Monday, August 23, 2010

Can magic save the world?

Trickster's Girl by Hilari Bell

In this world of the future, fears of terrorism fuel restrictions on how people may live their lives. Each state in the United States has its own border crossing. You are monitored at all times and must always have appropriate ID. In this paranoid new culture, it's hard to connect with nature. And nature itself is under attack: rainforests are dying of disease and the disease is spreading. A world without trees and growing plants is unsustainable but all government effort is placed on keeping citizens safe.

Kelsa is mourning the loss of her beloved father and harboring ill will against her mother for sending him to hospice for his last days, instead of bringing him home to die. She does not realize she is being watched by an unusual young man. A young man full of magic, who has realized that Kelsa, too, possesses magic. He recruits her to use their combined magic to heal the world.

This is an exciting fantasy adventure, steeped in Native American folklore. By setting this story in the Pacific Northwest and Canada, and by using Kelsa's growing understanding of her own grief and resentment as a theme, the story feels realistic and would appeal to lots of teens. The fantasy elements are subtle and quite beautiful. The contrast between the passionate human, Kelsa, and the dispassionate trickster, Raven, makes for a fine dynamic. I highly recommend this!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hunted by Deadly Aliens

Ten alien children and their guardians are rocketed from their planet moments before it is destroyed by an invading army. Their destination is Earth. Their mission is to "hide in plain sight" and be safe: they represent the last of their kind. They are protected by a charm that dictates that the young people can only be killed in order. The alien destroyers are on Earth, seeking out the children. Numbers one through three have been killed. This is the story of Number Four.

John Smith (Number Four) and his guardian Henri arrive in Paradise Ohio and John sets out to fit in at high school. But the local bully is making that hard. Befriended by a beautiful girl and a geek obsessed with alien abductions, John grows to love his new town. Will he need to pull up stakes and run, as he has so many times before? Or will he stand and fight for his life?

This book reads like a movie. And, indeed, the movie is coming out in February and I, for one, can't wait. The writing is a little clunky (for example, "embarrassingness" instead of "embarrassment")but you quickly care for the main characters and the plot is non-stop action. Part of a projected 6 part series!

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Bells by Richard Harvell

The innocent, struggling for survival in an indifferent and often hostile world, is a recurring theme in good literature. Richard Harvell taps into that and gives us his own unique spin that is part Dickens, part Gunter Grass and totally original. Written as a letter from a successful man to his son, the novel spans the beautiful and the grotesque in telling a story totally original and touching.

In 18th century Switzerland, a nameless waif spends his first years in a bell tower, cared for by a deaf mute mother who can only truly hear by ringing the town's bells. Surrounded by the deafening cacophony, the child begins to understand music not just with his ears, but with his entire body. This imprinting of music defines the child's destiny.

The child is dubbed Moses when he is rescued from the river by two worldly and resilient monks, who serve as his protectors. Moses' extraordinary voice is both a blessing and a curse: some seek to silence it and others try to own it. For a time he is protected in the Abbey of St. Gall and becomes the star singer in the choir. His voice is so beautiful that the choirmaster conspires to have Moses castrated to preserve the voice. That act catapults the action as Moses sets out on a harrowing journey to find true love and to fulfill his destiny as a great singer.

The structure of The Bells is an opera, although that only becomes apparent as you finish reading it. Long parts of the story reflect the recitative of 18th century opera and then a flurry of intense chapters form the aria. The love story between Moses and Amalia plays out against the backdrop of Orfeo ed Euridice. This is not heavy handed; one reads the story and the richness of structure, character, setting reverberate after, just as the tolling of bells does not end when the last note is struck.