The view from my reading pile.

Book Review: Come Fall, By A.C.E. Bauer February 5, 2010

Filed under: book review — stackscene @ 8:31 pm
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I’ve always loved Midsummer Night’s Dream, so when Random House told us about Come Fall by A.C.E. Bauer, I was in from the beginning. Disclaimer: this is one of the ARCs that Random House passed out at their Spring Preview at ALA Midwinter for reviewing purposes (really gotta get on that disclaimer page. . .).

Remember in Midsummer Night’s Dream, the whole reason Titania and Oberon are fighting is because of a human boy Titania likes? Ever wonder what happened to him? I sure didn’t, partly because he’s described in the play, but never in the stage directions, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a production with him on stage at any point. But Bauer did wonder and uses that idea as a starting place for this book.

Salman was a foundling and has gone from foster home to foster home, hoping to find one where he can stay. When he starts 7th grade at another new school, he meets two kids who quickly become his friends. Lu is a little shy and missing her best friend, and Blos is somewhere on the Asperger’s scale and tends to be very literal about everything. The three of them work through their various personal problems together and each of them changes. Meanwhile, the Fairy Court is once again in uproar over the Queen’s affection for Salman, and both Titania and Oberon force Puck to spy on the kids and occasionally interfere on their behalf .

I liked this book, and would definitely recommend it to younger tweens, especially if they just read Midsummer in English class. I thought the characters were charming and realistic, and I liked the way the story treats Blos. It’s sometimes hard to find characters with Aspergers or other neurological disorders that aren’t just treated as comic relief or a tragic figure, and while kids at school do make fun of Blos, I don’t think the story does. Lu and Salman are good to him without pretending they don’t get exasperated sometimes, and Salman appreciates Blos’s direct nature and lack of guile.

There are a couple of things that dissapoint me about the book, however, the main one being that I sort of felt cheated by the story. If you aren’t familiar with Chekhov’s Gun in theatre, the writer once said that “a pistol on the wall in the first act must be fired by the last act.” In this story, Fairyland was the gun on the wall. Fairy is always just beyond the human realm, and although there are several points in the story that seem to foreshadow one side breaking through to the other, it never actually happens. Puck is spying on the kids for both monarchs, and we get his perspective on what’s going on, but he doesn’t directly intervene. The kids never find out about Fairy, never cross over, and I really expected them to. Every time someone got lost in the woods (I think they all do at some point) I kept thinking that now they would look up and be in Fairy. Oberon and Titania call each other’s bluffs and say they’re going to bring Salman to Fairy, and at one point Oberon hints that he will bring Lu over, but it never happens. It should be noted that when I compared this to Midsummer, the only human that ever interacts with Fairy directly is Bottom, so the choice makes sense in Come Fall. It still felt, however, like my expectations were brought to the brink and then sent back, and having that happen multiple times in a book gets frustrating.

I said that Puck never intervenes directly, but that sort of depends on what you consider to be direct. Apparently, the fairies have some influence or control over humans who share similar names. So Salman’s foster-mother Tina grows an amazing garden because her full name is Titania, and Puck is able to use a boy in Salman’s class named Robin Puckett to cause trouble. Which, ok, that’s kinda cool, except that one of the main three kids is named Blos Pease. And Peaseblossom is never mentioned. Again it just feels like a tease, why give a character such a specific name with this setup if you aren’t going to use it for something? I don’t know, this is part of what made me feel like maybe some things got edited out.

Overall I think younger readers may not be bothered by these issues the way I am, and I would definitely recommend it to a lot of them. Especially kids reading Midsummer in school, whether they love it or are indifferent to it, since this story will give them a different angle to view Shakespeare’s work.


Book Review: Beastly, by Alex Flinn February 4, 2010

Filed under: book review — stackscene @ 11:38 am
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I picked up an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this (for a dollar, but I did pay for it) at Wiscon last year, and hadn’t gotten around to it because yet another modern-day retelling of a fairy tale just didn’t seem that interesting to me right then. Then the other day someone told me it was being made into a movie, and I’ll be honest, the description of the movie sounded. . .kinda dumb. A little like they’re trying to make the Beauty and the Beast story the new Twilight, an impression that is not helped by the black cover with a single white rose. Still, my curiosity was piqued and I pulled it off the shelf.

It’s better than I expected, I’ll say that. I think this is the first time on this blog that I’m reviewing something I’m not sure I recommend, although there are some really interesting things going for the novel. So I’m going to try to discuss what the book made me think about. This got long, so follow the jump if you want to see me think too much.



Book Review: In the Garden of Iden, by Kage Baker February 1, 2010

I went into this book really not knowing what to expect. It had been sitting in a stack of books next to the recliner in our living room for months, since my fiance had picked it up on a whim and left it there, to be read at some point. So when I came across a news item a week or two ago that the author, Kage Baker, was very ill, I went and picked up the novel and started to read. Time travel Science Fiction, to be honest, is not usually my thing, so I’m not sure I would have read it on my own. This would have been a huge mistake.

I guess I’m trying to give some context to my feelings about the book, because I whole-heartedly loved it from page one, had trouble putting it down, and almost didn’t sleep a few nights for wanting to read more.

In the Garden of Iden is Baker’s first novel, and the first in a series about The Company; scientists who discover the process of immortality and time travel, and create immortal agents from history and use them to preserve antiquities that would have otherwise been lost. Baker’s writing brings humor and sweetness to the drama of immortal agents and the tricky moral questions about the Company’s purpose. I liked the romance and didn’t feel like the science or the reality of the situation ever took a backseat once it was introduced, rather it fit in with the story and added another dimension to the dilemmas of Mendoza, the main character. I am so excited that there are more books for me to read in this series.

I wrote most of this post on Friday, and left it over the weekend while I continued to think about the book and what I liked. Yesterday morning, Kage Baker passed away. I am so sorry for the loss to her friends and family, and to her fans.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have finally read this book, knowing that there are more Company novels for me to devour, but at the same time I am so incredibly sad that there will be no more when I am done. 15 novels, short story collections, and novellas in this story, plus Baker’s other works, will certainly keep me reading for quite a while, and yet I am still feeling bereft: there should have been more. Thank you, Kage Baker, for what there is.