Saturday, January 8, 2011

Kurogane: Volume 1

by Kei Toume, 214 pages

This short manga series kicks off with a surprising twist. The main character, Jintetsu--a young masterless swordsman with a price on his head and vengeance in his heart--is killed on page 6. When he's brought back to life by a mysterious amateur inventor in a shabby, gadget-filled hut, it is with no voice, a few new artificial limbs, and a metal "mask". As he sets out with his not-always-tactful talking sword and nigh-indestructible body to carry out his benefactor's and then his own revenge, Jintetsu faces not only blade-wielding gangsters and corrupt officials, but the darkness and pain in his own still very human heart.

The art in this series is messy and inky and a perfect fit for the raw, poignant story and its scarred protagonist. The scratchy, sometimes rough, sometimes delicate linework mitigates the violence and further conveys Jintetsu's combination of physical strength and emotional vulnerability. His small stature, reserved nature, and near-silence (his thoughts only being heard when his sword is near enough to speak on his behalf) set him apart from the plucky young heroes of many shonen (or boys' action) manga popular today. Jintetsu must deal with his past, all the while trying to learn how to navigate his new existence as someone no longer dead (and yet not entirely alive, either). He must learn to trust people again--and to let himself be trusted. There's heart here, and depth. And I can't wait for the next volume.

Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story: Volume 27: The Answer

by Nobuhiro Watsuki, 187 pages

This penultimate volume in the series takes the characters (and the reader) into the dramatic homestretch as Kenshin, having at last regained his true compass, faces off against the embodiment of his guilt-ridden past--and hopes to bring that same peace of mind and enlightenment to his grieving, vengeance-bent adversary.

The character of Kenshin is a classic model of contradictions. He is frighteningly skilled in the killing arts yet sworn never to take another life; wise beyond his years yet childlike in his sweetness; dignified yet an object of laughter. He and his companions at the dojo come together as disparate individuals, but by the time this final arc kicks into full gear, they are a family bound by mutual trust. If you like ad-hoc family stories, your giggles balanced with melodrama, and don't mind a lot of grand-standing (never from Kenshin--he's much too modest for that), speechifying, and move-announcing action on the battlefield, then Rurouni Kenshin might be just the thing for you.

Only one volume left! As Kenshin would say, "Oro!"

Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story: Volume 26: A Man's Back

by Nobuhiro Watsuki, 185 pages

This Meiji Japan era story about a former assassin turned wandering swordsman who refuses to kill has become a classic in the world of Japanese comics (a.k.a. manga). This volume finds our gentle but deadly wanderer Kenshin at the dojo he has finally acknowledged as his new home and where he is recuperating both from a personal tragedy and from a fight to protect those left behind. Meanwhile, his friend Sanosuke travels to the village of his childhood and reconnects with his family as he tries to better understand himself and those closest to him. When he returns to Tokyo and the dojo, he and his companions launch a rescue mission to save one of their own.

I've been reading this series for months, laughing along with the characters as they tease one another, cheering as they support one another, and watching anxiously as they battle it out with one misguided baddie after another. It is silly and serious, sweet and sad, and--so far--hopeful. The author, in his many amusing side bars and "free talk" pages, chats self-deprecatingly about his latest action figure purchases and favorite console games along with the inspirations for many of his characters and plots, a good number of which have roots in real historical figures. He also swears he plans to give the story--years in the making--a happy ending. He better!

Flint and Silver

Flint and Silver
Flint and Silver: A Prequel to Treasure Island
by John Drake 359 pages

Last month I was inspired to read "Treasure Island" after seeing the play at College of the Ozarks. There are a lot of unanswered questions in "Treasure Island" and John Drake makes a valiant effort to fill the reader in on what happened before. We see Captain Flint and Long John Silver as friends working together as gentleman of fortune. We find out how Silver lost his leg and where the parrot he has came from. Usually I don't like books like this that take over a story the original author didn't finish but I found "Flint and Silver" quite enjoyable. It was informative in a way that was in keeping with the original which I appreciate. I didn't like the abrupt ending but otherwise I would recommend this book to other pirate enthusiasts.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Secret of Zoom

by Lynn Jonell, 291 pages

The Secret of Zoom is a 2011-2012 Mark Twain Award Nominee, and of the nominated books I've read so far (um...I've read 2), I think this one should win! It reminded me of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unforunate Events or Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. Children are called upon to perform heroic and dangerous feats while figuring out a sinister mystery concocted by evil grownups. Man, I hate evil grownups!

Christina comes from a very scientific family. But ever since her scientist mother died under mysterious circumstances (her lab exploded and she was never seen again), Christina has been a virtual prisoner in her family's amazing mansion, kept away from other children and the outside world by her overprotective but well-meaning father. When Christina accidentally comes in contact with an orphan from the outside world, she gets inspired to break free. She discovers a secret passageway that leads out of the mansion. She meets up with her orphan friend, Taft, but soon finds herself embroiled in mystery involving orphan abuse, mining violations, a mysterious substance called zoom, and a corrupt relative she had never met. There's also an airplane controlled by singing and the power of thought. Amazing!

For me, the coolest part of this book was that so much of the plot hinges on characters' abilities to sing on pitch (I don't want to spoil anything, but it has to do with how zoom works). I kept having to get up and try notes and chords on the piano to understand how things worked. Of course, the book makes sense and would be a great read even if you don't have a piano handy, but for me, it was fun to play and sing the notes along with Christina. It turns out the chord needed to start the airplane is very beautiful and kind of mournful sounding. Cool!

11 Birthdays

by Wendy Mass, 267 pages

11 Birthdays is a 2011-2012 Mark Twain Award Nominee. The plot is ripped off from Groundhog Day, the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray, but I'm not complaining. In fact, I'd like to see that plot ripped off as much as possible because that movie is awesome and I like thinking about Bill Murray.

Amanda and Leo are best friends born on the same day. They've celebrated all 10 of their birthdays together, but on their tenth birthday, they had a falling out. Now their eleventh birthday is approaching, and for the first time, they'll have separate parties. Amanda is upset about their fight, the fact that Leo will probably have a cooler party than her, and her fear that she isn't as popular as her friends. Her fears are confirmed on her birthday-- she and Leo don't talk, she messes up her audition for the gymnastics team, her party is sparsely attended, and to top it off, her mom gets fired.

The next morning, Amanda wakes up to find it's her birthday again. And again. And again. She discovers the same thing is happening to Leo-- they're living their birthday over and over. They realize they have to team up to find a way to get unstuck in time. They explore town legends, family history, and their friendship to find the anwer.

One interesting thing about this book is that although Wendy Mass doesn't mention Groundhog Day, it's clear the book was written in a post-Groundhog Day world. When Amanda and Leo realize they're stuck, their first instinct is to try to be better people, because come on, everyone knows if you get stuck in time you have to be nicer. They help strangers, they're extra pleasant to their parents, they turn their homework in on time, and in the morning, they're dismayed to discover that none of it worked. It took Bill Murray 3/4 of the movie to figure out he had to be nice, but Amanda and Leo think of it immediately. Actually, their solution is a lot more complicated than Bill Murray's. If Bill Murray had to go through everything Leo and Amanda did, he'd still be stuck in Punxatawney.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, 470 pages.

Samantha feels pretty lucky to be part of the popular crowd at high school. The guy who rejected her in sixth grade is now her boyfriend. Her best friends write all the unwritten rules for who and what is in and who and what is out. And while they know all (or most) of each other's secrets, they know what not to talk about. At a party hosted by Sam's best friend from kindergarten, whom she barely acknowledges now, Sam and her friends encounter Julie Sykes, who they have nicknamed "psycho." That's one of Sam's last memories, because on the ride home from the party, they see a flash of white in the headlights, then the car crashes, killing Sam. But life (and death) aren't that simple. Sam wakes up and has to relive the same day, again and again, struggling to discover what she needs to change about her life, and about its impact on others.
Within the first couple of pages, this book will grab you and not let go. Powerfully and beautifully written, this debut novel by Oliver takes a hard look at who we are and what we do for friendship. Sam and her life and death are wonderfully developed as she goes through the roller-coaster of emotions that are the stages of grief.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How to Win a Pony!

Pam R is responsible for our blog's name.  In honor of her amazing accomplishment, Pam received a pony and a really bad (but well-intentioned) poem.

An Ode To Pam

Congrats on your win
Congrats on your score
Here's a pretty pony
We ain't got no more!

Behemoth (Leviathan: 2)

by Scott Westerfeld
(2010 | 485 p)

The adventure continues in "Behemoth," the second installment of Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy. Deryn Sharp, a young woman who has disguised herself as a boy so that she can serve in the British Air Service, is quite enamored with Alek, the heir to the empire of Austria-Hungary. Unfortunately, Alek doesn't know that he's a she and young love is quite thwarted as a result. Deryn's loyalties are torn between her oath to the British Air Service, which she takes quite seriously, and her feelings for Alek.

Through a series of misadventures Deryn and Alek find themselves working together to halt the first World War. No small task for a pair of 15-year-olds, even if one of them may be a future Emperor. I found myself slightly confused by some of the political machinations -- but that probably speaks more to my ignorance regarding the events surrounding World War I than to Westerfeld's storytelling.

Written in the delightful steampunk style, Westerfeld creates a fascinating world of machine loving Clankers and beastie fabricating Darwinists. This young adult novel features strong female characters, a definite plus. Recommended for fans of steampunk or young adult science fiction.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Welcome to the Blog!

This blog was created for the Springfield-Greene County Library staff to participate in the 2011 Missouri Book Challenge. The Missouri Book Challenge is a statewide competitive reading challenge with other libraries for bragging rights, awesome and/or crappy prizes, increased readers' advisory knowledge and possibly a pony. Any staff member who wants to participate is welcome.

To participate please look over the Rules page and register. We will get you signed up as an author for the blog and you can get started posting what you read. To get credit for reading a book you must post an entry about your book. It must include your name, the title, author, # of pages, and a short entry.

If you have any questions, please contact one of your Missouri Book Challenge Committee members:
Aleah W., Erin G., Kim F., Melissa D., Nancee D.S., Sarah T., Shelli K. or Jennifer H.