Thursday, October 28, 2010

Booklist Additions, Part 2

So many books, so many booklists. Here are a few new additions.

Past + Future = Steampunk

Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of SpacePhilip Reeve, illustrated by David Wyatt, 2006, Bloomsbury Books (Children’s Fiction/ Science Fiction/ Fantasy/ Adventure) by

The year is 1851. Victoria is queen; Prince Albert is her husband. Plucky Art Mumby and his fussy big sister Myrtle are loyal subjects of the Crown. But they don’t live in England. They don’t live in Canada or Australia or India or anywhere else in the British Empire—the British Empire on Earth, that is. In this Victorian England, Britain’s colonies extend into the far reaches of space (thanks to Sir Isaac Newton, whose discoveries in the 1700s made the “Conquest of Space” possible). So Art and Myrtle live with their absent-minded father at Larklight, a ramshackle old mansion that orbits somewhere beyond the moon. It’s a bit dull out in outer space, but when a pack of giant white spiders invade early one morning and capture their father, things perk up considerably. Rescued by teenage space-pirate Jack Havock and his motley crew of alien misfits, Art and Myrtle embark on a voyage across the galaxy to solve the mystery of the very large spiders. Along the way they encounter moon moths, a mad scientist, and plenty of other space monsters. Art narrates for the most part, with Myrtle’s prim and proper (and very funny) diary entries filling in a few holes. The tone throughout is breezy and whimsical and very merry indeed. Author Philip Reeve delivers a whole lot of futuristic space technology that is firmly rooted in a comical Victorian sensibility, and the whole is a riotous steampunk romp that transcends age and makes for rip-roaring adventure.

How to Read Two Books At Once

Lincoln’s Dreams by Connie Willis, 1992, Bantam Books, originally published 1987 (Fiction/ Fantasy/ Mystery)

Jeff is a researcher for a Civil War-era historical fiction writer. This means he spends his days looking up the history of generals’ horses or finding exactly where President Lincoln’s sons are buried. When Jeff meets Annie, the patient of an old friend who works at a sleep institute, everything he knows about history is turned on its head. Annie is having nightmares, terrible dreams about the Civil War. Her doctor thinks they’re a symptom of a psychiatric problem, but Jeff is not convinced: there are details in Annie’s dreams that she couldn’t possibly know. As Jeff and Annie explore Annie’s dreams, they come to believe that they aren’t hers at all—they are the dreams of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Whisking Annie out of the reaches of both the doctor and the history writer, Jeff and fragile, stubborn Annie drive up and down the east coast, alternately visiting and escaping the Civil War sites, and try to find a way to bring both Annie and Lee some measure of peace at last. Along the way, the couple tries to distract themselves with Jeff’s employer’s new book—a historical novel about a simple southern man who finds himself drowning in the horrors of the Civil War. Lincoln’s Dreams is, like all author Connie Willis’ books, chock-full of historical details and overflowing with absorbing suspense.

The Art of Detection by Laurie R. King, 2006, Bantam Dell Books (Mystery)

Inspector Kate Martinelli has seen a lot of strange things in her years as a San Francisco detective, but the murder of Philip Gilbert might just take the cake. Mr. Gilbert’s body was found in an old gun emplacement in the Marin Headlands of the Golden Gate Park. Since Gilbert made his living as a Sherlock Holmes connoisseur (even his home is decked out as a replica of Holmes’ Victorian study at 221B Baker Street), it’s a pretty odd place to get killed. The link becomes clear, however, when a manuscript that may be an unpublished Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle comes to light. Gilbert bought the document for a scant $30; it may be worth millions and that may be motive for murder. Kate reads the story for clues: In Prohibition-era San Francisco, “Mr. Sigurson” (one of the aliases Conan Doyle used for Holmes) investigates the murder of a transvestite’s military lover. As the connections between the murders (one in the fictional past of the short story, and one in Kate’s all-too-real present) add up, the no-nonsense inspector follows leads and interviews suspects. She also banters with her gruff police partner Al Hawkin, shares quiet moments with her life partner Leonora, and parents their precocious three-year-old daughter. Author Laurie R. King infuses both stories with her trademark precision and atmosphere—Holmes frequents the gritty dives of 1920s San Francisco while Kate investigates her modern city’s diverse inhabitants. Both mysteries are compelling, and the way they ultimately weave together is storytelling at its finest. 

The Original Good Old-Fashioned Ghost Story

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, 1997, Avon Books, originally published 1938 (Classics/ Mystery/ Romance)

“Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.” This simple declaration begins the unforgettable tale of a young bride, her darling husband, his charming home, and his impressive, vivacious, gorgeous—and deceased—first wife. Our nameless narrator is an almost impossibly na├»ve girl barely out of school, but that’s charm enough to captivate aristocratic Maxim de Winter, and the young lady is over the moon that a man so rich and distinguished should take any notice of her. Soon the newlyweds are installed in the ancestral de Winter manor, where the new Mrs. de Winter is expected to run the household with smooth competence. And though the timid young lass does her utmost best, she can’t help but feel overwhelmed by her husband’s busy and important schedule, the wealth and status of her new position, the sly manipulations of the sinister housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, and above all, the long dark shadow cast by the first mistress of Manderley, the impeccable Rebecca de Winter. If our in-over-her-head heroine stands half a chance of making her marriage work—or of simply staking out her own place in the world—she’s got to understand the mysterious circumstances surrounding Rebecca’s death, plunge the depths of Mrs. Danvers’ unnatural devotion to the dead woman, and even explore her secretive husband’s own motives. But Rebecca’s very presence haunts every aspect of the new bride’s life, pushing her (and the reader, who’s in major suspense by this time) closer and closer to the brink of despair. A stirring Gothic romance, Rebecca is author Daphne du Maurier’s masterpiece. It’s also a superb, understated tale that has withstood the test of time to remain an atmospheric, ghostly little haunt of a thriller.

The Classics Never Die

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, 2009, Wendy Lamb Books (Children’s Fiction)

In 1978 New York City, twelve-year-old Miranda’s favorite book is the science fiction class A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. L’Engle’s book has similarities with Miranda’s life that make the story meaningful to this latch-key kid in the big city. Like its heroine, Miranda is a bookish student who seems to be on the outs with everyone else. Her best friend, neighbor boy Sal, won’t walk home with her anymore. Her upbeat but always-at-work mother is preoccupied with becoming a contestant on the TV game show The $20,000 Pyramid. The harmless homeless man, who frequently sleeps with his head under the mailbox, is making Miranda more and more uneasy. The new constant in Miranda’s life is arguing about the elements of time travel that occur in A Wrinkle in Time with nerdy-cool classmate Marcus—a boy who once inexplicably punched Sal in the gut. And then there’s the strange notes that appear asking for Miranda’s help, beginning with one that reads “I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.” The lives of Miranda’s friends, family, classmates, and neighbors may seem tangled into one of the knots that Miranda so likes to tie, but as our heroine picks up a clue here and relates a seemingly simple scene there, the threads of the story weave together into a flawless little mystery that packs a big wow of an ending. A quietly impressive story that lingers long after its last page has been turned, When You Reach Me won the prestigious 2010 Newbery Award for best children’s book.

Harry Potter’s BFFs

The Fairy-Tale Detectives: The Sisters Grimm, Book 1 by Michael Buckley, illustrated by Peter Ferguson, 2005, Amulet Books (Fantasy/ Children’s Fiction)

Eleven-year-old Sabrina Grimm and her kid sister Daphne have been on their own ever since their parents disappeared a year ago. Hoisted from one foster home to another, the girls—especially Sabrina—are tough, quick, and independent. When a woman claiming to be their Grandmother Grimm takes them into her home, Sabrina is suspicious. Their parents told them their grandparents were dead, and no twinkly-eyed lady is going to win her over that easily. Daphne, on the other hand, is enthralled with Granny Relda—because this strange woman also claims that the Grimms are descended from none other than the fairy tale-writing Brothers Grimm, and that the family’s long-time duty has been to solve crimes committed by and against the unusual inhabitants of the town of Ferryport Landing. By unusual Granny really means magical, because the townsfolk are straight out of every fairy tale and childhood classic you’ve ever read, from Prince Charming to Puck to the Three Pigs. And these “Everafters” can cause a lot of trouble—which becomes all too clear when Granny Relda goes missing. Now, like Harry Potter going from Muggle to magician, it is up to Sabrina and Daphne to embrace their untapped magical sides, save that little old lady, and keep their family—such as it is—together. Author Michael Buckley is very clever in his use of fairy tales personalities, but even if your knowledge of storybook folk is a little rusty, there’s still plenty of madcap adventure and tongue-in-cheek wit to go around. 

The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley
1.  The Fairy-Tale Detectives
2.  The Unusual Suspects
3.  The Problem Child
4.  Once Upon a Crime
5.  Magic and Misdemeanors
6.  Tales From the Hood
7.  The Everafter War

Welcome to Dystopia

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, 2009, Viking Books (Science Fiction)

Every since the mysterious long-ago “Something That Happened,” the world has been drained of color. Only one color of the spectrum is visible to individuals, and society has been organized in a strict hierarchy based on what people can perceive—those who can see purple or green are higher up than those who can see red; the working class is made up of those who can only see in shades of grey. Our hero Eddie Russet is a Red, but he’s annoyed the rule-obsessed Colorocracy and has been ordered to the Outer Fringes with his father. Eddie has a bright future, if he can earn back enough merits. He’s tentatively engaged to a high-ranking Red and he’s a very perceptive Red himself. But then Eddie spots Jane G-23, an adorable but surly Grey who is suspiciously willing to rebel against the many standards and mores that keep everyone under control. Soon Eddie is involved in all manner of mysteries—he talks to an Apocryphal Man (a person who doesn’t fit into the prescribed system and is therefore deemed invisible), gets entangled in a search for the abandoned town of High Saffron, and finds spoons (the rules forbid spoons; no one really knows why but, boy, are they valuable). It takes a couple chapters to really get the hang of this colorless future, but Shades of Grey is a complex, sophisticated dystopia with a healthy dose of wit and charm. The sense of humor and satire is a breath of fresh air, and that’s author Jasper Fforde’s hallmark (he’s also the author of the genre-bending Thursday Next Series). For a lighter dystopia that’s still highly sophisticated, look no further than Shades of Grey—and look forward to the two books-in-progress that will make this into a delightfully colorful trilogy.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, 2010, Little, Brown, and Co. (Science Fiction/ Teen Fiction)

The polar ice caps have melted. Oceans cover the cities. Fossil fuels have been used up. In this all-too-realistic future, teenage Nailer is a ship breaker. He works on a scavenging team that scrapes and scratches copper wire and steel from the washed-up oil tankers on the Gulf Coast. It’s dirty, dangerous work and the reward is a grim life of poverty under the thumbs of people who are richer, crueler—or both. Nailer spends his free time dodging his drug-riddled abusive father, but he does have something on his side—luck. After a city-killer hurricane sweeps the Gulf, Nailer finds a beautiful high-tech clipper ship, the kind the swank rich people sail the world on, wrecked on the beach. The luxury inside that torn-up boat is worth more than Nailer could make in a dozen lifetimes. But there’s a survivor, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy shipping company owner, and Nailer can’t bring himself to end her life and take her fortune. Instead, Nailer throws his lot in with this “Lucky Girl” and helps find her way back to the people she can trust. Their harrowing journey inland to the ruined cities of New Orleans and Orleans II is fraught with enemies at their heels (including mercenaries, pirates, and hybrid “half-man” dog creatures), overwhelming hardships, and brutal betrayals. And through it all, Nailer must desperately hope—no, trust—that he’s made the decision that’s both lucky and smart. Ship Breaker is an action-packed page-turner, but with it author Paolo Bacigalupi has also expertly constructed a stark, vivid future world and populated it with characters who are motivated, diverse, and true.

I’d Rather Be Reading

Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason by Nancy Pearl, 2003, Sasquatch Books (Nonfiction/ Readers Advisory/ Bibliographies) 

Nancy Pearl is a superstar librarian. And avid lifelong reader and director of the Washington Center for the Book, she also has a weekly book review program on National Public Radio and worked as a public librarian in Seattle for years where she created the program “If All Seattle Read the Same Book.” There’s even a librarian action figure modeled on her. So when Nancy Pearl says “This is a good book,” people listen. With Book Lust, Nancy recommends over one hundred of her personal favorite books. Grouped into creative subjects that vary from “Bird Brains” to “Elvis On My Mind” to “Lady Travelers” to “Three-Hanky Reads” and everything in between, Nancy muses about plot, pacing, setting, character, and gets to the heart of why this book or that book is a good read. Book Lust (and its subsequent companion titles More Book Lust, Book Crush, and Book Lust To Go) is a book to be flipped through and dipped into depending on the moment and your own particular mood. Whether you’re a romance reader or a historical fiction fan, a lover of nonfiction or of fantasy, you’ll come away from Book Lust with reading possibilities galore.

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