You know what? Candlewick Press!

Hi, everyone! I am back from my hiatus and have missed you awfully. For the first few weeks I was like, Yeah! Freedom! No blog posts to write!, but then pretty soon I felt forlorn at not hearing from you, and I have this new Nook where you can highlight passages, which means I don’t have to constantly be at war with myself about whether this one passage is entirely awesome enough to be worth dogearing a poor little book what never did me any harm. I can just press highlight. Er, but anyway, so, I have missed you, and now I am back. I can’t promise I will be the world’s best blogger, but I’m going to do my best to schedule posts in advance and then be at leisure to answer comments and read your wondrous posts all during the week. We’ll see how it goes.

Upon the occasion of my return, I would just like to say: Candlewick Press. Is pretty much the greatest. It would be impossible for there to be one publishing house that published all the books to cater to all my reading needs, but Candlewick Press reliably hits a few very sweet spots for me, which are:

  1. Young adult books that do not mind being Dark. (Hi, Patrick Ness!) (It’s cool to be an author and have a last name that rhymes with “Press” cause then if Patrick Ness wants to he can say “I’m Patrick Ness of Candlewick Press,” thus making the world sound more like a Dr. Seuss book.)
  2. Excellent characters I care about.
  3. Putting excellent characters I care about in dark situations that are dark, and then sticking all the emotional landings. This is tricky! Not everybody can do it. But Candlewick authors seem singularly gifted in this area.

If you are taking this rave about Candlewick to mean that I still love Patrick Ness and have used the summer months to read through Melina Marchetta’s backlist, and am drawing generalizations based on those two examples because I like having rules to guide my reading, especially in YA fiction where I like plots dark and emotional landings stuck, you are correct. That is exactly what is going on here. But I think I’m right! I have a plan to read a whole bunch of Candlewick’s fall catalog of middle grade and young adult books, and then report back to you on how right I was about Candlewick being awesome in general. Not just because of two authors I think are good, but all the time.

So that’s that. Now, a programming note.

I am tired of my blog having this boring name, and I am thinking of changing it. I called it a boring thing only because I did not really realize how amazing the blogging community was going to be, and that actual people in the world were going to be reading my blog. I thought it was just going to be a site on the internet nobody but me knew about where I would keep a record of what I was reading. But that turned out to be wrong, and then I was too lazy to change the name, but I kind of want to change it now. Any suggestions? Something slightly weird would be best, because I am slightly weird. And something that suggests “Books may be read about herein.” Or maybe something to do with being from Louisiana? Or living in New York? Or reading the end before I read the middle? Any suggestions are welcome!

And, hi! I missed you!

Review: The Crash of Hennington, Patrick Ness

Today is Ada Leverson‘s birthday. Happy birthday, wonderful Sphinx! We will be friends in heaven!

Last week I commented on someone’s blog (I forget whose!) that I thought Patrick Ness should be made the king of something. And I still think that, but I also think that when he’s submitting materials for the consideration of the Academy (the King Deciding Academy, this would be), he shouldn’t necessarily send them The Crash of Hennington unless they expressly ask for it. There’s nothing inside of it that would make them change their minds about him — I was rather surprised to find that a book exists that includes sex slavery (or, well, sex indentured servitude?), and yet does not make me feel awkward and squirmy on the author’s behalf for the way they are handling gender stuff. That is pretty rare. The Handmaid’s Tale barely succeeded at that. (But The Handmaid’s Tale is a much better book.)

The Crash of Hennington is about the town of Hennington, where rhinoceroses rhoam free (I wrote “rhoam free” by accident, but I like it and I’m leaving it) in an Ionescan idyll, and the long-time mayor, Cora Larsson is prepared to retire and pass the mayor baton to her successor, single father Max. Meanwhile an old friend of hers has returned to town in the hopes that she will fall in love with him after all (although she is happily married). There is a corporate man who loves his righteous adoptive son and does not care for his creepy biological son who runs a sex slavery ring out of the, like, golf club. (Weirdly, that is not terribly different from what I imagine a golf club to be like.)

You know what Patrick Ness can do really, really well? Patrick Ness can write good parents. The level of emotional investment I had in Ben and Todd’s relationship from The Knife of Never Letting Go was — I don’t want to say unprecedented, because then I feel like I have to go back and inspect all the parents in every book ever, but pretty close to unprecedented. YA and kids’ books can’t have too much parents, because then how could the kids have adventures?, and grown-up books have all this parent-resentment lying around making matters complicated. But Ben was a really good parent, and in Crash, Max is an excellent parent. His conversations with his daughter Talon (don’t ask me, y’all) feel like real conversations a good parent would have with a ten-year-old.

Patrick Ness: King of Good Fictional Parents

(Not a very snappy title for Patrick Ness. If I were he, I’d put my name in the hat for King of Making You Cry without Being Overtly Sentimental, or maybe King of Not Acting Like It’s Gotta Be a Big Thing to Have a Gay Character, or King of Gut-Punchily Fast-Paced Dystopian Books. Because those are all super snappy.)

On the down side, The Crash of Hennington was extremely weird and rather creepy. For a pretty sex-positive book, it also implied lots of sordid creepy sex, and that puts me off because I’m slightly prudish. The plot, though fairly simple, went dancing about from character to character so fast that I sometimes a little lost track and got frustrated. I’m glad I was able to read the book, for I could certainly see some of the DNA that went into the Chaos Walking trilogy (which are apparently coming eventually to a theater near you), but I don’t think I’ll need to read it again.

Having said that, does anyone want my copy? I acquired it on PaperbackSwap, which seemed literally incredible to me, to the point that I said to myself, “I bet the person who has this book to give away is a book blogger who fell in love with the Chaos Walking books because of Ana, like we all, and then wanted to read Patrick Ness’s first novel.” And I was right. It was Chris. Small world, eh? So I feel like I should pass it along to the blogosphere. Leave a note in the comments if you want it. If more than one person asks for it, I’ll draw names from a hat.

Review: Monsters of Men, Patrick Ness

Dear heavenly God. This book. Listen, everyone: Monsters of Men is being released in America on the 28th. That gives you just about enough time to go get the first two books in the series, The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer, and read them before Monsters of Men comes out. I strongly advise this course of action if you have not already read the series. Do it now. You will thank me later.

I started writing this post during Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and that feels fitting because if there is any set of books for which I am grateful to book bloggers, it is the Chaos Walking series. I wouldn’t have read this series, or probably even looked twice at it, without the blogosphere’s ardent recommendations, and that would have been terrible because it’s quickly become one of my most favorite series in all the land, surpassing books by authors I have loved for much longer. Like, I asked myself which could I more easily live without, the Chronicles of Chrestomanci or the Chaos Walking books? If one of them were going to be lost forever to human history, and I had to pick which one got to survive, I’d pick Chaos Walking. And y’all know how I love Diana Wynne Jones.

I shall continue to honor spoiler-free September for this book, but I really can’t talk about it at all without spoiling the first two books to some extent (as in: who survives the first two books). If you haven’t read The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer, please return to the first paragraph and follow its instructions before continuing reading this post. You will be happier in your life.

Where to begin? There were so many good things about Monsters of Men that naming just one, or even naming a few, feels completely inadequate. When the book opens, Todd has just freed the Mayor to command the human armies against the Spackle; Viola has gone to meet a scouting party from her colonization ship. The war against the Spackle proceeds along predictably horrifying lines, and even though you know the Spackle are justified, and the Mayor is evil sauce, you can’t help aligning yourself with the humans. Given your pick of humans and aliens, you’ll pick humans. Meanwhile, back at the scouting party, there is a different kind of awesome as Viola is reunited with two of the people who raised her on the colonization ship. Ness absolutely nails this: Viola has been through so much since she saw these people last, but in their minds she’s still the girl they’ve known all her life, and they are responsible for taking care of her.

Ness basically nails everything. There is not a false note in this whole damn book. Monsters of Men introduces a third narrator, the Spackle 1017 whom Todd let go in The Ask and the Answer. I was afraid this was going to feel put on, but that fear was, of course, unfounded. The Spackle’s narration gives us the aliens as they see themselves, complicating (of course) the war between humans and Spackle; and it also gives us his side of the events of The Ask and the Answer, which are even sadder than we knew at the time, and more heartbreaking than I would have anticipated. And, y’all, I anticipated a fair amount of heartbreak.

From the utter bleakness that was The Ask and the Answer, I thought Monsters of Men was going to be unmerciful, and it wasn’t that. Terrible things happened to major characters, but there were also moments of pure joy. I am thinking of one specific scene about two-thirds of the way through that filled my heart with happiness. If you’ve read it you probably know what I mean. Something happened that I desperately wanted to happen but did not think Patrick Ness would allow to happen, and I cried like a baby and read that scene over and over again. It is one of the greatest strengths of these books that Patrick Ness never ever fails to get the emotion he’s aiming for. I want to read these books a million times. Monsters of Men is a perfect conclusion to the Chaos Walking series. I have no complains whatsoever and will now go and reread that one scene again because it makes me cry just thinking about it. WITH JOY.

So many thanks to Heather at Candlewick Press for the review copy she sent me of this book. I was going insane waiting for it to come out in America and would have perished if I’d had to wait until September. Also, my family and friends were impressed that I got an advance reader’s copy, and I believe it was as a result of this that my mother, my friend, my sister, and my sister’s boyfriend all agreed to read this trilogy, and they loved it. Of course. How could they not? (Well, Captain Hammer has only read the first book so far, but he liked it and will assuredly like the subsequent books even more.)

Other reviews, probably including some spoilery ones, proliferate. Go ye to the Book Blogs Search Engine. And once again I would like to extend my strong and heartfelt thanks to Ana, who convinced me to read this series in the first place, kindly told me in April whether Todd and Viola were going to survive, and encouraged me to ask Candlewick Press for an ARC when I was shy.

The Ask and the Answer, Patrick Ness

Y’all.  For serious.  Patrick Ness.

The Ask and the Answer has caused me to lose the power to form sentences.  I am not even lying.  I was sat there in the Bongs & Noodles right after I finished reading the book (which isn’t officially out yet – I love it when the bookshop doesn’t care), and someone asked if the seat next to me was taken.  I believe my exact words were “Nnng blfff chair sit.  I mean, no,” and then I wanted to tell them all about The Ask and the Answer and how intense and terrifying it was.  You know how some books make you want to talk about them?  And you have to really try hard not to, because you know if you start talking you’re going to babble?  That is The Ask and the Answer for me.

Patrick Ness, not afraid to go to the dark place.  Dark like exploring how a person who participates in slavery can come to sympathize with it; i.e., triple extra dark.  So dark that if it were Lindt chocolate IT MIGHT EVEN BE TOO DARK FOR ME, and I say this as a girl who loves the 80% cacao Lindt chocolate.  And I expect there will be spoilers for The Knife of Never Letting Go in this review, because I can’t help it; but only minor spoilers for The Ask and the Answer.

Todd and Viola have been separated by the old Mayor of Prentisstown, now styling himself as the President of New Prentisstown (what used to be Haven); and each of them are hostage for the other’s good behavior.  As Viola recovers from being shot, the Mayor tries to convince her that he’s working for the good of the planet.  Meantime Todd works alongside Davy Prentiss (you know, the kid that just shot Viola), supervising a herd of enslaved alien creatures (Spackle).  The Mayor asks more and more of Todd, always threatening him with Viola’s death-

(I keep writing “the Mayor” and thinking of hand sanitizer.)

Yeah, so Todd becomes an overseer for this massive herd of Spackle, while Viola, in the healers’ house, is asked over and over by the Mayor to persuade the healers – one in particular – that the Mayor means to create a good civilization for them. Mistress Coyle, the one in particular, isn’t having any of it.  She and some of the other healers prove to be part of an underground guerrilla fighting group called The Answer, and she tries to get Viola to fight on her side.  Essentially Todd and Viola are both fiercely recruited for opposite sides of a war for the world, even though all they really want is to find each other again.  Never sure what to believe, they do come to identify with the people with whom they have fallen in.  In spite of being elaborately and repeatedly manipulated.

These books are so bleak!  And good!  And bleak!  Viola and Todd have to grow up a lot in these books, and make fantastically difficult decisions while being unable to trust the main people in their lives.  Because, of course, they want to be the main people in each other’s lives, but they have been separated.  They are not even sure whether they can trust each other.  It is bleak, but it is really about the power of love (like the bleakest possible ever book on that theme), and the identities we create for ourselves (and that others create for us).

If you haven’t read The Knife of Never Letting Go, you should get on that, and then read also The Ask and the Answer.  They are painful and sad and all about redemption.  (I wish Todd would get to read his mum’s notebook already.  I know it’s going to make me cry but I want to know what she says.)  I am desperate to read the third one, Monsters of Men it is apparently going to be called, which is not coming out even in the UK until next year.  Hmph.

Other reviews: things mean a lot, Persnickety Snark, Karin’s Book Nook, Kids Lit, YA Reads

Let me know if I missed yours!

An open letter to Patrick Ness, author of The Knife of Never Letting Go

Wow, Patrick Ness, color me super impressed.  Way to create a distinctive, consistent, memorable voice for your protagonist.  That isn’t easy.  I have not read a book where I enjoyed the narrator’s voice so much since, mm, The Book Thief, and before that The Ground Beneath Her Feet.  Which are two of my all-time favorite books.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is based on a fantastic premise, that the aliens in this settled world have given the settlers the disease of Noise, which killed all the women and left the men able to hear each other’s thoughts; and then the youngest boy in the settlement of Prentisstown finds a girl.  A live girl!  The book is fast-paced and exciting and frightening.  The title is perfect.  The relationship between Todd and Viola is utterly real – all the relationships are, actually, and even though this is a plot-driven book, damn, Patrick Ness, you just nail those emotional moments every single time.  Like this?  (Major spoilers in the block text below, so skip to the subsequent paragraph if you haven’t read the book.  Even if you don’t care about spoilers – if you haven’t read the book, you won’t know how great this is because all the context isn’t there, but trust me, it is great.)

Ben nods again, slow and sad, and I notice now that he’s dirty and there’s blood clotted on his nose and he looks like he ain’t eaten for a week but it’s still Ben and he can still read me like no other cuz his Noise is already asking me bout  Manchee and I’m already showing him and here at last my eyes properly fill and rush over and he takes me in his arms again and I cry for real over the loss of my dog and of Cillian and of the life that was.

“I left him,” I say and keep saying, snot-filled and coughing.  “I left him.”

“I know,” he says and I can tell it’s true cuz I hear the same words in his Noise.  I left him, he thinks.

Ouch.  Also, chills.

And you know what else, Patrick Ness?  Since I have gotten started talking about the good things about your book, and how it’s just everything that’s great about being great?  What else is, hooray for you, portraying a gay couple without making a big thing of it – we know they’re a couple because they act like a couple, not because you (the author) gets all THESE ARE TWO GAY PEOPLE THAT ARE GAY; they are just a couple, and that is nice, and it is normalizing, and there should be more of that going on in literature.  Oo, and, okay, also?  Aaron was about the dreadfullest villain I ever read about in my life.  (That isn’t a spoiler – you can always tell he’s insane.)

Here’s the thing, Patrick Ness.  You already did it!  You already created Todd’s voice!  You did it using only your words!  Your achievement is a remarkable achievement, because it is damn hard to create a voice like that, and you did it ever so beautifully.  Why, why, why did you need to do that silly dialect thing?  “Yer” is not necessary!  “Cuz” is not really necessary either!  And I can assure you that there is no possible world in which “conversayshun” would ever be necessary, because that is how the word is already pronounced.  It’s not an accent.  It’s how you say the word.  And “an asking” instead of “a question” is both silly and jarring.  It mildly chagrins my dazzle to see you relying on dialecty crutches this way, when Todd’s voice, and the atmosphere of the world you’ve created, are already just about perfect.

Since I am having a moan anyway, here’s my other (teeny-tiny) gripe, which contains massive spoilers.  I feel like the Big Prentisstown Reveal could have happened sooner.  At least part of it could have happened sooner.  I say, tell about how they killed all the women earlier on in the book (have one of the townspeople tell Todd, or something) – we pretty much figure that out anyway, right?  It’s part of the emotional arc of the story, but it’s not the central part.  The reveal you want to save for close to the end is that Prentisstown keeps on killing their own, to allow the boys to become men.  That is what’s crucial to the events that occur immediately after Ben tells it to Todd – plotwise and emotional-story-arc-wise.  Plus, if we already had the reveal about the women, we would think, okay, we’re done, now we know why nobody likes Prentisstown, and then the other thing would really slap us in the face, because it is pretty chilling.

(I mean, it wouldn’t slap me in the face.  I would already know because I would have read the end (as indeed I did!) and found out what was what.  This was helpful to me in making judgments about where each reveal should have occurred.  Reading the end: the Way, the Truth, and the Light, verily I say unto ye.)

Once I get started complaining, I can’t stop, so here’s my last complaint.  Patrick Ness, WHY ARE YOU BRITISH?  And also WHY DID I NOT READ THIS BOOK SOONER?  My sister has just now returned from Ireland, and if I had read this book like, like two days sooner, I could have told her to buy me the sequel, which is out in the UK now but not out in the US until September.  I really loved the books I read last week, but I would have loved them a few days later, and then I could have had The Ask and the Answer on Thursday when my sister comes all the way properly home.

To conclude, Patrick Ness, you are awesome, and future books would not suffer if you eighty-sixed the fakey dialect bit.  Also (spoilers!  Spoilers!), given that this book turned me into an emotional wreck, you, um, you could go ahead and have it turn out that Ben is still alive.  And, um, I mean, Cillian too.  That would be fine.  It wouldn’t mess up anything!  I would be happy!  Todd and Ben would be happy!  We would all be happy!  I wouldn’t feel like you had cheated!  Just if you wanted to have it turn out that way.  I only mention it.

Kisses and hugs,
Jenny

Other reviews:

things mean a lot
Bart’s Bookshelf
books i done read
Becky’s Book Reviews
Confessions of a Bibliovore
Fantasy Book Critic
Librarilly Blonde
The Well-Read Child
Wands and Worlds
YA Reads
YA Fabulous
Karin’s Book Nook
The Page Flipper
Reading the Leaves
Bookannelid
Lisa the Nerd
Kids Lit
Bitten by Books
Books and So Many More Books
A Hoyden’s Look at Literature

Let me know if I missed yours!