Friday, March 15, 2013

Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz

Genre: YA fantasy
Pages: 288 (paperback)
Published: 2013 by Simon Pulse

Be careful what you believe in...Rudy’s life is flipped upside-down when his family moves to a remote island in a last attempt to save his sick younger brother. With nothing to do but worry, Rudy sinks deeper and deeper into loneliness and lies awake at night listening to the screams of the ocean beneath his family’s rickety house.

Then he meets Diana, who makes him wonder what he even knows about love, and Teeth, who makes him question what he knows about anything. Rudy can’t remember the last time he felt so connected to someone, but being friends with Teeth is more than a little bit complicated. He soon learns that Teeth has terrible secrets. Violent secrets. Secrets that will force Rudy to choose between his own happiness and his brother’s life.


Seeing as I had heard Teeth blurbed as both "another edgy teen contemp" and as a story about "gay magic fish", it's a surprise that I gave this book a try-- but in this case, taking a chance on a new author and an unknown story definitely payed off.  Hannah Moskowitz has a "bare bones" writing style which really captures a reader's attention and, in the case of Teeth, makes the story so much more raw and real.  This book defies genre trends, with a few elements of the ever-popular mermaid paranormal romance (ie boy meets girl; boy meets fish), a few from the "edgy" teen novel, some from the modern fairy tale novels like those by Holly Black, and some which are all its own.

Our MC Rudy was a typical enough teenage boy before his family moved to an island with a tiny population, an island whose local fish are rumored to make whoever eats them healthy, even to ward off terminal diseases like the one Rudy's little brother suffers from.  Rudy meets beautiful Diana, who is the only other teenager on the island: she grew up on the isolated island and learned most everything she knows from books.  And then he meets the boy who calls himself Teeth: a boy with a fish tail and a scaly upper body who lives near the island's docks.  Teeth insists he is more fish than human, but as Rudy discovers as he begins to get to know Teeth and his murky origins, Teeth is more human and more vulnerable than he would ever admit.

Teeth is a simply told story, part-contemporary and part-fairy tale, with simple, powerful themes.  However, its complex and beautifully realized characters mean that you will likely be thinking about this short novel long after you finish reading it.  What has stayed with me most strongly are the characters of Rudy and Teeth, the strength and uncertainty of their friendship, and the ending-- which was not, as I definitely feared it was going to be while reading the book, tragic.  I really loved this amazingly original novel and really recommend that anyone just try reading it with no expectations or prejudices, because Teeth defies both.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Genre: children's/ MG fantasy
Pages: 312 (hardcover edition)
Published: 2008 by HarperCollins

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.  Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod's family . . .

Well, I am one of those people who likes Neil Gaiman.  It seems like about half of readers love this guy's books to death from the first page-- they say things like he's an ultra-imaginative, clever genius, one of the most enchanting writers of our age.  The other half tend to come to the conclusion that he's a little overrated, or that his stories are too confusing to follow, a little dark, and just plain weird.  I totally agree with Gaiman's critics: his short stories more than his novels can lean towards bizarre, but I think he's a genius anyway.  What I like most about his novels is how he takes a fantastical plot or setting (in this case, a graveyard) filled with unusual and often mysterious characters (here, a whole host of ghostly inhabitants and Bod's guardian Silas, a man who is neither alive nor dead) and weaves a brilliant, entertaining, and surprisingly believable story about human values and life.  Yep, he is a genius in my eyes.

The Graveyard Book is a coming-of-age story whose premise is loosely based on Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.  After an assassin called the man Jack murders his parents and sister, Bod is taken in by a long-dead couple who live in the cemetery by his old house.  Bod learns to read from the engravings on tombstones, sleeps in a crypt, and his guardian is kind of a vampire-- but in all the important ways, he's still an ordinary boy, meaning that he really can't stay out of trouble.  He befriends a dead teenage witch from unconsecrated ground, goes into town to attend school (and gives the local bullies a little hell), and steals an ancient artifact from an ancient tomb where even the oldest ghosts don't dare to venture.  But when the man Jack, along with a shadowy league of assassins who have wanted Bod dead since he first disappeared into the graveyard, return to finish the job of murdering Bod's family, Bod will be forced to use every supernatural trick and bit of uncanny knowledge he has learned from growing up among the tombstones to defeat them.

The Graveyard Book is actually a somewhat cheerier tale than Coraline, Gaiman's other middle-grade-type book.  The premise of a boy whose family is murdered and grows up in a graveyard sounds darker than one about a girl who finds another world and another mother through a door in her apartment-- but it isn't.  The Graveyard Book is far lighter in tone and far less slightly disturbing than Coraline, because the ghosts and strange beings Bod meets are more well-developed, likeable, and generally benevolent characters than the creepy Other Mother and the denizens of Coraline.  My favorite part of the book-- other than the climactic and amazing ending-- is the story about the young girl Bod meets who was accused of being a witch and killed back in medieval times.  This dead girl, Liza Hempstock, was the first character Gaiman wrote about for the story besides Bod, and she is definitely one of the most memorable: she has a great sassy personality despite the way she died, yet her story is so sad.  Bod's quest to find a proper headstone for this girl is a bittersweet and amazing sub-plot in the story. 

The Graveyard Book, along with all of other Neil Gaiman's other books for children and middle-grade readers, is definitely one I would want my future daughter read.  The story is also subtle enough that adults can read it and enjoy the nostalgic feelings of childhood which are strong in Bod's story despite the unusual nature of his childhood.  Fascination with a strange and sinister-seeming neighbor, being babysat by unlikely and ill-qualified candidates, spending the day with a new, quickly-made friend and having to say goodbye too soon, sneaking off to forbidden places... like Mowgli's, Bod's story is one we can relate to despite the strangeness of his circumstances.  I can't recommend this book enough, for children, teens, and adults.  Now, I want Neil Gaiman to hurry up and release his next novel The Ocean At the End of the Lane-- which comes out on my birthday!

Book Rating:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Top Ten Series I Want to Start But Haven't Yet

In this week's Top Ten Tuesday (a weekly meme hosted by the bloggers of The Broke and Bookish), we're lamenting the truthfulness behind that ancient saying "So many books, so little time".  Like a lot of avid readers, I have literally hundreds of books on my Goodreads to-read shelf and probably a dozen on my physical shelf waiting to be read.  But here are the top ten series I am very excited to start reading... sometime.  Hopefully.

 Ashfall (Ashfall series) by Mike Mullin
In my Geology class, we're always talking about the possibility of the Yellowstone volcano exploding and pretty much wrecking havoc on the North American continent, and how it actually is long overdue for an eruption.  Really cheerful stuff.  The Ashfall series takes place in a post-apocalyptic North America where exactly this happens.  

 Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters series) by Juliet Marillier
I really like this author and really hope I will like this ultra-popular, slightly older fantasy series.  You know, whenever I get around to reading it.

Anna Dressed in Blood (Anna series) by Kendare Blake

The Walking Dead graphic novels by Robert Kirkman
So I love the TV series and now want to try the graphic novels.  (Even though Daryl Dixon is apparently not in them?!)  I don't usually read American-style graphic novels, being a manga addict, but in this case I'll probably make an exception. 

 Clockwork Angel (Infernal Devices series) by Cassandra Clare
 I technically have read the first book, but feel like I should give it another try and refresh my memory.  I know some people love the Infernal Devices even more than the original Mortal Instruments, but I don't remember this one being very memorable-- maybe a re-read will help!

 The Diviners by Libba Bray
The first book in a planned YA series.  I loved Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy, not so much Beauty Queens.  I think this one is about flappers and black magic.  Yay.

 The Name of the Wind (King-killer Chronicles) by Patrick Rothfuss
I started this first book and actually really did like it-- I just haven't had time to pick up where I left off yet.  The writing in this book is seriously amazing; it is definitely well-crafted fantasy.

Birthmarked (Birthmarked series) by Caragh M. O'Brien
A pretty good-sounding YA dystopia series with a confusing synopsis I won't even try to paraphrase.

The Way of Shadows (Night Angel Trilogy) by Brent Weeks
 I've kinda wanted to read this epic-urban fantasy series for a long time.  Just not enough to pick up the first book; maybe it will happen some slow day at the library.

 Enclave (Razorland series) by Ann Aguirre
Another popular dystopia seris I've yet to start reading.  I literally had never noticed the creepy hand in the bottom right corner of the cover until now.

Leave the links to your Top Ten posts and I'll be sure to visit and comment back!

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