The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Trains. Well, really, one l–o–n–g train that’s so long that it might as well be a traveling city on wheels. This train, The Boundless, has everything: 1st class accommodations, a library, dining cars, observation deck, a cinema, a billiard room, stores, second class passenger cars, freight cars, third class for the penny-pinching or poverty stricken traveler, and even a circus!

The Boundless is a world to itself, inside a literary world that includes sasquatch, a mesmerist, a steam-powered automaton bartender, treasure, and a weeping hag who induces people to commit suicide (no one dies except expendable redshirt bad guys). The last element, the hag, may be a little much for some younger readers, but it somehow wasn’t terribly scary to me. And I’m not a fan of scary.

Anyway, The Boundless takes place in an alternate steampunk North American continent, and most of the action happens on the train. the train. I loved the train. I want someone to draw me a picture of the train, car by car. Or, even better, I want to ride on the train all the way across the country and experience each part of this marvelous magical train myself. (I wonder if in heaven the good things we imagine can become real and be experienced through eternity? Jesus and I could have a lot of fun exploring The Boundless, without all of the bad guys and hags and thieves.)

Will Everett is our humble hero who grows into a self-assured young man by the end of the story. The only thing I didn’t like about the story was the tired old theme of “follow your dream.” Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Will wants to be an artist while his father insists that he do something more practical with his life. If you want to know why I think that “follow your dream” is a stupid theme to be drilling into kids in every other book they read, not to mention the idea that parents are a bunch of spoilsports with no wisdom to be imparted, then watch this TED talk by Mike Rowe, host of the TV show Dirty Jobs (which I’ve never seen, but I like his perspective on the value and dignity of work in this video).

So I just pretended that the simplistic Disney-esque follow-your-dream parts weren’t there, and I enjoyed the train and the adventure and the Picture of Dorian Gray subplot.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

The Eighth Day by Dianne K. Salerni

If you can handle spell-casting, human sacrifice,and lots of violence in your children’s middle grade fantasy, then this book might be just up your alley. I actually found it riveting, while I skimmed some of the witch-y, creepy parts.

You may not know it, but there are actually eight days in a week, with one secret magic day between Wednesday and Thursday called Grunsday. (Well, some people call it that.) The only people who experience Grunsday are the Transitioners and the Kin, descendants of the original creators of Grunsday who had a very good reason for sticking it in there in the middle of the week. Transitioners live in our timeline and the alternate magical one, Sunday through Wednesday, then Grunsday, then Thursday through Saturday, every week with eight days. The Kin only experience conscious life on Grunsday. On the other days they are there, but not? Sort of like ghosts?

The fun part of the story was trying to figure out how all this alternate timeline, eight days a week, not to mention magical abilities and lords and vassals, work out in the world of The Eighth Day. We get to figure it out along with the main character, a boy named Jax Aubrey, who hasn’t been told anything about the eighth day until he experiences it for the first time just after his thirteenth birthday. (He thinks it’s the zombie apocalypse at first.) Jax slowly deciphers the clues that his friends and his foes manage to drop as he also becomes comfortable with the idea that his identity as a Transitioner has given him some special abilities of his own.

I liked it, but again it may be way too sinister, violent, and occult for some readers. It certainly doesn’t glorify the occult, but Jax is, at best, spiritually confused. At one point in the story when Jax and the other “good guys” are trying to reverse an evil magical spell that’s been cast by the “bad guys”, Jax prays to whoever or whatever— “God or Nature or the Whole Universe”— is in charge and listening, to help them. It’s a perfect example of foxhole religion, certainly realistic, but also rather muddled.

Proceed at your own risk.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Oscar Wilde, b.October 16, 1854, d.November 30, 1900

Facts about Oscar Wilde that you may not have known:
Oscar’s father, Sir William Wilde, was an ear and eye doctor, and his mother, Lady Jane Francesca Agnes Elgee Wilde, was a writer, poet, and translator.

Oscar was profoundly affected by the death of his younger sister when she was ten years old, and for his lifetime he carried a lock of her hair sealed in a decorated envelope.

Wilde had two older half-sisters who died in an accident when their gowns caught fire after a ball.

In 1876 Oscar had a brief romantic affair with a girl named Florence Balcome, who later married Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula.

He and his wife Constance had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. (Really, Vyvyan?) Vyvyan later changed the spelling of his name to Vivian. (Who wouldn’t?) Except for the unfortunate name choice, Oscar was an attentive and loving father who spent lots of time with his sons.

When Wilde was arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison for “gross indecency”, Constance attempted to protect her sons from the scandal. She took the children to Switzerland and took the old family name of Holland for herself and the boys.

Oscar mostly spent the last three years of his life (after prison) wandering Europe, staying with friends and living in cheap hotels. Sad but true.

Oscar Wilde quotes:
“The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.”

“The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.”

“A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.”

“A simile committing suicide is always a depressing spectacle.”

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”

“Everything popular is wrong.”

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.”

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.”

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

What have you read of Oscar Wilde’s work? His plays are delightfully funny and witty, and The Picture of Dorian Gray is quite insightful in its own way, as long as one takes almost anything the characters say or do and turns it upside down to do or believe the opposite.

Book News

Need suggestions for Cybils nominations? Leila Roy at Bookshelves of Doom has some links for you. You have today and tomorrow to get those favorites nominated.

Purple Horse Press is re-publishing a couple of classic Kate Seredy books that have been out of print for quite a while:
A Tree for Peter is a Christmas story, and you can order now to get it in time for a Christmas read aloud with your family.
The Chestry Oak is a World War II story about Prince Michael of Hungary and his adventures in Nazi-occupied Hungary. This classic story will be available in January.

Zilpha Keatley Snyder, author of over forty fiction books for young people, died on October 8th in San Francisco. Three of Snyder’s books were named Newbery Honor books: The Egypt Game, The Headless Cupid and The Witches of Worm. Her penultimate book, William S. and the Great Escape was enjoyed and reviewed here at Semicolon.

” . . . stories are things that have fascinated me since I was a very young child when, I am told, I wept bitterly when my mother’s nightly reading brought us to the end of a given book–Heidi, Peter Pan, whatever. Not because it was a sad ending, but because it was done. The story was over.”

Finalists for the 2014 National Book Award include the following that I plan to add to my TBR list:

Marilynne Robinson’s new book, Lila, which Eldest Daughter has already purchased and offered to loan to me. I’ll be reading it just as soon as I make it through the Cybils season, or maybe as a break from all the wonderful middle grade speculative fiction that is feeding my reading habit these days.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a WWII novel that sounds interesting.

Second Childhood by Fanny Howe, a book of poetry that might actually interest me.

And in the category of Young People’s Literature: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, Noggin by John Corey Whaley, The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin, Revolution by Deborah Wiles, and Threatened by Eliot Shrefer. I’ve only read the nonfiction book by Sheinkin, but the others sound worthwhile and fun—again when Cybils is over. I predict Brown Girl Dreaming wins the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen

Did you know that ravens greet one another with a riddle? Or that ravens love riddles? Did you know that evil flesh-eating valravens don’t appreciate riddles, and that’s how you can tell them apart from the good ravens? Neither did I, and neither did young Gabriel Finley until he met and bonded with his own raven, a young bird, who hadn’t even learned to fly yet, named Paladin.

There are a lot of things to like about this story: The riddles. The flying (Gabriel can fly while bonding with Paladin). The essential goodness and humility of Gabriel, our protagonist. Aviopolis, the hidden bird city. However, there were also some problems, which may or may bother younger (third and fourth grade) readers. The problems will most likely rule out older middle grade readers.

I felt the author, who has only published adult fiction previous to this book, condescended to middle grade readers. The riddles that are sprinkled throughout the story often have similar solutions, instead of showcasing different kinds of riddles. Gabriel takes an entourage of friends and possible enemies along with him when he goes on a quest to find his father, but I could see no reason for the company. Gabriel is the only one who really has the ability to bond with a raven, and he’s the only one who can “save the world” with his riddling abilities. The only companions he actually needs are a duplicitous old man who has been to Aviopolis before and might know how to find Gabriel’s dad and of course, the bird Paladin.

Also, Gabriel seems to be really slow to catch on to rather obvious plot and character developments. I think this slowness on Gabriel’s part may reflect a lack of respect by the author for the intelligence of young readers. A boy like Gabriel really should be able to figure out what is happening and whom he can trust more quickly than he does.

So, I do recommend Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle with some reservations. Some kids are going to love it, but others are going to be just as annoyed as I was with the rather dense protagonist and his erstwhile friends. Oh, and the flesh-eating valravens are going to be a deal breaker for some kids. I never watched Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Birds for that very reason.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Lockwood & Co: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

The Lockwood & Co series of ghost fantasies aren’t for everyone. They’re probably too occult-related for some readers, even though the the protagonists—Lockwood, Lucy, and George—are the good guys as they fight against The Problem of evil ghostly manifestations that have become a common peril in this alternate history future. Also, I caught an instance or two of profanity. And, finally, the humor is biting and sarcastic, not everyone’s cuppa.

But if you can get past or even appreciate those aspects of the novel, The Whispering Skull might be even better than the first book in the series, The Screaming Staircase, winner of last year’s middle grade speculative fiction Cybils award. In episode two of our story, Lucy, George, and Lockwood are in a competition with the Fittes crew to find a very dangerous mirror relic and lay its ghosts to rest.

The eponymous skull is a rather dangerous relic itself in this version of a London in which children use iron chains, silver seals, and salt-bombs to fight off malevolent spirits bent on righting old wrongs and harming the still-living. Lucy, the narrator of the story, has a special connection with the skull, a face in a ghost-jar that sometimes materializes with “expressions of horror and disgust” and even talks to Lucy in a sort of telepathic and sarcastic manner that only she can hear. The skull is just as malevolent and self-centered as all of the other ghosts and spirits that are infesting the country, but it does seem to have a soft spot for Lucy. Will that connection and that special sensitivity be the downfall of Lockwood and Co?

This second book in particular would make a lovely Princess Bride-type movie with lots of witty, sardonic dialog and characters who see each other’s faults but support each other to the death. I’ve never been much on horror films or ghost stories, but if it were done right, I might make an exception for a movie version of this book. There were several scenes in which I wanted to shake (or slap) the characters and tell them that, of course, they shouldn’t let curiosity betray them into doing x or y really dangerous, stupid thing. But that’s par for a ghost horror story, isn’t it? Cue scary music. This decision will not end well. Don’t open that door!

So I recommend this book and the first one in the series for those of us who are not at all interested in the occult as such, but who enjoy a scary, clever story with lots of action, lots of quick-witted humor, and a fair amount of heart. Suave Anthony Lockwood, faithful Lucy Carlyle, and bumbling George Cubbins make a fine team of intrepid ghostbusters, and the ending promises more Lockwood and Co adventures to come.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Saturday Review of Books: October 11, 2014

““For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.” ” ~Louis L’Amour

Talk about diversity, the theme at KidLitCon in Sacramento, CA this weekend. I’m not there, but I hope all of those who are there are enjoying the time spent discussing, dissecting, exploring, examining, and encouraging diversity in YA and children’s literature. Real, nourishing literature is as diverse as its authors and readers, and we readers need each other to find the “good stuff”. Link up your reviews here each Saturday so that we can discuss, dissect, explore, examine, and encourage all through the year.

Reading from Flickr via Wylio© 2009 Easa Shamih, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

SatReviewbuttonWelcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

Also, don’t forget that nominations are open through October 15th for the Cybils, the book awards for children’s and young adult literature that are administered, judged, and awarded by kid lit bloggers.Anyone can nominate, so nominate your favorite children’s and YA books from 2013-2014 at the Cybils website.

Poetry Friday: October’s Bright Blue Weather by Helen Hunt Jackson

Novelist, poet, and activist Helen Hunt Jackson was born October 15, 1830. She wrote a nonfiction book titled A Century of Dishonor in which she exposed government mistreatment of the Native American peoples. “Jackson sent a copy to every member of Congress with a quote from Benjamin Franklin printed in red on the cover: ‘Look upon your hands: they are stained with the blood of your relations.'” (Wikipedia, Helen Hunt Jackson) She also wrote a novel, Ramona, in which she endeavored to dramatize the plight of Native Americans in the same manner as her friend Harriet Beecher Stowe had done for black slaves in her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Ms. Jackson’s poetry was much more light-hearted and celebratory than her prose.

O suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October’s bright blue weather;

When loud the bumblebee makes haste,
Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And goldenrod is dying fast,
And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

When gentians roll their fingers tight
To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
Without a sound of warning;

When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
Are leaves of woodbine twining;

When all the lovely wayside things
Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields still green and fair,
Late aftermaths are growing;

When springs run low, and on the brooks,
In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
Of woods, for winter waiting;

When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October’s bright blue weather.

O sun and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October’s bright blue weather.

Rejoice in God’s gift of a new October. Count the hours like a miser, and enjoy the bright blue weather in pairs or alone. That’s my plan.

Poetry Friday Is On! at the Miss Rumphius Effect.

Cybils: Poetry

Nominations are open through October 15th for the Cybils, the book awards for children’s and young adult literature that are administered, judged, and awarded by kid lit bloggers. The category description:

What belongs in Poetry? Anthologies and poetry collections written by various authors or a single author should be nominated. They can include illustrations or not. If the words on the page sing to kids of all ages and it is a collection of poems, Poetry is the category.

Here are a few poetry collections that I think are eligible and that have not yet been nominated. If any of these crossed your desk and tickled your fancy, please feel free to nominate your favorite for a Cybils award:

Alphabetabum: An Album of Rare Photographs and Medium Verses by Vladmiir Radunsky and Chris Raschka. NOMINATED
Treasury of Bible Stories: Rhythmical Rhymes of Biblical Times by Kelly Pulley.
The Poem That Will Not End: Fun With Poetic Forms and Voices by Joan Bransfield Graham. Featured at Jama Rattigan’s blog for Poetry Friday. NOMINATED
The Biggest Burp Ever: Funny Poems for Kids by Kenn Nesbit. NOMINATED
S Is for Seaglass: A Beach Alphabet by Richard Michaelson. Also featured at Jama’s blog for Poetry Friday. NOMINATED
Stars in Jars: New and Collected Poems by Chrissie Gittins. NOMINATED
Sister Fox’s Field Guide to the Writing Life by Jane Yolen.
The Lion Book of Poems and Prayers for Easter compiled by Sophie Piper.
Swimming to the Moon: A Collection of Rhymes Without Reason by Jeff McMahon.

He Laughed With his Other Mouths by M.T. Anderson

I considered NOT reviewing this little volume since it’s just not the kind of humor that tickles my funny bone. Humor is strange and hard to write, I think. Not all of us laugh at the same things, and we’re not always in the mood for the same kind of humor. It must be very difficult to try to be funny for a living, as a comedian or a writer. And I’m not sure exactly why the books in this series don’t make me laugh.

Now, I can do absurd as well as the next guy. I have laughed out loud at the absurdity and wit of Christopher Healy’s Hero’s Guide series. And the third book in that series, which I just read a couple of weeks ago, was as funny to me as the first one. When I read the first book in M.T. Anderson’s Pals in Peril series, The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, I described it as “a pastiche of all those series you read when you were a kid back in the fifties and the sixties, if you were a kid back in the fifties and the sixties: Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Danny Dunn, the Bobbsey Twins, cowboy series that I never read.” I also opined then that the joke was getting old by the end of the book.

Well, it’s still the same joke, and it’s still old. Plus, Mr. Anderson decided to add in a sad little story in the footnotes about a boy named Busby who lived during WW II and read the Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut books that form the basis for the main story. Busby has a sad life with his dad being injured in the war, and it’s not funny at all. The contrast is jarring.

I just didn’t find Pals in Peril very humorous. If you liked The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, He Laughed With his Other Mouths is more of the same. If not, skip.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.