Beka Cooper Terrier Book Review

Beka Cooper: Terrier by Tamora Pierce

Beka Cooper is a Dog in training, a puppy, whose job is to police the lower city. Beka was made to be a Dog, she knows it, her friends know it, even the rats know it. But not everyone survives puppy training and Beka, no thanks to her magical gift, quickly stumbles across a series of murders that raises eyebrows even in the lower city. Yet, Beka has to overcome her debilitating shyness or risk failure.

This is Tamora Pierce's fifth series in the Tortall universe, this time following Beka Cooper of many greats grandmother of George Cooper whom we have met in the Lioness Quartet. Beka is smart and quick, and despite her shyness, I never once thought she wasn't able to do her job. I had every faith that she would solve the murders, the real journey was in Beka herself as she learned to assert herself and become bolder with each day. Written in journal format, the story felt right as a first person letter of her accounts.

An interesting aspect of the writing is how Pierce creates her own dialect. The policemen are Dogs, trainees, puppies. Criminals are rats. Women, motts. Men, coves. Girls, gixies. The lower city cadence that Beka adopts when around the rats adds even more flavor. Never mind that rich characters that surround Beka, creating a fabulous cast of characters that makes this world one of the richest ones in young adult fantasy.

I still love Alanna more, but Beka Cooper is a nice addition to the Tortallan universe and I am looking forward to this mott becoming a full Dog.

The Search for WondLa Book Review

The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi

Eva Nine lives in an underground Sanctuary with her caregiver robot, Muthr. Eva dreams of being able to go outside, to search for other humans. When an invader destroys her home and Eva is forced to escape, she finds that the world is nothing like she was taught, and the search for others like herself will lead her into situations far more dangerous than any of Muthr's training sessions.

I have to admit that sometimes I do judge books by their covers, and when I saw this cover I was so sure that it was a fantasy with talking animals so I avoided it, for talking animals are definitely not my favorite element in any kind of book. So you should have seen the look on my face when I realized this was in fact a middle grade dystopian sci-fi, one of my absolute all-time favorite genres. I was even more surprised to discover how absolutely fabulous it is.

Eva Nine is wonderfully drawn character, both literally and figuratively. Her wonder and vulnerability mixed with her deep loneliness and desperate need to have a family makes her an endearing and enduring character. The world building here is brilliant, another planet where trees walk, whales fly, and beings with technology seek out animals and artifacts for their museums. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful and if there is ever a moment where the reader is unclear as to what a character looks like, they are quickly revealed.

Tony DiTerlizzi does have a bit of a adjective obsession, sometimes spending a bit more time with his descriptions than I prefer, but it is a small thing in an otherwise wonderful sci-fi.

The Secret Tree Book Review

The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford
Scholastic Press
Release Date: May 1, 2012

It is the summer before eleven-year-old Minty starts middle school. Stumbling upon a tree that is literally filled with secrets, each one from a child in the neighborhood, Minty begins putting secrets to their owners, but while she does she is forced to see that not all secrets belong to just one person, and sometimes growing up is hard.

Told in a very classic, summer in the neighborhood, kind of way, I find the story to be both idyllic and jarring. Idyllic in the sense that this is a neighborhood in which all the neighbors, child and adult alike, know each other, hang out in each other's kitchens, have picnics, Fourth of July parades, and so on. I grew up in a rather kid friendly neighborhood and although my mother had met other parents it was mostly so she felt comfortable enough to allow us into their houses so we could play video games or barbies. These neighbors were all so friendly with one another, all went to school together (no private school kids or homeschoolers), and it felt so surreal.

The jarring bits had negative and positive aspects. First the positive. Imagine this scene:

A little girl, eleven or twelve, goes over to hang out with her friend. The girl, Sarah, is with a few other girls who keep finding things to make fun of, constantly whispering and laughing at the other girl. Then one of them asks for a drink. The little girl goes inside and when she comes back out, she sees the backs of four girls, on their bikes, laughing as they ride away. The little girl, angry, calls up Sarah to ask what happened and is given a lie. End of friendship. Girl retreats to house and reads.

The little girl above was me and there was a situation uncannily similar to the one described above. So uncanny that I found my stomach clenching into knots while reading it. When I mentioned this scene to a co-worker she too recalled a similar incident that also involved mean girls and bikes. Obviously there are many others out there with similar stories, mean girls who were cruel for no apparent reason. Minty handles the situation with all the grace an eleven-year-old can muster up.

The negative jarring bits had more to do with the mystery of the books, the Secret Tree. Is it really a magic tree? Or do the neighborhood kids just put their secrets in it? Who is Crazy Ike? Was he a real person or a story the kids made up? There was plenty of opportunity for these questions to be answered, never mind the twenty other questions I had, but nothing.

This is a quick read for girls and would be great for pre-teens who are having a hard time dealing with growing up and cruel girls.

Book Trailers

Being a very visual person, I have an affinity for book trailers and am finding that they are getting progressively funnier and more creative, especially the picture book trailers. What are your favorite book trailers?

The Wake of the Lorelei Lee Book Review

The Wake of the Lorelei Lee: Being an Account of the Adventures of Jacky Faber on Her Way to Botany Bay by L.A. Meyer

Jacky Faber, with her new found, although illegally obtained riches, collected from her dives of a Spanish ship, Jacky purchases the Lorelei Lee with plans to meet up with her love Jaimy Fletcher and carry passengers across the Atlantic. However, due to a change in the Admiralty, Jacky's charges, of which there are many, have not been absolved and when she docks in London she is immediately arrested. Tried before a court, Jacky is condemned to a lifetime in the penal colony in New South Wales, Australia, along with over 250 other women to help populate the new continent.

Once again Jacky is up to her blue tattoo in trouble. To be honest, she sort of had this one coming. If you have been reading these books or even just the reviews, you should know by now that Jacky is definitely guilty of most of the crimes she is charged with. Always one to take every situation in stride though, Jacky is quick to perk up and try for the best.

As usual, L.A. Meyer deftly inserts history into his pages, using the names of real female inmates who are now considered the founding mothers of Australia. There are some wonderful descriptions of India as seen through the eyes of the time period. Ching Shih, a Chinese female pirate who boasted of over 1,000 ships in her fleet is also featured. I found this character very refreshing actually as it does point at that although there were some women who really did live lives very similar to Jacky with some of the same tenacity and talents.

Jacky has really grown up over the past few books and I thoroughly enjoy following her along on her adventures, mostly because she thoroughly enjoys them herself. Jacky has some rather *ahem* interesting exchanges with a few people and at this point I do not think she should continue calling herself a maid, in the virgin sense of the word. Oh, and she should just give up being with Jaimy. Father Neptune clearly has other plans for her. I am hoping that the L.A. Meyer does branch out of the formulaic way in which he has been telling these stories and if he does, I can see myself reading many more of them.

The False Prince Book Review

The False Prince: Book 1 of the Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer Nielsen
Scholastic Press
Release Date: April 1, 2012

Carthys is on the verge of civil war. In order to unify the people, a nobleman and courtier named Conner has devised a plot to install an impersonator of the king's long-lost and dead son. Travelling the country, Conner takes in four orphans, all who have traits similar to the long missing prince, but only one will be chosen. Sage, by far the cleverest of the orphans but not at all trustworthy, knows that this is one contest he must win or be killed. As Sage competes against the other orphans he has to consider what is worse, death or living his life as a puppet King?

Recommended to me because of my love for The Thief by Meagan Whalen Turner, I was perhaps twenty pages in when I looked up and said aloud, "My friends know me so well." Full of political intrigue in a fantasy world where there is no magic, it felt very much along the same lines as The Thief, although a little simpler in plot.

The true hook of the story is in the gem character of Sage. Astoundingly clever with enough wit and spunk to keep you smiling throughout most of the book, you will find that even the most serious situations do little to curb Sage's cynicism and wry sense of humor. Being a thief, Sage doesn't seem like the most heroic of characters, but as the book progresses Sage proves himself to be caring and protective of others and desperately works to save not only his life but those of the other boys.

The plot itself is quick, taking place within a two week period. This was perhaps the least believable to me as I didn't see how Conner actually thought he could teach these orphans all the things they would need to learn in only two weeks, no matter how clever they were, however I also understood that any longer and Conner's plan may very well have been found out and all their lives forfeit.

As was the case in The Thief there is a quite lovely twist ending. I think the author could have held out a little longer, not revealing the truth for a couple more chapters, but it did not diminish the grand reveals impact, only took away some of the angst that the reader was feeling in regards to the situation.

Although touted as Young Adult, I would venture to say The False Prince is for a younger readership, or at least a little younger than Turner's books. The best part, both girls and guys will love Sage and this charming romp that will make you very glad that it is only the first in a trilogy.

The Other Normals Book Review

The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini
Release Date: September 25, 2012

Perry Eckert spends a large portion of waking life and perhaps some of his dreaming to the role-playing game Creatures & Caverns. In the world of C&C, Perry can create all manner of magical beings with spell casting abilities, weaponry, intelligence, speed, and honor. However, Perry's parent's do not see C&C as a very healthy habit and send him off to summer camp in hopes that a little social interaction will pull Perry out of the fantasy world he has created for himself.

Instead, Perry discovers that perhaps C&C is not such a fantasy after all and it may be up to him to help save a princess and two worlds. Perry Eckert may be a geek, but it is completely clear that his nerdy childhood has uniquely prepared him to be a great warrior.

Ned Vizzini, author of It's Kind of a Funny Story and Teen Angst? Naa..., has penned the perfect book for fantasy and role playing game geeks everywhere. As a gaming aficionado myself, I was pleased to see that although Perry is a little more anti-social than some, his character was in no way unbelievable. All of the characters in fact are quick witted, funny, and even with red skin and blue hair, believable.

Don't be afraid though, you don't have to be a Dungeons & Dragons, six-sided dice kind of person to get this book. This is an everyman quest of the epic sort with a one teen who quickly discovers that wielding a mace (even if your speed is a 7) may be a whole lot easier than kissing a girl.