Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Clockwork by Philip Pullman

Pullman, author of the amazing Dark Materials Trilogy, (which I plan to reread around Christmas, it's an awesome cold-weather read) is expert at taking large, complex ideas and making them accessible for kids. In this case, rather than a making a deftly crafted treatise against organized religion, Pullman turns his eye on storytelling. And, in less than two hundred pages, he doesn't just address the writer's side, but also the process in which stories are created and the many mechanisms within stories that make them move forward. Hence the very apt comparison to clocks, which are, throughout the entire story, a relentless motif. That was my reading of it.

But what really makes this book awesome is that it's a good, straight ahead story, too. It boasts a rich cast of characters, including a brave young heroine, an overwhelmed clockmaker, a writer and a man who may or may not be the devil himself. It does have a few scary moments (murders can be rough for the more sensitive readers and this one is pretty visceral), and so generally I would recommend it for ages eight and up to avoid nightmares with the younger, precocious readers who read above their level. It's not as creepy as Coraline, by Neil Gaiman (which I also totally recommend, a succinct, fun but totally creeperiffic) which I have received more than one angry customer complaint about on the grounds that it is too, too scary. But it IS scarier than, say, a Roald Dahl book, even if that headmistress CAN chuck you into the great, blue yonder.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine D'Engle

Sometimes, I can't remember if I actually read a book as a child, or if my older sister, Mikka, did, and just told me the entire plot so comprehensively that I think that I did. Like Lloyd Alexander's Westmark Trilogy, (an awesome series about a revolution that goes from the books up) the Newbery Winner, A Wrinkle in Time, was a book I knew the story of, but had never actually read. I realized this when I reread it last month, and came across passages I knew I had never heard before-- passages of startling imaginative resonance, and surprising (but realistic) romance. I can see, easily, why this book won the Newbery.

L'Engle said, in her Newbery acceptance speech, that the best books are the ones that provide just a little bit of light against the overwhelming darkness of our world. And A Wrinkle in Time is a book that does just that. According to Lewis Buzbee (author of the fabulous Steinbeck's Ghost, which, incidentally, begins with a reference to Comazotz, the scary-zombie-like planet) more people site A Wrinkle in Time as their favorite childhood book, than any other title. While I can't agree (because I never read it as a child) I can see how this would be true. The possibilities for a child's impact on the world, as imagined in this story, are vast, yet still dependent on innate traits any child might have. Walking the line between fantasy and science-fiction, with the emotional rawness of realism, A Wrinkle in Time was a pleasure to finally read.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Adventures in badassery!

Scott Westerfeld, the author of the fun, body-image-centered trilogy,
Uglies, Pretties, Specials, the vampire series, Peeps, and puzzle-horror series, Midnighters, has a new book out, the beginning to a very promising new series. Leviathan, a steam-punk retelling of WWI, is a rollicking start to what I'm hoping is going to be Westerfeld's best series yet! Perspective switches every two chapters between an unseated prince (Aleks), who has been humbled by his parents' deaths, and Derryn, a cross-dressing girl in the British Royal Navy. Driving both characters is the need to keep their true identities secret, and when their paths cross, their central tensions blend in compelling and juicy (yes, juicy) ways.

Like all Westerfeld's novels,
Leviathan kicks off the action immediately, and I was hooked from page one. This world of Clankers (large, mechanical war vehicles) and Darwinist Beasties (hybrid war animal-machines) is so much fun that even though I was seriously pissed when I realized that this book was the first in a series (I shake my fist at you, Scott Westerfeld!!! Now I have to wait???) I can't say I'm not excited to spend more time in this world. For those readers that enjoyed Hunger Games, His Dark Materials, or Eon, this book might be a go. Like Hunger Games, this book moves quickly. Like His Dark Materials it occurs in a world that is at once an alternate past and a possible future. And like Eon, it features a strong, cross-dressing lead, succeeding in a man's role.

I am a little embarrassed to admit I didn't actually read this... I listened to it on audio on the drive from Seattle to San Francisco, as read by the (badass) Alan Cummings (who does an AWESOME job, seriously, AMAZING) but I liked it so much I'm going to read a hard copy, too. I suggest you do, too!