Obernewtyn

by Isabelle Carmody is a series book that, I can tell, really requires reading the whole series to "get." It was recommended highly, so I'm going to try book 2, Farseekers, as well. While Penguin published it in Australia, here it's under the auspices of the publisher Tor, which is usually home to more adult stuff in the states.

It's a post-nuclear-holocaust world, we think, although the forbidding of all things from before has made it difficult to tell exactly what happened. Some of the children born since the disaster known as The Great White have unusual mental powers. However, the religious sect that is the current law of the land has forbidden all such powers, condemning people who have them to death or banishment to Obernewtyn, a place rumored to do experiments on those banished. Our young heroine, Elspeth Gordie, is unsure about the powers she has, and her process of finding out what she can do also becomes the reader's process. This bogs down occasionally, as when a new power is required, and it's unclear whether Elspeth knows she has this power or is trying something for the first time.

However, her slow unraveling of the secrets of Obernewtyn is paced just right for young mystery readers. And that the book ends while we still don't really understand Elspeth's powers shows that Carmody is self-consciously mysterious, leading us to the next title in a subtle enough way that I avoid my usual next-title annoyance. (We all have little things that drive us nuts!) I've just put Farseekers, the next title in the series, on hold.

Bite Me

...is not an instruction for any blog readers that may be out there. No, it's the title of Parker Blue's teen vampire novel. This is more Buffy than Twilight, and in fact heroine Val references Buffy in her own vampire-slaying adventures, as a fictional story (whereas hers is the real thing, of course). Val is a tough heroine who becomes sympathetic right away when, on her 18th birthday, her mother and stepfather kick her out of the house. This really isn't her fault, however. It has to do with the fact that her father was a part-incubus, and Val is part-succubus. Val's vampire-slaying has been, primarily, a way to slake her inner demon's lust. But Val's mother only sees the bad influence on her other, non-demon daughter Jen.

The drama here isn't her survival, which is assured relatively quickly and easily due to the interventions of other part-demons who have been watching out for her. And, luckily, she lands a job with the San Antonio police, who are far more aware than they let on about vampires. And, eventually, demons too. Watching Val and her very attractive partner Dan unravel the mysteries afoot amongst the vampires is fun, if not deeply complex. Val has to handle her lust for Dan very carefully, lest her demon side take over and drain his life force. That inner battle is more intriguing, and the combination of roiling internal emotions and kicking vampire ass makes this a well-balanced page turner. Definitely recommended to Buffy fans, and perhaps as an antidote to the passivity of Twilight's heroine.

There are, of course, repeated tropes in genres. Deborah Stevenson pointed out the oft-used teen novel trope of the description of self in the mirror. I've become intrigued by the trope of the truths and myths about vampires. Because every author/novel/series seems to have their own set. Here, Blue's truths are that vampires cannot be in the sun (no sparkly Edwards here) and that holy water, if blessed by a true believer, can be scalding. Silver is a problem too. But she eschews the turning-into-bats powers (those seem to be on the wane overall).


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In other news, Betsy Hearne won this insanely huge lifetime achievement award. Wish I could have been at the Children's Literature Association Conference to clap and cry.

Diana Wynne Jones

Juliana just let me know that she's heard through the blog-grapevine some sad news about Diana Wynne Jones, which is that she has recently opted to cease chemotherapy (http://www.locusmag.com/News/2010/06/diana-wynne-jones-health-update/). Here's a blog post about sending fan mail, which now would indeed be a good time to do:
http://kate-nepveu.livejournal.com/488911.html

I sent my own little heartfelt note today. However, it seems to me that anytime is a good time to send fanmail to Diana Wynne Jones!

In my note, I pointed to The Lives of Christopher Chant and Dark Lord of Derkholm as my two personal favorites, the former because it details a situation in which a child has to learn to be skeptical of adult motives and the latter because it offers metal-level commentary on the tropes of fantasy while also being emotionally engaging and having a rousing good plot. I also love having almost-too-many characters to keep track of, as long as the author gives us good reason to care about the characters. Which Jones always does.

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey

I have always been a fan of wacky tales of bunches of kids together. I am also a long time fan of stories of kids with Special Powers, among them the original Witch Mountain books by Alexander Key (the movies were just ok). What I enjoy about this sequel to The Mysterious Benedict Society is that it combines both of these features. Four kids with extraordinary (and complementary) talents have to save the world, this time by saving Mr. Benedict himself from his evil twin. Author Trenton Lee Stewart writes in self-consciously unrealistic style, which always helps me with the suspension of disbelief (that I was complaining about in reading City of Ember). Because, if the author knows it's just a story, somehow I get very free and easy with belief/disbelief. And the kids are fun to read about.

The four stunningly gifted characters are back, again, and if the first book was Reynie's book, this one belongs to Sticky if it belongs to anyone. Reynie is still the central problem-solver of the four, whose gift for seeing through and around any apparent rules allows him to synthesize some of the best escapes from scrapes. However, Sticky's incredible memory features centrally in this book, though his accomplishments are now accompanied by a rather over-inflated sense of himself, which becomes annoying to his compatriots. Sticky wrestles with his pride throughout in a fine sub-plot to the larger adventures. Constance is only 3, with the vocabulary of a 10-year-old; her actions in this book are still amusingly (if not realistically) contrary, and we're given more insight into the "pattern recognition" that constitutes the core of her special abilities. Kate and her amazing bucket are back as well, and her feats of physical prowess save the day more than once. It's easy to see how gender and age expectations are shuffled about a bit, and that's refreshing.

While the previous book was set in a mysterious land where an "emergency" kept the entire society prisoner, this time the foursome treks to Europe via ship, to Portugal specifically, following the clues their benefactor Mr. Benedict has left for them along the way. Mr. B's evil twin, Mr. Curtain, has foiled Mr. B's plans, capturing him and secreting him away to an island purported to grow a rare and very valuable plant.

Nope, not a word of it is believable. And, yes, it's a great read for puzzle-solving inclined young readers. They have to be dedicated readers, as Stewart's books are written with a post-Harry-Potter reading audience in mind, at easily over 300p each.

Megan was right to recommend this one to me--thanks Megan!

The Boyfriend League

Why is it that I find it so much harder to remember to blog stuff I read on my kindle? It's probably the way that physical objects, like library books that need returning, beg for my attention in a way that hidden bundles of digital text do not.

Speaking of attention, Rachel Hawthorne's bubblegum page-turner of a YA novel, The Boyfriend League, will not keep one's attention for long, but it's the perfect beach read for your fave preteen. Dani and her friend Bird are baseball fans, so they convince their families to host players from a college team for the summer. Hoping, of course, to find themselves boyfriends. Which (wait for it, big shocker coming) they do. Interestingly, it's Dani's apparently predictably shallow sister Tiffany who actually provides some of the more surprising content, not by becoming deep, but simply by refusing to over-dramatize the boy troubles that threaten to come between her sister and herself. Dani at first hooks up with Mac, who is all style and no substance. In fact, Mac turns out to be just about Tiffany's speed. Fortunately, Jason is waiting in the wings of Dani's own house to be her best boyfriend ever (obligatory squeee). While Dani's crush on the gorgeous player Jason is reiterated often enough, it's never clear what makes him appealing beyond physical attraction, though (of course) a deeper connection is implied. Hawthorne's writing is just far enough away from total stereotype to make this worth recommending, at least to the budding romance reader.

I do wish there were a few more preteen-aimed novels in which physical attraction turns out not to be the harbinger of something deeper. It would be fun to read about a romance in which the two attractants totally misjudged the situation and cannot, in the end, stand one another. But that wouldn't sell paperbacks.


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In other news, I'm volunteering to do a little stage-management planning for a production called Aquatown: A Future Hydro History. I feel honored to be included, despite my very limited time and energy, so thank you Andrea!