Skulduggery Pleasant, by Derek Landy

Cracking wise and cracking skulls.  Skulduggery Pleasant is an all new kind of hero.  First of all, he’s a skeleton.  Noticed that, did you?  Secondly, he’s immersed in another world that exists alongside ours.  Finally, he’s a magician, and a darned good one.  We’re talking fireballs from the palms, people.

I have only read the first book in this series, but I liked it enough to want to read the next one.  Stephanie is left an entire house in her uncle’s will, but that’s only the beginning of her weird day.  She ends up spending the night in the house alone, where she is attacked by someone claiming to want something her uncle had hidden.  Cue the hero to save the day, only this hero is a skeleton in a three piece suit.  They set out on a series of adventures to find the object sought by the dark side, meeting strange and wonderful characters along the way.

Now, while I did enjoy this book and I do look forward to reading the next one, I did find it to be a bit dialogue heavy.  If you have a 9-12 level reader who likes a lot of action, this might not be the book for him or her.  The action is there, and is so well written that I could clearly visualize it in my mind as I read, but even those scenes have a lot of talking going on between the characters.

It could be that the next books in the series have less exposition via dialogue.

All in all, I’m not sure that this is a YA/9-12 book that will really appeal to adults like some others in the genre do, but it has intrigued me enough to want to keep with it.  I’d love to hear what others think.

Insomnia and Morganville Vampires (the latter by Rachel Caine)

Ah, insomnia, how I do love thee.  While I’m anxiously awaiting my trip to the fae, I thought I’d talk a little about a great little book series I’ve discovered, the Morganville Vampires by Rachel Caine.

Yes, it’s about vampires.  Yes, it’s YA/Teen.  No, you really shouldn’t be surprised that I’m reading ANOTHER vampire novel…or so mean.  Stop rolling your eyes!  Anyway, moving on…

This series was recommended to me by no less than half a dozen customers at work, claiming it was better by far than the Twilight series (I’m sorry, I just can’t call a book about teenagers a SAGA), which I’ve read (and managed not to review…you may thank me now) and the Vampire Academy series which I have not yet read.  I picked up the Omnibus edition, which includes books 1-3, with the intention of reading it on the plane on my most recent trip back home to America.  It seemed reasonable, since I read three Vampire Diaries books in that space of time.

It did not happen, because unlike the other series, I found myself reading every word, hanging on every cliff, and not skipping whole paragraphs because I’d gotten bored.

At the risk of gushing, this series is so much better, more engrossing, better written, I could go on and on and on…sorry, back on topic.  This is one of the best in a genre that seems to be overrun with bad writing.  Slap a black cover on it and it will sell these days…but Morganville is different.  The characters are more real to me, even though the situations they are in are fantastic and involve the supernatural.  The plot twists involve action and adventure, not romance. Rachel Caine has been called the Queen of YA/Teen vampire fiction, and I’d tend to agree with that.

Okay, fair enough, there’s action and adventure in the Twilight books.  But that and my feelings on the sheer number of times a main character is killed and brought back in the Vampire Diaries series belong in other posts.  I said moving on, didn’t I?

The basic plot is this:  Claire is a sixteen year old genius who starts college early.  She attends a small school in Texas in a town called Morganville, but soon discovers that the town has some weird quirks.  She is your basic ill-at-ease, clumsy, awkward teenage heroine, but she displays a strength of character from early on in the novels that I don’t think you see in a lot of other vampire fiction these days.  After some unpleasantness she moves herself out of her dorm and into a house being shared by four other slightly older teenagers, none of which are students at the college she attends.

The plot changes gears here, as she finds out that Morganville is a town filled with and mostly run by vampires.  Humans don’t go out after dark.  If you’re lucky, you have a vampire patron that offers you protection…but that usually comes at a price.  I have to admit, making the vampires the bad guys was a refreshing change from the other novels that are so popular right now.  Claire is a strong heroine who comes into her own more and more as the novels progress.  I’ve only finished the first three, and I can’t wait to see how she continues to grow up in the next six novels.  If you like the genre but are sick of the emo stereotypes, go hang out in Morganville for awhile.  You’ll be glad you did.  Just…make sure your seatbelts are fastened and your tray tables are up.  The ride is fast paced, often turbulent, and just fabulous.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to think about a different kind of novel all together…Skulduggery Pleasant.  Stay tuned.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney

This post could also be titled Why the Book is Always Better than the Movie, by Nancy Dunne.  This is, in my grown up opinion, one of the best YA/9-12 series of books I’ve seen in a long time.  The main character,  Greg, is an awkward pre-teen who has been given a diary journal by his mother, and the books are basically his handwritten words with cartoons drawn in to help explain the story.  These books are hilarious, especially to those of us who were awkward but didn’t really know it at the time.

Greg’s mother and father play important roles in his story, as do his older brother Rodney and baby brother Manny.  Greg’s best friend Rowdy is the typical kid who has hit pre-teen land but would rather stay in little-kid world.  There are other characters who, when they make appearances in the book, will remind you of kids you knew growing up and will surely remind younger readers of other kids they see every day at school.

The movie…well, I’m not a movie reviewer, but I tend to always think that the movie/TV show is better than the book.  In this case, I believe it to be true.  There is so much in the book that can’t be put on the screen faithfully.  While I think the movie makers tried their best (and there is even a book to prove it that shows how the movie was made), this is one work that needs to remain on the page.  It’s the Diary…not the web log.

I loved these books and anxiously await anything else that Jeff Kinney writes.  Get them for your kids but read them yourself.  Neither of you will be disappointed.

Radiance, by Alyson Noël

I spoke in an earlier post about the Immortals series, by Alyson Noël. If you remember, it was not one of my favorites of the YA fiction series I’ve read recently.  However, there is something in the books that keeps me reading them.  Perhaps I just need some closure.

I have not made it to the point that I’ve read Dark Flame, the latest in that series published here in the UK (I believe that the next one, Night Star, has already been published in the US, but there you are).  But when I was given an ARC of Radiance by a co-worker, I was intrigued.  In the Immortals books, one of my favorite characters has become Riley, the younger sister of Ever who became a ghost after the car wreck that killed the rest of Ever’s family.

Radiance is, I believe, classified as for the 9-12 crowd rather than teen, and that’s appropriate because one of the biggest complaints Riley has is that she died before she could become a teenager.  The story tells us what happens after she crosses the bridge with her parents (the one that Ever didn’t cross because she was brought back to mortal life).  She takes on the task of helping those that have become stuck in between the worlds to cross over, and it is said to be the first in a series.

I think that Ms. Noël should stick with this age group because Radiance is an extremely well written and engaging novel when you put it in the 9-12 year old context.  I think that’s what bugs me about the Immortals series…they come across as juvenile, which is saying something considering they are YA fiction and not adult fiction.  Read Radiance, it won’t take you long…but it will stay with you long after you’re done.

Just keeping up with NaNoWriMo…

 

 

You can keep up with how much I’m writing and how far behind the daily targets I am with this widget. Red= No writing.  Yellow=Under Daily Target.  Green=made or passed daily target.   I will try to update my word count after each burst of writing, but since those generally happen once a day I’m not entirely sure this will be a riveting thing to follow.

Soon I will be back to my normal posts here at Well Read.  Coming up soon, I’ll tell you why I read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and why you shouldn’t.  Stay tuned for my thoughts on Alyson Noel’s Radiance and the wacky vampires from Morganville, as well as Skullduggery Pleasant and a return to South Carolinian supernatural in Beautiful Darkness.  November’s shaping up to be a CRAZY month!

Just a quick note about NaNoWriMo…

Yep, that banner across the lightbulb says “Participant” because that’s what I’m going to be, come 1 November 2010.  The National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to its closer friends, is a project out of the Office of Letters and Light.  I can’t hope to summarise it better than they have themselves, so from their website:

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month’s time.

Who: You! We can’t do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let’s write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.

Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era’s most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.”

I have friends who have done this and I watched from the sidelines, wishing I had the skill and ability to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  I was missing the point.  Published or not, this program encourages people to write…which is the only way to become a novelist, blogger, or just interesting person to have at parties.  It’s good for my creativity, it’s good for my ability to meet a deadline (which currently is nil), and it’s good for meeting other people just as insane and fascinated by writing as I am.  Should be a good time…I’ll check in here with my progress so stay tuned.

While you’re waiting, head over to NaNoWriMo (gosh, I feel like an insider calling it that!) and check out the other programs on offer with the Office of Letters and Light, like the Young Writers Program, the Great NaNoWriMo Book Drive, the 2010 Night of Writing Dangerously (held in one of my fav cities on the planet, San Francisco), and April’s Script Frenzy.

Cross your fingers…November’s going to be a crazy month here at Well Read.

 

The Great Dog Bottom Swap, by Peter Bently and Mei Matsuoka (illustrator)

Okay, one more post today because 1. I haven’t updated Well Read in a shameful amount of time, 2. I absolutely adore this book, 3. I haven’t done nearly enough posts that focus on anything but YA fiction, and finally 4. I’m trying to avoid doing laundry.  I may be Well Read, but I am certainly not Well Pressed.

The Great Dog Bottom Swap came to my attention thanks to another colleague of mine, Julian, who demanded that I stop what I was doing and read the entire thing on the shop floor.  Looking back I think he was daring me not to laugh, but laugh I did and I know you will too.   The basic premise is an explanation of why dogs greet each other by sniffing each other’s bums…a question that I know has kept many a parent and child alike awake long into the night.   It all goes back to a fabulous party where the dogs who attended were asked to remove their bums and leave them in something like a cloakroom.  The illustrations are top notch and the rhyming quality of the story will make it a good one for early readers…though I wouldn’t discount it as a favourite for parents alike to read aloud…if you can stop laughing long enough to read, that is.

This is a fantastic find in picture books that is destined to become a classic.  We gave it to my niece recently for her birthday and while she (at age two) was more fascinated with the birthday cake shaped hat that played “Happy Birthday” that accompanied the book, the adults at the birthday party read it aloud and laughed until they cried.

Angel, by L.A. Weatherly

Back I go to YA fiction, but that shouldn’t be a surprise.  I want to talk today about Angel, by L.A. Weatherly.  I read an ARC of this book (thanks much to my colleague, Roz, for lending it!) because I needed a filler for a weekend.  Honestly.  Roz had been telling me at work that I HAD to read it and she thought I would LOVE it…something that usually puts me off a book immediately, regardless of who it is that is doing the pleading.  I guess that’s because my taste in books is pretty eclectic…no really, I do read more than just books with pretty covers and/or the latest YA Kissy-Bitey/Growly/Floaty book that turns up in the bookshop.  I promise.

Let me start by saying this is NOT another Fallen Angel Meets Teenage Girl/Boy and Falls In Love book.  Not by a longshot.

At first seeming like yet another in the constant parade of supernatural romance books for teens that we’ve seen in the wake of Twilight, Angel soon becomes something very different.  Though written for teenagers, it is lacking in the misguided and immature longings for adult intimacy that plague many YA novels.  While there is a romantic aspect and interest in the plot, it doesn’t subsume the rest of the story, but serves as a secondary plot that helps the primary cause along, if that makes sense?

It’s hard to write a proper review of this book, really, without giving away spoilers, so I’ll tell you what I know and then take away the bits that you need to find for yourself, fair?  The main characters in the book are Alex, an Angel Killer or “AK” and Willow, a girl who has grown up without the knowledge that she is half Angel.

In the story world of Angel, we’re not looking at the celestial beings that sit on clouds, strum harps, and eat Philly cream cheese…we’re talking about creatures who feed on energy to survive, and have searched for a new home now that theirs can no longer sustain them.  The energy rolling off humans in waves is perfect for the dietary needs of these beings, and the Angels find humans to be easy prey due to their need to “believe.”  Churches of the Angels are formed and the populace flock to be touched by these beings, so that they may know the peace and love this contact brings.  Peace, love, and total mental destruction, that is.  So-called Angel Burn is irreversible and devastating, and is the thing from which Alex is fighting to save humanity.  He was born and raised for this life and it is all he knows…until he meets Willow, half-angel yet a direct threat to the beings and their invasion of Earth.

The twists and turns the plot takes weren’t new, but put together into a story took me along, breathless, for the ride.   Angel is well worth a look for those fans of YA paranormal romantic fiction as well as sci-fi/fantasy readers.  You have GOT to read this book.  Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

The Black Magician Trilogy, by Trudi Canavan

It has been several months since I finished this trilogy and I’ve been purposefully waiting to add it to the blog because I wasn’t sure what I was going to say.  To be honest I’m still not sure, but I’m going to go on and try to put into words what I’m thinking…I mean, why should this post be different than any other, right?

This trilogy was recommended to me by a co-worker and I can say on a very basic level that I did enjoy it.  The characters are well developed and I felt like I knew them and cared about what happened to them, a vital part of storytelling.  The plot…well, I found myself getting bored a few times because it would crawl along and then BAM! Lots of action!  There would be a plot twist that didn’t really go where I thought it would and not in the “Wow, I didn’t see that awesomeness coming!” kind of way.  It was more the “hmmm, wonder why she decided to go THAT way with the plot” kind of way.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed all three books, but felt it was a bit more of a sophomoric effort than the sci-fi/fantasy I normally enjoy.

Sonea is a street kid who runs with a gang of boys in Imardin.  Every year, the magicians from the Guild hold the Purge to drive the undesireables from the city.  This year the gang is front and center at the line of magicians and they launch an assault against the barriers the magicians put up.  None of their weapons or missles make it through save one: Sonea’s stone knocks one of the magicians to the ground.

This means, of course, that she has magic, but the only ones with magic are from the esteemed families, and they are inducted into the guild.  A hunt begins in the first novel, The Magician’s Guild, for Sonea, to bring her into the Guild and train her.  What she does not know is that if she isn’t trained the magic within her could kill her, so she resists the Guild and goes into hiding with the assistance of the Thieves.   Book two, The Novice, follows Sonea’s training in the Guild and leads her to discover a horrible secret about the High Lord.  The third book, predictably enough entitled The High Lord, further investigates that secret as well as brings Sonea into her own as a magician.

There are many characters in the book that I found myself really liking.  Lord Dannyl, Ambassador for the Guild, is one of them.  The relationship that he forms while in the field on assignment with one of the people he meets (I’m purposefully vague here, so I don’t spoil it) is one of the most genuine I’ve found in a novel not set in the real world.   Lord Rothen is the classic father figure, and when Sonea leaves his immediate guardianship I could feel his heartbreak and worry for her.  There were also characters that I didn’t like…the High Lord Akkarin being one of them.  My feelings for him changed by the third book and I felt a bit cheated…here is a fabulously faceted man that we don’t get to know until the end.

If you haven’t read any sci-fi/fantasy before this is a great read to pull you gently into the genre.  Terry Goodkind/Robert Jordan/Mercedes Lackey she is not, but Trudi Canavan did manage to spin an intriguing story in this trilogy.  Grab a copy and let me know what you think.