Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve Stats

I read 140 books this year, which is a major accomplishment for me. It's nearly double what I read last year.

I'm not feeling particularly gleeful about racking up these numbers because I know it's unlikely I'll come near reaching them next year or maybe ever again. The 48 Hour Book Challenge helped, but let's face it, it was my reading duties as a Cybils panelist that enabled--no! required me!--to do this kind of reading.

I took the month of December off to read and was probably only working part-time in November so I could cybilize. I probably won't be able to take that much time off from work again any time soon, so this may be the high point of my career as a reader.

I read only two books this past week. I feel like such a loser.

No Fairy Queens Dancing In This One

As a general rule, if I'm going to read a book about elves or other creatures of that nature, I prefer that they carry weapons. If I'm going to read about dragons, I want them to be destroying major cities. I don't really care for the trappings of what I think of as high fantasy. Fairy queens make me cringe.

The Last Dragon by Silvana de Mari includes a lot of high fantasy trappings--elves, dragons, dragon eggs, cryptic prophecy, a sword, a great many beans, hunters, and orphans, to name a few--but, unlike many fantasies, it doesn't take them all that seriously. Our dragon is something of an anti-hero, with a jaded outlook. And we first meet our elf when he is a clueless (and I mean clueless) child whose ineptitude and innocence draws the pity of two travelers who expected to hate him.

The storyline meanders a bit, with the elf Yorsh separating from his human companions in order to put in a long, long, trying period as, you might say, a midwife and then meeting up with his friends' daughter years later. She has fallen on hard times, and Yorsh isn't exactly the prince she's been waiting for.

The writing style is elegant with some sophisticated vocabulary in places, so this may be an elf and dragon story for kids in the upper end of the middle grade spectrum.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Potter Movie I'd Like To See

I didn't discover Beatrix Potter until I had offspring. We were all very fond of her books, though I can't really put my finger on why. I don't do cute, so that wasn't it. I think that perhaps there was an edginess behind the fluffy critters that attracted us.

So, I was happy to see that Salon has lots of good things to say about the new movie Miss Potter.

A Window Into A Too Common Part Of The Book Business

I only started reading Bookseller Chick a month or two ago. She recently announced that the bookstore she works for will be closing. Bookstore closings have become very common in recent years, and people who are interested in the book business might want to check in with her to read what she has to say over the next few weeks. Unfortunately, Bookseller Chick is going to have an up close and personal view of what leads up to bookstore closings and what comes next for booksellers who are no longer able to sell books.

Friday, December 29, 2006

I'm Being Buried Here, Folks

The new Horn Book arrived today. I don't think I even opened the last one. I'm not even sure where it is.

I haven't read Newsweek in at least a month, maybe more, and I gave up reading the daily paper about two weeks ago. And, of course, there are any number of print-outs of articles floating around here for me to go over.

We have to have our Cybils list in tomorrow night. I can't wait to see what's been going on in the world while I've been reading.

I Rest My Case

I told you just yesterday--just last night--that soon all eyes would be turned to spring books. Well, sure enough. Here we go.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

More Post-Cybils Plans

My Cybils experience will be coming to a close soon. While it's made me think about any number of things, two of them are weighing on my mind today.

1. I can't help but dwell on how short an amount of time books have to catch the attention of the public. Many books will pretty much disappear soon after their publishing season. We've been promoting all these Cybils nominees, but what will happen to them once the reading period is over? The spring book season will be upon us soon, and people will be turning their attention to the books that will be coming out in March, April, and May. (And June, of course, which is when my next book comes out.)

2. I've always been concerned about the fact that children's literature may not have that much to do with children. As I've said over and over again, children have very little part in the production of the literature created for them. All people in the kidlit blogging and review world can do is promote books we think children will like or books we think they should like. Or we may just be promoting books we ourselves like.

And what about when a young reader doesn't agree with us? Who's right and who's wrong or is anyone right or wrong? I've read that sometimes people have to be "educated" to enjoy certain types of literature, meaning they have to be exposed to a certain type of education. Is that all that's going on? The young haven't been educated the way we have and thus aren't able to appreciate what we're able to appreciate? Okay, but what about the types of literature they do appreciate? Is it of lesser value because we don't like it and they do?

I'm hoping to be able to continue considering these issues in the weeks and maybe months to come. One of the young relatives I gave Cybils books to on Christmas Day has already started reading and responding to them. He's into his twenties now but still closer to the YA and child reading experience than I am. And starting next week he's going to be spending his days with fifth graders.

Occasionally I'll be reconsidering Cybil nominees in light of BDT's response to them or maybe even in light of his students' responses to them. This will kill two birds with one stone--it will get some Cybil titles out in front of the public once more and it will enable us to hear the response of a young(er) reader and compare it to that of an old(er) one.

I'm psyched.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What's This Thing Really About?

We're experiencing meltdown here at Chez Gauthier. Everything is falling apart, and I'm no longer able to read a Cybils book every twenty-four hours or so. Of course, we're at the point in the nominating process where we're about to draw blood as we fight over the final five, so the reading is just about done, anyway.

As a result, I took a little time off to read a New Yorker article I heard about through the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators listserv. Goodnight Mush was written by Elizabeth Kolbert, whose qualification for writing about children's books appears to be that she wrote a book about global warming.

I am always trying to write essays, myself, so when I read essays written by others I'm always obsessively studying them trying to determine message, ability to stay on topic, topic and concluding sentences for paragraphs, and other such boring things. Goodnight Mush starts out as if it's about bedtime story picture books, meaning books about children or characters going to bed. Then it moves on to what appear to be this year's picture books (though I don't really know), which may or may not include children or characters going to bed. I haven't read Walter the Farting Dog Goes on a Cruise but the description at Amazon doesn't say anything about bedtime for Walter. Though a couple of the books Kolbert discusses do involve someone going to sleep, they don't all seem to and thus...does this article stay on topic?

Kolbert's article ends with a longer discussion of the ultimate bedtime story, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. Though I've read Goodnight Moon aloud plenty of times, I can't say I've ever really seen what's the big deal about it. Not a whole lot of story there, if you know what I mean. So I was really fascinated by Kolbert's concluding paragraph in which she says, "Time moves forward, and the little bunny doesn't stand a chance. Parent and child are, in this way, brought together, on tragic terms. You don't want to go to sleep. I don't want to die. But we both have to."

Oh! Now I get it!

Interestingly enough, this conclusion to the article is about Goodnight Moon but does it conclude an article about other picture books?

I really am obsessed with essays.

Anyway, I find it very interesting that the New Yorker asked Kolbert to write this article because she really doesn't seem to like picture books. Okay, maybe she asked to write it, but, still, she really doesn't seem to like picture books. In her opening paragraph she asks "why do we tell stories to our children?" Her answer is, "In my experience, mostly it is to get them to shut up." She calls books instruments of control. "I will read this to you, and then you will go to sleep. End of story."

I'm not going to touch that.

This is the kind of article that gets kidlit people all riled up. In reality, it's not anything for us to get our knickers in a twist over. It's an article that isn't truly about anything, it's just a number of random shots at a topic.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Retiring The Pants

The original Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants didn't grab me. Nonetheless, I recognize that the series' retirement is a little bit of an event.

I definitely would have missed this if not for bookburger.

This One Might Blow The Young Ones' Minds

Silver City by Cliff McNish is the second in what the author is calling The Silver Sequence. The book stands alone remarkably well, in large part because the writing is so intense and the situation the characters find themselves in is so horrific.

In a just a few pages McNish establishes the scenario--a child who is a few miles long hovers in the sky so that he can provide protection to the children of the world who are gathering beneath him. They are being mysteriously called there because something is coming through space to devour them.

Okay, it's not exactly probable. But the writing is so self-assured and, as I already said, intense, that you have to accept it. I didn't spend any time wondering how this could have happened or how the core characters developed the abilities they have.

Many writers have been unable to pull off a lot more likely situations.

Though it is clear that the children are still endangered at the end of the book, there is a complete story here.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Book Talk

I took a bag of Cybils books with me to the family gathering so I could distribute them to two young relatives who are beginning careers in teaching. The young man has a master's degree in education and will begin a long-term sub position with a fifth grade class on January 2. The young woman is about to start her junior year as an undergraduate education major.

Okay, I got the young man started on the Artemis Fowl series a couple of years ago. So he received my copy of The Lost Colony. I got him so seriously hooked on the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series that he went out and bought book two. So the young woman received The Sea of Monsters because she didn't have it, and the young man received the other "heroic" series book Samurai.

The young man was into comic books in his youth, so I gave him Abadazad because it started out life as a comic book series. I also gave him Homefree because I saw the third X-Men movie Saturday night, and I thought I saw similiarities between the two because they both involved kids with paranormal abilities being recruited for a school for people like themselves.

The young woman is into science, so she ended up with The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle. She also took Into the Woods.

I gave the young man The Softwire because he seems like someone who could get into hardcore scifi. He was also interested in Hellbent for himself. And when he heard that Beka Cooper was a police procedural, he took that for himself, too. Both those books are too old for gradeschoolers.

The Beasts of Clawstone Castle and The Changeling went to the young woman. She thought the premise for The Lurkers sounded interesting, so she took that as well.

The young man's mother has just finished Larklight and will pass it on to him. If he reads it, he'll be the fourth family member to do so. We like that book.

There were other books in my bag, but I can no longer recall what went to whom. And there will be more books to come in the future.

These are all worthy books because someone liked them enough to nominate them for a Cybil. My hope is that the children in these new teachers' classrooms will pick them up, read them, and become new fans for these authors and this genre.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Hey! I'm Still Here!

A whole bunch of bloggers are taking an extended holiday for...ah...the holidays. Yes! An opportunity to steal readers for myself!

Makes me wish I had a lot more to say.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

How Can We Talk About This?

No, I'm not talking about sex, death, or religion. I'm talking about what I may start referring to as episodic literature, books that may not be able to stand alone because they are part of a serialized series.

I have gone on record as saying that I believe every book should be a complete world, a complete experience. I've also tried to explain that I think writing is a form of communication and that the world the author envisions is what she is trying to communicate to her readers.

However, I try to maintain a mind of a beginner, not closed because of all the things I think I know. So my Cybils colleagues have been able to open me up to the idea that a complete world, a complete experience, can be extended over several books as in the case of a serial, a series of books that lead from one to another.

Even though I can now agree with this concept--or at least accept it--I'm still at a loss at how to discuss or assess later books in such series.

Take Sir Thursday by Garth Nix, for instance. Sir Thursday is the fourth book in Nix's Keys to the Kingdom serial. If Sir Thursday is any indication, the Kingdom involves a very complex world filled with unique characters. Even though there were some interesting things going on in this book, it was very difficult for this reader to figure out what was happening in the early stages. And though there is a climax for the action in this particular episode, the book definitely doesn't have a resolution. Instead, it ends with what appears to be the beginning of the next episode.

The complete serial, I'm told, is wonderful. But it's difficult to get into it by way of Sir Thursday.

Sad to say, you rarely find a nearly perfect balance of character, plot, situation, voice, and just about everything. But they're all there in equal proportions in Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud. Ptolemy's Gate is the third in a trilogy, and yet, while I was aware that these characters have a history, I had no problem at all picking up and running with this story. In fact, I think the frequent point-of-view switches were more demanding than not knowing anything about the earlier books.

So, what does a reader of these books tell another reader about them? How do adults encourage children to pick them up? I find it hard to believe readers who aren't already Keys to the Kingdom fans will make much of Sir Thursday. Why write a book that won't attract readers of its own? Ptolemy's Gate is just wonderful and should send readers back to the earlier books. Or maybe it won't because they'll know how the long-term story ends.

Who should read these books? Only people who've read the earlier ones? Are they written just for that subset of readers?

Well, I was discussing this at dinner last night (wouldn't you just love to eat at my house?) with two family members who are readers of serial fiction. One of them had an interesting view of this matter.

His thought is that every time a new book is published in a serial, the "hoopla" involved doesn't just publicize that new book but all the books that came before it. Thus when a new Keys to the Kingdom comes out, interest rises in the earlier books. And raves for Ptolemy's Gate don't just affect sales of Ptolemy's Gate but of the entire Bartimaeus Trilogy.

So the fact that the new book may not be a stand alone and may not be accessible to new readers isn't that big a deal because the new book isn't just a new book. It's also a marketing tool for the entire serial.

In fact, you've got a bizarre back-and-forth or maybe circular thing going on here. Fans of the first book are built-in buyers for the later books. If sales were good for the earlier books, you know you've got an immediate market for the next ones. Then the publicity for the later books will publicize the older books--and older books usually don't get much publicity on their own.

So, I guess what all this means is that because I've discussed Sir Thursday here, I've promoted Keys to the Kingdom. And because I've given a big thumbs up to Ptolemy's Gate, I've thrown some promotion to the Bartimaeus Trilogy.

Friday, December 22, 2006

No Time For Post-Cybil Depression

Some of us at the Cybils scifi and fantasy committee are already getting down because we're no longer receiving multiple packages of books from publishers. I know it's going to be really rough for me to no longer have an excuse to read all day. In fact, today I had to break down and do some pre-holiday work. For several hours.

I don't know if I can go back to that kind of life.

However, I'm not going to have time to tank too badly over this. I received the manuscript for the next A Girl, a Boy, and a... book back from my editor today, so it will be time to go back to work on that as soon as we're done with Cybils. )I predict that will be somewhere around 11:45 p.m. on New Year's Eve, by the way.)

And, what's more, an on-line literary journal (which will remain nameless for the time being) has shown an interest in one of my essays, so I'm going to be doing some editing work on that first thing in the new year.

Then there is the issue of what reading all day since the first of December has done to my house. There are two rooms that won't be back to normal before February. If I'm lucky.

An Excuse To Bring Up Something I've Been Thinking About

Yesterday MotherReader brought up a question about a children's book she recently read that included religious aspects that she didn't see mentioned in reviews of said book. She found it curious that no one else seemed to notice the religious passages or comment on their relevance to the rest of the book.

I've recently been thinking about some children's books I've read in which just the opposite takes place--religious discussion is missing from stories in what I find to be an illogical way.

The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan and The Chronus Chronicles by Anne Ursu both set up situations in which child characters learn that the Greek gods are for real. In one set of books the gods and goddesses continue to get involved ('ll say, to put it nicely) with humans, and in the other the Greek Underworld is what we have to look forward to after death.

In none of these books does any child character ever say, "But what about baby Jesus?" or "Does my rabbi know about this?"

Now these books are all adventures and work very well as such. They are not trying to be profound. But it still struck me as odd that all the kid characters just took the news that the Judeo-Christian ethic that they had been brought up in was pretty much turned on its ear. Even if you accepted that not one of these children had ever seen the inside of a church or a synogogue, they had to have heard of God and the Bible.

They didn't wonder what was up?

Evidently not. And evidently adult readers of these series don't expect them to because to my knowledge no one has noticed that these children know so little about their own culture that they can take this kind of switch in stride.

It's Hard To Have Guests When You Don't Have A Server

I had only 16 visitors to my website yesterday, probably because my server was down all day. I was lucky to be getting e-mail.

And, yes, 16 is a lot fewer than normal.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

SVU With Magic

I'm getting the impression from some things I'm now reading that Beka Cooper: Terrier by Tamora Pierce may be part of some overall fantasy world created by Pierce. The bottom of the cover does include the line "A Tortall Legend."

Not only do I not know what the heck Tortall is, before Beka Cooper I had never read anything by Pierce. Not a word. That did not hinder my enjoyment of this book.

The fact that Beka Cooper is written in the form of a journal and I don't like journal books didn't hinder my enjoyment of this book. The fact that the book begins with three short journal entries from three different people, two of whom never appear in the story, did not hinder my enjoyment of the book. And that's the kind of thing that usually drives me crazy.

But then Beka Cooper isn't what I think of as a traditional otherworldly fantasy with a made-up country, a made-up religious hierarchy, and a made-up culture. Well, actually, it is all that. But it's also a police procedural. A really good one.

I like police procedurals. I understand police procedurals.

Beka Cooper is a sixteen-year-old newbie police officer, known as a puppy. (The experienced officers are dogs. It's a lot less cute than it sounds.) She happens to have a little bit of magical mumbo jumbo about her, though not everyone in the city where she works does. Magic is accepted, people just don't get all mystical and freaky about it. She's been assigned to two experienced, competent officers who are responsible for her training.

Beka has a great voice, very distinct from the traditional YA voice in mainstream YA fiction. She has witty, tough, believable partners. She has no real love interest. She has a couple of heinous crimes to solve. She solves them.

Whatever alternate world she may be part of doesn't become burdensome or distracting. It does what it should do. It supports the story.

Pierce provides a multiple page glossary of sorts at the back of the book. She does such a good job with her story that it just isn't necessary.

One of the things I particularly liked about this book was the portrayal of the poor. Often fantasy books seem to love royal or artistocratic characters--fairy queens, royalty in disguise, knights in shining armor, and on and on and on. But Beka Cooper and her companions rise from the poorest section of the city and stay there to protect others like themselves.

You Just Never Know What's Going To Happen

Shortly After Noon

Something new is always happening in this life, and you just can't predict what it's going to be. I got up this morning to rejection. Then after lunch I received an e-mail from my editor at G. P. Putnam telling me that the Junior Library Guild will be offering A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat (coming out next June) as one of its selections.

And Christmas is this weekend!

Really, if you don't like what's going on in your life, just wait.

Though, of course, that also works the other way, too. Damn.

Is This Good Or Bad?

7:30 AM

Over the past couple of days I've been wondering when I'd find time to contact a literary journal to which I'd submitted a short story back in September. As luck would have it, I got up to find an e-mail from the editors rejecting my submission.

So I don't have that on my plate anymore!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's About The Kids, Stupid. Or Is It?

Horatio Lyle in The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle by Catherine Webb is one of those laid-back, cool, outsider guys you sometimes find in historical fiction. And he's an adult, the main character in a children's book.

Conventional wisdom says that the main character in a children's book is a child. That's one of the ways you can tell a children's book from an adult book.

And, yet, Horatio Lyle is there, in his book, with two child sidekicks, one of whom is very funny and clever, while the other is better than okay. For those of us who enjoy history, the book is quite good, certainly very readable. And for the scifi/fantasy crowd we've got some alien bad guys and a lot of electro-magnetic science stuff.

But how can an adult lead work in a children's book? Who will the children relate to, who will they identify with? The sidekicks? Who wants to be a sidekick?

I think the reason Horatio works is that he's an outsider in his time. He's a serious science wonk in Victorian England. A second generation science wonk, in fact. He's not an aristocrat in a society where birth status still matters. But it's also a society where education and technology are just beginning to come into play. He's even an outsider as far as traditional heroes are concerned. He doesn't use guns or swords or even his fists. He uses chemicals as his weapons. He does what he has to do, but he doesn't seem to be burdened with an overabundance of courage. When he needs help, he calls on his mother.

Why can an outsider guy like Lyle work in a children's book? Because in a world where adults have all the power, children and teenagers are outsiders, too. An outsider character--especially if he's clever and witty--is someone an outsider reader can identify with.

Gone But Not Forgotten

As a Cybils panelist I've spent the last two months reading a great many books that were very recently published. Books that came out just last spring seem to be forgotten already.

So I was interested to read about the New York Review Children's Collection, which reissues out-of-print books. And I mean, seriously out-of-print. Gone for a long, long time.

From artsJournal.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Standing Alone

Over on the Cybils fantasy and scifi panel we've done some talking about the issue of "stand alone" books, meaning books that can be read without first having read an earlier book in a series. The bulk of the members of the panel are patient with series books within the fantasy genre. The feeling seems to be that a fantasy world has been created, and the different books within a particular series are all part of the story that's going on within that world. My impression is that, if anything, being able to extend the experience to more than one book is a plus for many of them.

Guess who's the hardass holdout in the bunch?

Hey, I believe every book is a complete world, a complete experience, and if I don't get my complete experience within each book, I feel as if I've been had.

I may also have a bias on this subject because I am a writer, and this writer has a particular attitude toward what writing is or should be. I believe writing is a form of communication, and a book is a message, a piece of communication. According to the model of communication I learned (according to a young relative who is a communication major, there is more than one), in order for communication to take place, there must be a transmitter and a receiver. Meaning, in our case, that the writer creates and sends out her message (piece of writing) and the reader receives it (reads and comprehends).

Many kinds of interference that the author can't control can wreck the communication process and make it difficult for the reader to receive her message. People who speak a different language aren't going to be able to read her book. People who don't care for her genre, her subject, her style aren't going to get her message.

But to intentionally write a book (create a message) that a segment of the reading public (receivers) won't understand (receive) because they haven't read your previous books, makes no sense to me. Why would anyone knowingly write a book readers won't get? What's the point of writing a book like that?

To me this contradicts the very reason people write--to communicate with others.

My co-panelists are heroic readers and in many cases have read not only the nominated series books but the earlier books in said series. I am merely a reading warrior and have only read the nominees. To date, I've had no problem with any of the books. The series books have been able to stand alone or I happened to have read the earlier books in the series, anyway. According to my fellow readers, I'm coming up to two books now that will definitely test my wits because I'm not familiar with the earlier books.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

For Fairy Tale Fans

I can recall enjoying the fairy and folk tales that appeared in my pastel reading books when I was a little nipper, but I seemed to grow out of them pretty rapidly. I suspect I became jaded from too much exposure to the fractured fairy tales of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

So I wasn't able to appreciate Into the Woods by Lyn Gardner as much as it probably deserves. Even so, I was able to recognize all kinds of clever twists and turns and variations on tales in this story of a latter day pied piper. There are references to a woodcutter's daughter who went into the woods and was eaten by a wolf as well as to a child who trespassed in someone's home and ran into some really rough characters. A gingerbread house figures prominently in the storyline. In fact, a knowledgeable reader can have a pretty good time picking out details from childhood stories. There were probably far more story references there than I, myself, recognized.

I found the bad guys too stereotypically nasty for my taste, but for people who are more into fairy tales, that may be part of the fun.

One aspect of Into the Woods I particularly liked, though, was the questioning of happilyeverafter endings. The main character and her two sisters are the daughters of Rapunzel, who, after she is released from the tower and falls in love, turns into one really lazy mom. And at the end of Into the Woods, our heroine, herself, suffers from heroic letdown.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

But Where Are George And Bess?

I looked at my child_lit messages for the first time in weeks, and look what I found! I didn't even know this was in the works, and they've already got a trailer.

This Is For Real, I Tell You

I like connections. I like finding connections between and among unrelated things. Some people say that I see them where they don't exist, which isn't true. They just can't see them. (Sort of the way some people can see fairies whereas I most definitely cannot.) I have, of course, been in a frenzy of reading this past month and a half for the Cybils, and a couple of weeks ago, I started seeing all kinds of connections among the books I've been reading.

Characters whose eyes aren't the same color appear in:
Into the Woods
The Beast of Noor

Percivals appear in:
Corbenic English version of Parzival
The Beasts of Clawstone Castle Family name

Romance novels appear in:
The Privilege of the Sword

Greek mythology as reality appears in:
The Shadow Thieves
The Sea of Monsters

Twists on fairy tales appear in:
Into the Woods

Characters in trees appear in:
Septimus Heap: Flyte
The Beast of Noor

Characters communicating in dreams appear in:
The Sea of Monsters
Evil Star

Train trips appear in:
The Summer King

Characters named Cal appear in:
The Last Days Well, barely.

The word Bray appears in:
The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle A character's name
The Summer King A place name

Characters needing to be tied down to avoid succumbing to a spell appear in:
The Beast of Noor
The Sea of Monsters

Really, I see connections. And they don't know they're connections.

Friday, December 15, 2006


I first heard of Catherine Fisher last spring while I was still active with the YA Forum at Readerville. Some of the other posters were fans. Corbenic is the first of her books that I've read.


The tension in the opening pages of Corbenic is almost unbearable--in the good sense of the word. Cal, the seventeen-year-old main character, is on a train, escaping a hellish childhood. He's leaving his mother, who we don't know much about at that point, to go stay with his uncle, who we don't know much about either. He accidentally (and believably) gets off the train at the wrong stop. It appears to be out in the middle of nowhere. There's no station, no board up with a schedule, nothing. He wanders around desperately in the rain and the dark until he meets a couple of fishermen who direct him to an inn.

This is not so much an inn as a beautiful old castle where he is treated royally. But while there he makes a mistake. As a result, when he wakes up the next morning, he is no longer in a castle but a ruin.

Cal is a marvelously conflicted character, desperate to get away from his mentally unbalanced and alchoholic mother yet also filled with guilt for wanting to do so.

Is Corbenic, the castle he stumbled upon real? Or is it a symptom that, like his mother, he's going to become mad?

Corbenic is a new take on Parzival the story of Percival, one of the knights of the Round Table. Each chapter in Corbenic begins with a quotation from what appears to be one version or another of the Parzival story. Knowledge of the original definitely isn't a requirement for enjoying Corbenic. Though I used to be an Arthurian groupy and am familiar with names and the Holy Grail, I didn't know anything about Parzival.

Corbenic is a well-written, atmospheric story in which Fisher does a wonderful job of combining the old and the new. Ruth Rendell is a writer I don't imagine many young adult readers will know much about, but Corbenic's psychological tension and realistic turmoil suffered by an average human being reminded me very much of her work.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Maybe Margaret Atwood Could Write A Graphic Novel!

Margaret Atwood has written children's books. Unfortunately, I've never read any of them. I was just obsessed with her when I was younger because she is from Canada and my grandparents were from Canada. Of course, they were farmers and she is a writer. And they spoke with heavy French accents, and she doesn't. But otherwise I felt a connection.

It turns out that Atwood is a cartoonist. Maybe you have to have an Atwood obsession to get them. I don't know.

Thanks to BookLust my source for all things Canadian. Or as my cousin Nicole once said, "Canadiaaan." As in "And that's five dollars Canadiaaan!"

Educating Gail

The Sea of Monsters, which I was just talking about yesterday, includes some elements of The Odyssey, so I think it's appropriate to direct your attention Trojan Woman at Slate. Most readers will be interested in the question of whether or not Homer was a woman. I, of course, found something else of interest in this article.

The article opens with a paragraph on historicism. If you're guessing that this is a term Gail had never heard of, you'd be right on the money. My impression is that it's a view in which "literature articulates the ideas and values of its own time" rather than just expressing "timeless truths about human nature."

Oddly enough, the last time I read The Odyssey I remember thinking, "Man, this articulates the ideas and values of a nasty group of people." I mean, come on, Odysseus and his boys make stops on the way home to steal women. And I have always felt that the Cyclopes was used very badly.

Anyway, I thought the whole historicism thing was interesting.

Once again, I must thank artsJournal, which has changed its look and apparently its name, for improving my mind.

I'm Not Feeling Very Special

My computer guy found this article on blogging. Knowing that I'm one of 100 million definitely makes me feel lost in a crowd.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Writing Books Isn't Easy

This past weekend I happened to read two books about heroic main characters. They each illustrate a problem writers have to deal with.

The basic premise behind Samurai by Jason Hightman is that St. George, of St. George and the Dragon fame, has descendants who continue to fight dragons. Contemporary dragons feed off from human suffering and, disguised as, say, high fashion models or plastic surgeons, they cause a lot of. Simon St. George and his father Aldric, the last of St. George's descendants, can see them in their real form and have committed their lives to destroying them. In Samurai, the second in a series about the St. George's, they learn that a group of Samurai warriors battle dragons in Japan and the two groups end up joining forces.

Hightman has said that he "hopes the Saint of Dragons series combines the best elements of old-fashioned swordplay adventure, Japanese comic books, cinematic action, heroic archetypes, and unusual villains." Certainly, Samurai involved a lot of action. It was almost exhausting reading it, by which I do not mean it put me to sleep by any means. I thought the climax got a little out of control and over the top, the way action films sometimes do, but certainly there's an audience for this book.

Here's the problem Hightman faces, though--it's really hard to pull off a teenage hero surrounded by adult heroes who are older and stronger and more experienced. Poor Simon has trouble holding up his end. This is realistic, of course, but it's still a difficult situation for a writer to have to deal with. Simon also does some stupid things, as so many kid characters have in the past. This moves the story along, of course, because it means he can get in trouble. But how heroic is it?

Heroic teen heroes--not easy to do.

Rick Riordan faces another problem with The Sea of Monsters, the second in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. (Blogger refuses to let me upload the cover.) We learned of the clever setup for these stories in the first book The Lightning Thief. Greek gods are for real, they're still consorting with humans and producing god/human hybrids who are being gathered together at a special camp for heroes. Riordan avoids the pitfall of putting a teen hero up against adult heroes by not using any adult heroes. The problem he's facing, though, is that in the second book we know the setup, and it's just not the same as when we were first exposed in the earlier book.

This happens frequently with series stories. Eugenides from the books by Megan Whalen Turner has a cult following. I love him, too. But I don't love him quite so much as I did in The Thief, when I didn't know who he was. Now I do. You can't go back. And Twilight the first in the vampire series by Stephanie Meyer stands out because of the sexual tension between its two main characters. Talk about something that's hard to maintain! Especially since doing something about the tension requires a self-destructive act on the part of one of said characters. Meyers is really in a bind.

Well, traditionally heroes always have a tragic flaw, so we shouldn't be surprised when teen heroes have one, too.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Wouldn't You Love To Get This With A Christmas Card

I am so obsessed with reading for the Cybils that I thought it would be charming to include a picture of some of my reading with the family Christmas card this year. Hey, I don't have any pets.

This is the greatest excuse for lying on the couch all day and reading that I ever expect to stumble onto in my entire life. This is it, folks. I'm living my dream. When it's taken away from me in January, I expect something bad will happen. Something very, very bad.

Another One of Them Fancy Hybrids

J. L. Bell of Oz and Ends might want to take a look at Abadazad: The Road to Inconceivable by J. M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog. The book, like Travels of Thelonious, is a hybrid of graphic and traditional novel. It deals with contemporary children entering the world of a series of nineteenth century books by the fictional Franklin O. Davies (Frank L. Baum?) about a world called Abadazad (Oz?). Just as Lewis Carroll didn't get the Alice story right in The Looking Glass Wars, Davies doesn't get the Abadazad stories right in The Road To Inconceivable, the first in a series. One change he makes is particularly striking.

While I found the narrative voice in Abadazad a little flat, the book is finding fans elsewhere and getting plenty of attention. It has an interesting publishing history because it started out life as a comic book.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Another Larklight Fan

Big A little a directed me to this Guardian review of Larklight.

Enough With The Italics Already

A few years ago while I was part of a writing group, one of the other members told me that characters' thoughts are supposed to be indicated by italics. That was news to me, and since I agree with those who believe one doesn't want to be on the absolute cutting edge of grammatical and usage change, I ignored him.

Recently I have, indeed, read a number of books that used italics to indicate thoughts. As much as I hate looking like an old fart, I have to say we are not amused.

Traditionally the function of italics within text has been to indicate emphasis. The only reason to use italics with a character's thoughts, then, would be because a particular thought needs to be emphasized for some reason.

Forgive me, but the character hasn't been created whose thoughts are so significant that they all need to be emphasized.

As is the case with obscenity and toilet humor, the less frequently you use italics, the more impact or emphasis they have. If you use them a lot, readers will either become bored (as they do with obscenity and toilet humor) or stop trusting that you, yourself, can recognize that some words are more important than others.

In the books I've seen using italics to indicate thought, however, the authors aren't even trying to emphasize some really important material. In fact, in one book the character's thoughts were so incredibly mundane and pointless and went on at such length that I began skipping any intalicized material. Sometimes this meant skipping a couple of paragraphs at a time. Half a page, even.

No, instead these authors are using italics as a sort of shorthand. Their belief seems to be that if they put thoughts in italics, they don't have to use tags, such as "he thought." This puts an additional burden on the reader to work out that the character is, indeed, thinking. By no means do I want to suggest readers can't work this out. I just think it's the author's responsibility to know what's going on with her characters and to express it.

Some of the authors who are using italics to indicate thought also seem to think that just spilling raw thought out onto the page is enough. They don't need to indicate what these thoughts mean to their characters, what impact they have on them. True, sometimes a thought is enough. But sometimes it definitely isn't.

In short, lengthy italicized passages cannot replace good writing.

Most of us work on word processors these days, and italicizing is an easy function. However, just because we can italicize, it doesn't necessarily follow that we should.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Sophisticated Story

Variations on the Persephone story have been popular this year, if you consider two books dealing with it popularity. (Perhaps we're talking about the beginning of a genre here?) The Shadow Thieves is about contemporary children who learn that Hades and Persephone are for real.

The world of Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett doesn't include Greek mythology, so the reference to the myth isn't as obvious. But the annual courtship between the elemental forces of Winter and Summer takes an unexpected and dangerous turn when Wintersmith becomes smitten with a human girl and wants to make her his bride in a winterworld. Seemed like a Persephone story to me, if only in the sense that the relationship between Winter and Summer explains the changing of the seasons just as the story of Persephone and Hades does.

The idea of story is important in Wintersmith. Some stories, such as the one about Winter and Summer, are eternal, and once the story starts, it has to be completed.

Boffo is also important. Boffo is the power you get when people believe you to be powerful. I'm not good with Boffo. I definitely would like more Boffo.

Many people think of sophisticated teen books as books with sex, death, depression, and more sex. Maybe some shopping. Personally, I think sophistication involves some thinking about things we don't usually think about. Most of us think about sex, death, depression, more sex, and shopping all the time. But the impact stories have on our lives and how people achieve power? Not so much.

Some other good points about Wintersmith:

It's the third in a series of books about a young witch named Tiffany Aching. I haven't read the first two, and though it was obvious that these characters had existed before the events in this book, I had no trouble following this particular story. A book in a series that can be read on its own always gets high points from me.

Tiffany is thirteen years old. Many characters in children's books are twelve or thirteen, and the things they do seem somewhat unbelievable in relation to their age. Pratchett does a good job with Tiffany. She seems young, but in the context of her world the things she is able to do are believable.

Wee Free Men.

The Hallucinations Have Begun

Sometimes when I've been doing something physical during the day, I'll have these brief...ah, I'm drifting off to sleep at night. For instance, if I've been biking, as I'm drifting off to sleep I'll have the sensation that I'm back on the bike. If I've been orienteering, I feel as if I'm in the woods. Earlier this month after an intense period of cooking because I was having guests over, I felt as if I was whipping cream again.

Anyway, last night I had to go to a taekwondo class. The evening classes are a source of anxiety for me because that's where most of the black belts are. Then I came home and stayed up to 1 a.m. reading for the Cybils panel. I woke up at 7 and started reading again. I sort of got dressed, if you call dirty workout clothes getting dressed, but I still haven't showered or brushed my teeth. By early afternoon I had finished reading two books I was working on and started a third.

This third book involved some dragon slayers. After a big opening episode, they were going to do some training during their downtime. I closed my eyes just to catch a catnap--and all of a sudden I was experiencing one of my little episodes and was back training in the dojang myself!

Can't remember that ever happening with a book.

I'm a little afraid that tonight when I go to bed I'll have hallucinations about reading.

Friday, December 08, 2006

You Don't Suppose This One Went Just A Little Over The Top?

"A brilliantly nauseating thriller." London Times is the blurb scrolled across the top of the cover of Hellbent by Anthony McGowan.

Believe it. Believe every word.

Sixteen-year-old Conor O'Neil buys the farm in the first chapter of Hellbent and goes straight to Hell. Conor is an extremely likable (to me, anyway)character, one of those I call self-aware rather than self-involved. This is no Holden Caulfield wannabe whiner, though God knows he has plenty to whine about, being in Hell and all.

The problem with Hell--and with Hellbent--is that it's full of crap. I am not speaking metophorically, people. I mean that everywhere you look in McGowan's hell, you find excrement. If Conor has to go across a lake, it is filled with dung. If he goes out to eat, he's served a plate of poo. If he has to go through a culvert, the fluid flowing through the bottom of it is filled with floating turds. If get my drift.

You know how a well-placed obscenity can be funny because it's shocking? But after you've heard the same dirty word thirty to fifty times you're no longer shocked? In fact, you're bored? That, unfortunately, is what happens in Hellbent.

Really, there should be a rule limiting writers to one roughage joke per book.

Everyone gets their own personal torment in this Hell, which isn't a particularly novel idea, but that's okay because McGowan does some clever things with it. Conor's torment is to be confined in a room with books on philosophy, history, and religion as well as a radio that gets only one station. It plays, of course, only classical music of every stripe when it isn't running documentaries on such topics as "James Joyce's use of the apostrophe." Conor realizes that some other tortured soul is confined to a room filled with just the kind of things that would be heaven to him, and he sets out to try to find it in the company of the devil assigned to him.

The toilet humor is interspersed with philosophy, believe it or not, which is very interesting. Imagine swinging from a scene about a butt-nipping creature lunging up out of a toilet bowl to one in which two characters discuss how to live a good life. Conor's devil companion tells him how to do it, but I realized after I'd slept on it that since that devil was a known liar, we probably can discount any advice he has to give.

Hellbent is witty and thought provoking. I liked the ending. However, as I was wading through page after page of...well, you know...I was wondering what was the point of the over-the-top and pretty revolting fecal humor. Was it there to make the philosophical points more palatable to teenage boys? If so, I think that if the author had cranked down the intensity a bit, he would have achieved the same result and kept a lot more readers over the age of seventeen as well.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Child's First Apocalyptic Novel

Travels of Thelonious by Susan Schade and Jon Buller is a lovely book. It's heavily illustrated in comic-type pictures in various shades of blue and periodically breaks into a graphic novel format for several pages at a time. It's definitely an inviting book.

Our story begins with a line from an old legend. "In ancient times, when human beings ruled the earth and the animals did not yet have the gift of language..."

That explains the basic set up of the world of Thelonious. Humans no longer rule the earth and animals speak. What brought about this sequence of events, you may wonder. No one knows. Some animals don't even believe that human beings are real. "The Human Occupation is just a myth."

Thelonious finds out differently when the tree he lives in is washed away in a storm with him in it. He finds himself in ruined human city. And from there he begins his travels.

This is a very linear story, with various animals trying to return to their homes. Though we're talking about some kind of post-disaster society, the creatures and their families are warm, fuzzy, and comforting. (And I'm not being sarcastic. Really.) In fact, there are some scenes involving a bear family that seem very much like The Berenstain Bears in A Brave New World. (Again, I'm not being sarcastic. Some members of the Gauthier family adored The Berenstain Bears. Big comfort books.)

Thelonious is marketed to 8 to 12 year olds, but with the animal characters and wealth of illustrations, I think kids toward the lower end of the age group are going to be more interested. I also think it could be a good choice for reluctant or new readers who will be encouraged by the pictures and the story line that will pull them along. And since it's the first in a series, if they get hooked, they'll be able to keep reading.

I just found out today that Jon Buller (who did the illustrations) and I were at the same conference at the beginning of November. I hadn't heard of him or his book at that time, which is probably just as well. As a Cybils judge, I probably shouldn't be consorting with nominees.

More On The Looking Glass War

Colleen Mondor has an article in the new issue of Bookslut called Revisiting the Classics that includes material on The Looking Glass Wars. This is another article I don't have time to finish reading so I'm making a copy to take on my vacation in January.

What vacation? I'm going to be spending all my time doing work related reading.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Gossip Girl With Vampires!

Last week while I was reading two lame teen-world meets fantasy books, I kept thinking, Someone really ought to write a rich-teen-girls-gone-wild story with, like, vampires.

And, look! Melissa de la Cruz has!

You know that saying about how the rich are different from the rest of us? Well, in Blue Bloods that's because the ultra-rich old-moneyed families of not just New York but the whole world are vampires.

One of the things I enjoy about contemporary vampire stories is the way authors create their own unique vampire universe. In de la Cruz's vampire universe, vampires were thrown out of Heaven with Lucifer and the rest of the fallen angels. They need human blood to survive, but they don't "prey" on other humans in the traditional vampire way. Killing is a big no-no in their code. And they are seriously into philanthropy. They have been founding museums and raising money for charitable causes for generations, hoping to earn their way back into Heaven.

Blue Bloods is far better than the earlier teen-world meets fantasy books I whined about because

1. de la Cruz actually has a story. Yes, you really do need one.

2. Her characters are defined. Yes, they all sound as if they just walked out of The Gossip Girl, but while I was reading Blue Bloods, I thought that was the point. I thought that was an enjoyable part of the story.

3. The author doesn't have her characters point out things for us. No running commentary here, just story and action.

What I enjoyed about this book was how it played so close to the original Gossip Girl book. At the time I was reading it, I thought that was intentional, that this was a kind of parody of that book and the whole teen chicklit thing. But then I found out that de la Cruz has her own teen chicklit series so now I'm not so sure she was doing a send-up here. That might be too much like biting the hand that feeds her. So maybe I was reading parody into the book because that's what I wanted to see.

But come on! Blue Bloods has a queen beeitch just like The Gossip Girl does. It has the big official party. The over-the-top private party in a private home. The rich kids planning a charity event. The rich underage kids being served drinks in hotel bars. The massive amount of product placement. The detached parents. If I recall The Gossip Girl correctly (and I may not because it wasn't all that memorable) both books even end up in the air.

To me, that read like a winky sendup, and I enjoyed it. If I was wrong, then Blue Bloods is another ode to the rich who are different from you and me. It's a tolerable ode because it includes vampires.

Many people don't care for the rich, but who doesn't love vampires?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What Does It All Mean?

I feel a little odd linking to an essay on the significance of literary awards while I'm having the time of my life reading nominations for an award myself. But I'm doing it, anyway, because I think Kathryn Hughes has a couple of interesting things to say.

1. "The first thing to say about prizes is that they are, above all, a mechanism for generating publicity. It would cost companies like Costa or Orange [sponsors of English literary awards] millions in advertising to garner the same amount of name-checking; writers, meanwhile, benefit from the publicity their books get when they're in the running." Hughes doesn't have any complaints about that, and neither do I. As so many have pointed out, it's damn hard to get press for a book. I particularly like to hear that books I've never heard of are in the running for awards or have even won them.

2. "Nonetheless, I don't for a minute think that winning a literary prize means a book is objectively better than its rivals. All it means is that on a certain day at a certain time in some anonymous meeting room or other, five well-meaning people reached an agreement that this or that book was really rather good." Absolutely. And, remember, those five well-meaning people can only consider nominated books. Who knows how many "really rather good" books are out there that they never saw because no one nominated them?

The above link comes from

Let's Talk About Sex

Many people who aren't familiar with YA fiction believe that it contains little if any sex. That is so not true. Sexual content definitely is not a reason to write off a book as being inappropriate for teenagers.

Nonetheless, when a novel hasn't been written specifically for that audience, when the author believed she was writing a book for adults and the publisher prepared and marketed that book for and to adults, I do think it is only responsible to bring up sexual content. Adults ordering the book for a younger audience should be aware of what the book is about. And I definitely feel it does authors of adult books an injustice to have others just blithely announce that their work is YA friendly, leaving them open to challenges they should not have to endure because, after all, they were writing for adults.

The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner is an adult book that has been nominated for a Cybil award. Though the sexual content is not graphic by any means, the book does include many promiscious bi-sexual characters, a heterosexual rape, discussion of very young boys being used sexually by men, and a brothel scene. That's what I can remember. Oh, wait. There's a brief sexual awakening moment, too, that occurs while a character is watching two women kiss.

I mention all that just so you know.

The book is YA friendly in that it has an attractive teenage main character and a number of other teenage characters as well. Someone could make the argument that the book deals, at least in part, with a traditional YA theme of identity. Young Lady Katharine is a member of country family that is at the financial mercy of her uncle, a duke. He offers to repair their financial problems if she comes to live with him and learn to be his swordsman. She evolves into a much different person by the end of the book.

The Privilege of the Sword is very intriguing, especially if you spent part of your youth reading historical romances. The fantasy element of the book involves the setting, which appears much like, say, late-eighteenth century England, but isn't. But many of traditional aspects of Georgette Heyer-type romances appear here. They're just--different.

For instance, a decadent hero often appears in historical romances. He's a combination bad boy, anti-hero, someone who clearly was getting around the track in his youth but is now some kind of outsider power figure who recognizes and falls for the spunky young heroine's...ah, spunk. Alec Campion, Duke Tremontaine, fills this position in The Privilege of the Sword, except that he's decadent now. In spades. In addition to engaging in promiscuous sex with members of both sexes, he's often drunk, and he does drugs. But he's also a wealthy patron, when he thinks of it, supporting social outcasts.

He's also the spunky heroine's uncle, taking him out of the running for her romantic attachment. (He's not that decadent.)

Historical romances often have wealthy young girls who are taking part in their "Season" during which they are essentially on the meat market, looking for suitable husbands. We have a meat market in this book as well as one particular girl's disasterous experience as part of it.

We have lots of women experiencing disaster in this book. A young girl is taken advantage of by her powerful fiance and left twisting in the wind by her family. Another is a physically abused wife. A third doesn't fit the mold for beauty and form but is academically gifted, meaning there's no place for her in this society.

All these women need the protection of men, as is usually the case in a historical romance. In this particular romance, though, the decadent, perhaps mad, Duke Tremontaine recognizes that the best way to protect a young female family member is to give her power.

How will younger readers feel about this book? I really have no idea. I don't know who's reading historical romance these days or if the fantasy element here is strong enough to make young readers feel they're reading a fantasy. I don't know if young women will feel there's a feminist twist to the book the way I did.

The novel definitely has a lot of interesting elements. I just think we need to be up front that sex is one of them.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Pause So Gail Can Complain

I've read some marvelous books this past month during my fantasy/scifi binge for the Cybils. This week, though, I hit upon a couple of...disappointments, let's say. They were both books that involved contemporary teenage girls who stumble into fantasy scenarios.

The fantasy scenarios were clever. They had potential for humor or wit, even social satire. The problem was the contemporary teenage girl portion of the books, the realistic aspects of the novels. One girl was a stereotype, which could have worked if she'd been, say, a take-off of a stereotype. But she wasn't. She was just a girl. In the second book, the girl protagonist seemed to suffer from a multiple personality disorder. Sometimes she was a dull teenage girl with dull teenage girl problems and an improbable trauma in her past. Sometimes she had a mouth on her and some attitude.

I guess in both cases I'd have to say that the characters weren't well defined. They weren't strong characters.

A couple of other problems:

One book had a very weak story. The basic situation was neat, but that's pretty much all there was. There were many funny scenes, but there wasn't a powerful storyline to string them on. Most of my books begin with a situation. I know how difficult it is to move from a situation to a story. Nonetheless, without a story to draw readers on, we're just left going, "How did I manage to get to page 67?" and "How am I ever going to finish this thing?"

The other book had a main character who was always commenting on what was happening to her. Running commentary only works if the commentary is unusual in some way--full of insight or twisted. The commentary has to be unique, which will then make the character unique. However, if a teenage girl sees that her English teacher is always standing in a puddle or is always wearing a wet blouse and her commentary is, "Weird" or "Odd" that's only stating the obvious. We've just read the scene. We know it's weird or odd. She's not telling us anything new or unique. And if the teenage girl uses that same commentary for similar weird or odd situations, she becomes annoying. Really fast. On top of that, the author is giving readers the impression that she doesn't trust them to work out what they've just read. She's telling us how to interpret what we just read in case we didn't get it. She's annoying us and disrespecting us in one move.

Fortunately, I have many more Cybils nominees to read. Something good, or at least intriguing, should be coming up soon.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Yes, Folks, Reading Actually Does Help You Make A Good Impression On Others

Today I spent some of my very valuable reading time having brunch with relatives. One of them mentioned Taipei 101. I jumped up and down in my chair and shouted, "I know what that is! I know what that is!"

I knew what it was because just yesterday I finished reading Artemis Fowl The Lost Colony, and an important scene takes place there. Seriously, I had never heard of the place prior to reading the book. In fact, while I was reading I wondered if the author was making the whole thing up.

I know everyone at the table thought I was very cool for recognizing the name of the tallest building in the world. Reading does make your life better.

Friday, December 01, 2006

November Reading

I read 23 Cybils' nominees in November. Now it's time to buckle down and get serious about reading. It's time to become a reading warrior.

Artie Makes A Comeback

I am a fan of the early books in the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. However, I found, the fourth book, The Opal Deception, disappointing--kind of murky and pointless.

But the fifth book,The Lost Colony, is out now, and it's a definite improvement. It took around 30 pages to clean up the mess that was left by the fourth book. After a character died for no good reason in The Opal Deception, Captain Holly Short left her job with the Lower Elements Police force and in this book had to be attached to another law enforcement organization to get the plot going.

But it does get going.

All the Artemis Fowl books are about a child criminal mastermind who interacts with elves, gnomes, centaurs--all those sorts--who live in a technologically advanced culture under the Earth's surface. That's the joke behind the stories--a brilliant (and sophisticated) child criminal and pixies who, while magical, are not huddling under toadstools and yearning to interact with humans. Colfer has called these books Die Hard with fairies. We're not taking about achieving peace here or teaching the world to sing. We're talking about a fun action fli...novel.

Even before going astray with The Opal Deception, the series was losing steam. This was due to the fact that young Artemis, who was wonderfully self-centered and obsessed at the beginning of the series, was gradually becoming a bit of a do-gooder. I can understand why this was happening. Colfer found himself in a bit of a bind. It was hard to keep his wonderful bad boy bad without making him, eventually, unsympathetic. Yet as Artemis became good, he lost his flare. Everyone loves a bad boy. Good boys...not so much. They make good husbands, but who wants to read about them?

Artemis was also growing up. A child master criminal was funny. A teenage master criminal is getting just a little too close to real life.

One of the things Colfer does in The Lost Colony is bring us back to the fun of the child criminal. I won't say how, but it does bring some needed juice back to the series.

By the way, Butler is just wonderful.