Beka Cooper

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Kid Lit Blog Hop

It’s funny how I can have piles and piles of print books to read and then suddenly find myself with a glaring hold in my listening needs, in this case for a book on CD for the car. Thus it was that I found myself wandering the teen audiobook section and decided, somewhat at random, that I should listen to more Tamora Pierce, and picked the unfamiliar series with the first book checked in. Please share your favorite Tamora Pierce or fantasy mystery series in the comments!

[Edited to add:] I’m also sharing this post with the April Sound Bytes linky over at Devourer of Books

TerrierTerrier. Beka Cooper Book 1. by Tamora Pierce. Read by Susan Denaker. Listening Library, 2006. Print Random House Children’s, 2006.
The Beka Cooper books are set in the kingdom of Tortall, like her Alanna books, which I read in German when I was studying abroad and have largely forgotten. Please feel free to fill me in on any nifty connections between the books – I’m sure I missed some! They are fantasy mysteries, where Beka uses a combination of police/detective skills and communicating with ghosts and other magical voices to solve the mystery.

Beka started life in the very rough Lower City, but was, with her family, taken in by the Provost when she was around eight and was able to lead him to the secret hideout of a gang, one of whose members had robbed her seriously ill mother. Beka has gone through training to be an official Dog, as the city’s police officers are called, and now she needs to beat the high odds and survive her puppy year, during which she will shadow a pair of experience Dogs. In her case, she’s shadowing the best – Tunstall and Goodwin, a mixed-gender partnership that’s lasted for years, so good they’ve never been bothered with a puppy before. Soon Beka uncovers two separate strings of murders – missing diggers, and kidnapped and murdered children, all of whose parents are left notes from the Shadow Snake.

Murdered children is a lot darker than I’m usually willing to go in my reading these days, though I remember being much tougher in this regard before I had children of my own. None of the murders are graphically described, though – only Beka’s hand-to-hand fighting gets a graphic treatment – so that I think that the teens the book is written for will do much better with this than I did. In any case, there’s plenty to balance out the murders: humor (especially involving Beka’s magical talking cat), as well as friendship, a would-be suitor (the hopeful new city Rogue), and lots of adventure.

There’s lots of local slang, which comes out nicely in Susan Denaker’s reading. I liked her accents for most of the other characters, though I thought that Beka herself sounded too innocent and proper American in her accent for a streetwise Lower City Girl. I still went right on to the next book, and plan to go on to the last as soon as I finish the books my love was so anxious for me to hear.

bloodhoundBloodhound. Beka Cooper Book 2 by Tamora Pierce. Read by Susan Denaker. Random House/Listening Library 2009.
In this second book of the series, Beka is a new, full guard, now looking for a partner. Unfortunately, she can’t find one to keep up with her. After both of Tunstall’s legs are broken during a riot, Beka and Clary Goodwin are sent to a nearby port city to investigate the dangerous problem of counterfeit coins, or coals, that have been showing up with alarmingly increasing frequency. Her magical cat is busy with his own things, but Beka has recently come into caring for Achoo, a talented scent hound recovering from an abusive handler. Beka and Goodwin meet a whole new cast of colorful characters as they infiltrate the city’s underlife to find the source of the coals. As they’re pretending to be corrupt dogs, there’s even an excuse for Beka to start a romance with a handsome young man, Dale, whom she’d first met during the riots. (The reader is not permitted into the bedchamber, but we do come along with Beka on the somewhat embarrassing mission to buy a good child-preventing charm.)

On the whole, I enjoyed this second outing with Beka even more than the first, though that’s probably me personally liking less violent crimes and more romance in my reading. Even more than the first one, this focuses more on how to prove guilt and catch the guilty party – it’s pretty clear from early on who the villain is. I’m finding this another solidly enjoyable series from the reliable Pierce.

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The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Did I really need an excuse to read the latest Holly Black (White Cat, Doll Bones, etc.) teen book? Not really, even if it took me a while to get to it.

Coldest Girl in ColdtownThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black. Little, Brown and Company, 2013.
Since the recent widespread outbreak of vampirism, vampires are supposed to stay in Coldtowns, safely locked away from regular humans who don’t want to be bitten. But when Tana wakes up in a bathtub the morning after a house party, she finds the rest of the house full of the drained corpses of her high school classmates. The only exceptions are her double-timing ex-boyfriend, Aiden, tied to a bed, and a vampire chained to the bed next to him. With more vampires in hearing, clearly out for them all, Tana does her best to help everyone escape. And since Aiden has been bitten and Gavriel is already a vampire, the nearest Coldtown is the logical destination, even though there’s no way out once she goes in. As they meet up with teen blogging star twins Midnight and Winter on the way, Tana realizes how different she is from the other not-Cold people headed to Coldtown: she doesn’t believe in the romance of vampirism and really hopes to stay human. If she has been bitten and can resist the urge to drink human blood for 88 days, she should be safe. That’s easier said than done when she arrives in a place where all of the humans are eager to poke tubing into themselves for vampire snacking in hopes of proving themselves worthy to be turned. She’s also fighting her attraction to Gavriel – which worked even though he is clearly a monster – and Gavriel turns out to be involved in high-level vampire politics. Soon the stakes are higher than she could have imagined, and her ideas of staying low-profile are impossible.

I’m not really into vampires, but this is one well-told, compelling story, one that questions the cultural romanticizing of vampires. Tana and Gavriel are complex characters, and even Aiden refuses to stay characterized as the low-life boy scum he first appears to be. There are a whole host of interesting side characters, from the roof-dwelling human who grew up in Coldtown to the beautiful pawn shop clerk, Valentina, who loves him. Bill Willingham, of Fables, makes a cameo as Bill Story, the graphic novel-writer turned journalist investigating the vampire phenomenon. He – and the book – are asking the question: is the monster of vampirism added with a bite, or is it already there inside everyone and released? Tana struggles to find a way to be honorable and kind in the midst of betrayal and cruelty. Once again, Black combines an edge-of-the-seat story with great characters and serious moral dilemmas into a book neither my love nor I could put down.

Read other takes on The Coldest Girl in Coldtown:
Book Nut
The Book Smugglers
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

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The Martian

My brother-in-law recommended this to my love, who then insisted that I listen to it as well. It was also (at least in print) also a Library Reads pick for February.

MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir. Narrated by R.C. Bray. Brilliance Audio, 2014. Print Crown, 2014.
Mark Watney’s fellow Ares 3 astronauts didn’t abandon him on Mars on purpose. There was a dust storm; they saw the huge antenna spear into his space suit and saw his communication go flat. Naturally, they thought he was dead, and they had to take off to get safely off planet before it was too late for them, as well. He survived, though. Now the question is how to survive until the next scheduled Ares Mission, five years away, on food that was meant to last a crew of six for a month with no way to communicate with NASA. Luckily, he was both the crew’s botanist and its engineer, so if anyone could do it, it’s Mark. He might just die of disco and bad 70s sitcom re-runs first, though, as that seems to be all his teammates left on their personal data drives.

This goes deep into the technical details of survival and (theoretical) space travel, and listening to my love describe the details of trying to make potatoes grow on Mars, I wasn’t sure it would work for me. Mark, though, is an interesting person, and there was enough character interest and humor to keep me going, even though I’m not usually a technical details kind of reader, at least in my fiction). Weir does a great job with the pacing, doling out successes and failures at a rate that kept me eagerly listening, anxious to find out what would happen next. There’s no real sex (see: main character stranded alone on Mars), though he does think about it from time to time. The language is quite foul, which is not inappropriate in an adult novel, but made my love and I sigh regretfully, as the boy would likely love it otherwise. R.C. Bray does a great job with the narration, being possessed of a tough guy voice that still conveys the humor perfectly and also does quite well with the accents of the highly multiethnic team back at NASA and onboard the Ares 3.

Mars fiction is popular right now, and while I admit that I haven’t read any of the other new Mars books, I really enjoyed The Martian. The setting is just close enough to the present to make the survival story appealing to people who don’t normally do science fiction, as well as established fans.

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A Dozen Fairy Tale Retellings

Today I’m over at Tales of the Marvelous, with a dozen of my favorite fairy tale novels, written for children, teens and adults.

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time

This is one that I’d checked out for my own Cybils reading towards the end of last year. It fell off my list for a while as I had so much else to read, and my son appropriated it for his own reading.

chittyraceChitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Illustrated by Joe Berger. Candlewick Press 2013. UK edition 2012.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again had included, close to the beginning, a list of places that the Tooting family wanted to go. The magical flying car, of course, has her own agenda, which sometimes aligns with the Tootings’, and sometimes not. The trips this time involve a lot of time travel, including visiting dinosaurs for Little Harry, El Dorado for Jem, and an unplanned meeting with former owner Count Zborowski in New York during the roaring 20s. There, a shady woman declares her intention to marry Count Zborowski, and the Tooting family befriends a young orphan boy, Red. Scarily enough, the jelly baby phones they were given in the first book still work, even across time, and they get alarming messages from Nanny and Little Jack. It looks like only Chitty’s last owners, the Potts family, will be able to give them the help they need to defeat Little Jack forever.

This is just a whole lot of fun. There are car races, swanky dances, hidden treasure, and the magical powers of chocolate fudge. The adventures are madcap, just the right amount of exciting and funny. It might be unrealistic, but I love how reliable the characters are: the parents are loving, not necessarily clueful. Teenaged Lucy always turns out to be an expert in whatever obscure subject they happen to need, most often languages. Jem can figure out how to fix Chitty, and pays attention to the rest of his family. And Little Harry, the baby, notices significant things that the other family members usually think are too large or small to really think about. Sadly, at 234 pages, it was a little too long for my nine-year-old, but I think it would be perfect for a more confident reader of the same age and up, or for reading aloud.

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Rapunzel Round-Up

Trina Schart Hyman's RapunzelI mentioned recently that my daughter has been into Rapunzel. Nearly every day when she comes home, the first thing she does is take off her regular clothes and put on her Rapunzel costume. I think that an obsession like this is the perfect opportunity to explore how stories can be told many different ways, so I have (over time) checked out just about every Rapunzel picture book I could find at the library. Here they are, with lots of variations in illustration style, details in the retelling, ethnicity, and more.

rapunzelberenzy Rapunzel Retold and illustrated by Alix Berenzy. Henry Holt, 1995.
This book opens with a page that looks like it’s taken out of a medieval book of hours, with close-up drawings of the rapunzel plant and a description: “Rapunzel… will grow and bloom in the most desolate wastelands.” Otherwise, the retelling is pretty standard Grimm. The pictures are beautiful, glowing pastels on black paper, with a strong (if perhaps mixed) medieval/renaissance style. It was a little weird to me that the children appear about five by the time the prince finds them – that’s one long hunt!

rapunzelgibbRapunzel Retold by Allison Sage. Illustrated by Sarah Gibb. HarperCollins Childrens, 2010 (UK) and Albert Whitman & Co, 2011 (US).
Oddly enough, only Gibb and Grimm are credited on the cover. The art feels like it could easily be an animated feature film, up-to-date, crisp outlines, a princessy palette and lots of scherenschnitte-style. In this story, Rapunzel is so charming that even the beasts fall in love with her, thus saving both her and the prince. She also gets the tallest tower ever, looking bigger than a modern skyscraper in some spreads.

reallyrapunzelReally, Rapunzel Needed a Haircut! by Jessica Gunderson. Illustrated by Denis Alonso. Picture Window Books, 2014.
This is a made-for-Common Core retelling from Dame Gothel’s point of view. It’s clear that while Gothel has made some mistakes, she really loves Rapunzel and is trying her best. Mostly, anyway. The caricature-like illustrations set the whole story at some indeterminate time closer to the present – Dame Gothel looks to be wearing clothes about a century old, but Rapunzel looks like she’s wearing t-shirt dresses.

rapunzelisadoraRapunzel by Rachel Isadora. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008.
Rapunzel set in Africa, still told with the traditional Grimm words. The cut-out illustrations are beautiful, if stiff. This is one of the better ones for younger readers, as it’s a bit shorter and with more pictures than many.

rapunzelrogaskyRapunzel retold by Barbara Rogasky. Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Holiday House, 1982.
Did I ever mention how much I love Trina Schart Hyman? This is maybe not quite as polished as Little Red Riding Hood or Saint George, but still amazing. The story is straight Grimm, with intricately-detailed German renaissance illustrations. I loved the pictures of the trusting child Rapunzel, the bright birch trees in the dark forest as Rapunzel is taken to the tower, and the passionate kiss even before the prince makes it through the window.

petrosinellaPetrosinella by Diane Stanley Dial Books, 1995.
It turns out that the Brother Grimm weren’t the first to tell the story. Here, Stanley goes back to a much older Neapolitan story from which the Grimms borrowed. Petrosinella is kidnapped at age 7 by an ogress, but steals her magic items and defeats her head-on during her escape with the prince. The illustrations are quite nice as well.

sugarcaneSugar Cane: a Caribbean Rapunzel by Patricia Storace. Pictures by Raul Colon. Jump at the Sun, Hyperion, 2007.
This much longer version spends a lot of time weaving in more character information and culture. It was way too long for the four-year-old, but she still loved to go back and look at the textured pastel drawings.

fallingFalling for Rapunzel by Leah Wilcox. Illsutrated by Lydia Monks. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2003.
This is a comic version with silly rhymes and misunderstandings as the prince tries to rescue Rapunzel, who doesn’t need or want it. “’Rapunzel, Rapunzel, throw down your hair!’ She thought he said, ‘Your underwear.’ The story ends up with her throwing down the none-to-displeased maid, who rides off with the prince while Rapunzel walks out the back door.

rapnzelzelinskyRapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky. Dutton Children’s Books, 1997.
This is the Caldecott winner, and one I bought for myself when it first came out. Zelinsky’s retelling mixes in details from different retellings, such as having Rapunzel betrayed by her dress not fitting rather than a slip of the tongue. The illustrations, as you’d expect, are breathtaking, succeeding admirably at recreating the art of the Italian Renaissance.

What’s your favorite Rapunzel?

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Jinx’s Magic

Jinx was one of my favorite books last year, so naturally I wanted to read the sequel.

Jinx's magicJinx’s Magic by Sage Blackwood. HarperCollins, 2014.
Back in the Urwald, Jinx is still trying to figure out how his magic works. Using magic the way Simon wants him to is still tricky, but Simon can’t help him with the abilities that come more easily, talking to the trees of the Urwald and seeing the colors and shapes of people’s thoughts. What the Urwald is telling him is that Jinx’s friend Reven is the Destroyer, and it wants Reven out of the Urwald. And Elfwyn’s thoughts about Reven have turned distressingly pink and fluffy. Jinx’s plate is getting increasingly full, what with escorting Reven out of the Urwald and figuring out why the Urwald is worried about him to Simon’s worry about a possible return of the Bonemaster. Eventually, Simon sends Jinx through his magic door to the country of Samara to learn about their magic system, KnIP, and to talk to his wife, Sophie. Things go downhill (as they are wont to do), and soon Jinx is left with no adults to rely on, trying to figure out how to save them and his beloved Urwald.

Like Jinx, Jinx’s Magic is divided into distinct sections, happening in different places with different characters. Jinx, travelling around himself, holds the story together. As before, the characters are genuinely interesting, and there are some nice thinky thoughts, both on the lines of growing up and learning how people work in general, to the problem of how to get individualistic people to work together at need and lots of learning about magic. The action felt a bit steadier to me than in Jinx, which had a quiet first half followed by an action-packed second half. I’m just as happy with the quiet sections, but my experience is that most people like action. I feel like there’s enough going on that I’d recommend it for ten and up generally, though that of course can vary individually. My only real complaint about Jinx’s Magic was that the ending, instead of wrapping up the threads of this story, instead introduced the challenges of the next book and then ended quite abruptly. I’m still waiting anxiously for the sequel.

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State of the Book Basket

So I thought for a change from just letting you know what I’ve read one book at a time, I’d let you know everything that I have going on book-wise right now. Here goes:
Waiting to be reviewed, I have 7 picture books, 8 middle grade, 7 teen, and 3 adult. (If anyone has tips on speeding up my writing, I’d love to hear them!)

I am currently reading Small Move, Big Change by Caroline Arnold and The Real Boy by Anne Ursu in print to myself. I’m listening to Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce in the car and The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker at home (mostly while washing dishes.)

With the boy, I’m reading The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald and we’re listening to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis in the car. He’s reading The Deadly Plot from the Sam Silver: Undercover Pirate series (kindly sent me by the publisher) to himself and enjoying it very much. I just checked out the Zeus: King of the Gods graphic novel from the Olympians series by George O’Connor for him, too.

The girl’s library basket currently has two of Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggie books, Let’s Go for a Drive! and Listen to My Trumpet. We also have Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses by Eric Litwin, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown, Fairy Tale Comics edited by Chris Duffy, The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett, and Really, Rapunzel Needed a Haircut by Jessica Gunderson. Typing all this out, I’m a little surprised that the basket is feeling empty. Last night, we read the latest issue of Ladybug magazine instead of library books. I checked Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale out for her today (she’s on a Rapunzel kick, as you’ll see shortly.) She’s just decided that she’s old enough to listen to books in the car, too, instead of music, and is starting, like her brother before her, with the Magic Tree House books. She still wants to alternate between books and music, which is fine. We finished Dinosaurs Before Dark this week and will move on to The Knight at Dawn tomorrow.

Of course, there are even more books waiting to be read. I have a pile of four black books, three from publishers and one from a giveaway: Stinkfever’s Fire by Chris Verner, Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier (thanks to Maureen of By Singing Light!), The Shadow Garden and Nightfall Gardens by Allen Houston. I also put two prepub ebooks from Edelweiss on my reader this week, The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell and The Thickety: a Path Begins by J.A. White, because I guess I’m now the kind of book addict who needs new books on my ereader, even when I have a whole pile of print books checked out from the library. (I also need to track down the two issues of Spellbound magazine that I had on the iPad and which got lost in a system update.)

I have the following books checked out from the library not yet read: Vicious by V.A. Schwab, The Iron Jackal by Chris Wooding (these two are what happens when I think I have too many books checked out for myself to check out anymore, but then books come up that I’m interested in that I think might also appeal to my love. Then I check them out, ostensibly for him, but of course, I want to read them, too. If I can get to them.) A Kiss at Midnight and Once upon a Tower by Eloisa James for fairy-tale themed romance, and Dawn by Octavia Butler, which is the Book Smuggler’s Readalong for April, and a book by an author I’ve been meaning to get around to for several years now. And when I finish either one of my current audiobooks, my love is desperate for me to start the Velveteen series by Seanan McGuire, which he’d bought for himself.

What are you reading now?

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Fairy Tale Comics

We’d very much enjoyed Nursery Rhyme Comics when we got it, so of course we wanted this one as well. We had to wait for several months, as the readers before us in line apparently liked it too much to bring it back on time. It was worth the wait!

Fairy Tale ComicsFairy Tale Comics edited by Chris Duffy. First Second, 2013.
This is a collection of fairy tales, each done by a different renowned graphic novel artist or illustrator, including lots of familiar names: Raina Telgemeier of Smile; Vanessa Davis, familiar to me for her adult memoirs in graphic form; Jillian Tamaki of Skim and This One Summer; Craig Thompson of Blankets; Brett Helquist of the Series of Unfortunate Events; the Hernandez brothers of the Love and Rockets series; and many, many more. It’s a relatively short book, so I wasn’t surprised that the fairy tales are given treatments meant to fit in. Stories that usually involve three trials or nights are cut down to one, and so on. I was pleased to see a nice assortment of tales, including standards such as “Rapunzel”, “Snow White”, “Puss in Boots” and “Rumplestiltskin”, as well as less familiar stories like “The Prince and the Tortoise”, “The Boy Who Drew Cats”, and “Azzolino’s Story Without End.” Having so many artists, all with very different styles, makes each story stand out in its own way, from the scratchy informality of Charise Mericle Harper’s “The Small-Toothed Dog” to the classic Sunday serial style of Ramona Fradon’s “The Prince and the Tortoise” and the lovely Russian folk art look of Jillian Tamaki’s “Baba Yaga”.

My daughter’s favorite was Raina Telgemeier’s “Rapunzel”, which she wanted read to her at least once a day for six weeks, and just took it home from the library again the last time we were there. Telgemeier puts a lot of her signature humor into the story, from the list of other obscure foods that the man has already gotten to satisfy his wife’s cravings, to the small detail of the prince’s tongue sticking out with the effort of climbing up Rapunzel’s hair. But she’s also altered the ending (somewhat reminiscent of Rapunzel’s Revenge) in a way that makes Rapunzel much less passive than she’s typically shown. My son loved Emily Carroll’s The Twelve Dancing Princesses, done in misty watercolors, and accomplishing the tricky task of telling a story in pictures including an invisible character very well. Really, every one of these stories was its own small delight worth discussing, but as that would go on for a very long time, I’ll just say that we enjoyed this very much.

One of the nice things about this way of the telling the stories is that while some of the stories are too scary for preschoolers (or at least mine), it’s usually really clear from the illustration style right at the beginning, so that it was very easy to skip to the next story. Everything looked fine for elementary school and up, though, with nothing sexual and just a couple of spooky stories. As a lover of fairy tales, I still want my children exposed to fairy tales in lots of other formats. We read them as picture books and lavishly illustrated anthologies, and I have my ereader well stocked with the colored fairy books, unillustrated, from Project Gutenberg, to read to the kids when we’re stuck waiting places. I can’t say that this would be good as a child’s only introduction to fairy tales. But as part of a good education in traditional stories, especially for children who love graphic story-telling as mine do – this is really top-notch.

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Spindle’s End, for Old School Wednesday Readalong

For the first time, I’m participating in the amazing Book Smuggler’s Old School Wednesday Readalong. They’ve been doing this monthly for over a year now, and while I’ve always read them eagerly, this is the first time I was coordinated enough to get and read the book in time. It probably helped that the book was already sitting on my shelf. (I ILLed last month’s book, Kate Elliott’s Jaran, but didn’t get through it in time… I’ll get the review up hopefully this month sometime.)

Spindle's EndSpindle’s End by Robin McKinley. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2000.
Robin McKinley is one of my top favorite authors of all time (regular readers here will know this.) When I opened this book, I found a Borders Harry Potter tattoo clipped to the front page, and remembered finding Spindle’s End while doing the midnight Harry Potter release thing with my love. Happy memories!

I’m a re-reader, and McKinley is a go-to comfort author, but this was only the second time I’d read this book. I found plenty to enjoy about it – and my perspectives have shifted in the last 14 years – but I’d still have to say that this isn’t one of my favorite McKinley books. Now, on to the official questions! Continue reading

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