Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book Report: The Summer of Extreme Immaturity

I totally forgot yesterday to congratulate the Dallas Mavericks for winning the NBA championship. I'm not a huge sports fan, and basketball isn't my favorite sport, but I have fond memories of going to Mavericks games with the church youth group when I was in high school and going to a few games with friends during the 90s. Plus, it's nice to see the local team do well, especially in a case where teamwork wins out over a few superstars. So, yay! Now we'll see if the Rangers can get back to the World Series this year. I'm not holding my breath about the Cowboys this year, even though I do love the new coach almost enough to make up for my hatred of the owner and many of the players.

My Summer of Extreme Immaturity continues with my choice of reading materials. I've been on a young adult/children's book kick lately. The line between the different age groups gets blurry. There are a number of young adult books that could easily be adult books, there are YA books that are more like middle-grade books and there are middle-grade books that could be either adult or YA. The shelving decision often comes down to market considerations, like how the author is best known.

Here's a quick rundown of what I've been reading lately:

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray -- this is one I finally cleared from the To Be Read pile. A bookseller gave it to me as a gift after I did a reading/signing/book club meeting at his store, and it really was my kind of thing, so I'm not sure why I waited so long to read it. I think I was waiting for the right atmosphere to read it, but I finally hit a point where I'd run out of library books and was in the mood for that sort of thing, even if the weather was all wrong. This book is the first in a YA fantasy series set in the Victorian era. On her sixteenth birthday, Gemma begins having strange and horrible visions that then come true. After a family tragedy, she gets sent from India back to England to attend finishing school, and there she starts to learn about a mysterious organization called The Order and finds that she has the ability to open a doorway to another world, a kind of fairy realm where she can access great power. Unfortunately, she doesn't know enough about what she's playing with to realize the danger that comes with it. In spite of the Victorian setting, this book has a lot of the hallmarks of paranormal YA, such as the rich, beautiful mean girls, the nerdy social outcast who becomes a friend and the potentially dangerous bad boy love interest (the romantic triangle doesn't start until the second book). And yet there are twists on these elements, as they don't quite go in the direction that you expect from the usual YA tropes. Meanwhile, the Victorian setting adds a layer to the story, since these girls live such constricted lives and have such limited futures, which makes the magical realm where they have power and freedom even more alluring. I'm currently reading the second book.

Then I read a couple of books in Diana Wynne Jones's Crestomancer series, The Lives of Christopher Chance and A Charmed Life. These were middle-grade books. I read them in chronological order rather than in series order, so I already knew the history of the mysterious adult in what was supposed to be the first book (the second book is his backstory when he was a kid). That may have altered my perception of things as an adult reader because that made me far more interested in the adult secondary character than in the child main characters. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The series involves a world where there are multiple versions of each world in a continuum of worlds that can be accessed through a kind of magical spiritual portal. The different worlds come from various turning points in history where things could have gone either way and the future branches from that point (we later see that the main setting is actually one of these alternate earths). If a particular person isn't born or dies in these other versions, then that person has an extra allotment of lives. Those with the most lives have strong magical abilities. Our main character in each book has nine lives, and that means they have the potential for great power. The first book in the series was around when I was the right age to be reading it, so I don't know how I missed it because this is totally my kind of thing and I think I'd have enjoyed them more when I was the right age to identify with the child characters instead of wanting to spend more time with the adult. Still, I want to find more in the series, but they weren't at the library when I looked. I may have to request them from the central library.

I found the kind of steampunk book I'd been looking for in Starcross by Philip Reeve, the author of the Hungry Cities books. I'd say this one is more middle-grade than YA, aimed at younger readers than the other series. This is the second in the series, but I didn't find the first one until later because this one was shelved in YA with the other series, while the first book was shelved in children's books. It's a science fiction adventure type story, set in an alternate Victorian era in which there is space and time travel -- but written using some of the scientific ideas of that era, such as the belief that there are civilizations on Mars and that the Martian canals are full of water. They have train travel through space, and there are spaceships that look and kind of work like old sailing ships. In this book, our intrepid young hero manages to fight off an attack by evil top hats (I am not making that up), with the aid of his prissy sister and a dashing young pirate/spy and his alien crew. The book is loads of fun, with illustrations that enhance it and that are part of the narrative -- the narrators refer to the drawings or suggest things that the illustrator could draw or shouldn't draw (like the sister, during one of her narrative bits, says that the illustrator had better not draw her in a scene where she's in her nightgown, and then you turn the page and there's a full-page drawing of her in her nightgown). The first book in the series is next on my reading list. Now I want something like this, but with adult characters or older teen characters.

And since this is getting epic, maybe I'll save a few books for next week. To be continued ...

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