Monday, March 28, 2011

Heather's Book Review: Foundling by D.M. Cornish

Rossamund Bookchild is a foundling boy with a girl’s name. This name was given to him by the paper pinned to his blanket when he was left on the front stoop of Madam Opera’s Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys and Girls, and it has tormented him ever since. As the object of frequent jibes and bullying fists, he eagerly looks forward to the day when he can leave the foundlingery and enter the navy, and thus a life full of adventure on the high seas. His dreams are dashed, though, when he is chosen to be a simple lamplighter. The hopelessly boring life that he anticipates, though, ends up being anything but (at least for the moment), as he is abducted, rescued, and then forced into service by one of the most famous monster hunters on the Half-Continent.

Foundling is the first in the interchangeably titled Monster Blood Tattoo/The Foundling’s Tale trilogy by Australian author D. M. Cornish. (This trilogy was titled Monster Blood Tattoo for its first American release but didn’t do very well, which prompted the publishers to change the name to the more benign and significantly less interesting The Foundling’s Tale.) Because of the depth the author has built into its world, the trilogy has been compared to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, a classic renowned (and notorious) for the level of detail put into the cultures that populate the setting. This is a deceptive comparison at first, as there is nothing remotely epic about the storyline, nor any high-stakes goal that has to be reached (nothing on the level of Destroy-This-Ring-or-The-World-Will-End!, anyway). It’s just a kid running into trouble as he travels to a distant city. The deeper into the story one reads, however, the more sense these comparisons begin to make.  
Cornish is a detailed creator; his dark, pre-industrial, monster-ridden world of the Half-Continent is among the better-realized in modern YA fantasy. The majority of his detail, though, is devoted to the culture of his monster-hunters and the alchemy-like magic surrounding them. These monster-hunters are not born magicians but people who, for example, employ a violent form of chemistry to dispatch monster threats or even have extra organs sewn inside their bodies to attain near-magical powers. Half the fun of reading this novel is simply relishing in its morbid world-building.
The novel’s main strength, however, ends up causing some of weak points, too. Early on, I felt so overwhelmed by the intricacy of novel’s world that I had to stop reading for a while, just to get it all organized in my head, and even after I picked it back up, there were multiple times when I thought, “GRRRRGH! When is something going to HAPPEN?” So much energy is spent introducing the reader to the mechanics of the world that its plot and pacing suffer significantly, at least at the beginning. Once I hit the middle of the book, I read voraciously to the end and was disappointed to discover that the last hundred pages of my book were actually not story, but appendices about the world of the novel (another similarity shared with Tolkien, who was a huge fan of super-detailed appendices).
All this said, this is not a novel for casual fantasy readers. This is a novel for readers who have read the popular fantasy novels and are ready to graduate to the deeper cuts. This is a novel for the readers who are okay with a little bit of slowness because the setting in which the slowness happens is just that awesome.
It’s also a novel that, fortunately, is part of a body of similar works, if you know what titles to look for. If you enjoy reading about bizarre monsters in harsh worlds like the Half Continent, you may like The Edge Chronicles series by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell (which is technically shelved with the children’s books, but is nonetheless one of my single favorite series EVER). If you enjoy super-detailed worlds in general, sci-fi classic Dune by Frank Herbert is a must-read. And of course, there is everything J.R.R. Tolkien.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Susan's Book Review: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

 

Did you know that the catacombs of Paris contain the remains of 6 million people? I sure didn’t, but now I do thanks to this awesome book set in modern day France and featuring a subplot that takes place in 1795. Revolution tells the story of Andi Alpers, a senior at a fancy school in Brooklyn Heights who loves music and, well, not much else. Her little brother died, her Mom went a bit crazy, her Dad left, and now Andi has trouble caring about anything, herself included. She’s about to flunk out of school when her Dad makes her accompany him on a work trip to Paris so she can complete a thesis that could save her academically. They stay with friends of the family who collect historical artifacts and there Andi finds an old diary that belonged to a girl named Alexandrine Paradis during the French Revolution. Reading the diary and spending time with new people in new places gives Andi perspective that she desperately needs.

 
Three things I loved about this book:
1. Andi! I always look for characters that I can care about and she is interesting, passionate, flawed and human. I don’t know how authors create fully-developed characters, but I know and love them when I see them! I quit reading a good number of books because I don’t care what happens to the main character. Revolution was almost 500 pages long and I liked Andi and her distinctive voice from page 4 on.
2. I love learning things in fictional books--I want to know more about the catacombs, the French Revolution and a certain composer that Andi loves (FYI: turns out he’s fictional).
3. Lastly, to the credit of the author, this book features a rapper and it is not a disaster. Yay!
 
What I didn’t love:
1. The diary is written more like a novel than a diary, with a lot of descriptions and quoted conversations. I know it’s a story device and I can appreciate that, but it was super-obvious.
2. I’ve never been to Paris, but I’m pretty sure it’s huge and Andi randomly runs into some new friends like 3 times. Not likely!
3. About 100 pages from the end, the two stories intersect (in two different centuries, remember) and Andi spends way too much time in denial about what’s happening and being rude to people.
 
Overall, I thought Revolution was a fantastic read and I recommend it to anyone who likes realistic fiction, historical fiction or a just a good, solid story.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tara's Book Review: The Chaos by Rachel Ward

I read Numbers (the first book in this series) and thought it was okay, but when I got a copy of this sequel, I thought I’d give it a shot because I was interested in where she was going to take the plot. And I’m glad I did! I greatly preferred The Chaos to Numbers, not least because I thought Adam was a more interesting character than his mother Jem (the protagonist of the first novel). In The Chaos, Adam is dealing with his gift/curse of being able to see when people will die, but he uncovers a disturbing trend—a huge number of people are all slated to die on New Year’s Day, 2027. As the day of doom quickly approaches, Adam must figure out how to save himself and his grandmother, while also dealing with his feelings for Sarah, a new acquaintance who has some premonitory powers of her own. This plot is fast-paced and keeps you guessing about what will happen on January 1st, and I found myself racing to finish it. The characters were better-developed and the storytelling tighter, and I’m intrigued to see what happens in the third book of the Numbers series.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Lisa's Book Review: The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

 

 

     The Warrior Heir is the first in a trilogy of fantasy novels by award-winning author Cinda Williams Chima. It is the story of Jack, your average soccer-crazed high school student who lives in a small, quiet Ohio town. When we first meet Jack, it seems the only exceptional thing about him is that, as an infant, he underwent some dangerous surgical procedures to combat a life-threatening heart condition. Thus, he is required to take heart medication every day of his life. His single mother, a sensitive and hard-working attorney and academic, frets over him due to his medical history. Many secrets have been withheld from both Jack and his mother, and they are surrounded by characters that take part in the subterfuge that will inevitably lead Jack into some heart-pounding and deadly situations.
 
     Unbeknownst to Jack, he is one of the Weir, a magical race from the north of England. Borrowing elements from English history, myth and folklore, Chima constructs a world within our present day world that is peopled by five different varieties of Weir. In hierarchical order, they are: wizards, enchanters, sorcerers, warriors and soothsayers. Each type is associated with a different color of crystal, the source of their magical powers, which is found embedded in their chests. Without spoiling the many plot twists and surprises, let’s just say - it is no coincidence that Jack’s surgery concerned that part of his anatomy.
 
     One of my favorite characters in the book is Jack’s Aunt Linda, a gorgeous enchantress from England. Throughout the story, you can rely on the fact that whenever Aunt Linda visits, riveting action sequences will ensue. The main plot premise revolves around two warring wizard clans, symbolized by the White Rose and the Red Rose. Weir history is fictionally entwined with actual medieval British history in the form of the War of the Roses (the battles between the houses of Lancaster and York). Since the fifteenth century, in an attempt to end the full-out civil war, wizard families have sponsored warrior heirs who engage in ritual battles (to the death) to determine which dynasty will rule. Some of the best scenes in the book describe training sessions in which Jack fights phantom warrior heirs magically conjured from the past by his teacher/wizard/coach Leander Hastings.
 
     Chima’s subplots are sprinkled with a dash of romance, just enough to heighten the emotional components of the story, but not so much that the tone is cloying or melodramatic. This series should be recommended to both adult and young adult readers who devoured series by J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) and Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games). According to the author’s website (http://www.cindachima.com/Events/news.htm), due to popular demand, her publisher has asked her for two more books in the Heir series. Chima fans are anxiously awaiting these forthcoming sequels.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

WIN A NOOK!

Teen Tech Week is March 6th-12th, but we’re celebrating it all of March by giving Spartanburg teens the chance to win a NOOKcolor! Teen Tech Week was created to encourage libraries to highlight technology available at or through the library. At SCPL, we’re going to use it to promote our Facebook page to Spartanburg teens. If we can get 500 local teens to “like” us on Facebook, we’ll draw a winner from among them! If we don’t make it to 500, we’ll give out an iPod Shuffle instead. It’s up to you—tell your friends and make the Nook contest happen! Like us today because the deadline is March 31, 2011. Contest is open to teens ages 12-18 or in grades 7-12 only.

Visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/scplteens