Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bone: Quest for the Spark, Book Three by Tom Sniegoski and Jeff Smith

Bone Quest for the Spark Book Three by Tom Sniegoski and Jeff Smith The entire Valley is asleep - but Sleeping Beauty, this isn't. The townspeople have fallen victim to a horrible evil which intends to create an eternal darkness. Determined to save his family and his village, a 12-year-old boy named Tom has found all but one piece of the Spark, which will turn the darkness into light and save them all. All he has to do now is find that final piece, and the Spark will be complete, and the evil will be defeated.
Easier said than done. When the airship carrying Tom and his ragtag group of friends crashes, the group is split up, thrown about by the wind, and must try to find each other once again. New faces pop up along the way, including Roque Ja, the fearsome, giant mountain lion who is pictured on the cover, as well as foes.

This final volume of Bone: Quest for the Spark, a novel by author Tom Sniegoski with spot and full-page illustrations by Bone creator and artist Jeff Smith, with color by Steve Hamaker, does not disappoint. (And definitely read the books in order so you get the complete story! Read my reviews of the first two novels in the trilogy.) Young Tom didn't go on this quest alone, and Sniegoski juggles the various storylines with ease. From Tom's faithful raccoon, Roderick, to his newest ally, a little dragon named Stillman, the supporting characters are just as important to the story. Whether their actions and choices helped or hindered the journey, most of these characters never gave up on the quest or on each other. This volume wraps up the story neatly, then offers up a great cinematic scene right at which could easily lead to a new adventure. I hope it does, because I'd love to read more stories featuring these characters - especially Roderick the raccoon! 

Want to know which parts of this book made me think of Doctor Who, The Land Before Time, and Alice in Wonderland? Read the rest of this review at Bildungsroman.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The 2013 Youth Media Awards

I had been planning on (finally) reviewing Steve Sheinkin's Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon today, which would have been timely since it was one of the big winners at this morning's American Library Association's Youth Media Awards announcement. I meant to re-read Bomb before writing about it, and unfortunately forgot to bring home the book from the library--I've got it checked out, but left it sitting on my desk--so, that review will happen later. Instead, you get a roundup of the honor books and winner.

The Youth Media Awards encompass some of the most important, most recognizable children's and teen book awards, including the Newbery Medal, Caldecott Medal, and Printz Award. You can find the full list of winners here, and an archived video of the livestream is available if you'd like to watch the announcements.

And the winners (and honors) are:

Friday, January 25, 2013

Kasher in the Rye by Moshe Kasher

If memoirs are written to both connect with the reader and exorcise the writer's personal demons, then Moshe Kasher had one gigantic, stinky, firebreathing, sword-wielding demon.

 His debut book's full title says it all: Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16. Sure the Salinger-inspired pun is as obvious as a rhino stampede, but Moshe Kasher has had quite a colorful life. A life that I would not want to wish on my worst enemy.

Now a stand-up comic, Kasher was born to not one, but two, deaf parents. Mom and Dad separated within a year of his birth, and his mother took him and his older brother from Brooklyn to Oakland where a life of food stamps, less than stellar public schools, and years of therapy awaited them. This menagerie of elements was perfect for young Moshe (who at the time went by the less-Semitic name Mark) to rebel.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

History, Fiction and Filth

After seeing the movie, I tried to summarize Les Miserables to my son. The plot is so elaborate and convoluted that I couldn't do it. I finally gave up and said simply, "It's about dirty people singing."

If fiction and film is at all accurate, the nineteenth century was a filthy time, at least for those without money. Bad plumbing and unfettered coal burning left most people covered in some sort of filth the vast majority of the time. Like Les Miserables, Terry Pratchett's YA novel Dodger is very much about dirty people, though there's not much singing. Dodger is the adopted pseudonym of a young man who's grown up an orphan on the streets and has taken up the less-than-enviable (and somewhat less-than-legal) profession of toshing. "Toshing" is slang for collecting things that fall in the sewer. Dodger spends his days navigating bits of nineteenth century sewer, picking up jewelry, coins and anything else he might be able to use, sell, or return for reward.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

In The Things They Carried, his collection of interrelated stories about the Vietnam War, Tim O’Brien said this about a true war story: 
“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue…If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie”(68-69).
 By this definition, Kevin Powers, with his novel The Yellow Birds, has written a true war story. If you are looking for uplift, look elsewhere. If you are looking for beautiful writing and a sense of a soldier’s experience in Iraq, and for the thin line between heroism and cowardice (to steal another theme from O’Brien), inquire within.

John Bartle and Daniel Murphy find themselves thrown together at Fort Dix, and not long after in Al Tafar, fighting in Iraq. They joined for the same reasons so many others did: “Being from a place where a few facts are enough to define you, where a few habits can fill a life, causes a unique kind of shame. We’d had small lives, populated by a longing for something more substantial than dirt roads and small dreams. So we’d come here, where life needed no elaboration and others would tell us who to be” (37).

Circumstance creates in Bartle a sense of responsibility for “Murph,” as everyone calls him. Murph is younger, smaller, and more na├»ve, and he too comes from Virginia. Yet later other, more gruesome, circumstances create in Bartle a moral quandary, a dilemma between doing what seems the decent thing to do and what the military protocol demands. A reality where being told who to be is deemed insufficient:
“How do you answer the unanswerable? To say what happened, the mere facts, the disposition of events in time, would come to seem like a kind of treachery. The dominoes of moments, lined up symmetrically, then tumbling backward against the hazy and unsure path of cause, showed only that a fall is every objects destiny. It is not enough to say what happened. Everything happened. Everything fell.” (148)
 Powers, a veteran who served in Iraq, shifts us skillfully between the before and the after, building inexorably to the moment, the discovery, the decision. Stories may not be true, but that does not mean they are not truth. And you know The Yellow Birds is truth because, as O’Brien said, “it makes the stomach believe”(78).
Dulce et decorum est…

Friday, January 11, 2013

Sons of the Prophet

Stephen Karam's play Sons of the Prophet is an expansively interested work presented in a modest package. Karam explores, by way of a young Lebanese-American man in central Pennsylvania and his family following his father's death, questions as open as the nature of suffering and identity. But the is ultimately hampered by an overly cautious approach to the piece's stakes.

Joseph, Karam's central character, has an air of Job about him. On top of his father's death, he has to contend with leg pains evading diagnosis, memories of a once-promising running career, romance run around on the family tragedy, and a teenage brother and an ailing uncle to care for.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The People, Yes

A FATHER sees a son nearing manhood.
What shall he tell that son?
"Life is hard; be steel; be a rock."
And this might stand him for the storms
and serve him for humdrum and monotony
and guide him amid sudden betrayals
and tighten him for slack moments.
"Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy."
And this too might serve him.
Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed.
The growth of a frail flower in a path up
has sometimes shattered and split a rock.
A tough will counts. So does desire.
So does a rich soft wanting.
Without rich wanting nothing arrives.
Tell him too much money has killed men
and left them dead years before burial:
the quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs
has twisted good enough men
sometimes into dry thwarted worms.
Tell him time as a stuff can be wasted.
Tell him to be a fool every so often
and to have no shame over having been a fool
yet learning something out of every folly
hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies
thus arriving at intimate understanding
of a world numbering many fools.
Tell him to be alone often and get at himself
and above all tell himself no lies about himself
whatever the white lies and protective fronts
he may use amongst other people.
Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong
and the final decisions are made in silent rooms.
Tell him to be different from other people
if it comes natural and easy being different.
Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives.
Let him seek deep for where he is a born natural.
Then he may understand Shakespeare
and the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,
Michael Faraday and free imaginations
bringing changes into a world resenting change.
He will be lonely enough
to have time for the work
he knows as his own.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Right Way To Do Wrong

There is a dark side to pretty much every aspect of life, and the allure of the dark side fascinates. What a person does with this fascination becomes a question a character, the old pull between good-versus-evil. To squelch this attention only seems to make it more attractive.

One hundred years ago magician Harry Houdini used his popularity and fame to publish a magazine filled with articles exposing many of the fakes, cranks, hacks, crooks, thieves, and con artists of his day. The Right Way To Do Wrong is a recent collection based on some of those earlier publications, and is an entertaining read on everything from escape artists to sword swallowers to organized confidence gangs who once (and to some extent still do) prowl the streets looking for easy marks.

Though he preserves the secrets to many of his own trademark escapes, he quite freely exposes those who attempted to better his attempts, especially those who claim to have bested Houdini's own routines. The great magician notes that because his methods and routines cannot be trademarked or copyrighted he was forced to defend his craft by exposing fakes and, when he could, show them up in public to underscore his own reputation. I don't know that I ever would have imagined Houdini's performances were as much about his reputation as they were for entertainment, but his writing shows that his was also a quest of public service.

Ah, but it's not all good.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I Could Pee on This by Francesco Marciuliano

There are plenty of guys out there who live with cats. And plenty of guys who wonder, from time to time, what it is their cats are thinking. Well, wonder no more!

Francesco Marciuliano, creator of the popular comic strip Sally Forth, has come up with I Could Pee on This: and Other Poems by Cats. As he says in the Introduction, "now, through the power of poetry and a publishing contract, cats everywhere can fully welcome people into their hearts, minds, and souls."

Take, for example, the poem "I Lick Your Nose", found in the first section of the book, containing poems about "Family":

I Lick Your Nose
by Francesco Marciuliani

I lick your nose
I lick your nose again
I drag my claws down your eyelids
Oh, you're up? Feed me

Monday, January 7, 2013

The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers

Optimus Yarnspinner—the future greatest author of Zamonia and also a giant lizard—has inherited the most perfect short story in the world from his godfather and tutor in the literary arts. Astonished by the caliber of the story, as well as its anonymous author who has been missing for decades, Optimus sets off to Bookholm, the City of Dreaming Books, and learn from him the secrets of fine writing.

What follows this prologue is the best (and the shortest) introduction to Walter Moers's wonderfully bizarre Zamonia series currently available in English. Zamonia is perhaps best known for Captain Bluebear, Moers's iconic children's character whose autobiography The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear introduces the world of Zamonia, but given that the book weighs in at 800 pages of densely verbose text interrupted by pictures, it can be extremely intimidating unless you're absolutely sure you'll like it. The City of Dreaming Books, by comparison, is positively short at 450 pages and is considerably more focused.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Observations on a Year of Reading, 2012

In past years, I’ve taken the log of books that I read (I keep a spreadsheet—I’m a little bit anal like that) and compiled a long list of them, with a top-ten list and assorted other tallies and trivia. (Like this one I did for 2011.) But 2012 was the year that I stopped working at the bookstore, moved from the suburbs to New York City, and started grad school, thus depriving me of my three biggest sources of reading time (i.e. breaks at work, regular hour-long train rides, and time not spent doing schoolwork). So it pains me a little to say that I only read 50 books this year (or 48 or 52, depending on how you count—two of the books were issues of One Story, and one of the books was an omnibus of three novels, specifically Markus Zusak’s Underdogs...and speaking of which, we're now going on seven years since The Book Thief--dammit, you Aussie bastard, where the hell is Bridge of Clay?).

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Apocalypse Now, Later

When my eight year-old son heard about the Mayan apocalypse that was supposedly going to take place on December 21, 2012, he started making jokes about it. They were nervous jokes. I could tell he wasn't 100% certain that the world would still be around on December 22. So we researched just a little and discovered that not only was there no scientific evidence of a world-ending disaster ocurring on that date, but the ancient Mayans hadn't even predicted one. The whole thing was based on a misunderstanding of how the Mayan calendar worked. Soon my son's jokes were tinged not with nervousness, but with derision. (A nice summary of the science here. Thanks, Phil Plait.)

But if I were a different sort of parent, I might instead have said "World ending on December 21? Sure. So what? It's ending right now. And it will keep on ending on December 22, and every day for centuries." That's essentially the thesis of Craig Childs' Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth. In it, Childs contends that the world is indeed coming to an end. But, it's not something that happens all at once and it's hardly the first time. When we think of the planet as some static place that's been essentially the same for forever, we're thinking all wrong. Every so often the Earth changes until it becomes completely uninhabitable. Then, it slowly recovers.