Graceling by Kristen Cashore

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Graceling by Kristen Cashore. Harcourt 2008. 471 pp. ISBN 978-0152063962 $16.99

*****

Since my one allowed bag weighed 70lbs, I was determined NOT to pick up ANY books at ALA this year (don’t tell, I still have some from last year, that I haven’ t gotten to).  But on Saturday morning, when I was walking through the exhibit hall, I was struck by a poster of a dagger with an eye reflected in it, and a beautiful blue and tan painterly map background, adorned by flowers (seabane, perhaps?)

Stop, said my practical ego. You don’t need any more books! My id replied, Pretty! and my hand disobeyed, and reached out to pick up the ARC.

I glanced at the back. Fantasy. You are hard to please, when it comes to fantastic fiction…, nagged my ego. Mmm, but the names are pronounceable… I argued with myself. Regretfully, I started to put the book back. Then I noticed the author was signing. Right now, right there. Ok, ok, I acquiesced. I declined the temporary tattoo (I am as anti-temporary tattoo as I am glitter, nothing personal!) and asked Kristin Cashore to sign my book.

I tucked it into my carry-on and saved it for the 5 hour flight home. At first glance, I thought, a book whose author gives five of seven kingdoms names reminiscent of compass points may not have much imagination, but I let it go and kept on, intrigued at first by the concept of an 8-year-old who has a haunting skill–the ability to kill a man with her bare hands. I was drawn into story and compelled to continue by the relationships between deeply developed characters, and the complete worldbuilding.

I couldn’t put Graceling down. I devoured it in three hours.

Katsa is a Graceling, one of a rare group of people born with a special and extreme skill. Some have talent with plants or animals, some are skilled at physical activities, some can influence others or read minds. Her unique talent puts her at the mercy of doing the bidding of her uncle the king as little more than a thug. She balances the distaste of hurting people with subversive political activities, creating alliances within the seven kingdoms, and finds herself at the heart of unraveling the plot to kidnap the King, after she and her friends have rescued him.

The setting is thoughtful, detailed, and unique. The characters have distinct voices, and linger long after the end of the book. Even supporting characters are well-drawn. The story is a well-paced blend of internal struggle, history and culture of the kingdoms, storytelling, fight scenes, and adventuring.

The story of Katsa growing into and controlling her Grace is balanced with story of her growing friendship of the Lienid prince, Po. Unfortunately, both the publisher blurb and Amazon spoil the budding romance between the two main characters. (EDIT 7/15/08: I’ve found out from the author that this won’t be the case on the actual book jacket, though, perhaps readers more savvy than I will figure out what’s going on early in the story) I’d have liked, as a reader, for the realization to wash over me, the same way it strikes Katsa, who doesn’t even want to be beholden to another person, get married, or bear a child.

This fantasy adventure tale has a heroine, a journey, a good vs. evil battle, and heart-throbbing romance. Ultimately, though, it is a story of self-discovery, and dare I say it, identity. I admire most of all the sense of ownership Katsa comes to feel about herself and her body. One of my very favorite parts of the book is where Katsa and Po realize they are more than just friends, and instead of jumping into anything, they stop, think, and TALK, and take precautions when it becomes necessary. Po is now vying alongside Marcus Flutie and Jacob Black for best boyfriend in YA fiction. And I cannot WAIT for the next book, Fire, a prequel.

First Kiss (Then Tell): A Collection of True Lip-Locked Moments edited by Cylin Busby

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First Kiss (Then Tell): A Collection of True Lip-Locked Moments edited by Cylin Busby. Bloomsbury, 2007. 224 pp. ISBN 9781599901992 $7.99

His name was Mike. I was old– 15 and 3/4, and dreading turning sweet-sixteen-and-never-been-kissed. I agreed to play spin the bottle, hoping no one would be able to guess at my inexperience. I almost instantly regretted not holding out for someone I truly and genuinely liked.

Popular authors for teens reveal the stories of their first kisses – first kiss ever, first kiss with a new person, first LAST kiss at the end of a relationship…the memoirs, by the likes of Jon Scieszka, David Levithan, Cecil Castelluci, Donna Jo Napoli, Deb Caletti are much more entertaining that MY story. Well articulated, diary-intimate, and full of delectable and gory details, they are funny, embarrassing, tender, and evocative by turns.

Some of the stories are presented in comic panel format, and others in poetry. Some gems: Sarah Mlynowski and Leslie Margolis provide a self-help spoof, centering around kissing advice. Scott Westerfeld offers a simple haiku, Robin Wasserman’s second person point of view tale is one of woe, and Deb Caletti breaks the rules and writes about her second kiss.

The stories are interspersed with facts and tips: great screen kisses, how to avoid a kiss, what not to eat before kissing. The cover screams summer reading – the close together bare feet of a couple on a beach, one on tiptoes, suggests an intimate moment at days end. Indeed, this is a perfect summer read: light and easily digestible in chunks between sunbathing and running through the sprinkler. Whether you are still anticipating your first lip-lock or been kissed a hundred times, girls age 12 & up will probably get a vicarious thrill from reading these sweet reminiscences.

Katy Cat and Beaky Boo by Lucy Cousins

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Katy Cat and Beaky Boo

Candlewick Press, 2012 (reissue). ISBN 978-0763661236 $9.99 ****

This brightly colored lift-the-flap concept book is quite charming. In each two-page spread, Katy Cat makes a statement about herself (I am orange, I am striped, etc) and the accompanying page has a number of related characteristics. The goal is for the reader to find which concept applies to her friend Beaky Boo, a snazzily dressed puffin, by lifting 4-5 flaps hiding potential answers.

Concepts such as parts of the body, items of clothing, color, pattern, animal sounds, and counting are covered. Several animals make repeat appearances. The color palette is traditional Cousins: a maroony red, a midnight blue, a golden yellow, and the style

This reissue is well constructed. Although it’s a paperback, even the flaps are sturdy paper. The flaps are not uniform in size, sometimes giving a hint as to what is underneath, and making the guessing game aspect even more fun for ages 2-5. Best for one-on-one use, rather than library collections.

Doing It by Melvin Burgess

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Burgess, Melvin. Doing It.Henry Holt & Company, 2006. ISBN 978-0805080797. 336 pp. $8.99

***

This book proves true the urban legend that men really do think about sex once every six seconds — and teenage boys, twice as frequently. In Doing It, three 17-year old male hormonal time bombs fantasize, expresses their fears, and attempt to get lucky. Along the way, they fall into real relationships: Ben with his drama teacher, Dino with the popular beautiful girl he’s chased for years, and Jonathan with a sweet but overweight girl.

The cover alone is provocative enough to make one local library send it back, unread and unreviewed. It took me a a second glance to confirm that yes, the characters are wearing clothes (a standing boy with his back to us holds his girlfriend in his arms, her legs wrapped around his waist). The back cover shows the same couple (no pun intended!) from the opposite view, the cartoonish image cleverly hinting at the multiple points of view within.

Although Doing It made this reviewer swallow and blush several times, in truth it is about as sexy as a how-to manual and more crude talk than hot action. However–I confess to recalling the days when even a textbook or dictionary definition was titillating. I am sure there are those out there who will accuse Burgess of writing pornography for teens, however, this novel, with its horrifically embarrassing toe-curling details, is accurate. Teens are sexual creatures. They have questions. They have desires. And they talk about them, agonize over them, and sometimes act on them, all healthy, normal and vital developmental steps towards adulthood (speaking of which, the adults in the book have their own sexual issues: Dino catches his mom having an affair; Miss Young, shagging students, obviously has some baggage; and Jackie’s parents allow her to stay overnight with her boyfriend eight years her senior).

Blunt books like Burgess’s are few and far between, and it is brave of him to tell this tale of lust and the pursuit of punanni. Doing It provides a few laughs, answers questions along the way, is well-written, if not sensitively written, and most of all, assures boys AND girls that having sexual feelings is okay. Still, purchasers should be prepared to defend the presence of this book in library collections–the key phrase here is “meets the developmental needs of teens.”

Review by Beth Gallaway, originally posted at http://hiplibrariansbookblog.blog-city.net

Salmon Doubts by Adam Sacks

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Sacks, Adam. Salmon Doubts. Alternative Comics, 2004. ISBN 978-1891867712. 128 pp. $19.99

***

The life cycle of a salmon serves as a metaphor for the human condition in Salmon Doubts. Fish struggle to survive hatching, make connections, be unique, explore the world around them, hit puberty, try to fit in, find a mate and return home to die. Focusing on basic questions such as “Why am I here?” this philosophical tale with its themes of identity and purpose in life will have special appeal to teens. Very highly recommended – a real quality addition to your graphic novel collections.

Review by Beth Gallaway, originally posted at http://hiplibrariansbookblog.blog-city.com

Ninety Candles: A Graphic Novella by Neil Kleid

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Kleid, Neil. Nintey Candles: a graphic novella. Rant Comics, 2004. $5.99

*****

Conveyed entirely through images and dialogue, Ninety Candles is an experiment, begun when author Neil Kleid challenged himself to create a panel a day, unscripted, for three months. This sequential tale follows the life of a child who loves to draw, discovers comics, and takes the leap from aficionado to artist. Unconventional circular panels act as peepholes into pivotal moments of protagonist Kevin Hall’s life, illustrated with soft edges. Ninety Candles is a perfect introduction to the graphic novel genre because it is easy to follow and explains a lot about the business of making comics. This is a fantastic and inexpensive add that will add depth to manga and superhero collections and appeal to a broad readership.

Review by Beth Gallaway, originally posted at http://hiplibrariansbookblog.blog-city.com

Waterwise by Jeff

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Orff, Joel. Waterwise. Alternative Comics, 2003. ISBN 978-1-891867-82-2 $14.95

***

Two childhood companions reconnect in the woods on the lake where one has a family cabin. Ambitious Emily is just coming off a divorce and newly-single Jim is sketching his ex-girlfriend. Just as Emily comments on the surreal-ness of reconnecting another, the comics becomes surreal as we slip without warning into a variety of flashbacks, pivotal moments from their shared history. The thick-lined artwork is dominated by of solid black backgrounds of sky and water, making the subjects stand out. Some scenes have a woodcut or batik look them.  Short on plot but beautifully told, Waterwise is a worthy addition for most public library collections.

Review by Beth Gallaway, originally posted at http://hiplibrariansbookblog.blog-city.com

Further Grickle by Annabel Graham

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Graham, Annabel. Further Grickle. Alternative PRess, 2003. ISBN 978-1891867552. 128 pp. $

Further Grickle is a stand-alone companion to Grickle (Alternative, 2001), consisting of a series of tragi-comics featuring the difficulties of various types of relationships: neighbors, co-workers, friends and lovers. Ultimately, readers will recognize themselves and see the futility and humor in struggling to hold a job, have a life, and make connections with others. The stick figurish art manages to be energetic and expressive in spite of the economy of line. Suitable for most public library collections with strong appeal for twenty-somethings.

Review by Beth Gallaway, originally posted on http://hiplibrariansbookblog.blog-city.com

Peanut Butter and Jeremy’s Best Book Ever by James Kochalka

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Kochalka, James. Peanut Butter and Jeremy’s Best Book Ever. Alternative Comics, 2003. ISBN 978-1891867460 280 pp.  $14.95

*****

Peanut Butter and Jeremy’s Best Book Ever is a whimsical collection of the adventures of a naive workaholic cat (who thinks he is an office employee) named Peanutbutter and a sarcastic trickster crow named Jeremy. Peanutbutter, who takes himself much too seriously, needs a nemesis-pal like Jeremy around to bring him back down to earth. Character development here is excellent–the two epitomize their species and display charmingly human affectations as well. The art is smooth, featuring simple lines and velvety black backgrounds.

Appropriate for children in that the themes, dialogue and artwork are easily comprehended, some of the plots and jokes may go over their heads. Saavy teens and collegiate intern-types will probably get the most out of Peanutbutter’s career track and Jeremy’s meanness. Some parents of young children may object to the name-calling and threats of violence throughout, but they are true to Jeremy’s character and should be taken lightly.

Review by Beth Gallaway, originally posted on http://hiplibrariansbookblog.blog-city.com

Bad Girls by Alex McAulay

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McAulay, Alex. Bad Girls. MTV Books, 2005. ISBN 978-0743497336. 320 pp. $13.00

***

Anna is a good girl gone bad, and when her father, author of a popular Christian series, has had enough of her shenanigans (sneaking out, talking back, and oh yeah, getting knocked up) he sends her away to Camp Archstone: a reform school for wayward girls on a remote island in the Bahamas. Apart from time spent with nature, the only “camp” of Archstone is its boot camp style. Run by ex-military, the girls are up at 0500, put on strict schedule heavy with exercise and reflecting on what brought them here. On day two, a hike through the jungle comes to an abrupt end when their chaperone is shot to death before their eyes. The girls scatter, left to fend for themselves. A few of the original group of unlucky thriteen band together, and the power struggles begin.

Although fairly strong on plot, the book is weak on character development, relying on cliched archetypes: the smart girl, the quiet girl, the mean girl, the lesbian. Requisite violence, sex, and language are so overabundant their impact is deadening, and rather than using the f-word for effect, as in M.T. Anderson’s Feed (Candlewick, 2001), it seems kind of pointless in this title. If these are bad girls, it’s a given they use foul language – do we really need to hear it? The ending wraps up with a paragraph telling the reader that “Anna’s thoughts had grown clear” – it would have been nice to see this process, instead of being told. The 3rd person limited point of view never allows us to get as deeply inside Anna’s head and makes the action read like a B-movie.

McAulay references William Golding’s classic Lord of the Flies (Perigree, 1954) several times throughout the novel, and like films Mean Girls and Heathers, this novel demonstrates that girls are crueler to one another than boys, and faster to turn on you. The vivid writing, fast pace, neon cover and MTV endorsement will make this a popular choice.

Review by Beth Gallaway, originally posted at http://hiplibrariansbookblog.blog-city.com