brilliant moments in the dialogue between Coraline and the cat. (Gaiman is well acquainted with cats, and it shows.) But my favorite line comes from Coraline herself toward the end of the story:
(view spoiler)[“I don't want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted just like that, and it didn't mean anything? What then?”(hide spoiler)]
She's one smart kid. But that's what I love about her: she's smarter and less self-absorbed than all the adults in the book. And she doesn't need any help from them; it's quite the other way around. She's a true children's heroine.
I highly recommend the audio book, even if you've read the book or watched the movie - Gaiman is an amazing reader, and the rat songs that are included really add a whole new creep factor to an already creepy tale.
The blurb on the back of the Playaway case was enticing, and the credentials of reader Richard E. Grant were so impressive that I disregarded the factThe blurb on the back of the Playaway case was enticing, and the credentials of reader Richard E. Grant were so impressive that I disregarded the fact that this isn't the sort of novel I typically read/listen to.
The main characters are Fiammetta Bianchini, the courtesan of the title, and her dwarf business partner/confidant Bucino Teodolo, who narrates the tale. At the beginning Fiammetta and Bucino are fleeing Rome during the sack of 1527. They go to Venice, where they must rebuild their reputations and wealth with nothing but their wits and a few jewels they swallowed before taking flight. To help Fiammetta recover and get the household back on its feet, they enlist the help of La Draga, a blind healer with more secrets than Fiammetta has suitors.
Those secrets put the courtesan's entire house at risk, but not before some incredible plot twists - there is pillaging, theft, witchcraft, lewd literature, and sex, lots of sex - on Fiammetta's rise back into prominence. (view spoiler)[The last twist, discovering La Draga's deceit and that she had a daughter, took me by surprise, though as with most things in this book, I wish Sarah Dunant had fleshed this part out more. I want to know more about the little girl and why La Draga feigned blindness. (hide spoiler)]
In the end, I learned about the decadence and lasciviousness of the time period, but was left wanting to know more about the story and its characters. Birth of Venus was recently recommended to me, which I'll check out before making a decision one way or the other about Sarah Dunant's historical fiction.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This is a clever story about two bears who live next to each other in a zoo. A polar bear cub falls from his frozen tundra into the wet, rich exhibitThis is a clever story about two bears who live next to each other in a zoo. A polar bear cub falls from his frozen tundra into the wet, rich exhibit of a panda bear. The polar bear's white fur is muddied in just the right places, and the resident panda cub mistakes him for another panda. The two pal around together until the polar bear's muddy patches wear off, and by then the bear cubs have become good friends.
The story was clever and adorable and much more creative than I imagined it would be when my 2-year-old first showed it to me at the library. And the water color illustrations are just as lovely as the story itself....more
It's hard to believe there are toddlers out there who don't like this book. My daughter was introduced to the Eric Carle/Bill Martin Jr. duo at schoolIt's hard to believe there are toddlers out there who don't like this book. My daughter was introduced to the Eric Carle/Bill Martin Jr. duo at school and has insisted that we read their books at home, too.
Channeling your inner actor can help on first read, but I've found that my daughter prefers to have all the speaking parts. I turn the pages and she goes to town repeating the sounds of whatever animal we're on until I turn to the next page (except for the flamingo - neither one of us can do a good "fluting," so she makes a chirping bird sound instead). By the time we reach the last page, she imitates all of the animals in a big rush, as quickly as she can, before insisting we read the book again. For me, her little performance is the most awesome part about this book.
As tempting as it is, I've learned not to read this one before bed, though. My daughter is so wound up by the end that not even reading her the dictionary could get her to sleep!...more
Repetition is the name of the game for toddlers. And what better word to repeat than their favorite - no (parents read: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! NONONORepetition is the name of the game for toddlers. And what better word to repeat than their favorite - no (parents read: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! NONONO!).
This isn't the cleverest of Sandra Boynton's books, nor is it particularly rhymey, but it does include her signature bright, fun animal characters and some playful teasing. The chicken narrator asks a series of questions - are you a dog? are you a cow? - that are easy to follow for toddlers and gives them the opportunity to respond. My 2-year-old just listened the first two read-throughs and now reads the book to me, answering "Noooooo" and laughing hysterically at each question. She's even turned it into a knock-knock joke, so instead of asking "Who's there?" she asks "is it a duck? is it a cow?" and ends it with "Nooo, you're YOU!"
My daughter loves the Pixar movie Cars. Loves it. So when I found this book about a little blue truck at our local library, I thought we'd give it a sMy daughter loves the Pixar movie Cars. Loves it. So when I found this book about a little blue truck at our local library, I thought we'd give it a shot.
At first read, the angry expressions on the cars' faces made my daughter nervous, and I was worried she'd pick up on phrases like "shove on, shorty." But the second night we read it, she began asking who the various automobiles were. She learned taxi, double-decker bus, limousine, and street sweeper, and we both have a lot of fun making the various zoom, swish-swash, and screeeeech noises that go along with them.
I'm not sure whether she gets the point of the story, but several times during our morning commute she's told me, "Too fast, mommy! 'one at a time is the way to go.'"
So this one's made it onto her birthday presents list, along with Little Blue Truck by the same author/illustrator team, and I would recommend it to any city or country folk whose little one likes cars and trucks....more
When I first read American Gods, I immediately thought of Season of Mists. This fourth installment of The Sandman series deals with deities and ancienWhen I first read American Gods, I immediately thought of Season of Mists. This fourth installment of The Sandman series deals with deities and ancient mythologies and mankind's need to punish ourselves for our sins.
We start out where Book 2, The Doll's House, left off - with a gathering of the Endless siblings. Destiny has called Death, Delirium, Desire, Despair, and of course, Dream together in an attempt to get his family back on their fateful path, much as author Neil Gaiman is trying to get his storyline back on track after the detour that was Book 3, Dream Country.
Dream's fate takes him to hell, where he seeks to rescue a mortal woman he loved and condemned to an eternity of torment. He prepared for a battle, but found hell empty. Lucifer, tired of his station, is calling it quits. I expected some trick or trap, but instead Lucifer explains his decision to leave rather eloquently. He takes mortals to task for their "the devil made me do it" excuses. "They use my name as if I spend my entire day sitting on their shoulders, forcing them to commit acts they would otherwise find repulsive... I have never made one of them do anything. Never. They live their own tiny lives," he says. "They belong to themselves... they just hate to have to face up to it."
And so Lucifer locks up, and leaves the key to hell with Dream.
Enter the deities, angels, demons, and other would-be lords of hell. A parade of characters visit Dream to bribe or threaten or simply request he give them the key. This what I love most about Gaiman's worlds - that the Egyptian, the Norse, the fae, Christian creatures (angels and demons), and scientific representations (order and chaos) all coexist on the same plane. They are equals, and each has a part to play. They plead their respective cases to Dream, and selects an heir to the kingdom.
The volume ends on some surprising notes - Nada is reincarnated, angels are put back in charge of hell, Lucifer pays a reluctant compliment to "the creator" on the beauty he makes, and Destiny's book - or rather this chapter - ends as it should.
The Sandman series just gets better and better with each volume. And I'm very interested in learning more about Hippolyta's son, Daniel, and the important role he plays in Dream's world. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I have so many mixed feelings about this volume of The Sandman series. As a collection of short stories put to graphic form, Dream Country delivers. AI have so many mixed feelings about this volume of The Sandman series. As a collection of short stories put to graphic form, Dream Country delivers. As a book in the series, however, I'm left wanting something to progress the storyline.
In "Calliope," a muse is held hostage and abused by an author who wants to ensure his success. It's dark and horrible, but I can't help thinking the artist is more responsible for these affects than Gaiman's writing. The idea, of course, was his, but it's the visuals that leave you feeling sick for the poor captured muse.
On first read, I didn't really like "A Dream of a Thousand Cats." But I couldn't stop thinking about it, so I tried it a second and third time and finally understood. There are two concepts here I found interesting: first, that animals can dream just as vividly as you and me and thus they have a place in The Dreaming (the thought had just never occurred to me), and second, that if enough people believe the same thing, they can make their dreams a reality. This is how the humans came to rule over the cats, according to Dream, instead of the other way around. The power of dreams can make the ridiculously unimaginable - say, little people who are slaves to catkind - a reality.
The third story, "A Mid-Summer Night's Dream," is tied in to one of my favorite stories from The Doll's House - "Men of Good Fortune" - in which Dream acts as Shakespeare's muse (sort of) in return for two plays. "A Mid-Summer Night's Dream" is the first - a play whose characters were inspired by those in its audience (Titania, Puck, Auberon).
"Facade" was the weakest of the four, but it had an interesting message. This story is like a peek behind the curtain of a superhero's life. So many comic fans grew up idolizing the DC-verse's characters, thinking how cool it would be to have their powers, but how many ever thought of the difficulties these abilities created? Element Girl is a character from before my time, but in "Facade" we learn she is a physically invulnerable woman who is psychologically broken. Her freakish appearance has made her reclusive and she has no confidence, no self-esteem. A hero waiting, begging for Death, who mercifully comes.
In addition to the dream vs. reality theme that became apparent with these four stories, I also noted the role of the muse in each. In "Calliope" and "A Mid-Summer Night's Dream" it was more obvious - Calliope was literally one of the Greek muses, and Dream was Shakespeare's muse in that he gave him the skill to produce epic works. But a muse can also be an inspiration. In "A Dream of a Thousand Cats," the Siamese was trying to inspire her fellow cats to dream a new life for themselves, and in "Facade," we find another inspiration, albeit a broken one. ...more
Audrey Niffenegger builds fantastical situations from a perfectly normal, realistic foundation. In Her Fearful Symmetry, twin sisters Julia and ValentAudrey Niffenegger builds fantastical situations from a perfectly normal, realistic foundation. In Her Fearful Symmetry, twin sisters Julia and Valentina inherit their dead aunt Elspeth's estate, including a London flat (apartment) that overlooks High Gate Cemetery. Their aunt's will stipulates that they must live in the flat at least one year before selling it and that their parents (Elspeth's twin sister Edwina and her husband, Jack) aren't allowed to step foot inside. Nothing strange there.
Except Elspeth is haunting her flat.
From there, the story goes into Elspeth's attempted communications with the living, how the living respond, and learning about the building's other residents. It was a very delicate ghost story, I suppose, and I loved the way Niffenegger described Elspeth's world once she was caught between the living and dead. I also loved the other building tenents - Elspeth's boyfriend Robert, who develops a thing for Valentina, and Martin, an OCD crossword creator, and his radio-personality wife, Marijke.
What I didn't love were the attempts at mystery: Why were Edwina and Elspeth estranged? Why didn't Elspeth want the twins' parents in her flat? What was the big secret about Elspeth that Robert didn't know? And what did Robert mean when he told Valentina that Elspeth wasn't really a nice person when she was alive? Didn't he love her? But the answers didn't offer any real revelations or surprises.
As Valentina became more and more obsessed with Robert and talking with Elspeth, Julia became rather boring to me. I felt like Niffenegger was looking for something for Julia to do, so she decided to pick one of the strongest characters in the book for the girl to visit: Martin.
And I fell in love with the quirky man and his wife.
Martin and Marijke's relationship became way more interesting to me than what the twins or Elspeth's ghost were doing. Martin and Marijke, their incredible love, his impossible sickness, and her unimaginable strength. Now THERE'S the story I want to read. So while Her Fearful Symmetry was beautifully written and introduced some interesting thoughts about the spirit world, I was disappointed in the end....more
From start to finish, The Doll's House is fantastic. Unlike the disjointed stories from Preludes & Nocturnes, the first book in the Sandman seriesFrom start to finish, The Doll's House is fantastic. Unlike the disjointed stories from Preludes & Nocturnes, the first book in the Sandman series, this second book feels like one complete, evolving story.
Similar to the first book, in which Dream has to track down items that give him his power, he is now in search of four things - or rather, nightmares: the duo known as Brute and Glob, The Corinthian, and Fiddler's Green - who escaped the dream realm while Dream was away. During this new quest, we meet Desire and Despair, the Endless sister-brother twins. Death also makes an appearance in one of my favorites in this collection, "Men of Good Fortune." We learn more about Nada, who was introduced in P&L, and her history with the Endless siblings in the first story, "Tales in the Sand." And we discover what became of Unity Kinkaid's daughter - the one she gave birth to while she was lost in the dream realm, unable to wake up.
This was a re-read, though it's been over 10 years since I last read The Doll's House, but I still think it's one of Gaiman's stronger collections in this series. ...more