Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Another reading roundup

As you may have gathered from the long drought since my last (well, last-but-one) post, it's been a hectic time here at the library. I've read lots of books but have had no time to post about them. The post I put up today about The Comet's Curse was started back in May! I've got at least seven more books I've been toting around for anywhere from a day to ...weeks, and I need to get them out in circulation where they belong, so I'm going to forego anything other than brief plot descriptions (which you may prefer anyhow) and just give you my impressions.

Swim the Fly by Don Calame
4Q 4P; Audience: S

Three fifteen-year-old boys make a pact to see a real live naked girl by the end of the summer. There's not a lot they won't do to make that goal a reality, including dressing in drag. Matt compounds that probably unattainable goal with another: swimming the 100-yard butterfly in multiple swim meets. This, from a guy whose best showing in any swim meet using even his best stroke is a fifth-place ribbon. Did I mention the butterfly is the most grueling race of all? Why is he doing this? Why, to impress a girl, of course. Yeah, like watching a skinny dude flail in the pool as he slowly turns blue and goes under is going to do that!

Swim the Fly is going to have a lot of fans among teenage boys. It's fun, it's fast moving, and it's definitely got its share of gross out moments. (There's a scene in the girl's locker room involving laxatives and the girl of Matt's dreams that made me squirm but will make most readers howl with laughter.) Matt's a likeable guy, and you can't help but root for him. He's patient (and funny) with his lovelorn grandfather, sweetly oblivious with (and about) girls, and a loyal friend. My favorite scenes were those with Matt and Ulf (the kind of swim instructor that would make Michael Phelps quiver in fear) and Matt and Valerie ("she's just a girl, not the girl". Matt, you're such a dimwit!). I also enjoyed the banter between Matt and his friends Coop and Sean. It captured the way boys really do talk to each other. (Calame must have scoured the Internet so he could pad their conversations with just about every possible synonym for a particular male body part. I confess to thinking "enough already" more than once!) Coop and Sean are, shall we say, a little less scrupulous than Matt when it comes to playing by the rules and definitely ingenious when it comes to breaking them. While their actions are not always admirable, they will definitely get their readers cheering them on.

I suspect that this is a book that boys will not only enjoy reading, they'll also recommend it to their friends.

Soul Enchilada by David Gill
3Q 3P; Audience: J/S

Here's another one I think boys will like, which is not to say that girls won't enjoy it too.

Bug Smoot is on her own, and things aren't looking good. Just about the only thing she has to her name is the Cadillac her grandfather left her when he died. What her grandfather didn't tell her is that he also left her something else: an unfulfilled contract with Mr. Beals, aka Beelzebub. Nothing says "I love you" like a contract with the devil. What does Mr. Beals want? The car for starters. Her soul for dessert. But Bug is not about to give up either without a fight. Good thing she has Pesto on her side, given that Pesto knows a thing or two about fighting demons and devils.

I heard David Gill speak at a conference a couple of years ago, and I knew he could be laugh out loud funny, so I was looking forward to reading this book. It wavers between humor and horror more than I expected, though I'd recommend it to someone who wants to laugh sooner than I'd suggest it to someone who likes to be scared. I have to say that the details of the plot haven't stuck in my mind as much as the characters have. I'd say that readers who enjoy a book for the people they meet in it will probably like this more than readers who love to chew over what actually happens. But how can you go wrong with a feisty girl who refuses to give the devil his due? Bug isn't frightened by Mr. Beals. She's just royally ticked off that trying to get rid of him means getting hairspray and coyote piss all over her beautiful, shiny, clean car. Their conversations have snap and wit. Equally fun, though for different reasons, is her relationship with Pesto. Bug's not sure what to make of this guy who claims to know all about demons and how to get rid of him. But he's nice, he's hot, and he doesn't run when things get tough. He even puts up with her surliness, and Bug does surly very, very well. What's not to like? At the end, Gill deftly pulls seemingly random things together for a very satisfying climax. (Warning: there's a definite ick factor involved in fighting the devil for your soul. It's not stomach-churning stuff, but there are a few descriptions I'd prefer not to read just before going to bed.)

Evermore by Alison Noel
3Q 5P; Audience: J/S

Ever is an orphan at seventeen, and it's all her fault. If only she hadn't...But she did, and the car crashed, and her parents and younger sister died. She'd have died, too, if she hadn't chosen to linger in that strange, beautiful land they entered after the accident. They were all together, heading towards the bridge and whatever was on the other side. But Ever stopped, and when she looked around, her family was crossing the bridge and she couldn't reach them before they disappeared. The next thing she knew, a beautiful man's face appeared over hers, calling her name. And there she was, back in the real world again. Alone. But never really alone now, because now she hears everything that everyone around her is thinking. Touching someone spills all their secrets. And everyone has an aura. Ever is psychic now, and it's tearing her apart. She can find no peace. Until Damen enters the picture. Beautiful Damen. Damen, who can produce flowers from thin air. Damen, who does not have an aura, whose thoughts she can not hear, and whose touch brings a blessed respite from the constant barrage of thought-noise. Damen, who she can not help but love, but who she has reason not to trust.

Fans of the Twilight books are going to love this one. It is not a vampire story, but it is a love for the ages story. Of all the characters, Ever is the only one who felt close to three-dimensional to me. Her despair over her unwanted powers, her desperate attempts to shield herself from a world that assaults her senses past bearing, her love for and need for her sister Riley (who makes several appearances) all made sense. And I could certainly believe her attraction to Damen, and I appreciated that she wasn't a patsy about it. He gives her plenty of reason to doubt him, so doubt him she does. No "he's gorgeous and mysterious, and yes, he's dangerous, but so what?" for Ever! I like a girl who uses her head when it comes to falling in love. Damen isn't nearly as well-rounded, but the appeal is clear. Aside from his ability to soothe her senses, he's charming, talented, romantic, and sensitive. (And he cooks, too!) The romantic tension works. That being said, I do have some problems with the book. First of all, most of the other characters are one-dimensional, particularly Drina, Matt, and Aunt Sabine. More disturbing, I hate it when an author sets something supernatural up, but when it comes to explaining how it all works, cops out with "well, the whole thing is just too complicated to explain, so just trust me, okay?" After Damen explains things to Ever, she and the reader are left almost as much in the dark as we were before. Nope. Sorry. Don't create the devil if you can't figure out how to give us the details. And c'mon: (SPOILER ALERT! If you want to know what else really bothered me, use your mouse to highlight the next few words.) Isn't it an oxymoron for an immortal to be able to die?

Don't read this book expecting anything deep or particularly logical. Just enjoy the story, the romance, the tension, and the supernatural touches. And if you like this book and have already read the Twilight books, you may want to try Golden and (link is to my blog post) Platinum by Jennifer Barnes next.

My next post will be another reading round up. I hope to get it up soon, sooner, soonest.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Plague! The Plague! Someone Save Us!

The Comet's Curse by Dom Testa
3Q 3P; Audience: M/J

When the comet Bhaktul flits through Earth's atmosphere, it leaves universally fatal death-dealing particles behind. It won't be long until everyone is dead. Is there any chance that a cure will be found before that happens? Is there any chance the civilization can be saved? With the scientists and doctors dying, it looks unlikely. But Dr. Wallace Zimmer isn't willing to take no for an answer to either question. The virus doesn't affect people until they turn eighteen. If he can put together the right group of kids and get them away from Earth, perhaps they'll be able to find the way to defeat the virus and Earth's civilization. After an intensive search and training period, 251 of Earth's brightest teenagers are sent into space to colonize Eos, a new planet. It will take years for them to arrive and create a new life for themselves. But if they make it, they'll have beaten Bhaktul and Earth will, in some way, have survived.

The crew is carefully chosen for their intelligence, physical fitness, and emotional stability. They are carefully and rigorously trained for the formidable task ahead of them. The Galahad has everything they will need for a long space voyage, including farming facilities, living areas, and game and training rooms to keep them physically fit. And they have Roc, their walking (well, almost), talking, wisecracking supercomputer. Yes, they're young. But they're well prepared, brilliant, and ready for anything. Except, perhaps for the stowaway who is threatening to scuttle their mission before they've had a chance to truly begin it.


I wanted to like this book, which is the first in the Galahad series. I was prepared to accept the improbability of a bunch of kids being the saviors of civilization. If it's done well, that premise can be exciting reading. But this is not done particularly well. The characters show some promise, but they are not yet fully developed. The story plays out predictably. The identity of the stowaway is not much of a surprise. But my major issue with the book is the lack of subtlety in the writing. For instance, Testa takes great pains to make sure his readers know that the crew is made up of teens of every ethnicity and culture. Here he introduces Gap, one of the five teens who make up the ship's governing council:

Gap thought of his early childhood in China, raised as an only child by his parents, both of whom were college professors. An early interest in gymnastics was fueled by his training with a former Olympic champion...[Then his parents relocated the family to America] And although his parents were concerned about the abrupt change in his life, Gap immediately accepted the challenge of meeting new people and forming new friendships. It seemed everyone warmed to him as soon as they met him...his school grades reflected his obvious intellect. He kept up his training with gymnastics, keeping an eye on that Olympic future.

Okay, we get it. Gap's Chinese, athletic, very intelligent, and very likeable. All of that could have been shown to us instead of told so bluntly. With Lita, the teen in charge of the infirmary, Testa first goes out of his way to tell us her ethnicity, but then he slips the same information in much more naturally. Which is more effective?

"Lita's black eyes and Latin American skin spoke of her upbringing in Mexico."
or, just a few pages later: "her eyes focused on a glass cube that sat atop a folder. The cube was filled with sand and small pebbles, one of the personal items from her home near the beach in Mexico."

Similarly, Testa works awfully hard to make us find Roc amusing:

I, on the other hand, will continue to be the same sophisticated, charming, and witty intellect that I've always been...I've got reserves of charm that I probably won't begin to tap for years. You're very lucky to know me. Don't you feel lucky?
...I obviously talk to the crew, I run the life-support systems on the ship, I answer questions, and I have a lovely singing voice. If you're a girl, and I'm a flesh-and-blood boy, you're all over me... You and I have the same information, so we'll both have to puzzle it out. The only difference is that I'm incredibly smart. Not that you aren't, but when you can recite the table of elements in twenty-six languages, get back to me.
I wish he'd just relax and let his characters be instead of having his author's voice be so intrusive.

I do think this series has the potential to be an intriguing read for younger teens who enjoy science fiction. I'm curious to see what Testa has in mind as the trip goes on and the kids first have to decide if they want to keep the same Council leaders and if not, what the fallout to that decision might be and then (and especially) when they land on Eos and have to create their own civilization. Will they try to maintain what they know from Earth, or will they try to build something completely different? What difficulties will they face? And what will they find in those rooms in the storage areas that are so mysteriously locked for the duration of the voyage? And of course, we already have a budding romance and a brooding leader who may spell trouble. What sort of fireworks will result from all that? Will they be the sort that inspire a satisfied "ahhh!" or the kind that makes one run for cover?