The Thief Lord: A Chick Lit Wednesday review (mainly because of the author)

The Thief Lord coverAt first glance it seems likely that Cornelia Funke‘s novel The Thief Lord (2000) will center around the Thief Lord. All the same the story actually starts with Prosper and Bo, brothers who have run away to avoid their nasty aunt who wants to separate them. Convinced that all of the wonderful stories their late mother told them about Venice will be true and keep them safe, the boys make their way to that fair city.

Unfortunately Venice is not as magical as their mother had told them (at least not right away). Just when Prosper is prepared to accept defeat and return his younger brother to the warm and safe, if not loving, home of his aunt, the boys are taken in by a very unusual band of children. Led by Scipio, the Thief Lord, the children live in a condemned theater living off the riches that Scipio steals from Venice’s elite. The children know little else about Scipio, but in exchange for his support and protection they are willing to overlook that small detail.

Meanwhile, the brothers’ aunt has enlisted a private investigator to locate the boys and bring Bo back to her (Prosper will be sent to an orphanage). Like any other investigator worth his salt, Victor soon picks up the trail of the children. The more this trio sees of each other, the more tenuous the children’s existence in the Venice theater seems. Indeed, Victor’s investigation could unearth a secret about the Thief Lord that will change all of their lives. Forever.

The Thief Lord is told in the whimsical, ethereal tone common to some fairy tales. It is entirely appropriate for this story, but also manages to make it that much harder to believe that the story is real. While the book was enjoyable, it always felt like the characters were at a remove–visible but not near enough to discern subtleties. Funke describes Venice and its landscapes beautifully but leaves the characters much less dimensional

I liked that the story had a lot of twists and turns, but by the end of the novel it felt a bit like one too many turns. Funke blends realistic incidents with pure fantasy creating an uneasy combination that sometimes works well in the text and other times left me scratching my head. In some ways it feels like the first and second half of the the story come from two different plots.

After realizing that the novel was originally written in German, I suspect that the different culture and writing conventions might have contributed to my uneasiness in deciding whether I actually liked the book. In summary, The Thief Lord was entertaining and will likely please any young fantasy readers in the house even though it was not completely wonderful.

Hush, Little Dragon: A Picture Book Review

Hush, Little Dragon by Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kelly MurphyMy first thought upon seeing Hush, Little Dragon (2008) by Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kelly Murphy, my first thought was, “Those are some cute dragons on that cover. I must read this book.” The book is illustrated by Kelly Murphy and written by one Boni Ashburn. I will be the first to admit the immaturity of my observation, but my initial reading of her name was “Boney Ash Burn” and I actually thought she might be using a pen name (I don’t think that is the case anymore).

Anyway, Hush, Little Dragon is based on an English lullaby called “Hush, Little Baby” which some readers might know. It begins with the the lyrics

“Hush, little baby, don’t say a word, Papa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird. And if that mockingbird don’t sing, Papa’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.”

though I have heard it sung more often with references to Mama. (Wikipedia has an entry for the song including full lyrics.)

As far as lullabies go, “Hush, Little Baby” is pretty tame (what with the lack of babies in tree tops or what not). It’s also one of my favorites. That is, perhaps, why I was ill prepared to fully enjoy this parody of that song.

The book starts:

“Hush, little dragon, don’t make a sound. Mama’s gonna bring you a princess she found. If that princess runs from you, Mama’s gonna bring you a knight or two.”

The story goes on in that vein, with the mother bring her baby dragon various townspeople to eat, until the big finish when she decides they might have overstayed their welcome.

I love the illustrations, and I loved the idea. But I couldn’t quite love Hush, Little Dragon as a whole, perhaps because there was something so incongruous about reading a book about eating people (albeit by dragons, which is what they naturally do) to the tune of a lullaby. I suspect that children who like dragons will not have my problem and will flat out adore this book much in the same way I was able to adore The Nightmare Before Christmas in my youth only to find it unbelievably creepy (though still sort of neat) at the age of twenty-three.

Exchanging Pleasantries

Miss Print: “How was your Hanukkah?”

Bear: “It was good. How was yours?”

Miss Print: “Uh. I just celebrate Christmas.”

Bear: “Denying that part of yourself, huh?”

Miss Print: *sigh*

Happy Holidays to all of my readers, whatever holiday that might be :)

“It’s a perfect technology.”

I’m in library school, so I spend a lot of time talking to people about what the future of librarianship, and books, might look like. I think my choosing to enter library school already illustrates my opinion on the profession. As to books: Maybe one day thousands of years in the future, books will be gone. But not yet, not in our lifetimes because books are still the best. Sometimes, I must admit, these convictions aren’t enough to keep me from worrying.

I think one day librarians will do things very differently than they do now, but that’s life. As “Bear” put it, “Librarianship isn’t dying, it’s just changing.”

During our conversation, Bear also had one of the most simultaneously eloquent and brief assessment of why books are not going anywhere:

“Books are a perfect technology.”

Yes, books are heavy and bulky. But they can do everything. And reading devices can’t. And they don’t hurt your eyes, but reading devices do.

It just made such perfect sense, hearing those five words, that I want to start an ad campaign for books expressly so I can use that statement as a slogan. How can something be rendered obsolete when it’s the only perfect device around?

Thumbs down

I’m not sure why I’m bothering to post this except that it’s all just so ridiculous.

Basically, I’m a klutz. I’ve ruined one of my knees from continuously falling on it. I also seriously harmed an ankle leading to the purchase of an ankle brace and the decision to remove my habitual ankle bracelet which seemed to be interfering with the healing process (because I’d wear it in the shower and it would be damp I think).

The one comfort was that, aside from the odd toaster burn or paper cut, my injuries did not extend to my upper body. Then, of course, I had to go and hurt my thumb.

Nine of my fingers are double jointed. I can bend them backwards toward the back of my hand, bend back the fingertips and flex the joints which is a double jointed thing that is hard to explain but you’d know it if you saw it. That is true of all of my fingers except for my left thumb.

So. The other day, a couple of weeks ago, I was reading a book or something and moved my hand. My thumb moved at a weird angle, but I didn’t think anything of it. Until I realized that it still hurt a couple of days later.

Conclusion: I accidentally popped my left thumb out of its socket and when I moved my hand it popped back in–kind of like when a dislocated shoulder goes back into its socket. It’s the stupidest thing ever, but it has managed to make my abundantly aware of my left thumb’s joint.

Paper Towns: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review (kinda, sorta)

Paper Towns by John GreenI didn’t plan on starting my review of John Green’s newest book Paper Towns (2008) (find it on Bookshop) with a mention of Brotherhood 2.0, I really didn’t. But having finished the book I find that, really, it is the right place to start.

Back when I had a myspace page, a lot of my friends were authors, library types, and bands. One of those friends was John Green who posted a bulletin about a project he and his brother decided to start in January 2007. Having noticed that they communicated almost entirely through e-mails or instant messages, Hank Green decided that he and John should communicate for a year only through daily (except for weekends and holidays) video blogs. The rules are more elaborate, but that was the basic premise. Throughout the course of the year, John and Hank exchanged a lot of videos about two things: Being a Nerd Fighter, the true meaning of Awesome, and World Suck Levels. (Fans might also remember an entertaining Valentine’s Day post relating to pink wine.)

At some point during this crazy brilliant idea, John Green and Hank Green continued to work. For John Green that work was writing a book. And, maybe it’s because I now know more about Green, but reading Paper Towns kept bringing me back to those Vlogs whose themes seemed to have made their way into this novel to interesting (and entertaining) effect.

Now for some linkage: The original Brotherhood 2.0 videos can be found at Brotherhood2.com. (They also have their own channel on Youtube.) Since the vlog project’s end in December 2007, the Brotherhood 2.0 site has been reshaped into a  Nerd Fighter headquarters at Nerdfighters.ning.com. Last, but totally not least, you can find John Green’s site at Sparksflyup.com.

Now for some actual review:

Quentin Jacobsen has loved Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar for most of his life. It’s hard to not love someone who is equal parts phenomenon, mystery, and adventure. With end of high school mere weeks away, Q is prepared to accept that Margo will always be closer to fantasy than reality.

All of that changes when Margo, dressed like a ninja, opens Q’s window and asks for his help:

Tonight, darling, we are going to right a lot of wrongs. And we are going to wrong some rights. The first shall be last; the last shall be first; the meek shall do some earth-inheriting.

And so begins an eleven part, all-night odyssey that will change Q’s life, particularly–he hopes–how his life relates to the lovely Margo Roth Spiegelman.

Before Q can find out if everything will be different, Margo disappears–on its own, not an unusual occurrence. Part of being Margo Roth Spiegelman demands the occasional disappearance to plan and execute further adventures. The strange thing, the reason Q can’t pretend this disappearance is normal, is that Margo left clues. For him. As Q, with the help of his fantastically-written friends, tries to trace Margo’s path he finds more questions than answers, realizing that he might need more than clues to lead him to the girl he loves. He might need to revisit everything he thought he knew about Margo Roth Spiegelman, both the person and the phenomenon.

Paper Towns combines elements of a coming-of-age story and a mystery. Q’s search for Margo is, in many ways, just as important as working through the tedium and nostalgia of his last weeks in high school. The story is also very contemporary: the characters have (very clever) screen names that they use to instant message, a website not unlike Wikipedia (here called Omnictionary) finds its way into the storyline. Still, the timelessness of the story seems to ensure that this novel will not become dated as technologies change. Green’s inclusion of excerpts from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass also points to this book’s lasting power.

Like An Abundance of Katherines (2006), the writing here has a verve and wit that keeps readers’ attention and makes the book speed along. Although Green treads similar territory to his previous novels, Paper Towns remains unique and Q’s narrative voice is utterly his own. The tone here is also something new; a blend of a nostalgia and the jolt of the now as Green expertly moves between past tense and present tense narration to emphasize key parts of the plot.

Green won the Michael L. Printz Award in 2006 for his first novel Looking for Alaska. In 2007 An Abundance of Katherines (his second novel) was selected as a Printz Award Honor Book. I almost never make award predictions, but I think John Green might have a third Printz Award Winner (or at least Honor Book) in his future.

It took me longer to realize that there were two covers floating around for Paper Towns than it took me to actually read the novel. The first cover, yellow and bright, seems to be the primary marketing cover. But there is also a mystery second cover with a different photo and darker colors that was on my copy. Without revealing too much, I wanted to mention the Two Cover Strategy because it’s so apt. Margo is so iconic, so important, so multi-faceted, that it makes sense that she cannot be contained by one book cover.

*4/30/09 UPDATE: Paper Towns did not win the Printz Award I predicted for it, but it did win an Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery.

Possible Pairings: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Wessex Papers by Daniel Parker, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

A Bear and His Boy: A picture book review

A Bear and His Boy (2007) by Sean Bryan, illustrated by Tom Murphy

A Bear and His Boy by Sean Bryan, illustrated by Tom MurphyUnlike the first two books in this series, this one is unsurprisingly about a bear who wakes up with a child attached to his head instead of the other way around. Unfortunately for Zach (the Boy), the Bear (Mack) has no time for such frivolity as he immediately tells Zach:

“I’ve got no time to slack. I’m looking at my schedule, and it is jam-packed.”

Being stuck to Mack’s back, Zach has little choice but accompanying Mack on his myriad errands as he buys slacks, and accepts a plaque, among other things. The more he sees Mack running around, the more Zach knows he has to speak up. Finally, at the end of the book, Zach reminds the bear that there is more to life than errands and schedules. Sometimes you just need to take a moment to relax. No matter how busy you are. No matter who is attached to whom.

Like the previous installments in this series, the entire novel is written in rhyme which creates a lot of fun combinations throughout the story (flapjacks and slacks are my two favorites). Once again this story is just different enough to keep the premise fresh and unique.

The story again ends with a reference to a new character, this time Mack’s friend: A giraffe named Ned with a girl on his head which, I can only hope, means this dynamic duo will have a new installment out soon.

Layout Change

I might delete this post later but I just wanted my regular readers to know I’m tweaking the layout of this site. I’ve decided I’m not in love with all of the links in my sidebar because it’s getting unwieldy. I have created a new Linkage page that can better contain the growing list of sites I visit and blogs I read (including some cool writer’s sites and blogs!).

I will probably leave the links to Diane and Emma’s Gift Cottage, Diane and Emma’s Gift Cottage on Ebay, Diane and Emma’s Gift Cottage on Etsy but I think the rest of the links will be happier on a separate page where they can mingle and perhaps multiply. I plan on having both options on the site for the next couple of days while I see how it works, but I expect to be using only the Linkage page after Christmas.

While we’re on the subject, I’ve been very into Web Usability lately thanks to my Technology class at Pratt. If there is anything on the site that doesn’t work for you in terms of site layout or linkage, let me know so that I can work on making it better.

On Becoming an Informed Consumer

All things in time.

When I was about 14 or 15 I became the primary grocery shopper in my household because it was becoming too much walking for her. Plus, with my handy-dandy phone card and a keen knowledge of nearby pay phones I could, and would, be in constant contact. (I turned 14 in 2000 before cell phones had become commonplace and did not have my own cell phone until 2006 when I was 16. I blame these facts for the reason that I use my cell phone more as a walkie-talkie than an actual phone.)

At that point in time I really wanted to get into using coupons but it was not meant to be. When the coupons continued to languish, forgotten, at home and expire I finally gave up. Coupons were not meant for me.

Things changed again a few years ago when one of my best friends started working at Duane Reade and enrolled me in their reward program. It works like magic! I spend money and get money back for it. Next thing you know I had reward cards at Staples, DSW, and Balducci’s not to mention joining Coca Cola’s rewards program. I haven’t met a Val Pak I didn’t like and I save coupons from Macy’s and Filene’s.

I’ve become one of those people who stand in line sorting through their wallet to see if any coupons are of use. And it’s kind of great. I know that all of these programs are meant to help sellers retain buyers and get people to spend more than they planned. But, that’s part of being an informed consumer, which I know since I now am one. Next stop, store circulars–whoo boy.

“I like you. I don’t want to murder you.”

After giving out holiday cards, “Bear” thanked me for his by saying “Thank you, Mrs. Print.” He said it twice, in fact, to be sure I heard him. This was the third time over the course of two days that I had been called Mrs. Print and it irked. Oh how it irked.

So, the next time I could catch “Bear” in private I decided to approach him.

Miss Print: “I like you. But if you call me Mrs. Print again I’m going to have to kill you.”

Bear: “Okay. . . .”

Later I tried to explain that, if there were an equivalent term to “Mrs.” for men–which, since I was six, I have really thought there should be–then Bear would understand why it was so annoying to be called “Mrs.” when you are not in fact married. I have a feminist flag and I’m not afraid to let it fly.

Even later, after he whined about a idle threat of bodily harm (inaccurately since I didn’t threaten harm, just death), it came out that he was only calling me “Mrs. Print” because he forgot my first name. Which doesn’t even make any sense since he didn’t know my last name for a solid month. Was he making up for lost time? Anyway, he won’t be calling me Mrs. Print ever again, so mission accomplished.