Friday, October 21, 2016

The Wooden Prince

Pinocchio has never been a favorite of mine. Not the original novel. Not the Disney movie. In The Wooden Prince, John Claude Bemis retells this old story in a way that works for me as it never had before.

Pinocchio is an automa who serves in the doge's palace until he is stuffed in a box and sent to the alchemist Geppetto. As soon as he is placed in the box, Pinocchio begins to change. He feels. Automa are not supposed to feel. He is soon united with his new master who has been declared a traitor to Venice and is in hiding. Together Pinocchio and Geppetto must try to escape the soldiers chasing them and figure out why Pinocchio is changing from a wooden automa into a real boy. Before they can get far, they are separated and have to endure many trials to reunite, solve the mystery, and save a magical kingdom.

The Wooden Prince is a steampunk fantasy that takes place in Venice and references many real world places. The structure of the plot follows the original story in many ways. There are scenes that will be familiar to those who know Pinocchio. Bemis included all the iconic moments. What he did that I liked was change the the thematic presentation up a bit. It is about community, friendship, family, and sacrifice. There is also an exploration of what it means to be real and alive. Beyond that, Bemis just made the plot more fun. There is a lot of action and it is fast paced.

The fast pace of the plot makes it hard to connect on a deep level with any of the characters. The are also quite a few characters to get to know. However, Pinocchio is one I was invested in. I had a discussion with some people on Twitter a few months ago about how difficult it is to make inanimate-objects-come-to-life have real stakes. Bemis manages that here and manages it beautifully. This ties into the themes brilliantly too. The books is peopled with a cast of human and magical characters that do add to the story even if they're characterization is not filled out well. Maestro, the tiny sarcastic musical cricket, adds a subtle humor. Pinnoccio befriends chimera in the forms of different animals and the fairy daughter of a magical immortal king. All of these combine to make the story both familiar and brand new.

I can see this appealing to kids who love anything that reminds them of Disney (it is published by Disney-Hyperion) or are just into magical tales with animal/human friendships.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

WoW: Thick as Thieves

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Kamet, a secretary and slave to his Mede master, has the ambition and the means to become one of the most powerful people in the Empire. But with a whispered warning the future he envisioned is wrenched away, and he is forced onto a very different path. Set in the world of the Queen’s Thief, this epic adventure sees an ordinary hero take on an extraordinary mission. 

I have just enjoying hugging this news to my heart since it was released a couple weeks ago. I waited for six and a half years for news of this book and in one week we got a title, cover, release date, and synopsis. I needed time to recover and ruminate.

I can not tell you how excited I am for this book or how much this series as a whole means to me. (Though if you scroll through old posts, you will see how often it gets mentioned.) When the synopsis came out, it was pretty much the best thing I could have hoped for. I've wanted a book about Kamet since he was introduced in the second book.

The only slight disappointment I have is with the cover. I LOVED the 2005 repackaged covers. They are the covers of my heart, and I would really love to have a matching set. There is a petition here to request a limited print run with a cover that matches the previous ones. If you are a fan and are interested, please sign.

I'm buying the book no matter what though because this is my favorite series with my two favorite books of all time in it. And the cover doesn't alter the amazing contents.

Thick as Thieves has a release day of May 16, 2017.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Shorter Musings MG

These are some shorter musings on recent reads: one contemporary realistic, four fantasies.

Foxheart by Claire Legrand
I like that there have been so many prickly heroines in MG this year that are chock full of flaws. Quicksilver is an excellent addition to these. Sassy, opinionated, and mostly out for her own benefit, she does a lot of growing over the course of the story and learns to be a little less self involved but also retains all of her bounce and verve. I like that. The rest of the characters didn't work for me quite as well. It's a good story that doesn't break a lot of new ground but is satisfying in what it does. It has quite a different feel from Legrand's other books and isn't my favorite, but its an excellent addition to MG fantasy shelves particularly in places where there are many fans of magic and animals together.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds
I say this every time I review one of Jason Reynolds' books, but that man writes his characters' voices better than anyone. Ghost isn't just a character on a page, his words ring in your head like he is sitting right next to you telling his story. Reynolds just gets his characters on every level and that brings them to startling reality. The plot and themes of Ghost are simple but the way the story is told make them shine. There are scenes and reveals that are really well done. Overall it's just a really excellent story that has a timeless feel to it. Every library that serves middle schoolers needs this on their shelves. 

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
The sentence level writing of this book is beautiful. Barnhill is adept at stringing words together to create sentences that sing and beautiful imagery. The thematic treatment in the book is also excellent. The book is all about the power of love, how it can be unlimited, and the overcoming of fear. I also enjoyed the treatment of what constitutes a family. However, there are characterization and plot pacing issues for me that I can't ignore to completely love this book. There are so many characters. I really wanted to read the story of the titular character, but it's not really her story. This could have worked if Barnhill developed the characters a bit more, but there are so many of them and there is so much going on in the plot. The omniscient narration means we see several scenes over again from the perspectives of different characters making the book longer than is necessary and throwing off the pacing. It truly is a lovely story, it just feels fettered by all of that. 

Grayling's Song by Karen Cushman
I always want to love Karen Cushman's books more than I actually do in reality. The concept for Grayling's Song is excellent. Grayling has to travel through the land trying to figure out why all the witches and wizards have been turned to trees (including her own mother) and by whom. It is a quest fantasy with an animal companion and a young girl who is scared but determined to be brave and do the right thing. It is short and may appeal to some kids on the younger yet precocious end of the MG spectrum. The language was troublesome to me as I read it. This is often the case with Cushman's books and part of why they tend not to work for me. Her awkward attempts at an old fashioned country dialect throw me out of the story every time. 

The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary
Saki is egocentric and determined to think the world is out to target her. A common affliction when one is in middle school. Her parents drag her to the middle of nowhere Japan from Tokyo to spend a holiday honoring ancestors with her grandmother. After Saki makes several selfish choices, she ends up with a death curse hanging over her that she has three nights in the mythical Night Parade to undo. Each night she gets a different animal guide in the mysterious spirit realm. The story works really well and has all that is necessary to make an engrossing quest tale.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Firefly Code

The Firefly Code is my favorite book Megan Frazer Blakemore has written yet.

Mori, Julia, Theo, and Benji live in Old Harmonie-a small village started by Mori's great grandmother and her friend. It was meant to be a community fostering imagination, creativity, and cooperative living. Decades later it is one of many Utopian towns across the globe run by a corporation. These towns are cut off from the larger chaos of the diseases, storms, and crime of the outside world. The children in the communities are given "enhancements" to help them become their best selves with the understanding they will take their place working for the company as their parents did. The four friends live on Firefly Lane. When Ilana moves onto their street, she and Mori become close quickly. But it soon becomes clear that not all is as it seems with Ilana or the perfect world the Firefly Five are growing up in.

The Firefly Five. I love these five kids. The story is told from Mori's first person point of view, but all five kids are incredibly important. The four original occupants of Firefly Lane are a cohesive team, each with their place and talent. Mori loves plants and is curious about everything, though not recklessly brave. Theo loves solving puzzles and his recent surgery to bring out his "latency" has only made him a better strategist. Beni is a tech genius and athlete, incredibly good at a number of things. Julia is the ultra-completive, athletic one. Ilana comes into their world and brings with her disturbance changing the dynamics of the group. Mori and Ilana instantly bond making Julia jealous. It doesn't help that Ilana is beautiful and pretty much good at everything. Theo is concerned about Mori. Benji just wants to keep peace and skateboard. The dynamic between the five of them captures the middle school friend group so well. They are all eager yet frightened by the prospect of forging their own independent futures while desperately clinging to the bonds of community and friendship they have. Just their friendship alone is enough to make this excellent MG fare.

The world here is a fascinating one. Set in a not so distant future, there are several elements about the world that are close enough to our own to make it familiar and all too plausible a possibility. Blakemore did an interesting thing with the community. It's not terrifying. It's not a dystopia. But there are things going on that are not entirely good. It makes the stakes interesting. Because if the kids rebel, it's not as though they are rebelling against an evil force. It brings up some interesting ethical issues that need to be thought about, and it presents them in a way the intended audience will understand. The book is fast paced and hard to put down. There is a certain mystery to the story that holds the reader until the end.

I found myself not wanting to leave the world or the characters. I would be really happy to discover a sequel. It doesn't need one. I just want one.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

TTT: Recommended Books I've Loved

This week's TTT topic: Books I Read on Recommendation from Others


 What are some favorite books you got on recommendation from someone else?