Thursday, February 24, 2011

REVIEW: Devil's Kiss

Chadda, S.  (2009).  Devils' Kiss.  New York:  Hyperion Books.

327 pages.

Appetizer:  Billi is in training and is being tested to join the Knights Templar.  Her father, who is the leader of the secret religious society, has been training her since she was little to be the first female knight.  Billi never really got a choice in the matter.

At school, Billi is friendless, dateless and has trouble completing all of her assignments due to her training. She regularly has to try to explain away her many bruises and cuts, results from training and battles with werewolves, vampires, ghouls and devils.

But all of that is about to change since her old best friend, Kay, has returned from his own special training as an Oracle in Jerusalem.  They can't pick up their friendship left off though.  Kay seems different and Billi is jealous of the fact that he got to escape for a while.  To make matters worse, Billi's father, Arthur, is willing to praise Kay and not her.

Now that a fallen angel is threatening to enact the tenth plague and kill all the first born children in London, Billi is going to have to decide what is truly important to her.

I enjoyed Devil's Kiss.  The fight scenes had a bit of a Buffy-butt-kicking feel to them.  I liked Billi as a character, enough that I will probably pick up the sequel, Dark Goddess, pretty soon.  But I have to say, I wasn't *in love* with the book.  While it's quickly established that Billi is very angsty when it comes to both her dad and Kay, it took me a long time to understand why she felt the way she did.  I felt like in the case of her friendship with Kay, I didn't really get what was going on between them until about page 250-ish.  And by then, I couldn't really be bothered to care for him any more.

As for Billi and her father...well, she has some serious Daddy issues.  Ever since his wife's death, Arthur has been cold and distant with his daughter.  No praise.  No "I love you's" and he makes it clear, if it comes down to saving others or saving her, he'd choose to save others.  As with Kay, I had trouble knowing who Billi's father was.  Eventually, his motives were revealed, and that was satisfying.

The one thing I could seem to get a sense of was the way Devil's Kiss played with religious lore.  I liked the survival of the Knights Templar into the present-day.  I liked the threat of the plague that paralleled the Biblical plague in Egypt.  I thought this was a refreshing twist to presenting creatures like vampires  and werewolves within a larger tradition.

Dinner Conversation:

"Killing him should be easy; he's only six.
Then why the bilious, twisting feeling deep in her guts?
Why the cold, clammy dampness down her back?
He's only six.
Billi waded through the spiny grass toward the back of the park.  The autumnal night wind whispered to her, down here in The Pit.
What a name for a playground." (p. 3)

"The Order had been formed to defend the Holy Land, but that battle had been lost long ago.  Their war wasn't for Jerusalem, not anymore, but for mankind's soul.  Their war was against the supernatural evil that preyed on humanity.  A war they called The Dark Conflict.
The Bataille Tenebreuse.
Their endless, unwinnable war.
Billi watched the party head back up to Fleet Street and their waiting bus, all safe in their cocoons of ignorance, unaware of the shadow war being fought around them."  (pp. 30-31)

"She'd been excited at first, being part of something big, mystical, the stuff of legend.  Being part of the Knights Templar and their secret war against the enemies of mankind.  The unholy.
The beast within:  mortals with the heart of the wild.
The hungry dead:  corpse-eaters and blood-drinkers.
The ghosts:  spirits of pain.
The devils:  tempters of humanity.
And the Grigori:  dark angels.  (pp. 32-33)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Literary Feast Discussion: Ship Breaker (The End!)

Welcome back, Ship Breakers!

Our thoughts on the ending of this Printz winner are below.  Beware the spoilers!  Monica and I would love to know what you thought of the ending and of Ship Breaker in general in the comments below.  So, don't be shy, let us know your thoughts.

Shel: I've decided I will have to start calling people "piratical
bastards." Although, I may go with "piratical punks" just to dull the
insult a little.

Monica: Pshaw. Use it the way it's meant to be! You can't soften up an
insult! Of course, pirates are kind of in right now. your intended target
might not even mind. ;)

Shel: So, overall, what did you think of Ship Breaker?

Monica: Three out of five stars. Middle ground. The writing was sound,
but I didn't care too much about either of the main characters. I was more
interested in the minor players, like the captain, or what's-her-face's
mom. I'm halfway through Windup Girl, also by Paolo Bacigalupi,
and honestly, I'm enjoying that one more. Maybe Ship Breaker was
just too short for him to really delve into the plot and the characters?

Shel: For me, I really like the world Bacigalupi created. The story is so
relevant. And while there are aspects of both Nailer and Lucky Girl that I
liked, neither of them really captured me in the end. I think I would have
liked to see other characters stories within this world.

Monica: I want more Tool. Is it bad, that he was the one I was most
intrigued with? I would happily read a book that explained where
he came from.

Shel: Well with Tool, Bacigalupi created this wonderful character who was
the constant outsider and we only got the surface level of why he was so
different. There was definitely more to learn about Tool.

Monica: Spin-off novel? Spin-off novel.

Monica: I'd buy that book for sure.

And that ends our feast on Ship Breaker!  What did you think of it?

We might be holding off on our next feast for a couple of weeks.  Both Monica and I seem to be a bit busy with pesky homeworks.  But never fear, we'll be back soon-ish.  Start thinking about which book you would like to read next.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Literary Feast Discussion: Ship Breaker (Chapter 18-21)

Wow, so Ship Breaker is speeding up!  Let's skip the intro jibber-jabber and get straight to the comments because I need to finish this book and finish it soon....

(Keep in mind there are spoilers below!)

Shel:  So, normally I'd be all "YAY KISS!" but for some reason when Nailer and Nita kiss, I wasn't that happy for them.  The moment felt forced to me.  I think it has to do with the fact that several weeks went by and I feel like I've somehow missed some character development.  Am I alone in this?

Monica:  Nope.  They’re just not that convincing as a couple.  I think it’s more that the author didn’t have any other options.  They’re thrown together and they’re the only two people even sort of suited for each other because no one else is around and they can’t very well have Nailer making out with Tool.  But I don’t even like Nita, so I’m not about to encourage this relationship.

Shel:  See, I liked her at first.  But she's kind of losing me.  I was so excited that there was finally a potential escape.  I had visions of a fast moving ship and everything.  I can't believe Nita was captured while Nailer was out.  I guess I'll just be thankful that Tool is okay.  After all, he is winning the favorite character fight even more now.

Monica:  Nita is useless!  She’s like Princess Peach – she stands there getting into trouble and going, “Oh no!” while poor Nailer has to run around fighting all the bad guys for her.  (Poor Nita.  She really doesn’t stand a chance with me.)

Shel:  See, she seemed clever at first.  Then manipulate.  And now she's just kind of a prop.  And then Tool left.  Fail.

Monica:  EPIC FAIL.  And it doesn’t even look like he’s coming back.  Why!?  Why can’t the dramatic action shift?!  I’d happily follow Tool anywhere!  Backstory away!!

Shel:  What do you think of all this killing business and of Nailer being "blood-thirsty"?

Monica:  Eh?  I think he’s as “blood thirsty” as any other kid raised on shipwrecks, doing work from the time he was old enough to understand, with an abusive father and perhaps a somewhat underdeveloped moral compass.  I probably wouldn’t be doing much better, really, except for the way I’d be dead already due to lack of street smarts and fear of non-prepackaged food.

Shel:  Yeah, I think I would have been a goner too.  Unless I'd been born a swank.  And never left my swank neighborhood.  In other news...Yay!  Nailer is learning to read.  I approve.

Monica:  What he needs is a modified version of Dick and Jane that fits his worldview.  “See Dick strip wire.  Strip wire, Dick, strip wire!”

 Shel:  See Jane mutilate herself to keep the rapists away!  Mutilate, Jane.  Mutilate!  Quality.  

So, what do you think of Ship Breaker?  Feel free to leave your comments below.  We'll be finishing up the book for Wednesday (I promise!).  So, I'll see you back here soon.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Literary Feast Discussion: Ship Breaker (Chapters 13 through 17)

Hello again, few but dear readers.  How goes life?  Monica and I are still making our way through Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker.  Our thoughts about chapters 13-17 are below.  We'd love to hear what you think of the book in the comments, few but dear readers.

Shel:  After taking a few days off and picking up this book once more, I can't believe some of the characters' names.  It makes me wonder what my name would be if I lived in the Ship Breaker world.  I imagine I would be something like "Whiney Girl," since I'd constantly complain about the working conditions and lack of sanitation.  How about you?

Monica:  Oh, I’d be Stumbles, for sure.  Because—and trust me on this—if I had to do be doing any of the running / wire cutting / fighting that these kids are doing on a daily basis, I’d be black and blue and blistered and crippled.  Clumsy is my middle name.

Whiney Girl:  I like that Tool turns out to be a good guy.  Yay, Tool!

Monica:  His name is strange but we love him!!!  I wonder if we’re ever going to find out his whole back story…  To be honest, he might be my favorite character of the whole book.

Shel:  See, at first, I was willing to cheer on Lucky Girl, but she is proving to be a little too manipulative for my tastes.  I do like Tool.  But just as Lucky Girl is too manipulative, he seems a little too wise.  

Shel:  I like the tension over how similar Nailer is to his father.

Monica:  And how desperate Nailer is for it to not be true.  Poor Nailer.  If my daddy was a crazy drunken killer-type person, I’d have disowned him by now.  But family loyalty wins out, I guess, at least for now.

Shel:  And I quote:  "It's human nature to tear one another apart.  Be glad you come from such a successful line of killers" (p. 175).  Yikies.

Monica:  Upside, he’s ahead in the game!  Look how much more trouble he would have had if he *didn’t* have such a fierce attitude!  (Trying desperately to look on the bright side…?)

Shel:  The bright side is fun!  While I'm enjoying this book, I did feel like the first two part were a little too heavy on the lets sit around and talk.  It's nice to have some more action now.

Monica:  Yeeees.  I liked the finger-cutting moment, but other than that, there was a LOT of exposition.  But now, there’s fighting in the streets!  Running for their lives!  Hooray!! J  (I’m a little bloodthirsty.  I can’t help it.)

Shel:  Never fear, I thirst for blood the only way that a vegetarian can thirst for blood.

Monica:  Nailer is right.  Nita *is* kind of a cold one.  Way to hang Tool out to dry, girl – I like him way more than you, so I’m kind of bothered by your Cringe In The Shadows attitude.  …  On the upside, yay Nailer!  Way to be loyal!

What are your thoughts, cool cats?  Monica and I would love to read your opinions of Ship Breaker.  We'll be back with comments on chapters 18 through 21 by Saturday-ish.  The feast continues then!

Friday, February 4, 2011

In other news, I'm afraid of hair...and my blanket.

I'm long over due for a personal post.  So here's a rumination that came to me a few nights ago while I was trying to sleep.  It was late at night.  When all logic has left me.  Obviously.

Around fourth or fifth grade, I started to realize that I was unnerved by hair.  Irrationally, cringe-worthy unnerved by loose human hairs.  I am fine with it as long as it remained attached to someone's head.

Discovering someone else's long hair, whether on a desk, a hotel pillow, or in my cafeteria meal disturbs me beyond all reason.  Whenever I find myself in one of these circumstances, I get the chills and the urge to throw up shakes my frame.

In high school, one of my close friends had waist-length hair.  I didn't want to invite her over to my house, fearing after she left I would find one of her hairs in my room, more snakes than hair.

For the most part, this irrational fear isn't actually that bad.  Chances are good that if you met me on the street, I'd seem perfectly normal-ish.

But my fear has reared it's ugly, shedding, shaggy head and tousled its hair all over my life within the past few weeks.

Several years ago, I bought a beautiful, hand-made quilt on a trip to India.  While I loved it's colors, I'd never really used it on my own bed.  The first night after I bought it I discovered the drawback of a hand-made quilt:  a stranger's hair was sewn into the patchwork.  *Chills*

The quilter had long, loooooong, looooooOOOOOOOOooooooong hair.  If I were to sleep with the quilt, I would feel the stranger's hair touch my arm or leg.  *quivers*

So I set the blanket aside as a decoration.

But now, NOW, NOW!  It's ridiculously cold outside.  I needed another blanket for my bed.  So, I added the quilt back to my bed.  

Within the last two weeks, I've pulled three of the stranger's (or even worse many strangers') hair from my blanket.  I cannot express how much this upsets me.  Not only am I encountering a stranger's hair, but I am finding them in my bed.  *nervous breakdown*

I may be unnerved enough to pay to keep my house at 75 degrees every night, just so I'll be able to justify folding and storing the quilt far away from me and my bed.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

REVIEW: The Sisters Grimm Book One: The Fairy-Tale Detectives Funsies! Like Percy Jackson. But with fairy tale characters instead of Greek gods.

Hello, few but dear readers!  I'm sorry for the lack of posts recently.  I keep going through phases were I do incredible amounts of work on my dissertation, then I slack in front of the TV for two days.  AND NO READING GETS DONE IN EITHER PHASE.  Maybe I'll improve.  Maybe I won't.  We'll see.

Any-hoo, Review!

Buckley, M.  (2007).  The Sisters Grimm:  The Fairy-Tale Detectives.  New York:  Amulet Books.

284 pages.

Appetizer:  Ever since their parents mysteriously disappeared, eleven-year-old Sabrina and seven-year-old Daphne have bounced from horrible foster home to horrible foster home.  But now, a woman is claiming to be their grandmother and has requested the sisters come to her home in Ferryport Landing, New York.  While Daphne is excited, Sabrina has her doubts.  Mostly because her father had always said the girls' grandmother was dead.

Soon after the girls arrive, they learn that their Granny Relda Grimm isn't like most other grandmas and the town isn't like most get the idea.  Ferryport Landing is home to all the creatures and characters of fairy tales that you can think of.  Wilhelm Grimm (of The Brothers Grimm) brought them to America.  All of the fairy tale creatures have been cursed to remain within the town.  As long as a Grimm family member is alive and living in the town, the creatures are stuck in town too.  The only way to bring down the barrier is to get rid of the Grimms and the longer Sabrina and Daphne stay in town, the more they realize a lot of the fairy tale characters would like to be free.  And to make matters worse, it would seem a giant is on the loose and has taken Granny Relda before the girls can really get to know her.

This series really is the fairy tale equivalent of the Percy Jackson series which includes the gods of Greek myth.  The Fairy-Tale Detectives is action-packed and fun.  But having said that, I had trouble getting into it.  I really liked Sabrina's emotional characterization as she resists getting to know her grandmother, but still longs for a family and deals with being responsible for her litter sister.  It took be almost the entire book to figure out what my problem was.  A lot of the action seemed too rushed.  I didn't really feel any tension or threat.  Even with my problem getting into the story, I'll probably go on to read more of the series at some point.  (There are some subtle implications about nationalism and America and the series is just *asking* to be compared to rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series.  I can't help myself.)

I actually decided to assign this novel to my undergrads.  My students seemed to really enjoy it.  Some found it to be completely fast-paced, which puts my complaints down the drain.  What do I know, huh?  They also thought it would be a good movie and several wanted to continue with the series.  Most of my students thought it might be hard to get male readers to engage with the series (even though it seems the Puck character, introduced mid-book, is there just for that purpose).  But I was excited when one of my students, who seems like a bit of a reluctant reader, asked to borrow the first book in Buckley's other series, NERDS, which seems more boy-welcoming.

For the week's readings, I decided to include it with several different versions of The Three Little Pigs:

The contrasts were a lot of fun.

Dinner Conversation:

"I'm going to die of boredom here, Sabrina Grimm thought as she looked out the train window at Ferryport Landing, New York.
The little town in the distance seemed to be mostly hills and trees next tot he cold, gray Hudson River.  A few two- and three-story brownstone buildings huddled around what appeared to be the town's only street.  Beyond it were endless acres of evergreen forest.  Sabrina could see no movie theaters, malls, or museums, and felt using the word town to describe Ferryport Landing was a bit of a stretch."  (p. 1)

"Sabrina was sure it was Ms. Smirt's personal mission to get the girls out of the orphanage and into a foster home.  So far she had failed miserably.  She'd sent them to live with people who were usually mean and occasionally crazy, and who had used them as maids, house sitters, or just plain ignored them.  But this time Ms. Smirt was sending them to live with a dead woman.
"I hope you don't bother your grandmother with all these ridiculous questions!" Ms. Smirt said curtly, which was how she said most things to Sabrina and Daphne.  "She is old and cannot handle a lot of trouble."
"She's dead!  I've already told you a million times, our grandmother is dead!" said Sabrina." (p. 3).

"And, with a couple of exceptions, things have been pretty peaceful in Ferryport Landing between humans and Everafters.  But just a look through Jacob and Wilhelm's book, and the books of Hans Christian Andersen, Andrew Lang, Lewis Carroll, Jonathan Swift, and countless other chronicles of Everafters shows you how fragile the peace is, and the trouble could be right around the corner.  So, like Wilhelm, we have the responsibility of keeping this pot from boiling over.  We watch the town, investigate anything strange or criminal, and document what we see, so that when we are gone our children will know what we went through.  Think of us as detectives."  (pp. 69-70)

"Daphne, that mosnter was real.  We can't fight that by ourselves.  Even if we knew where he carried them off to, I don't think we could get them back.  What are a seven-year0old and an eleven-year-old going to do about a giant?"
"You're almost twelve," Daphne said, wiping her eyes on the sleeve of her fuzzy orange shirt.  "Besides, you heard Granny Relda.  We're Grimms and this is what Grimms do.  We take care of fairy-tale problems.  We'll find a way to save Granny and Mr. Canis."  (pp. 106-107)

Tasty Rating:  !!!


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