Dead Guys, the Subject that Won’t Die

Posted in Favorite Books at 10:23 pm by Janet

Before I can talk about awards, I just have to mention one other book about a dead guy, How the Hangman Lost His Heart, by K.M. Grant. This was one of the weirdest books I read all year. Set in England in the 1740s,  it’s the story of spunky, spoiled Alice. After Alice’s Uncle Frank is hanged, drawn and quartered, Alice retreives his head from a pike on top of a London building. She goes on the lam with Uncle Frank’s hangman and a British soldier who’s supposed to arrest her. Naturally, both men fall for Alice. Alice carries Uncle Frank’s head in a hatbox for the almost the entire book. Every time she opens the hatbox to look at Uncle Frank’s head, he’s got a new expression on his face, as if he’s reacting to the bizarre situations Alice gets into. It was a little gross, I have to say! Just one more way a dead guy can populate a YA novel.

I also read Blue Flame by the same author. It was much better in terms of writing and plot. This one is set in thirteenth century southern France in a time of religious turmoil. Yolanda is caught between her Catholic, aristocratic family and her beloved Cathar friend, Raimon. You might not guess it, but Blue Flame did have a lot in common with Hangman. There was another love triangle, and an inanimate/not technically alive object (the titular Blue Flame of Occitan) that reflected moods and situations when its box was opened. Hm. No dead guys, though.


The Young and the Hot

Posted in Favorite Books at 1:26 pm by Bridget

Yes, Houdini, the coolest dead guy of them all. I thought, in the spirit of books about dead guys, that I should contribute. But instead of an old dead guy (is he old, he seems pretty sepia?) I’d like to recommend some books that have… YOUNG dead guys in them! Or hot dead guys. Like Edward. Just to spice things up. 

These are incidentally some of my teen favs of 2008. 

My first rec along these lines is The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. The main character is never actually described as hot this being Neil Gaiman and not Meg Cabot, and he isn’t actually dead. But he hangs out with dead people and learns useful dead person skills like haunting and such. And I have a vivid imagination so I can just imagine that he’s hot. This book is so well written — Gaiman never cheats and uses unnecessary adverbs or speaker attributions instead of just having solid action and dialogue, he never tells when he can show, and he pretty much walks on water writing-wise. Reading this is like rolling on crushed velvet it is so tightly put together.

If you haven’t heard of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins yet, I have to say it’s a must read. There’s a Game, much like Survivor, and only one person can survive it. Which means there end up being many young dead guys of varying hotness which fit my category, but might sound really creepy and unappealing — it isn’t, it totally adds to the tension. The idea that only one person will make it out is part of what makes this such a page turner.

One more book rec with dead guys in it — The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E.Lockhart. There is a boarding school, there is a secret society, and there is a secret notebook that’s gone missing written by people dead and gone (okay, I don’t know what they looked like, but they were guys and they kept the notebook when they were young, it’s reasonable to assume that some were hot). These all add up to a very exciting story with an incredibly strong female protag who is just so awesome.



Irrelevant Best Books

Posted in Favorite Books at 10:34 pm by Janet

I’m going to be contrary, too. I’m going to post about the best books I read in 2008, and not all of them were published in 2008! Horrors! Bad librarian, Janet! Believe it or not, not all the books I read this past year had to do with the library or teen books either. I just *know* you want to hear about them anyway.

My first irrelevant best books topic is Harry Houdini. I spent a good chunk of 2008 reading about Houdini, in preparation for a biography I wrote about the King of Handcuffs.

Sid Fleischman’s Escape: The Story of the Great Houdini. The author, a sometime magician, tells Houdini’s story from an informed perspective, but he protects his fellow magician by refusing to reveal any of his secrets. Fleischman uses vocabulary words I still don’t understand. This nifty biography does justice to its fascinating subject through the author’s salty prose and great storytelling.

Houdini: The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi is a graphic novel snapshot of one of Houdini’s bridge jumps. Houdini, nearly naked and handcuffed, jumps off a bridge into the icy Charles River in Boston and miraculously escapes. Along the way readers find out a lot about Houdini’s life and motivations. The drawings are quite striking–crowds of onlookers, Houdini in midair. Very cool.

Btw, Houdini and all his magician-escape-artist-seance-buster freakishness are all over kids/teen lit. Did you know there’s a series of teen(ish) books about Houdini as a detective? It’s the Houdini and Nate series by Tom Lalicki. There’s even a cool picture book by Brian Selznick about Houdini, reissued in 2008(!). It’s worth a look, just to compare to Hugo Cabret to see how Selznick’s themes and imagery have evolved yet remained somehow consistent.   


Best Books of 2009

Posted in Favorite Books at 9:41 pm by Bridget

Everyone seems to be chit-chatting about their favorite 2008 books online right now and, while that seems like a good idea and maybe we’ll do that too, I would like to talk first about my favorite books of 2009. Possibly because I am contrary, but also it’s a much easier category since I’ve only read two books published in 2009!

Bridget’s Favorite Books of 2009 (so far):

Princess Forever by Meg Cabot. This book is so so good! This is a great series — if you like Louise Rennison, you’ll probably like these books. I think people are put off by the princess theme and the pink cover of the first book in the series, but Mia is a totally kick-butt girl with combat boots who is hilariously funny. She’s the last person who would be happy finding out they’re actually a princess. If you haven’t checked them out yet and you need a good laugh, you simply must give them a try. You should start with the first one —  ”Princess Diaries”. Princess Forever is the last one in the series which is very sad, but  it’s a satisfying conclusion.

Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee. The cover alone is worth the price of the book — they totally captured the black eye liner/kool-aid hair look of the main character. And what’s inside the cover is even better! This book has a big road trip, adventures, movie stars etc. all with Maybe’s awesome guy friends as she searches for her birth father. There is very little snogging in this book and it has some dark moments, but overall it was still a great read. 


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