Review of Mothstorm, by Philip Reeve


The Horror from Beyond Uranus Georgium Sidus!

by Philip Reeve

narrated by Greg Steinbruner

Recorded Books, 2009. Unabridged. 7 CDs, 8.25 hours.

Here’s a third rollicking tale of the adventures of the Mumby family, subjects of Queen Victoria in an alternate reality where Britannia rules outer space.

As with the others, this book is full of narrow escapes and deadly peril. Now Art and Myrtle go beyond Uranus (which they know as Georgium Sidus) and encounter a powerful Shaper. This Shaper has created a world of giant space moths, intent on making a new home in our solar system. Jack Havock and his crew are back, and we even find out the surprising story of Cilissa’s origins.

I’m still hooked on Greg Steinbruner’s narration, clearly delineating the voices of the different characters coming from such a wide variety of species.

These books will be much more fun when read in order. They’re full of humor, adventure, wild imagination, and wondrous doses of British pluck. This series would be fantastic listening for an entire family, and definitely provided diverting listening for my daily commute. Huzzah for another adventure!

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Review of Robot Zot! by Jon Scieszka and David Shannon

robot_zotRobot Zot!

by Jon Scieszka
illustrated by David Shannon

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2009. 40 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s another book I got to hear the authors themselves read at the National Book Festival. Okay, Jon Scieszka did the reading, but David Shannon did some awesome sound effects.


Jon Scieszka enjoyed reading the book so much, I can’t help but like it. When I brought it home, I still enjoyed it, and I think it will be an outstanding pick for Storytime — plenty of great sound effects, nice drama, and inside jokes to point out in the illustrations.

The book opens with Robot Zot in his spaceship looking out at earth, ready to conquer.

“No one stop Robot Zot.
Robot Zot crush lot!”

But then as Robot Zot enters an earth building, ready to conquer, we see in the pictures that he turns out to be only a few inches tall.

He enters an earth kitchen and believes the appliances are enemy robots which he must conquer. Indeed, he conquers them.

But then a large sinister monster (the television set) offers a challenge in the next room. And in the children’s room he sees the bot of his dreams — a little girl’s toy cellphone. He must save her from the evil guardians (dolls).

Throughout the book, we hear of Zot’s bold conquests from his perspective, while the big, bold pictures tell another story of a suburban household with plenty of appliances and a curious dog, who ends up getting blamed.

Tremendous fun, and will definitely be featured at my next Storytime.

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Review of Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

catching_fireCatching Fire

by Suzanne Collins

Scholastic Press, New York, 2009. 391 pages.
Starred Review

Wow. The Hunger Games was gripping, heart-wrenching drama, but in this sequel Suzanne Collins has turned things up a notch.

Katniss’ troubles and her family’s troubles should have been over at the end of The Hunger Games, but she challenged the power of the Capitol, and those in power were not pleased with her.

What’s more, Katniss has become a symbol of rebellion. Could that rebellion be spreading? One thing is sure — if it is, it will be brutally squelched. And if Katniss can’t convincingly quiet the uproar she started, she knows her own loved ones will suffer.

This is definitely not light, cheery reading. As if all this weren’t enough, we’re stuck reading about the next year’s Hunger Games, this time a Quarter Quell, for the 75th year of the games, with its own fresh horror.

The story is not complete with this volume. I will definitely be one of the people clamoring for the third book. I do join with my friend Farida to say that it had just better offer some happiness and hope for these people!

Even though the topic is unpleasant — a future repressive and brutal government — the story is transcendent and definitely worth reading. The story has a love triangle, life-and-death drama, and people risking their lives for freedom and justice. The book will keep you reading and then stick with you when you have to put it down.

The only awful thing about this book is how long we’re going to have to wait before we can find out what happens next.

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Review of The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins

Scholastic Press, New York, 2008. 374 pages.
Starred Review.

When this book first came out, I wasn’t interested. I don’t like reality shows, and I don’t like reading about violence. This book is about reality shows taken to the extreme in a future society where two young people from each district participate in the annual Hunger Games, with only one survivor at the end.

However, the book kept getting rave reviews. When it won School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books, I decided I definitely should read it, and the commentators convinced me it would be worth my time. The final straw, which made me decide to read it right away, was when bloggers began bragging about getting advance readers’ copies of the sequel, Catching Fire. It felt funny to not even want the sequel because I’d never read the first book. So I finally remedied that situation.

The book definitely captured my interest and concern, and kept me reading far into the night. Suzanne Collins does a good job making you care about Katniss, who at the beginning of the book spends time hunting illegally outside the fence, in order to provide for her family.

We’re quickly presented with a world where life is hard and life isn’t fair. When Katniss’s young sister’s name is called to be the district’s tribute to the Hunger Games, we have no trouble believing that Katniss would volunteer to go in her place. We know that Katniss has survival skills to cope, and understand her unwillingness to trust Peeta, the other representative from District 12. After all, even in the very best result, only one of them can survive.

The games are brutal, but the author finds ways for Katniss to show compassion and humanity, as well as courage and resourcefulness. The games are more of a survival contest than a gladiator combat, as the contestants are in an enormous arena with a landscape prepared with challenges. They must find food and water, and evade natural predators as well as each other.

This book is exciting and compelling. Now I find myself as eager as everyone else to get my hands on a copy of the sequel.

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Review of How to Ditch Your Fairy, by Justine Larbalestier

How to Ditch Your Fairy,
by Justine Larbalestier

Bloomsbury, 2008. 304 pages.
Starred Review.

Have you ever known someone who never gets in trouble no matter what they do? Or someone who’s never had any cavities? In the future society portrayed in Justine Larbalestier’s book, they have learned the source of such “luck” — fairies!

Charlie (Charlotte Adele Donna Seto Steele) explains her bad fortune in fairies:

“I have a parking fairy. I’m fourteen years old. I can’t drive. I don’t like cars and I have a parking fairy.

“Rochelle gets a clothes-shopping fairy and is always well attired; I get a parking fairy and always smell faintly of gasoline. How fair is that? I love clothes and shopping too. Yes, I have a fine family (except for my sister, ace photographer Nettles, and even she’s tolerable at sometimes) and yes, Rochelle’s family is malodorous. She does deserve some kind of compensation. But why couldn’t I have, I don’t know, a good-hair fairy? Or, not even that doos, a loose-change-finding fairy. Lots of people have that fairy. Rochelle’s dad, Sandra’s cousin, Mom’s best friend’s sister. I’d wholly settle for a loose-change fairy.”

Charlie is trying hard to get rid of her fairy. She figures if she walks everywhere and gives the fairy no chances to use its skills, maybe it will give up and leave her alone. She’s tired of people dragging her around in their cars so they will find a parking spot.

Unfortunately, her plan backfires in multiple ways, and she gets demerits and even a game suspension, which is a tragedy at New Avalon Sports High School. Then the cute guy who moved in nearby and seemed interested in her is falling prey to Fiorenze’s all-boys-will-like-you fairy. All the boys like Fiorenze, but all the girls hate her.

This book is wonderfully funny. I was distracted at first by the slang — mostly because at a writer’s conference a couple years ago I went to a session where the author and her husband Scott Westerfeld talked about creating believable slang. I had to admit she did a great job with it — almost too good, in that it drew my attention. Still, she achieved believable, memorable, and easy-to-figure out in-words that the characters used in so-cool (“doos”) New Avalon. I liked it that Stefan, the new kid, had to get used to the words, too. My favorite one was “pulchritudinous” or “pulchy” for unbelievably beautiful people.

All in all, it seems like a good explanation for some people’s “luck.” And a whole lot of fun to read about.

I should probably call this Fantasy because it involves fairies. But these fairies are simply a phenomenon in a future society that scientists have finally identified — so I think I’m going to call it Science Fiction.

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The Eternal Smile, by Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim

The Eternal Smile
Three Stories

by Gene Luen Yang
& Derek Kirk Kim

First Second, New York, 2009. 170 pages.
Starred Review.

It’s hard to decide how to classify this graphic novel, whether it’s fantasy or science fiction. Since the flavor is more bizarre, mind-tripping science fiction, that’s the primary category I’ll file it under.

The Eternal Smile tells three stories. I expected them to be linked, like American Born Chinese, but these were only related by a similar theme. All involved virtual reality and a person’s (or frog’s) deepest desires. They talked about the disconnect between reality and our dreams, yet how dreams do make us who we are. All three left me feeling thoughtful and meditative and satisfied.

I don’t think of myself as a graphic novel fan, but Gene Luen Yang and a few others are changing that. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

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Review of Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom, by Tim Byrd


Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom

by Tim Byrd

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2009.  186 pages.

Okay, I admit.  When I read the first chapter of this book, it reminded me way too much of the Spy Kids movie that my children watched until it nauseated me.  I wasn’t at all sure I could finish the book.

However, I found that, at least in small portions at a time, I began to be intrigued to learn in what over-the-top way Doc Wilde and his children Brian and Wren would get the better of the sinister amazonian frogs of doom.  The less I took it seriously, the more fun I had reading it.  For me, this did require only a few chapters at a time, but once I got in the habit, I did find myself coming back for more each night.

The book is described as a tribute to the old pulp adventure novels.  That is perhaps my problem — I never was a fan of those books.  But I am looking forward to having this book on the library shelves.  I think it will be a natural choice for young comic book fans ready for a little more text and a lot of rollicking adventure.

The story is indeed over-the-top.  Brian and Wren take after their father — tanned, golden-haired, strong, agile, good-looking, and incredibly smart.  Throw in being magnificently wealthy with all kinds of high-tech gadgets invented by Doc Wilde himself, and you won’t be surprised when they get out of every life-threatening situation thrown at them.  The fun comes in at how they get out of it this time.

I like the villains — sinister mutant frogs of various shapes and sizes, some with razor-sharp teeth.  There’s something simply inherently silly about Frogs of Doom.

Again, I think this might be a great pick for reluctant readers, especially young boys who like adventure.  It’s just silly enough and adventurous enough to provide heroic escape.

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Review of Tales from Outer Suburbia, by Shaun Tan


Tales of Outer Suburbia

by Shaun Tan

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2008.  96 pages.

Starred review.

Truly Shaun Tan is the supreme master of the short-short story genre!

This book contains fifteen illustrated stories that are strange, strange, strange.  They are bizarre, they are haunting, and they are completely delightful.

There’s water buffalo who lives on the corner and points people in the right direction.  There’s an exchange student who leaves a surprising gift.  There’s a boyish expedition to the edge of the world.  All the stories are told as if someone’s matter-of-factly telling something that happened to them, once.

This is the sort of book you have to share.  I found myself exclaiming over each story, so of course I got my teenage son to read it.  Even that wasn’t enough, as I decided I had to share it with my other son, too, so this is his present for his twenty-first birthday. 

As The Arrival did, in many ways this book creates an entirely new category.  Let’s see, I suppose you might call it illustrated science fiction short-short stories.  I think I’ll just call it irresistible.  Try it yourself — read one story and see if you aren’t too intrigued to stop.

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Review of Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons



by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

DC Comics, 1986. 

Winner of the Hugo Award.

Starred review.

I finally read Watchmen this week, since I definitely have to take my teenage son to see the movie the day it comes out.  Watchmen is acclaimed by many as the greatest graphic novel of all time, and I can see why.  This book has layers upon layers upon layers of meaning.  You definitely only scratch the surface of all that’s going on the first time you read it.

Set in an alternate 1985, the story begins with the death of costumed hero The Comedian.  Rorschach, another masked hero, thinks there may be a plot against masked vigilantes.  Someone with great power must be behind it, because who else could have thrown The Comedian out a window?

My son is rereading the book in the Absolute Watchmen edition.  The pages and pictures are larger, so it’s easier to see the many important details all lurking in the pages before you even notice them.  As I was writing this, my son noticed another one — that Rorschach didn’t have the distinctive speech bubbles until he really “became” Rorschach.  (I hadn’t noticed that he even had distinctive speech bubbles.)  There are thousands of details planted like that.  This is a graphic novel where you would still notice new details on the twentieth reading that fit perfectly and provide clues to what’s really going on.

This book is a mystery, a social commentary, a science fiction adventure, an alternate history, and so much more.  Mind you, it is a dark story, with lots of sex and violence.  If you wouldn’t be comfortable watching an R rated movie, then you won’t want to read this book.

At first, I thought I just enjoyed it as a work of art.  There’s no question that the book is superbly executed, thought-provoking, and interesting.  However, on reflection, now that I’ve finished it, I find I really did care about the characters.  They grew on me.  I did like them, and they seem like real people, with real concerns and complexities.  For example, I found myself annoyed right along with Laurie when Jon starts talking about what’s going to happen in a few minutes.  Each character is distinctive, with their own hang-ups and desires, and the authors portray that skillfully, and make you care.

Definitely worth the hype.  I’m looking forward to seeing the movie.  And I’m sure I’ll come back to the book some day, and try to pick up a few hundred more details that I missed the first time.

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Review of Starcross, by Philip Reeve



by Philip Reeve

performed by Greg Steinbruner

Recorded Books, 2008.  7 CDs.  7.5 hours.

Starcross is a worthy successor to Larklight, another rip-roaring adventure of Art and Myrtle Mumby in the outer reaches of the galaxy.  Once again, we’re in alternate-reality 1851, where space travel has been discovered through alchemy, and the British Empire rules the ether (rather than the waves).  It turns out that there is all kinds of life out there in the solar system, and the British Empire has outposts among the natives on every planet.

At the start of this book, the Mumbys, with their mother, are invited to Starcross, a sea-resort hotel on an asteroid which has never been known to have any water.  Sure enough, the “tide” comes in every twelve hours, and the dry sea bed fills up with water as if it has always been there.

Obviously, something strange is going on at Starcross.  And what about the top hat in Art’s closet that seems to be calling out to him to put it on?  Or the strange shadow across the balcony and the little voice saying “Moob”?

Sure enough, the adventures involve international intrigue, mortal danger, and this time even time travel.  Once again, I lost track of how many times their lives were in peril.

Listening to these books on CD makes them all the more fun.  These would make excellent family listening, as it will appeal to all ages.  The narrator does an excellent job giving each character a distinct voice.  The way Art and Myrtle pick at each other seems completely realistic for a brother and sister and is just one of the amusing touches the books are packed with.

You do not have to read (or listen) to Larklight in order to enjoy Starcross, but why would you want to miss it?  Almost all our old friends from the first book show up in this one, and add to the fun.

Here’s a light-hearted adventure story by a writer with a wild imagination and a delightful sense of humor.  We’ve got space travel and pirates and spies and aliens and mind control and time travel and speeding space trains and proper ladies and British soldiers and a sinister plot to take over the solar system.  What more could you want?  Huzzah!

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