An 11-year-old girl named Gratuity, her cat Pig, and an utterly adorable alien who answers to "J.Lo" end up taking a road trip across the southern USA in a souped-up hovercar to find Gratuity's missing mother and incidentally maybe save the world -- this is a book full of quirky delights and unexpected depths, not to mention some pretty incisive social commentary (albeit deftly handled and never preachy). The cast is diverse without falling into stereotypes (actually I'd say this book is pretty much the opposite of Racefail), and the writing is smart, funny and in places unexpectedly beautiful.
I loved this book so much that the moment I was done I wanted to read it again -- preferably out loud to my middle son so I could watch him enjoy it as much as I did. Since it was first released in 2007, it's available in paperback now and at 425 pages, it's a nice meaty read without ever feeling padded or stretched thin. Plus it comes with delightful illustrations (including many in comic book form) by the author, who is clearly one of these people with more talent than anyone has a right to.
You can find out more about the book at the Smekday site, which includes an excerpt from the text, among many other entertaining things... like Gratuity and J.Lo in comic form giving you 10 reasons you should read the book. (If you pay attention to no other part of this review, at least check out that last link!)
Another book I have been meaning to talk about for days now is Sarah Rees Brennan's The Demon's Lexicon. Now, this is a book I would normally have bypassed due to its having the word "demon" in the title, because I am really not keen on fantasy that involves the occult. However, since I have come to know and appreciate the delightfully witty and talented Ms. Sarah through chatting with her on the debut2009 community, and had read a few excerpts from the book that made me positively salivate with eagerness to find out more, I resolved to give the story a chance and find out how the titular demons were handled.
Well. As it turns out, these are not the fallen angels of Christian theology who chose to follow Satan, or anything even really like them. The demons in this book are powerful creatures from another world or plane of existence who long to break through into our reality -- but who can only do so by taking possession of a human body (which is extremely unpleasant for the human involved and tends to result in them dying very soon afterward).
Certain humans with magical abilities have learned to make bargains with the demons in exchange for power -- a practice which invariably corrupts those who participate in it. Meanwhile the book's heroes, a pair of brothers named Alan and Nick, are on the run from the evil magicians and forced to fight for their lives. That's just the beginning of everything that goes on in The Demon's Lexicon, however -- this is one tight, action-packed, complex (yet never incomprehensible) story that I personally couldn't put down.
The cold, seemingly amoral Nick provides most of the book's POV, which could have been a terrible mistake if Sarah Rees Brennan hadn't succeeded so brilliantly in making the reader sympathize with him. For all his Byronesque bleakness and savagery, Nick is honestly bewildered by a lot of the emotional dynamics going on around him, yet at the same time completely without self-pity -- and manifestly devoted to Alan, who is a wonderfully rich and sympathetic character himself and is equally loyal to his younger brother. They make a great team, whether fighting back to back with sword and gun in hand, or bantering with each other over plumbing and girls -- and when a pair of comparatively ordinary teens named Mae and Jamie get into the mix, the chemistry between all the characters just gets more delightful.
This is quite a dark book in many respects, which makes it more appropriate for older teens (as opposed to Smekday which is suitable for about nine and up). But overall I found reading The Demon's Lexicon to be an engaging, exciting, and brilliantly surprising experience, and I am really looking forward to the next book in the series.
Check out the first chapter on Sarah's site for a taste of her lyrical, witty writing, or visit her Livejournal at sarahtales to enjoy her hilarious posts about her life as an author.
And now, since I seem to be recommending books in reverse order from when I actually read them -- lisamantchev's Eyes Like Stars is finally out and I can't wait to buy my own hardcover copy!
This is a delicious tale full of whimsy, suspense, action and a touch of romance, in which the heroine Bertie (short for Beatrice Shakespeare Smith) is threatened with expulsion from the Théâtre Illuminata, a magical theatre that's the only home she's ever known, unless she can persuade the Theater Manager that she's an invaluable asset to the company. And that's just the beginning, because Bertie has the four fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream hanging around her causing trouble and hilarity wherever she goes, as well as a handsome pirate, a vengeful sea-witch, and a dangerously seductive elemental (Ariel from The Tempest) complicating matters along the way...
Eyes Like Stars is different from anything else I've ever read -- in a good, refreshing way. The prose is lovely, the wit sharp, the characters engaging and the plot full of unexpected turns. Like Demon's Lexicon this book is also the first in a series, so I'm glad to have more of Bertie's adventures to look forward to!
Check out an excerpt from the book if you want to know more, or find it at a bookseller near you.