Monday, October 31, 2011

"Where Things Come Back" by John Corey Whaley

228 pages

Life is pretty routine for seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter. There's not a lot of excitement in tiny Lily, Arkansas, (population 3,000 and change) but Cullen has his best friend, Lucas, and his fifteen-year-old brother, Gabriel, to pass the time with until he can graduate and get the heck out of town. Suddenly, Lily is uncharacteristically thrust into the spotlight when a visiting birdwatcher claims to have spotted the Lazarus Woodpecker, thought to be extinct since the 1940s, near the small town. Before long, kids are getting woodpecker haircuts and the local diner is selling "Lazarus burgers." As all of this craziness is going on, Gabriel suddenly disappears without a trace. Cullen is left trying to hold his family together as they search for the truth.

Meanwhile, in Georgia and on the other side of the world, a young missionary named Benton struggles to find his place in the world and deal with his strict father's unreasonable expectations. His story is told parallel to Cullen's until they come together near the end of the book in a thrilling conclusion, where the truth about Gabriel--and about the woodpecker--finally comes out.

I really love this book. It's not often that I have no complaints at all, but my only one for "Where Things Come Back" is that it's too short...not because there's anything left unexplained or the pacing is too quick but because I didn't want to finish it! First of all, Cullen's voice grabbed me right away. He's just plain funny in an intelligent but goofy kind of way, and I can totally relate to him since I grew up in a tiny town (even smaller than Lily!) in southwest Missouri and didn't feel like I fit in there. I also like how the story goes back and forth between Cullen and Benton. At first, I had no clue how the two storylines were going to come together, and I had fun guessing what was going to happen as I read. The contrast between the humor within Cullen's narration and the shocking disappearance of his brother is interesting, and I like it because that's how real life is. There are a lot of really hilarious moments and plenty of anxious and heartbreaking ones as well, and sometimes they even overlap a little bit. Anyway, the story becomes quite thrilling after Gabriel's disappearance, and the suspense builds until, literally, the last page. Wrap all of this up and you have a pretty amazing story. It got me thinking about all kinds of things: the role of destiny; how to hold on to hope, and what that means; the beauty in ordinary things; how seemingly small actions or events can cause something big (the butterfly effect, if you will). This is Whaley's first book, so hopefully there will be more to look forward to, and it's just been announced that the movie rights for "Where Things Come Back" have been purchased by Gotham Group.

"Away" (The Line #2) by Teri Hall

234 pages

At the end of "The Line," Rachel crosses over into the desolate land known as Away, a strange place where there are none of the modern conveniences she's used to and some people have developed extraordinary abilities. She provides much-needed medicine to Pathik and the other allies she's found, and they help her find her father, whom she thought was dead. They come up with a plan to go back to the other side of the Line to retrieve Rachel's mother and her employer, Mrs. Morris, who once loved Pathik's grandfather, Indigo, who has never stopped loving her. It looks like everything is going according to plan...until Rachel and Pathik make a seemingly harmless decision that ends up creating disasterous results that endanger the entire group.

This book is pretty much nonstop action. I like the quick pace, but I wish it slowed down a little bit to allow for some more characterization so we could relate to the characters more. I like the new characters who are introduced here, and I like where the series seems to be going. The ending wraps things up well but also sets the stage for the next book in the series. So far, I've thought that the books in "The Line" series are nothing especially Earth-shattering, but they are certainly entertaining.

"Shadow Tag" by Louise Erdrich

256 pages

When Irene discovers that her paranoid husband, Gil, has been secretly reading her diary, she doesn't comfront him--instead, she begins a new diary (the Blue Notebook) while continuing to write in the old one, leaving it for him to find. The Blue Notebook contains the truth about her feelings and her marriage: she feels desperately lonely and wants to leave Gil, taking their three children. She has tried to talk to Gil about it but he refuses to acknowledge their issues, so Irene uses the Red Notebook (the old diary) to try to provoke him into letting her go.

I really didn't like this book at all. The writing is beautiful and fits the tone of the book perfectly, but the whole thing is just way too depressing for me. I didn't like either of the main characters at all: Irene is vindictive, Gil is abusive, and they are both completely selfish. They're too busy playing games with each other to pay attention to their children, and neither of them seems to even consider looking at things from the other's point of view. It's really hard for me to like a book when I can't identify with any of the main characters. I did like Irene and Gil's daughter, Riel, who narrates a small part of the book, but that just made me more upset about what her parents were doing. I do like that the story ends slightly differently than I thought it would--I always like a twist at the conclusion--but it's so incredibly sad and there isn't much hope in sight. It left me with an awful feeling, and I didn't get anything out of it to make up for that.

"First Kill" (The Slayer Chronicles #1) by Heather Brewer

309 pages

"First Kill," the first book in this spin-off of the popular Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series, tells the story of Joss MacMillan, Vlad's friend-turned-enemy. He hasn't moved to Bathory yet when his life takes a tragic and dramatic turn; his sister is killed by a vampire, and Joss learns that he is next in a long line of vampire slayers in his family. This means that he has to stay with his eccentric uncle Abraham for a summer to undergo intense physical and mental training, but Joss is ready to do whatever it takes to avenge his sister's death. However, he soon realizes that being a slayer is more complicated than he originally thought--and that he can't trust everyone who seems to be a friend.

I am glad that us Vlad Tod fans have the chance to see Joss' perspective because I always thought that he was more interesting characters in the series. I was curious about what brought him to where he was. I was slightly disappointed with this first volume in the spin-off series, simply because it didn't seem like there was as much going on. "First Kill" is also more dark and less humerous than the Vladimir Tod series, which is okay, but I like the goofiness of Vlad Todd and I miss it. All in all, though, this story is fast-paced and interesting enough to keep me going quickly through it. I recommend it for fans of the Vladimir series, but it can also be read alone.

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

Okay, I really enjoyed this book but I don't get why it is a YA title.  Maybe British teens would appreciate the language but the maturity of the story and the nuances?  I'm just sayin'.  This is one of a series called the Tiffany Aching Adventures.  Tiffany is a witch, THE witch in her surround and this time she is pursued by the Cunning Man. Perfect for Halloween!
355 pp

"Exposed" by Kimberly Marcus

255 pages

This novel-in-verse features sixteen-year-old Liz, aka Photogirl, who was born to view life from behind a lens and turn what she sees into a beautiful image. She's not the most popular girl in school, but she's not a dork either. She gets along well with her parents and older brother, Mike, and she has a marvelous best friend named Kate. Liz and Kate are so close that she can't imagine anything coming between them. But all of that changes in one fateful night. Suddenly, Kate is avoiding Liz and people are whispering behind her back. When she finally confronts Kate, her friend makes an accusation that will change their lives forever.

This story is one that will stick with me. It confronts a very serious issue--rape--from a perspective that we don't often see: that of a bystander who is drastically affected by the alleged incident and almost becomes a victim herself. It's heartbreaking to watch Liz struggle to decide whom to believe. I like that the story shows that rape can happen to anyone and that it affects more than just the one who is actually raped (which applies to any crime, abuse, or tragedy). However, I thought the verse was a little distracting. Maybe I'm just not sophisticated enough to appreciate it, but it seemed like the lines were composed arbitrarily and that prose would have been a better fit. That said, I still enjoyed this book immensely, and I will be recommending it to patrons and friends who like real-life gritty stuff like Ellen Hopkins, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Patricia McCormick.

Blade of the Immortal: Volume 10: Secrets

by Hiroaki Samura, 227 pages

As Anotsu negotiates with the master of a dojo in Kaga and Rin, doggedly on his trail, struggles to adjust to traveling alone, Manji recovers from his less than successful battle on the road, learns a few interesting things about the Mugai-Ryû from his crazy but genial host, and finds himself face-to-face with a man he thought was dead.

Booyah!! Manji and Magatsu! Shira-assassination squad, unite! My squeal of joy at this revelation was a little disturbing, to be sure, but seriously--that man is a danger to anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path. Since they're heading out after Rin, anyway, maybe they'll find her before they find Shira (or he finds her--gah! that would be bad!) and then the three of them can each land a blow for all those he's unrepentantly trespassed against in the past.

For some reason, I was distracted by the size of everybody's ears in this volume. :P I'm still impressed with Samura's panel perspectives. He uses everything from tight shots to long ones, from straight-on, above, below, the side, cock-eyed, level, upside-down, whatever works. The reader's eyes never get bored, but neither do they get overwhelmed or too confused by all the variation, either, because he uses them in the right places and makes them feel natural.

Skip Beat!: Volume 25

by Yoshiki Nakamura, 179 pages

Last volume's misunderstandings cause Sho to do something unexpected, but Kyoko's angry clarification of reality (she sits him down in front of a chalkboard and draws him a picture!) causes him to do something positively shocking, dropping a very calculated bomb on both her and his competition (i.e., Ren). And it works, too. But Ren's not a man you want to mess with....

Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!! I'm laughing out loud just trying to write this. I don't want to spoil the fun with details, but, oh, the games these fellas are playing. :D And poor, normally resourceful Kyoko is caught in the middle without understanding what's really going on. At least Ren's looking out for her as well as his own interests (actually, the reader's kind of excited to see him pursue his own, too, for once--progress!). The same can't be said of crazy Sho. I feel a little sorry for him, actually. He has yet to realize how his audaciously clever ploy has been countered and to what degree. In fact, because of him, perhaps a wee little something has at last been set in motion? Maybe? *squee*

X/1999: Volume 18: Inversion

by CLAMP, 170 pages

Numbers on both sides of the battle for the Earth's future change, but the Harbingers still seem to have the upper hand. If Kamui can't decipher Fuma's truest desire, there may be no hope of ever seeing his own come true.

This volume serves up a melancholy discourse on life and death, what matters most (and what should matter most), and the impossibility of ever truly understanding the heart of another. Over the course of the series, the art has become more polished and attractive and the characters have, as well, and not just in their visual portrayal on the page. As he explains (or talks around) the thinking behind his actions, Kamui-mirroring Fuma seems less and less outright evil than he did earlier in the series. He's mellowed into an object of pity, albeit a frightening, powerful one perfectly willing to take lives, even of those he loves, in pursuit of his personal moral code. Yet the reader worries for him, because he clearly considers himself and his continued existence with the same painfully wise pragmatism. He just wants Kamui to understand; but if he doesn't... ah, well. Oh, ambiguity and complexity, how I enjoy you in my graphic literature. :)

Released in Japan in 2002, this is the latest volume of the series to be published on either side of the pond, despite the story not having concluded yet. There appear to be three volumes worth of chapters left which CLAMP has basically completed, but they have yet to find / choose a magazine to complete publishing the serialized chapters, the original publisher for the series having dropped it because they felt it was no longer suitable due to the violence and dark themes (devastating earthquakes and juvenile murderers being too reminiscent of unpleasant reality in the country at the time...and, sadly, the present, as well). I hope they find a home for it someday, 'cause it's a good story and I really want to know how it all ends....

Vagabond: Volume 29

by Takehiko Inoue, based on the novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, 190 pages

While Musashi sits in confinement, he and his old acquaintance the monk Takuan talk about the sword, the purpose of life, personal spiritual epiphany, and the choice that now lies before Musashi.

Philosophical musings on the nature of individual happiness fill this volume. For the moment, Musashi's future is in limbo. Should / can he continue to follow the path of the sword? Should he settle down and teach it, instead? While he and his loved ones debate the options amongst themselves, Kojirô's hosts mirror Takuan's concerns and wonder what will become of their elemental young guest. The world outside is changing. The country has grown more stable and the sword's relevance has faded in the wake of relative peace and gunpowder. What place could these two old-school souls call home in this new order? The reader's not sure how to answer that, either, but she hopes they're happy with whatever choices they eventually make.

Blade of the Immortal: Volume 9: The Gathering Part II

by Hiroaki Samura, 220 pages

It's a violent three-on-one (with a few late-comers) fight to the death as Manji tries to get a traveler's pass from his unsavory prey so he can catch up to his foolish (or brave?) charge. Meanwhile, resolute Rin succeeds in talking her way to the checkpoint--but will she come out the other side?

My nerves took a little shredding this volume! While I expect the two principals to ultimately survive their encounters for the time being (other characters, who knows?), there's no guarantee they will be whole and intact when they do and no way to know by what thread or with how much suffering and (potentially permanent) scarring. Samura's characters are anything but static, and growth (whether positive or negative) is a given, so the reader rarely gets the opportunity to relax--except maybe when the characters sit around and eat while they talk things out. Those quiet moments a.) give us a little break while still revealing character relationships and b.) make me hungry. :) But there's none of that "relaxing" business this volume. Nope. *sigh*