Monday, March 04, 2013
On Thursday evening on my way home from work I finished the podcast. That night I made a decision: I would see this magic show. I found tickets online for the show Sunday, I talked to my husband to see if he was interested in attending so we could find a babysitter. He wasn't. I sort of half-assed asked people if they wanted to come with me, but truly, if I'm being honest with myself, I actually WANTED to go alone. I can't really explain my motivations behind this. Maybe it was the fact that I do so few things as a bonafide adult that I wanted to do it on my own. Maybe I just needed a break from the real world for a while. Or maybe, and I think this is probably the most likely, I wanted to experience this moment by myself. DelGaudio and Guimaraes talk a lot about moments in the podcast interview. They discourage cell phone video not simply because they don't want their act to go online without their consent or knowledge, but because the experiences we have, the moments we have, particularly in a magic show, are ones that cannot be recaptured. I've never heard of magic being talked about with this wabi sabi connotation before. I wanted to experience it. I wanted an experience that I would have that no one else could share, that could be mine.
On Sunday I drove down to LA and attended the most spectacular and wonderful magic show I have ever seen in my life. The tricks/ effects themselves were nothing flashy, nothing showboating or false. The show was simply a demonstration in pure talent. It was like watching a virtuoso pianist. Surely anyone could, in theory, accomplish what they did just as surely as anyone could play cello like Yo Yo Ma. It was artistry pure and simple. DelGaudio and Guimarães were charming, witty, engaging as performers and a sheer delight. They involved multiple members of the audience for many of the tricks, and the 100 person seated room felt small and intimate from where I sat in the third row.
Eng Bottle an "Impossible bottle" in which a pack of playing cards has been painstakingly crafted inside a glass jar, similar to how a ship in a bottle is assembled. The whole back of the stage during the entire performance is filled with rows upon rows of these bottles. After tossing a sock monkey into the audience and asking audience members to toss it again and again, eventually the adorable monkey landed in my lap. There were some witty exchanges at which I became very giggly and nervous as I am wont to do on the occasion of being in the spotlight (though I was at my seat). They asked me if there was anyone that I could call tomorrow, anyone without prior knowledge that I was attending the performance. After a brief hesitation I said my Grandma Estelle (I had posted I was going to the show on Facebook, it actually took me a moment to figure out who didn't know I was going). I was instructed to call her and tell her I had a dream, a strange dream in which all that was about to occur had occured from the sock monkey to the chubby Bob's Big Boy impersonator and the Portuguese Muppet on stage. Then I was asked to name a card. Often times people pick common cards, the queen of hearts, the ace of spades, they explained. I had the whole deck to choose from. I picked the 2 of hearts. I can't say why I picked the two of hearts. Did they force me with subliminal suggestion or did the card just occur to me? I don't have the slightest idea. They made some sexual innuendo about picking that particular card with relation to my grandmother. They teased and played and asked if I was certain that that was the particular card I wanted. Then they asked me to pick an Eng Bottle on the wall. Any one I wished. I chose one on the third shelf on the second to last row, the fourth bottle over. Again, was this forced? Was there a particular reason I chose that bottle? I don't know. DelGaudio proceeded to pick up the bottle, bring it over to the small table that was in the middle of the stage, place the bottle in a plastic bag, smash the bottle with a hammer and pull out a deck of cards. Guimarães opened the deck right in front of me. He fanned the deck right in front of me, backs showing. One card was facing the opposite direction. It was the 2 of hearts. After a hearty applause he asked if that was enough to impress me. Then he lifted the card and turned it around. On the back of the card in thick sharpie was my grandmother's name "ESTELLE" written in bold letters. I was dumbfounded. Forcing decks, hiding cards in fruit or something, all that I've seen. But when in gods name had someone had time to write in sharpie my grandmother's name? I didn't write her name on the card so they couldn't have had it palmed the whole time. No one ever left my sight, no hands were out of view. Perhaps if it were something like a tear or a sticker it could have been done to the card covertly, but a name written in sharpie?
Tuesday, March 06, 2012
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand
It is not often that I read nonfiction, but when I do by and large I'll read biographies, particularly those of people with whom I have a passing knowledge or fascination, or "adventure" stories: Lost City of Z, Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, Over the Edge of the World, etc. Every once and a while I'll chance upon something wonderful, something completely unexpected. In the case of Unbroken it started on a bored Saturday night at home with nothing to watch on TV. I turned on Netflix on Demand and browsed my queue and decided on a film that looked interesting based on the premise, but which had not appeared on my radar, despite the fact that it featured several major Hollywood actors (Colin Farrell and Ed Harris) and came out only two years ago. The film was called The Way Back, directed by Peter Weir, and it told the grueling "true" story of an escape from a Siberian prison camp. The movie was overall well acted and entertaining, though it suffered from certain narrative shortcomings and failed to live up to some of the quality last seen in Weir's Master and Commander, one of my personal favorites. The plot was intriguing enough, though, that I wanted to read a bit more about this "true story." Unfortunately, when I did a bit of research I learned that the book Long Walk by Slawomir Rawicz, on which the film was based, has been frequently derided by scholars as being almost entirely fabricated. I decided against reading it for that reason. However, browsing on Amazon I saw a number of recommended titles based on my interest in the film, among them Unbroken: A World War II story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. The blurb mentioned something about a downed aircraft and survival aboard a raft, so I thought I was starting a modern day Robinson Crusoe sort of story, which was perfectly fine with me. Given my long list of books to actually read in print, I decided to check out the audio read by the estimable Edward Herman, whose voice you have probably heard over countless stock film reels of aircraft on the History Channel.
Little did I know that when I picked up this book on a whim, I would be discovering a story more fascinating than any major Hollywood film I've seen in the past 5 years. Louis Zamperini was a troubled young son of Italian immigrant parents living in Torrence, California when he discovered he had a gift for running. This passion would lead him all the way to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. When the war began he became a bombardier, taking part in a crucial raid on Wake atoll among other endeavors. Then his plane was shot down and he survived aboard a life raft, fending off sharks and eating raw bird meat. And that is not even halfway through the book. The trials that this man had to endure are worthy of Job. Internment in a series of brutal Japanese prison camps resulted in horrific mental anguish, and some of the atrocities committed by guards are stomach churning. "Unbroken" is certainly not a read for the faint of heart. The whole of Zamperini's story I will not spoil here. In fact, I am really glad that I decided to listen to the audiobook because it prevented me from reading ahead to find out what happened next. I also made a conscious decision not to Google Zamp's name so I wouldn't know what was going to happen to him, which of his friends would make it out of the war unscathed, etc.The writing is absolutely riveting and listening to the audio gave me a sense of urgency and captivated me utterly. I spent several lunch breaks just sitting in my car so I could hear the rest of the story. Truly, it was that good. I learned fascinating details about World War II, life in Japan, the Olympics, and post war America that were completely new to me. Zamperini, as Hillenbrand describes him, is a true American hero. Not a perfect man by any measure, but a man whose drive and fortitude are enviable, almost super-human. One brief note on the latter chapters in the story. While I am not a religious person, Zamperini's eventual coming to Christ seemed a genuine expression of gratitude and faith. Though I do not believe in God myself, I can only say that his faith and strength astound me, and seem a natural result from his ordeal. "Unbroken" is one of the best books I have read in ages. It was deeply affecting and engaging and I cannot recommended enough. I do actually hope that they make it into a film, because I think a great director could do a lot with his story. Given Hillenbrand's track record (see: Seabiscuit) it is altogether likely that somebody has optioned it already. I certainly hope that if a film is made, they truly do justice to the impossible life of this man.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
This Week: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
It seems like every year a book comes around and reviewers call it "The next Harry Potter." I think what they mean is the next big phenomenon to catch on, though many of these books like the Percy Jackson series have similar premises (magical type school, mysterious villains, etc). Akata Witch is very much in this vein, but it is so delightfully original that I think it stands alone as a novel, not simply "the next best thing." I will admit at the outset that I know next to nothing about Nigerian culture, though I am a fan of books that explore any kind of mythology from American Gods to Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I started to read this book knowing only that it was set in Africa, received favorable reviews, and was "Harry Potterish." It is so much more than that.
Sunny is the albino daughter of Nigerian parents who moved to the United States before she was born. When she was 9 they returned to Nigeria and Sunny, who had always struggled to fit in due to her physical differences, faced a new kind of torment: not quite African, not quite American, not quite Black. She never feels as though she is a part of any nation, any world. But there is more to Sunny than she knows. She is a Leopard Person, one who can work juju and communicate with the spirit realm. She is befriended by Orlu and Chichi, who bring her to Leopard Knocks, the center of West African magic, to meet Anatov, a scholar. From now on Sunny must live a double life, hide her magic from her family, and discover her true inner potential. Meanwhile a killer of children is on the loose and his ties to Sunny are closer than she wants to know. The realization of abilities, camaraderie found in a group of friends, tutelage under a teacher, and menacing evil force are tropes found in everything from to Percy Jackson to Harry Potter or Star Wars, but the differences from these works are striking. Whereas one might read Harry Potter and wonder at the negligence on the part of the professors at Hogwarts, the adults in Akata Witch make it clear that they willfully put the lives of others in danger, that people can be expendable to achieve a greater goal, and that there can be severe punishment if rules are not obeyed. Professor McGonagall might deduct points from Gryffindor but you don't see Neville Longbottom getting caned. Dolores Umbridge may have inflicted pain on her students, but she was considered a villain, unlike the scholars of Leopard Knocks. You hear about Voldemort killing people, but not brutally cutting them up and eating them. Sunny faces sexism and discrimination even among the Leopard people and this is considered normal and if not acceptable, at least par for the course. I found the treatment of women, or rather, the open and honest discussion about the way women are treated in certain African communities, particularly interesting and something rarely dealt with in Young Adult fiction. The system of magic, or juju, is equally unique and fascinating, as is the monetary reward in the form of chittim earned when one attains levels of knowledge. The characters are interesting and while not always likeable, believable.
My major complaint about the book was that it seemed to wrap up too quickly. In many ways I wish this book, at a scant 349 pages, were Harry Potterish in length. The battle with the "big bad" was far too short and I felt the narrative ended too abruptly. I am hoping that by leaving the story with an open ending that there will be sequels so that the author can go into more detail into the world she has created. Little time is spent in any one place, so unlike in Harry Potter, I never felt that I could really inhabit Leopard Knocks or see the interior of the Obi Library.
Overall though I was incredibly impressed with this book and want to read everything the author has written. I am also so pleased to have discovered a fantasy book for children/ Young Adults that has a female protagonist of color (though, come to think of it, it is the lack of color that distinguishes Sunny most of all). With so many fantasies based on European mythology or feudal kingdoms, I think it is important for children and teens to see that there are other systems of magic and other cultures to explore. I really enjoyed Breadcrumbs last year, but even though the protagonist was of Indian heritage (albeit adopted by a white family), there was nothing of that culture in the storyline. Akata Witch on the other hand is very much an African book about African/ African-American people with issues of race and culture playing prominent roles, but will appeal to all people of of all nationalities and backgrounds. It is a testament to Nnedi Okorafor's skills as a writer that she makes a foreign culture seem accessible as she does. Not only a wonderful read, but a book that I can recommend to a lot of our library patrons. Fantastic.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Its that time of the year when people do "Best-of" lists and I thought I might as well jump on the bandwagon.
I saw 22 movies released in 2011 (in theaters and on DVD)
This year, I haven't had too many opportunities to see some of the smaller releases. I hear The Artist is amazing. Maybe I'll catch that on DVD. Attack the Block is like number 1 on my Netflix queue but there's a long wait. I'll probably see War Horse eventually. Harry Potter for me was the best film I saw this year because it was the culmination of everything that I've been waiting to see in a Harry Potter movie. Action, emotional impact (OMG when Snape died I lost it). Obviously, sentimentality played a big role in the inclusion of this movie, and of The Muppets as well. With both movies I had extremely high expectations going in and was very pleased that they were met (which hasn't always been the case with movies I've waited for ex: Where the Wild Things Are). The Muppets was just a delight. It was an essential Muppet film in that it combined earnestness with humor without being too crass or too saccharine. It was definitely a movie more for the audience who grew up with Muppets than from the new generation, but I don't have a problem with that. Hugo was the movie that surprised me. I really enjoyed the book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick (great year for him. See my review of Wonderstruck below) and in reading it I was struck by how easily it could be adapted to film. When Sasha Baron Cohen was cast, I was really uncertain (hated him in Sweeney Todd) but he didn't ruin it. Scorsese did a fabulous job directing and I appreciated the 3-D when I normally think it superfluous. The young actors of this film did an excellent job capturing the spirit of the story and I have high hopes for Asa Butterfield. I have to say I was similarly impressed with the young actors in Super 8, though it didn't make the cut. It is very difficult to find young actors who are able to portray such realistic vulnerability so well. 13 Assassins was just all out crazy awesome. I loved the action, I loved the crazy convoluted set pieces, I loved it. So hard to make great period action films, and this is how you do it right. Drive was an interesting one. It was heavily stylized and very "80s" in its score and vibe. I really enjoyed it, though. I thought it was very much like a samurai movie or a classic western. Ryan Gosling, who I had never really thought of in any way before, really impressed me with his subtle acting.
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
3. The Muppets
4. 13 Assassins
Top 5 books of the year
This year I read 38 books.
Despite my love for Patrick Rothfuss, Ernest Cline just blew it out of the park for me so I had to put him at number 1. Ready Player One was just so original and funny and brilliant. It also really played into the geek sensibility and reminded me of many memories from my adolescence. Wise Man's Fear wasn't as good as Name of the Wind, certainly. It didn't give me that same tingle of excitement, that same desire to tell everyone I know about it. Still it was magnificent storytelling. I'd say it was on par with one of the middle Harry Potter books in terms of quality, which is still far and away better than most. The Night Circus was lovely and charming. Very Gaiman by way of Suzanna Clarke with some Audrey Niffenegger thrown in for good measure. Original and beautifully realized, I found it lacking only in the incomprehensible nature of the characters. Certainly it is their nature to be unknowable, but I didn't feel emotionally invested. Reading the book was like watching a gorgeous silent movie where the visuals were everything. A Map of Time I reviewed on here previously. It was delightful and unique. A definite winner. Both Breadcrumbs and Wonderstruck are children's books, and definite Newbery contenders. Breadcrumbs is a wonderful modern fantasy that combines both emotional realistic storytelling and fantastically realized otherworldliness in its retelling of the classic tale of the Snow Queen. Wonderstruck, despite its name, is not a fantasy at all but rather a beautifully moving story of memory and loss told in Brian Selznick's unique style combining illustration and the written word similar to what he did with "Hugo." Emotional and powerful, and particularly well researched, it is a must read for any children's literature fans. Not featured on the list was "A Dance With Dragons" which was a slog. I enjoyed the first three books in the Song of Ice and Fire, but ADWD and A Feast For Crows were both disappointments.
1. Ready Player One
2. Wise Man's Fear
3. The Night Circus
4. The Map of Time
5. Breadcrumbs/ Wonderstruck
I watch a ton of TV. Most of it not very good.
After knocking A Dance With Dragons, its time to gush praise on Game of Thrones. SUCH a good show. Finally fantasy has come to television in a real way. Not fairy tales, not urban paranormal fantasy with sexy vampires, but good old fashioned swords and sorcery. Bring it! Great actors on the show, particularly Peter Dinkledge who I've loved since I saw The Station Agent. I'm so excited for the next few years of the show, seeing on screen what I've read, but I worry that A) George R.R. Martin won't finish the series fast enough for the creation of the show and B) that the trying parts of the books will be just as trying onscreen. We will have to see. Community I adore. I only place it second because this Fall's season hasn't been as strong as the past. However, I can't geek out about it enough. I nearly bought an Inspector Spacetime shirt. Please keep this show going. Its the best comedy on TV. Justified... wow. What a show. If you are sad there was never a 4th season of Deadwood, just watch Justified. Brilliant acting, great directing, funny funny scripts. Margo Martindale was superb this past season in a guest spot. Love Walter Goggins. Good stuff. Doctor Who just hasn't impressed me that much this season, though it is still a fav. I feel like they are trying to cram too much in to too little time. I wish they took their time with some of the major plot developments rather than having these rushed feeling season or mid season finales where too much happens. Still I enjoy Matt Smith as the Doctor and look forward to the new season. Downton Abbey is the oddball of the bunch but I really enjoyed it so much. Delightful acting and very well written. I thought for the longest time it was actually an adaptation of some novel and I went to find it only to discover that it is an original story. That impressed me even more, because it felt so richly developed. Almost on the list was the NBC comedy "Up All Night." It is the most realistic portrayal of new parenthood I've ever seen on TV. The writing is really spot on. As it hasn't even completed a whole season I'll give it a little more time to put it on the list. Modern Family I still find hilarious as well. Also a fan of Psych and White Collar and Burn Notice... it was tough only picking 5 shows since I watch so many.
1. Game of Thrones
4. Doctor Who
5. Downton Abbey
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
The Inquisitor's Apprentice
by Chris Moriarty
Sasha Kessler is an ordinary, nice Jewish boy living in the Lower East Side in the early 20th century. His life revolves around simple pleasures and the company of his immigrant family. That is until the day Sasha realizes he can see magic. In this alternate New York, magic is everywhere. There is the native magic of the city itself, plus the magic all the ethnic immigrant groups brought with them when they came, each with its own unique style. Sasha’s own grandfather is a well-known rabbi and Kabbalist, though decidedly of the theoretical variety (no respected rabbi would be caught actually PRACTICING magic). There are laws against the abuse of magic, policed by the city’s Inquisitors, and when the authorities discover that Sasha has a gift, he is asked to join the NYPD as an Inquisitor’s apprentice to the notorious Inquisitor Wolf. Soon, Sasha is caught up in his very first case: someone has sent a dybbuk to kill Thomas Edison. Sasha is horrified at the discovery, particularly because he fears the Jewish witch hunt that may ensue if it is found that a rabbi was the one who summon the creature. As Sasha delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, he finds the truth is even more terrifying than he could have imagined. The Inquisitor’s Apprentice is a rich alternate history with lots of great period details. An open ending leaves the possibilities of sequels, which would build on the backstories of many of the characters and answer some tantalizing questions.
What makes this book special is its uniqueness in setting and plot. There are very few books that focus on the Jewish experience for children, and none I can think of with any magical elements other than maybe Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. While The Inquisitor’s Apprentice is not quite the “Jewish Harry Potter,” it does have some level of crossover appeal for non-Jews, though certain “Yiddishisms” will leave most non-Jewish elementary or middle school children baffled. Overall the pacing was brisk, perhaps too much so in some cases. The author, Chris Moriarty, teases at parts of her world left unexplored, but certain elements, particularly interactions with the mysterious Shen, leave readers wanting. While it didn't overcome its narrative shortcomings to make it on my best-of list this year, overall I found it to be an engaging read and I certainly look forward to future installments. Unfortunately, I can’t say who I would recommend it to among my library’s patrons.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Things That I Read:
This Week: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Oh my god!! I mean OH MY GOD!!! Ok, this book is amazing. It's kind of hard not to geek out about it because it is like the ultimate book to geek out about. So remember that dream you had in high school where you were defeating the armies of Mordor during the Battle of Pelennor Fields but then all of a sudden you turned into a giant robot and blew up all the orcs with your laser vision? Or that time you imagined you were defending your coworkers from Magneto because really all along you were a former member of the X-Men but like hiding incognito so that nobody would find you? Ok... maybe not. But do you have fond memories of watching 80s movies, of reciting Monty Python by heart, of late night games of D+D, of old school video games? This is that book. This books is like... it's like a mash up of everything wonderful that you've ever remembered.
Alright down to to the plot. Combine the Star Trek holodeck, Comic Con, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and add equal parts War Games and The Wizard and stir. In the not to distant future, the world is connected to one another via an amazing virtual reality world called OASIS. People live almost their entire lives in OASIS: get married, go on adventures to various planets, go to high school, fight in P2P deathmatches. The creator of OASIS James Halliday has died, and instead of leaving his billions to an heir he creates an ultimate scavenger hunt for easter eggs hidden within the virtual world. But the thing is, James Halliday was OBSESSED with the 1980s. So even though the year is 2044, people have become crazy about the 80s again trying to find clues to Halliday's treasure. References to old movies, TV shows, and especially video games abound. This is not particularly a book for the completely uninitiated, though encyclopedic knowledge is not necessary (the reader isn't a "gunter" or egg-hunter after all). We follow a young high school student named Wade, or as his friends online know him "Parzival," as he attempts to solve the mystery of the game. Along the way he is aided by the help of his online friends and thwarted by an evil corporation whose minions are attempting to win the game in order to take over the OASIS.
Is it contrived? At times. Does it read like the notebook of a 17 year old boy? Yes, yes it does. That's its appeal. Because if you WERE that 17 year old boy (or girl) once, if you drew pictures of Transformers or half-elven mages in the margins of your Chemistry textbook, then this book IS you. It really does read like every awesome dream I've ever had, except it doesn't have that part where Indiana Jones comes swinging through my closet (unfortunately). It is epic and funny and exciting, and damn if it is a trip. Like nothing else. Truly worth the ride
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Map of Time
by Felix Palma
This is a delightful book of three intertwined stories about the effects of time travel in Victorian London. An alternate history (of sorts) about the ways in which time travel, or more specifically the idea of time travel, can impact the lives of people longing for something more. It is at its heart really a sweet romance, but the novel is also bitingly funny and sometimes too cheeky by half. H.G. Wells plays a prominent role, as does Jack the Ripper, though the novel is not particularly similar in its plot to the film "Time After Time" despite these cursory similarities. The first 1/3 of the novel plays out more like a traditional Victorian drama with a few witty differences and a unique twist, while the second section is a charming story of star-crossed lovers communing across the centuries. It is really only in the final third where things get far more fantastical. Interestingly, the blurb on the jacket flap might lead readers to think that they were picking up one long story where H.G. Wells was some sort of time traveling detective which this book certainly is not. In fact it plays with genre expectations quite nicely. Some reviews I have read have complained that the use of an omnicient narrator speaking directly to the reader from time to time was distracting, but I found it quite the contrary. This book is simply a delight. It has mystery and romance and science fiction and adventure all rolled into one, and not at all in the way you imagine it would. I actually hate to tell you more about it because I think the surprise of it was more enjoyable for knowing so little of its plot. Likely one of most enjoyable books I've read lately. Plus the cover! B+
by Catherynne Valenete
I have enjoyed Catherynne Valente's books for years, particularly both of the Orphan's Tales novels. "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland" is her first work for younger readers, though finding the right audience for the book will be a challenge for me. It is a work of Gilded Age/ Victorian style fantasy set during World War II by a 21st century author who was nominated for a Hugo award in 2009 for a book about people who travel to a fantastical kingdom when they have sex with people who have magical tattoos. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore Valente's writing style, it is lyrical and evocative and absolutely beautiful and the writing in this book is quite lovely and at times charmingly odd, but you have to find a young reader who appreciates that sort of thing. The story follows young September as she is whisked away from her home by the Green Wind and goes on a fabulous journey through Fairyland, discovering herself as an individual while at the same time meeting many enchanting people along the way. Having recently listened to Neverwhere (I hadn't read it in over 10 years) I was immediately struck by the similarities with this book, not in its setting or plot particularly but its... Gaiman-ishness. Maybe that Gaiman blurb on the cover had something to do with that. But, and this is quite significant, unlike Gaiman who writes equally well for all age groups, Valente has written a very good book ABOUT a child who goes on an adventure, but not, I don't think, FOR children or even most teens. The books to which it bares its closest similarity are "The Wizard of Oz" and "Alice in Wonderland" which, if you go back and read again, aren't all that engaging for modern children as much of the great fantasy published in the last decade. If you disagree with me go back and read the Oz books again with a modern 7th grader in mind. I think the biggest problem I had with the book was not the descriptive writing (as I said it was elegant and very unique) or the plot (somewhat standard fantasy fare with a bit of a twist) but rather the characters. The descriptions of the characters and creatures were certainly detailed. I liked the "herd" of bicycles roaming wild and A-L the Wverary was very charming as well. But I lacked a sense of emotional attachment to the characters. The character I was supposed to care the most about, September herself, seemed a bit flat. With a children's book, specifically a modern children's fantasy, characters are everything. Children need characters, as fantastic as they seem, to care about in a narrative, in particular a protagonist that is more realized than September is here. In this regard I think the sometimes grandeloquent language was a detriment. September simply didn't talk or act like any 12 year old I know, even the most precocious ones. In her heart Cat Valente is a poet, I think, and there are lines in this book that read like the best poetry. But, and maybe this is because I read so many children's books and have a far more critical eye, a book needs more than lovely ideas. B-