Saturday, February 25, 2017

Beauty and the Beast Retelling, with Japanese Accents

Barefoot on the Wind, Zoë Marriott
This lists as Book 2 in a series, but the pair run in tandem to each other (same world - yes, same story or characters - no) and this reads perfectly as a stand-alone companion (not sequel).  Barefoot is set in pastoral Japan, Marriott's retelling of the Beauty and the Beast is reminiscent of Uprooted (but is not so dark or heavy).  Also:
  • One thing it does very well is create an immediate sense of immersion in the world.
  • It's compelling and the plotting is tight.  If anything, it may be a little too neat, but I think it works for this sub-genre.
  • The scene imagery is enchanting.  The story is still fairly dark but this is lightened by the presence of hope and idealism.  The Japanese setting is present in more than a token way (in dress, food and abode descriptions, as well as some familial cultural tendencies) but does not saturate the pages in a way that would at all slow down, challenge or overwhelm a younger reader.
  • The main character is likable.  The characters generally are well-constructed and different from each other.
  • No humour that I can recall, predominantly a dramatic narrative.
  • No sex or swearing, and not really even steaminess .  Some violence and scary ideas. 
  • One neg: It felt overdone on emotions and thematic elements; the main characters mental incantations and thought processes stated the obvious and verged on melodramatic, as a result.  I thought it might just be a patch of it, but it continued throughout the book and it was something I came to sort of shake my head at and keep reading.  Feelings and responses to things were frequently stated and restated instead of shown, as though an effort to generate atmosphere had won out over all other devices and become transparent and louder than it should be.
  • The ethical reasoning (stated explicitly) for the community and historical characters sometimes felt like a stretch but I don't think it diminished the story.
Overall:  I think Marriott's tasteful retelling injects some much-needed diversity into the YA mainstream.  It didn't wow me, but it was enjoyable to read and certainly didn't offend me or have me filing it as "Not for my girls."  I'd be happy for them to read this at around 14 years of age (with the disclaimer it's scary).

Review copy received from Walker.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

That Klassen!

Everything he touches turns to storybook-gold.  His latest work is no exception;

Triangle, Mac Barnett
Barnett and Klassen have teamed up again to prove that with the simplest of elements they can generate  suspense, a complete narrative, and of course humour (the pair collaborated on Extra Yarn and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole).  Kudos, Barnett, for framing a commonly-used comedic device in a picture book and opening it up for debate.  Bonus: This is a great title for doing voice too.  My girls and I loved reading this book, and I loved handling it.  The thick board cover, matte finish, title-less front (the image above is the front cover!) are enough to entice you into picking it up.  I'm a sucker for Klassen.  His Hat books are such a hoot, but beyond that, I'm sure I'm not alone in finding his distinctive muted pallette gets my attention; "That's Klassen -- which means I need to check it out."  You should too, so keep your Klassen radar operational, this one's officially out March 14.

Review copy received from Walker.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Shades of Magic: Books 1 and 2

A Darker Shade of Magic

Schwab is my most happy discovery of the year thus far.  Her books have been around a while longer, but I have only become acquainted with her compelling, magical writing recently, and I am so glad we have met.  My notes on Book 1:
  • What an intriguing opening!
  • The split narrative is used for optimal effect.  It made the book better.  As the plot climbed, I found myself going, "YES!  YES!!!"  I love that feeling.  There is one scene that I found myself breathless with excitement at the sheer beauty of how it came together, I thought: "This is a gift, Schwab, this scene is such a glorious gift."
  • Both main characters are interesting and I cared deeply about them, and fast.  Faster than anything I've read in months.  I also cared about the people they cared about very quickly.  The heroine, Lila, in particular, was an easy compare for Inej (Six of Crows), and Lila was so. much. more knowable and likable.  As a result of caring, there were some moments I felt heartbroken and healed.
  • The villains are memorable and formidable.
  • The world is so. darn. wonderful.  
  • Dialogue alternates between great and excellent.  It is funny.  It's not a Funny Book, but it's got the funny in there, to be sure.  I would re-read things aloud to savour them twice.
  • The writing is definitely above average, with some beautiful moments (but is not overly dense with poetic devices).
  • Colourful language is kept well in check, with countable cuss-words (2 x S and 2 x F, if you're asking).  The latter came in a temper-filled memory and another seriously tense moment; i.e. they're not thrown in for kicks, but they're there.
  • Sex is referenced and euphemistically described but there are no sex scenes.
  • There were very few obvious moves, but the chief among them led me to groan and then check myself, since it recovered and reinvented a trope in a way that made the expected different and more than okay.
  • There is sufficient closure to feel the book's story has reached its end but clearly room for the continuation of the series.
If you enjoyed Six of Crows and Throne of Glass, these are pretty much a sure bet -- only not as dark as the first or sensual as the second.   If the sound of strong characters in compelling fantasy sounds like you, you should check this out. 

A Gathering of Shadows
The calibre of this series does not wane whatsoever;
  • It has a fantastic start.
  • There are new characters and the new characters are grand.  The already-loved characters continue being superb.
  • The culture deepens and enriches the narrative further, in Book 2.
  • I got giddy giggles of anticipation in this. 
  • There was a withhold-and-reveal in Book 2 that reminded me a lot of Six of Crows in execution.
  • There is such a cocktail of delights page to page, midwayThe plotting then climbs so nicely to a climax cluster.  
  • There be pirates, and with them some colourful language (2 x S and 4 x F, by my count).
  • There are some steamy make-outs and historical intimacy between characters is implied.  Still no sex scenes.
  • Heads up: A character shares anti-religious sentiment. 
I always looked forward to reading these.  They deserve all the fan art circulating online. 
My (hardback) copy of A Conjuring of Light (Book 3) cannot arrive fast enough.  I really look forward to re-reading these with my daughters.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Reo Pēpi

Reo Pēpi, Kitty Brown (illustrator Kirsten Parkinson)
This second resource series from Dunedin Te Reo Māori publishers and advocates Kitty Brown and Kirsten Parkinson comes in beautiful board format.  I find these look sharper than their predecessors (still lovely) in a very clean matte white.  These are bilingual (as opposed to Māori language only), with the Māori text in a bold, larger font above its translation.  The illustrations are warm and darling, without edges.  I think the final pages in each book are a great addition, with each featuring a related glossary and pronunciation guide.  I'm a little sad that -- like most pronunciation guides for Māori phonetics -- it only works for readers with a New Zealand accent, but that's not a predicament unique to this series!  For scale: these are the same size as The Gruffalo board book. I hope frequent reading of these in families may incite improvised play thereafter, because there's definitely plenty of potential for extension of these.  The boxed set would make a beautiful gift for a baby shower, first or second birthday or Aotearoa arrival, but a single pukapuka would also be lovely.  Haki has been reading these to all three of our daughters, and Esky (age 7) has been equally happy to listen (and play along) as Mia (3).  Check out the close-ups on these lovely covers:

I'm pleased these books are helping to fill a gap in the early childhood Te Reo Māori book market, as there is quite a range of early readers (5years+) in paper available, but nothing that so aptly blends tough, simple and classy as the Brown-Parkinson offering.  You can pre-order these direct from the creators here (available in March) along with a range of other related products OR if you're in Dunedin, swing by The University Book Shop to pick up your limited edition.
Review copy received from Reo Pēpi.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Blood Key

The Blood Key, Vaun Murphrey
Fun but flawed;
  • The dialogue is playful.
  • Fast start, pretty steady pacing.
  • The characters have spunk.
  • Some sentences seemed stilted or confused, with multiple cases of missing articles, confused subjects, incorrect grammar or weak metaphors.  When I re-read sentences in this book, it wasn't because I was relishing them, it was because I went, "What?!"
  • Things are pretty predictable.
  • There is nothing subtle or careful about the love interest situ.  The male is kind and protective (rather than a jerk spouting jerkiness our heroine can't get enough of -- thank goodness -- too many of those out there!).
  • There's moderate swearing and teenagers lusting after each other and making out.  There's also allusions to sexual abuse but no explicit recounts of this.
  • The narrative is far-fetched...but it works, because The Blood Key establishes itself as entertaining SF.  It develops a goofiness, as the story progresses...much like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, only less overt from the outset.  More than once I also thought of Infinity, Spark and Dangerous.
Overall:  It was an easy, fun read, but I wouldn't purchase a paper copy.  A book I could only recommend if someone said, "I feel like a goofy YA sci fi novel." 

Review copy via NetGalley.

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