Thursday, December 31, 2009

Book Awards 2009 and Coming Soon in 2010

Best Release of 2009 Award:

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. The sequel to The Hunger Games is fast paced, filled with surprises and more shocking than its predecessor. I can’t count the number of times that I gasped “WHAT?!” out loud while reading it for the first time. Many of the twists were as surprising as being hit in the face with a fish. Throw out any preconceived notions about Panem and the Districts when reading Catching Fire; as Katniss finds out, anything goes as far as her government is concerned, and no one is safe. As soon as I finished Catching Fire, I immediately went back and reread The Hunger Games looking for clues I might have missed. They were there in abundance, seemingly innocent comments that were in truth doublespeak worthy of 1984. I heartily applaud Ms. Collins’ world building, gripping plot structures and amazing characterizations.

Honorable mention goes to “The Thirteenth Child” by Patricia C. Wrede, “Going Bovine” by Libba Bray and “The Singing” by Allison Croggon.

The “Meh” book of 2009 Award:

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Garahame-Smith. With an exciting twist to the classic work, I was expecting a great story that still incorporated what the world loved about the original. I was let down, like someone pulling the mattress out from under you in the middle of the night. The characters were flat and the romance between Lizzy and Darcy was as cold and lifeless as the zombies they’ve were trained to kill. If only they died and the book ended earlier, sparing everyone the lackluster finale. To make matters worse, P&P&Z will be coming to a theater near you in 2011 staring Ms. Natalie Portman as Lizzy Bennet. Do I hear a rounding “Huzzah”? No? Good.

Coming Soon in 2010:

March 2nd 2010-- Shadowrise (volume 3 of Shadowmarch) by Tad Williams. I haven’t read any of the Shadowmarch books yet because of Mr. Williams’ penchant for cliffhangers. I’m looking forward to being able to start the series as soon as the last book comes out.

March 16th 2010-- Lord Sunday (Book 7 of the Keys to the Kingdom) by Garth Nix. The conclusion to Mr. Nix’s stunning tale about the lackadaisical Trustees (Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, Drowned Wednesday, etc) and their battle for the House against the Rightful Heir of the Architect, asthmatic mortal Arthur Penhaligon will undoubtedly be as astounding and inventive as the first six.

September 28th, 2010-- The Fiend and the Forge (book 3 of the Tapestry) by Henry H. Neff. Max McDaniels sets off to retrieve the Book of Origins from archfiend Astaroth, who is busy wiping out all of mankind’s greatest discoveries

October 2010-- The Scorch Trials (sequel to The Maze Runner) by James Dashner. Thomas and his friends are up against the same enemy again, but this time out in the real world. (Thanks, Elysia, for pointing this one out to me. Review of Maze runner coming soon!)

Fall 2010-- Hunger Games book 3 (currently untitled) by Suzanne Collins. The conclusion to the Hunger Games and Catching Fire will (probably) set Katniss against her government. (Again, thanks to Elysia for recommending The Hunger Games!)

Fall 2010-- Pegasus by Robin McKinley. The princess of a kingdom shared jointly between humans and the Pegasai goes on an adventure.

TBD 2010-- Mastiff (Beka Cooper book 3) by Tamora Pierce. The conclusion to the Beka Cooper trilogy pits Beka against kidnappers who have abducted the heir to the realm.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Going Bovine

Title: Going Bovine
Author: Libba Bray
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2009

Cameron is a 16 year old high schooler who gets straight Cs when he doesn’t fail and smokes a lot of pot. It helps him keep his mind off of the fact that his family is falling apart, and that he doesn’t care. Or maybe he does care, but he can’t do anything about it. But recently his waking hours have become stranger than even the pot can account for, involving giant flame monsters controlled by an armed and armored wizard and a lady punk rocker angel. Of course only Cam sees any of these things. It comes to a head when he punches out an ex football star… during class. Even Cam has to admit something strange is happening. Turns out he has Mad Cow Disease. Oh, and it’s fatal. Bummer.

Cam is taken out of school and put into the hospital for testing, hoping that they’ll come up with a miracle fix before his brain turns into a sponge. That’s when his angel comes back and tells him he has two options: Stay in the hospital bed and die, or go on a quest reminiscent of Don Quixote to find Dr. X, the only man who can cure him.

Cameron chooses the quest and drags along his hospital roommate, an asthmatic Mexican-American dwarf video game aficionado (not named Sancho) he met once in the druggie bathroom at school, because the angel claims the dwarf has to come along if they’re going to succeed. Along the way they’ll play jazz with the greatest horn player in the Big Easy, assist a Norse God trapped in Lawn Gnome form who is tired of being urinated on, and countless other things as they learn what it really means to be alive.

The characters Libba Bray uses are some of the most interesting ones I’ve run across. Even if you’ve never been the high school druggie, even if your family is the most tight-knit happy-go-lucky group out there, you can relate to Cam’s existence and feel what it must be like to have everyone give up on you. To give up on yourself, as Cam has. But through it all, despite the despair of Cam’s situation, despite his family problems, his intense internal and personal issues and drug abuse, there’s always hope. And that’s one of Ms. Bray’s best talents, is the constant infusion of hope into her novels. The sense that “yeah, it sucks now, but things will get better if you just keep trying and wait” is enough to keep everyone going. And it’s an important life lesson to remember.

Libba Bray’s Going Bovine plays with a reader’s mind, constantly making one question whether any of it is really happening. Is it, perhaps, all in Cam’s mind? Is he on a fantastic journey or is he hallucinating in his hospital bed, doped up beyond belief? Playing with the idea of parallel universes and death, Ms. Bray sets her reader on a path of enlightenment and discovery, dragging them to the lowest points possible and then offering up the best that life can offer. In that, it is an honest reflection of high school and adolescence, where one second is the worst a person can imagine and then, with a pop of a mystical bubble, life is better than it’s ever going to get. She reminds everyone, as Cervantes says, “Take my advice and live for a long long time, because the maddest thing a man can do in this life is to let himself die.”

Going Bovine is told in startling first person, dictated by Cameron as though you were sitting in a room with him as he told you his story. It’s masterfully done.

My Thoughts:
This book had me laughing from the acknowledgments that Ms. Bray writes at the beginning (because everyone should thank Pete Townshend and the makers of Rock Band®!) and crying (because no one should have a relationship with their father’s back, you know?) and everything in between. I was really hesitant going into the book because, well, it’s about a kid dying at 16. How fun can that be to read? But I was more than pleased with the way it all turned out. It was a book that made me think, made me reread things to see if I’d got them right, and made me look at the MTV world that is spoon-fed to our high schoolers (I should know, I was one) as what they should be doing/liking/etc in a new light. This book deals with a kid dying. Yes. But it’s about so much more. It’s about learning to live and making the best of the time you’re given.

Favorite Scene:
I love the conflict and eventual friendship that formed between Gonzo (the dwarf) and Balder (the Lawn Gnome) at the pancake restaurant. However, the first chapter, where Cam’s describing his best day ever (“happened when I was 5 ... I’m 16 now, so you can imagine that’s left me with quite a few days of major suckage.”) stands out even when you’ve finished the whole book.

Who this book is best for:
High School age kids will adore this story, if they can cope with some of the strange stuff that happens and I’d hazard that 7th and 8th graders would like it, too. Really though, adults can enjoy the book just as much if they don’t mind their main character being 16. There’re some references to sex later (but nothing gratuitous) so if you’re uncomfortable with your children reading about that, be aware.

Violence: 3 out of 5. The bad guy likes to blow things up and set things on fire. What do you expect when his henchmen are pillars of flame?

Stars: 4 of 5