Monday, May 16, 2011

Between Two Ends: David Ward

Some books are so good that you want to get lost in them. You want to wander the streets of Revolution's France, smell the salty Sea Wolf's air, and wish upon Pinocchio's stars. What story would you choose to wake up in?

Yeats is a smart kid. He knows that his dad, William, has been depressed for a very long time and that his parents are on the verge of divorce. He also knows that for some reason, this trip to his grandmothers house is a last ditch effort to save his father's sanity and marriage. Gran's house is old and kind of creepy, filled with strange and timeless wonders. Gran has one house guest, Mr. Sutcliff, who is the grandfather of a girl that William knew when he was a kid. As children, Shari and William played together and read through the books in the magical library. When Shari disappeared, William was devastated. He couldn't remember anything about her disappearance, leading him to believe he had gone insane. Shortly after arriving at Gran's house, while the adults talk about magic and history, Yeats wanders into the garden where he finds a bronze pirate bookend. When he replaces the bronze pirate in the library, he unknowingly reunites a pair of magical bookends that make him an offer. The pirates, known as Skin and Bones, have the ability to take Yeats into any story he wants. Having heard that William and Shari once got lost in the story of 1001 Arabian Nights, Yeats decides to go into the story where he believes Shari has been living for the last twenty years. What seems like a simple plan to find Shari and bring her home turns into a wild adventure that threatens to cost Yeats his life.

Yeats is kind of an average kid. There's nothing spectacular about him, which might be his appeal. However, he does seem incredibly courageous, which is kind of a necessary quality for a young hero. I really enjoyed the characters of Skin and Bones but I had a hard time finding the differences between them--I guess pirates are all one and the same. I was okay with that, though, because after all, they're only bookends so they don't have to be multi-dimensional characters. Shari was the weakest character in my opinion. Her transition from the role of Shaharazad back to her Shari self was a little too tidy for me. She strikes me as a somewhat typical ingénue, showing sparks of bravery and gumption, but never really filling out her character. Also, I would have liked to see more of Gran. She seems like a spunky old lady who could have so much more to say. The way the book left off, I can't help but think that there's another one (or two) in the works, so maybe we'll see the characters evolve a bit in the future.

It seems like magic is a common theme in young adult books these days. I suppose that's because magic offers so many limitless possibilities. I admit that I enjoy a good magical story, but I especially love the combination of magic and books. The magic that I see in real life can always be explained in some way, but in a story magic doesn't have to have logic. No science required. David Ward has created a delightfully magical story in which characters boat through the sea of words to get to the living lands of a book, and fight for their life to return to reality.

ARC received courtesy of Abrams Books

Rating: $$

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Good Night, Little Sea Otter: Janet Halfmann & Wish Williams

I don't think it will come as a surprise that I am a fan of children's books that star critters as the main characters. If that critter happens to be a cute, furry baby, I am in love. Needless to say, Good Night, Little Sea Otter captured my otter-lovin' heart.

It's bedtime and Little Sea Otter is putting off sleep, as so many children do, by taking time to say goodnight to every living creature he can find. Patient Mama Otter helps Little Sea Otter say goodnight to all the animals in the sea: the harbor seals and sea lions, the seagulls, the fish and crustaceans, and finally, the moon and stars.

Wish Williams illustrates this darling storybook with a combination of adorable cartoon-esque creatures, and beautiful, abstract skies and landscapes. The undersea details and colors are bright and entertaining--it's easy to imagine any kid searching the artworks for details.

I just love this book! It's so cute and so rhythmically written. What a great bedtime story!

ARC received courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Rating: $$$

The Midwife's Confession: Diane Chamberlain

It took me awhile to get into The Midwife's Confession. I can't explain why though, because once I did get into it, I was riveted. Before you get too bored with the details, let me excite your interest by telling you that this book is one big bag of secrets. Some of them shocking, some of them not so much, but all of them interesting.

Noelle is a midwife and has been since her youth. Bringing new life into the world is what Noelle was born to do. Single and childless, Noelle has spent her life reveling in the lives of her best friends, Emerson and Tara. When Noelle kills herself without any explanation, Tara and Emerson jump into the messy secrets that made up Noelle's life. Some of her secrets are juicy--like her love affairs--and some were startling--like the death of a baby on her watch. Emerson and Tara unravel the real life of Noelle and find that they never really knew her at all.

This is a twisty-turny book. Just when I thought I had something figured out, I was surprised again with some new revelation. In my mind, that indicates good writing. I might even compare the writing to Jodi Picoult, in that same dark, twisty sense. While reading, I was torn between feeling that the characters were very real, and praying that they weren't, because the kind of pain that comes out in this story is just plain ugly.

I really enjoyed some of the characters, but I struggled with the narration a bit. The book is told in chapters, each narrated by either Noelle, Emerson, or Tara. The narration shift wasn't confusing, but I was a little disappointed in the lack of narrative voice that Chamberlain created with each character. Noelle has a distinct narration, but Emerson and Tara have almost identical narratives even though they are supposedly very different types of people. Fortunately the descriptions were written well enough that I was able to identify who was who.

Honestly, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this novel. It's very chick-lit-y, but it's really good chick lit. There are no helpless or whiny women in The Midwife's Confession; just very strong, competent individuals who share a strange and complicated past.

Rating: $$.5

ARC received courtesy of MIRA.