Thursday, June 30, 2005

Keys to the Kingdom

Keys to the Kingdom is Garth Nix's latest series. Three titles are available so far: Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, and the recently published Drowned Wednesday.

The plot: It's complicated. Arthur Penhaligon is not your typical hero. He's just started a new school, and he's trying to convince the teacher that he has bad asthma, but the teacher wants none of it and his busy family was so busy that no one sent in a note excusing him from phys ed. So Arthur starts running... and soon collapses. He's saved by a mysterious stranger who hands him strange key. The key is magical and saves Arthur's life; but there are people who want that key back. And they are willing to destroy Arthur's world to get it back.

Somehow, by accident of almost dying at the right (or wrong?) spot, Arthur has become a chosen one: Rightful Heir to the House. Arthur finds a way into the house; and now the story becomes even more surreal, as Arthur meets the Denizens, the Piper's Children, and Mister Monday's attendants: Dawn, Noon and Dusk.

Arthur quickly learns that there are seven keys. The one he has belongs to Mister Monday. Mister Monday is one of the trustees of "the Will"; and Arthur finds himself in a struggle against the evil trustees who have failed to follow "the Will."

The good: Nix has created a complex world that is bizarre, strange, familiar, exciting, dangerous, and consistent. I have no idea if Nix is a "plotter" or "plunger" when it comes to writing, but I'll say this: the world of the House, the Far Reaches, the Border Seas is Real. There may be contradictions; but there are no inconsistencies. At no point do you feel, "OK, now you're just making stuff up" or even worse, "Hey, that's not what you said about the Fetchers in Book One." Nix makes you believe that the world of Keys to the Kingdom does exist, because how else could it be so full? Also good are the many literary and religious references.

Arthur is a refreshingly human hero; by book three, he is not only bothered by asthma but he's also managed to break his leg and has to hobble his way through an adventure involving pirates, rats, and a giant whale. And while his being made the Rightful Heir seems oddly random, he's named Arthur. And he's an orphan. So methinks there may be more to Arthur's background than we've been told.

So far, the books are unique. Yes, each is named for a day of the week -- there are seven keys, seven parts of the Will -- and this could easily invite a formulaic approach. Instead, each book offers up surprises and twists and turns.

Future books: Sir Thursday, Lady Friday, Superior Saturday and Lord Sunday.

Fantasy and horror fans will enjoy this one. The only bad thing is the wait for the future books.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"He thought it would behoove me to have more contact with the students. I tried to explain that my vocational choice of librarian was a deliberate attempt to minimize said contact."
Giles, Ep: The Puppet Show

Saturday, June 25, 2005

A Room On Lorelei Street

I finished reading A Room On Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson this past week; and I have been having a hard time figuring out just what to say about it.

AROLS is the best book I've read this year. Not best YA book; the best book, period. So far, this makes 3 books on my Best Books of 2005 list.

I've been trying to figure out just how to share how good this book is without spoiling anything.

I'd like to do what I did with my Mom: hand it to you and say, read this next.

The Plot: Zoe is 17, a senior, and is fed up with being a caretaker for her alcoholic mother. Her family ignores her mother's problems, so the burden is entirely on Zoe's shoulders. Zoe has a dream of escape: renting a room in a house on Lorelei Street, where she can have her own space. Her own place. Be herself, instead of her mother's daughter. Is escape possible? Can Zoe be a student, a daughter, a sister, and be true to herself? How high is the price of freedom?

Who hasn't thought about running away and starting over? And this is what Zoe wants to do, pack her bags, move out of the house, move into a room of her own. But wherever you go, there you are. Can Zoe truly leave her mother and the obligations of love, blood and family?

The Good: Zoe, her mother, her grandmother, Opal (who owns the house with the room), Zoe's friends and teachers, are full characters. Pearson does an exceptional job of creating a living, breathing person with a handful of words. She also creates heartachingly flawed, human, realistic people. Zoe's tug-of-war with herself about her obligations towards her mother are understandable and believable, because her mother is more than just a selfish drunk.

All to often in fiction, both Young Adult and adult, there is the "evil parent", the one who has failed to be a good parent because of (fill in the blank: career, drugs, spouse, selfishness). The "bad parent" is one-note, to the point where I stop believing the story is "real" because seldom, in the real world, are people one-note; another problem with the "bad parent" character is that the parent is usually so over-the-top bad no one in their right mind would stick around, so the main character who does so looks less. I lose patience with the characters and the story itself.

Pearson avoids both these pitfalls beautifully. This is how "bad parents" need to be written: whole. Flawed. No excuses. Mama has problems, but there is more to Mama than her problems. Full characterization is one of the many reasons that while Zoe has problems in her life, this is not a "problem novel."

Another good point about this novel is that it is believably set in a working class environment. The struggle for money is real, and the impact of no money is real. Zoe lets you know how much is rent; how much for food; how much for school activities. Zoe is not playing at being a grown up.

There is much, much more I want to say, but I'm afraid of giving away too much. Let's just say that Zoe is faced with many choices in her desire to be free. AROLS is about choices, consequences, love and redemption. It's about hope and possibility. It's about the nature of love and betrayal.

Cynthia Leitich Smith has an interview with Mary E. Pearson over at cynsations. Pearson provides insight into both the book and the writing process.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"Angel -- you're the one freaky thing in my freaky world that makes sense to me."
Buffy. Ep: What's My Line? Part One

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Darling Niece & Nephew

I & L Posted by Hello

The story: darling niece is being a tiger and is giving tiger kisses to her baby brother.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Castle Waiting

Castle Waiting is a graphic novel by Linda Medley.

Plot: Lady Jain escapes her home; sentries have agreed to look the other way as she leaves. She has plenty of money and it soon becomes apparent that she is pregnant. She is going to the fabled "Castle Waiting," a "children's story" about a "mythical refuge." On her way, she encounters various people and creatures from fairy tales.

The good: the illustrations are black and white, in a wood-cut style. Many fairy and folk tales are included, and its fun to try to figure out all the references. It's a world where everyone is accepting of a talking pig; it's also a world that includes the Wizard of Oz books in its library.

Castle Waiting is sophisticated; it doesn't show or tell everything. There is a long wait to the mystery behind Jain's leaving her home, and even when you do find out, questions remain. This GN asks, "what happens after 'happily ever after,'" but it doesn't answer the question. It just takes you along the journey.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Veronica Mars in Reruns

Missed out the first time around?

Want to see what all the fuss is about?

Or do you simply want to rewatch episodes to spot the clues for how the mystery of the season was solved?

Whatever the reason, now is the time to start watching Veronica Mars. It's on the UPN and they just switched it to 9 pm on Wednesdays so watch tonight! And no, it won't conflict with Lost, that airs at 10 pm.

Why watch? It's one of the best written, best acted, best directed, best use of music, best EVERYTHING TV show on right now. Veronica works for her PI father, and in addition to a series long mystery (who killed Veronica's best friend, Lilly Kane?) there are mysteries of the week. The MotW range from high school ones to cases her father's working on, and always make sense; are not over the top; and do not seem unrealistic.

And if you're a teen book lover: this is Rob Thomas's baby, no not the music guy -- the Rats Saw God guy. Yes, him; this is why he hasn't had a new book out. And in an extremely cool move, one of his recent staff writer hires? A high school librarian. Read about how this fiction writer/ librarian moved to La La Land here, which, by the way misspells her last name: its Cathy Belben, not Cathy Belbin.

Veronica Quote: "This is my school. If you go here, your parents are either millionaires, or your parents work for millionaires. Neptune California, a town without the middle class. If you're in the second group, you get a job. Fast food, movie theaters, mini marts. Or you could be me. My after school job means tailing philandering spouses or investigating false injury claims." Veronica, Ep: Pilot

Edited to add: Prior VM posts include Veronica Mars; Will The Real Logan Echolls Please Stand Up? (spoilerish about Logan); Who Killed Lilly Kane? (does not name names).

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"I came to you in friendship! Well, all right, seething hatred."
Spike, Ep: Pangs

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Little Black Book

Little Black Book is not the best movie in the world. It's not even a guilty pleasure type movie. But there's something unique about this movie that's worth a second peek. Spoilers follow.

It's summer so I catch up on movies via DVDs; and I like Brittany Murphy and loved Ron Livingston in Band of Brothers, so decided to watch Little Black Book.

Plot: Stacy's boyfriend, Derek, is away on business and Stacy decides to look up past girlfriends in the modern day "Little Black Book," a PDA. Stacy finds out that Derek has "omitted" a lot of things in his past: a supermodel exgirlfriend, continuing shared custody of his dog with another ex, and frequent hockey game visits with a third. Stacy has never met Derek's family, yet one of the exes went on frequent trips with his family. Stacy is snoopy and angry, and it all comes to a head during the filming of the daytime TV show for which Stacy works.

The good: Carly Simon songs. Stacy and her mother love Carly Simon; but who doesn't? (note to self: find Clouds In My Coffee, it has to be somewhere....)

From previews etc I was convinced this was a romantic comedy. Stacy investigating Derek's dating past was very I Love Lucy; and while Stacy was getting a bit nutty, I couldn't help but think, but Derek has not been telling the truth! Stacy snoops because Derek has failed to be honest. Then there was the big moment, when on live TV Stacy was confronted by Derek and I cringed: because Stacy was being punished, yet Derek left off the hook, and this is supposed to be funny? It was painful. It was humiliating. I almost turned off the movie.

And at that moment, the movie changed. I don't know what happened before; had the movie been mismarketed or edited poorly to turn it into a Brittany Murphy romantic comedy when it wasn't?

Because what happened was unique. Derek wasn't let off the hook; there wasn't a crying Stacy begging forgiveness and a forgiving Derek. Stacy said, "we don't belong together." And left Derek.

She then ran into an old boyfriend and I cringed again, afraid it was going the 13 Going On 30 route: a brilliant movie that ends with the message, your true love is the geeky kid you knew when you were 12, true love after that is impossible, and career -- what career? Who needs that if you have true love and a picket fence?

But as Stacy thinks, maybe I should be with this ex, his wife appears. And Stacy sits, thinking of her life and choices. Flashforward six months. Stacy had wanted to be a serious TV journalist and idolized Diane Sawyer; her happy ending is she gets the job of her dreams, working for Diane Sawyer.

Roll credits, and my whole perception of the movie changed. This wasn't a romantic comedy; it was a coming of age comedy, about how and why a smart woman gets sidetracked from following her career dreams.

The ending doesn't stop Little Black Book from being a so-so movie; it does make it something outside the norm and it raises some interesting questions about how women, love, and career are usually depicted in films. Murphy is cute and appealing; but I believe that before this was tagged a Murphy vehicle, there was an interesting screenplay that is only glimpsed at the end.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Order of the Poison Oak

The Order of the Poison Oak by Brent Hartinger was highly recommended to me by one of the teens in my library. I can't remember the last time someone was so enthusiastic about a book, so I had to bump it to top of the pile and start reading.


First thing to know: yes, this is a sequel to Geography Club, but you don't have to read the first book first.

Second thing to know: this is an amazing book. It has everything: humor, friendship, adventure, and romance.

It's summer, and Russel has left town for a summer job in the mountains, working as a counselor for a sleepover camp. Part of the attraction of the job: he is tired of being "that gay kid who started the Gay Straight Bisexual Alliance." It's not that Russel wants to escape people knowing he is gay; he wants to escape being known only for being gay. Also at camp are his two best friends, Gunnar, who is straight but clumsy with girls, and since he's in the Alliance everyone at school now assumes he's gay; and Min, who is confident and outspoken and bi.

Russel meets his fellow counselors, including Web, who is drop dead gorgeous. But Min, who had a girlfriend in GC, gets to Web first. But then Web seems to be flirting with Russel... It's a classic romantic triangle. At the same time, Russel discovers that being a camp counselor isn't as easy as it looks, especially when the first group of kids are all burn survivors.

What is great about this book: finally, a book about GLBT teens that isn't about coming out and what people will think. Don't get me wrong; those books are important. It's especially important that there are now GLBT books that don't end in death and unhappiness. But its also important for GLBT books to take that extra step from being only about coming out to something else.

TOotPO is about romance; about falling in lust and falling in love and how the two aren't the same; it's about friendship and love and what happens when friendship gets in the way of love and vice versa. And it's about independence and becoming oneself. And it's about how growing up means becoming less self centered.

Russel narrates and he is funny as hell. His friends are equally wonderful; I felt badly for the inept Gunnar, and I was annoyed with Min. (Annoyed in the good way one gets annoyed at a fictitious character: Annoyed because she was so real and I've known Mins and been friends with Mins. Not annoyed in the bad way, which is when you are reading thinking "not real. not real.") TOotPO would make a great teen movie (Hollywood, are you listening?) because -- as the teen at the library told me -- it has everything. And it does. This book is firmly in my Top Ten Books of 2005 list.

Now all we need -- because I'm the demanding sort -- are GLBT teen books that are fantasy. And science fiction. And mystery.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"The monkey is the only cookie animal that gets to wear clothes, you know that? ... So I'm wondering, do the other cookie animals feel sort of ripped? Like, is the hippo going, 'Man, where are my pants? I have my hippo dignity.' And you know the monkey’s just, 'I mock you with my monkey pants!' And then there's a big coup in the zoo."
Oz. Ep: What's My Line? Part 2

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Beyond the Book

Are people reading? Are people reading books? Are people reading more or less? Are people reading for pleasure? Are the Internet and ebooks and audio books destroying the market for printed works?

As this is endlessly debated, some authors are expanding beyond books to tell stories; embracing technology, rather than fearing it.

Do you ever wonder what happened to a character in a book after the book ended? Traditionally, your only hope of finding an answer is if the author writes a sequel. Did you love Contents Under Pressure by Lara M. Zeises? Lucy Doyle is a normal teenage girl from a typical family; and in Zeises' awesome book, we discover the pressure of being a teenager: family issues, friendships, boyfriends, popularity. (For the record: I finished reading this book and thought this is the type of book I want to write. It's funny, serious, sensitive, insightful, real.) So you get to the end of the book and wish you knew what happened next with Lucy.... No need to wait. Check out Lucy's diary, updated regularly by Zeises, er, I mean Lucy.

Or maybe you just read a fantasy book and loved the world that was created. You want to eat, breath and drink it. If you read Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, you're in luck. Oppel's fantasy takes place in an alternate world, where luxury airships cruise the sky. It's close to our world; the Pacificus Ocean instead of the Pacific. Matt, a teenaged cabin boy on one of the luxury airships, has a series of adventures that includes air balloons, storms, pirates and crash landings. Learn more about Matt's world and ship; read newspaper entries about explorers and pirates, study the blueprints of the great airship, and explore photos and a short movie. (If you're a teacher, Oppel's main website also has a study guide and a 120 page literature unit for Airborn.)

I was recently told about iMix from iTunes; the modern version of a mix tape or mix CD. Some authors are including "play lists" with their books. Ellen Wittlinger's Heart On My Sleeve is about two teens who meet in person then continue their relationship via email. Both teens love music, and the book comes with a list of songs. How cool would it be to have an iMix for Heart On My Sleeve? A soundtrack for a book.

If you've found anything that supplements the story told in the book -- that goes beyond a sample chapter and a discussion guide -- please let me know, whether its a website, iMix or even a music video!