Saturday, April 13, 2013

World Book Night 2013

On Tuesday the 23rd of this month, you may be surprised to have a friendly bibliophile offer you a free copy of one of their favorite books. No strings, gimmicks, or email sign-ups; just a free book. Take it, read it, and enjoy. Then pass it along. This, my friends, is the magic of World Book Night.

In more than 6,000 towns and cities across the US, and internationally as well, World Book Night is a great way to strengthen community, support literacy, and share amazing books. The focus of the program is to get engaging books out to people who normally don't read, and people choose their giving points accordingly. Some ideas that have been thrown around my neck of the woods are public bus stops, parks, cafes, and women's shelters, but schools, churches, farmers' markets and public parks are equally fair game. The message remains: read!

The 2013 World Book Night books include The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood), Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury, whose books were also featured as February in this year's Literary Pin-up Calendar), The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho, whose book is being given in both English and Spanish-language editions), Bossypants (Tina Fey), and Good Omens (Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman), among many others from various genres. I will be handing out copies of one of my favorites, Looking for Alaska by John Green. You can look here for a full list of the 2013 WBN books.

If you'd like to learn more about World Book Night, look up WBN events in your area, or even consider signing up to be a giver next year, you can visit the official website here. And should you be out and about on the 23rd, and be offered a book by a WBN giver, feel free to stop and talk to them. What do they love about this book? Why should you read it? What made them want to share this book? We're more than happy to chat!

Happy reading, everyone!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book Review: "Icons" by Margaret Stohl

Kicking off her solo writing career after her success with Beautiful Creatures and its associated books, Margaret Stohl brings us Icons, the first in a new series.

Doloria de la Cruz has been raised in a small mission in the wilds of California. There is no electricity, no power of any kind. Not since The Day, when extraterrestrial invaders sent projectiles into the 13 largest cities on Earth, which produced electrical pulses that killed everyone around them instantly. Doloria survived, and she's about to find out why. On her 17th birthday, her mission home is attacked by Sympa troops and she is taken to the Embassy for reasons unknown to her. However it soon becomes clear that she, and three other teenagers, have something very special about them. Surrounded by Sympa soldiers, a sadistic "teacher," and with the constant threat of alien ships above them, Doloria and her companions uncover truths about themselves and their alien masters with the help of the Grass Rebellion leader, a kooky computer, and their own mysterious powers.

Stohl presents here an interesting take on the idea of alien invasion: faceless extraterrestrial overlords who allow human leaders to remain in power and govern their own cities within certain guidelines. By doing this, she primes her new books for intense political energy and surprise twists in alliances in the volumes to come. Additionally, the idea of using electricity to control humans is well thought out. Aliens allow and control power within the cities where humans can be monitored and put to work, but outside, any presence of electricity can be identified and its creators captured. Additionally, electricity can be used to control the human body itself, surging to cause heart attacks like what happened on The Day and forming a barrier to keep humans away from the objects that were dropped on the cities then.

While these ideas have a lot of potential, I feel that they failed to balance out what was lacking in other parts of Stohl's novel. The general idea is that the "Icon Children"'s extreme emotions are what allow their powers to manifest, but the reasons why emotion is powerful against the alien force is mentioned only once that I can remember in the entire text, and that in passing. Additionally, for having characters who channel such intense emotion, the book doesn't convey much in the way of feelings. It's a classic case of "telling" instead of "showing" the reader what's being felt, leaving me with the idea that Doloria experiences a certain emotion rather than making me feel that emotion myself.

Additionally, I feel like the middle part of the book was extremely static and just a little confusing. The companions are in the Embassy, but we don't really know what they're doing there. The interim offers the opportunity for them to find out valuable hidden information, and allows them to build up some relationships together, but it's not really clear if they're students, prisoners, soldiers, or what. Allusions are made to classes, but they seem to move about on their own schedule, but are accompanied by guards and occasionally undergo experiments. This period of stalled activity then explodes into the novel's conclusion, which seemed to me like it happened much too fast. Lots of intense, dangerous, amazing moments are taking place in the space of just a few paragraphs, when I feel like there should have been pages devoted to the characters' reactions, thoughts and feelings. A big opportunity was missed there by compressing an event that could have really drawn readers in instead of being glossed over and moving on to the end.

Icons is a good story concept, but the execution fell far short of what it had the potential to be. If you're willing to overlook sub-par storytelling in the event of an innovative story, then by all means, I recommend this latest from Margaret Stohl. It is my hope that the next book in the series will be able to shore up some of the weaknesses in this first installment. Look for Icons at your favorite local bookstore beginning in May of this year.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Book Review: "Falcon in the Glass" by Susan Fletcher

Fletcher adds to her repertoire of YA novels with this tale of a young would-be glass blower in Venice. The year is 1497, and Lorenzo is determined to overcome the dishonor of his assassinated father to become a glassblower in his own right. But nobody is willing help him learn. One night, in exchange for shelter, he buys the assistance of one of the Bird Children, social outcasts who have a strange connection with the birds that accompany them. This arrangement launches Lorenzo into a series of triumphs, revelations, and seemingly impossible situations to try and both save his family and the Bird Children who have come to rely on him.

The research that Fletcher did to accurately portray the life of a glassblower, down to the forbidden nature of leaving the small community, was really astounding and allowed her to create a very convincing depiction of the era. The settings are vivid and believable, as are the characters. Lorenzo is caught between wanting to follow his dream, needing to provide for his family, and protecting those who have come to rely on him, and his seeming helplessness in the face of the Council of Ten that governs Venice is well communicated.

While I very much liked Lorenzo's character (his growth over the course of the book is unmistakable, but not too sudden or without stimulus) I had a lot of questions about the Bird Children. Their special connection with their birds was never explained, although their back story was fleshed out a bit by the grandmother character. There was great potential for Letta to illuminate the nature of the Bird Children, but I felt let down by the fact that the only explanation from her was "we don't understand it either." I felt like a chance at some imaginative storytelling was overlooked here, and that detracted from the Bird Children as a group as well as individuals in context of the story.

Overall though, this book was a great read. It had compelling, believable conflicts, an interesting setting temporally as well as geographically, the characters were well written, and the arc was well balanced. I'd recommend this for either young teens or (even better) as a bedtime read-aloud. Trust me, you're never too old to share a book with someone you love.

Look for Falcon in the Glass, by Susan Fletcher, at your favorite independently-owned bookstore starting on July 9th.