Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin

February 4, 2013 in Fantasy, middle grade, PoC / multicultural

Starry River of the SkyThe moon is missing from the remote Village of Clear Sky, but only a young boy named Rendi seems to notice! Rendi has run away from home and is now working as a chore boy at the village inn. He can’t help but notice the village’s peculiar inhabitants and their problems-where has the innkeeper’s son gone? Why are Master Chao and Widow Yan always arguing? What is the crying sound Rendi keeps hearing? And how can crazy, old Mr. Shan not know if his pet is a toad or a rabbit?
 
But one day, a mysterious lady arrives at the Inn with the gift of storytelling, and slowly transforms the villagers and Rendi himself. As she tells more stories and the days pass in the Village of Clear Sky, Rendi begins to realize that perhaps it is his own story that holds the answers to all those questions.

 
Newbery Honor author Grace Lin brings readers another enthralling fantasy featuring her marvelous full-color illustrations. Starry River of the Sky is filled with Chinese folklore, fascinating characters, and exciting new adventures.

Past, Present and Storytelling

This is another one of those books I’d read several great reviews of in the trades at work. (Yes, I read reviews for books other than YA…why do you ask?) I read Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix books a couple of years ago, and was blown away by the beauty and majesty of the Chinese culture in her work;  so I was excited to find another book deeply rooted in Chinese history and storytelling.
Grace Lin really captures something magical in this book. It is the story of Rendi, a young man who is angry and seeking something new. But it is also a story that spans centuries and generations, integrating Rendi’s present with the vast history of the Village of Clear Sky, and even the history of the sun and moon. I love this sweeping, yet intimate, story. I love how past and present are interwoven so magically here. The importance of the past is honored in storytelling; and storytelling is honored as an important part of the past and present.
When I was a little girl, my grandmother worked as a medical missionary in China and India. She used to come home with strange souvenirs and even stranger stories. I was captivated by her stories about working with the poorest of the poor, but I was also jealous of the people thousands of miles away who got to spend more time with my tiny, spitfire grandmother than I did. As an adult, I look back on the gift my grandmother gave me, and feel a sense of honor in preserving her past–her heart for service, her dedication to love and compassion, and her courage–as a part of my present. Somehow, reading Starry River of the Sky reminded me of that, of my grandmother, and my own distant, yet intimate, connection with China.
I know that really has nothing to do with with the book, but I felt like sharing it. I guess reading a book about the indivisible nature of past and present, and the importance of storytelling, inspired me to share a story about my past with you. :)
Another thing I loved about Starry River of the Sky was, quite simply, how unusual it was. Perhaps if I’d grown up reading Chinese folklore and mythology, it wouldn’t be too unusual to me. I don’t know. I do know, though, that the story took such unique twists and turns, and made me feel like I was living in an entirely different world. I loved it.

Oh, also, the illustrations were amazing!

5 Yak Smacks

The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann

January 30, 2013 in Fantasy, Magic, Mystery, steampunk

The PeculiarDon’t get yourself noticed and you won’t get yourself hanged.

In the faery slums of Bath, Bartholomew Kettle and his sister Hettie live by these words. Bartholomew and Hettie are changelings—Peculiars—and neither faeries nor humans want anything to do with them.

One day a mysterious lady in a plum-colored dress comes gliding down Old Crow Alley. Bartholomew watches her through his window. Who is she? What does she want? And when Bartholomew witnesses the lady whisking away, in a whirling ring of feathers, the boy who lives across the alley—Bartholomew forgets the rules and gets himself noticed.

First he’s noticed by the lady in plum herself, then by something darkly magical and mysterious, by Jack Box and the Raggedy Man, by the powerful Mr. Lickerish . . . and by Arthur Jelliby, a young man trying to slip through the world unnoticed, too, and who, against all odds, offers Bartholomew friendship and a way to belong.

Part murder mystery, part gothic fantasy, part steampunk adventure, The Peculiar is Stefan Bachmann’s riveting, inventive, and unforgettable debut novel.

Teen Writers These Days. Good Grief.

I’ll confess up front that I judged this book by two things before I even knew what it was about: it’s cover (because I love it) and the author’s age (because he’s a teenager).

Ohh, teenagers who write YA. I just have such mixed feelings about this whole situation. I mean, on the one hand, it is so totally awesome that teenagers are writing books. Go, teens!  Way to be dedicated and hard-working and creative! I really do celebrate that. But on the other hand…what the heck. You oh-so-accomplished teens are making us old folks look bad and feel like losers. Cut that out. Just hold on to your mega-talent and drive for, like, at least one more decade before you come bursting onto the scene with your awesomeness!

But seriously, teen authors are amazing. I am always drawn to books written by really young people and published by big houses. Like The Inheritance Cycle, and all things Lauren Oliver, and now, Stefan Bachmann. (Yes, I consider “really young” to be anyone under the age of 30 who’s experienced publishing success. And no, I’m not over thirty.)

Ok, so Stefan Bachmann. The Peculiar. I was intrigued by all of the awesome reviews The Peculiar was getting from within the industry, and couldn’t help but wonder if a book written by someone so young would really stand up under the pressure of a starred PW review. I hate to be that person, but I naturally question whether people are praising a book because the author is young or because the book deserves it.

In this case, I can assure you, the book deserves it. 100%.

The Peculiar is lively and imaginative in a way I’ve rarely encountered before. It’s quirkiness and charm remind me of Terry Pratchett; there is a grittiness to it that smacks of Scott Westerfeld; the dark themes of death and corruption are explored through magic and oddities in the vein of Neil Gaiman; and the uniqueness of the storyline can only be attributed to the genuine chops of a very talented, albeit very young, Stefan Bachmann.

And man oh man, does the guy have chops. The voice is so clear and well defined here, and the prose is light. Not “light” as in funny or unsubstantial. Light as in whimsical, without becoming gimmicky. (The main character is Mr. Jelliby. You can’t get more whimsical than a name like Jelliby!) Yet, the lightness of prose is countered by the fact that this story really is about the murder of children. (It’s also about a bunch of faeries who are relegated to life as second-class citizens, which is just begging to be dissected in some literary student’s thesis paper someday.)

Bachmann writes as if he has nothing to prove–and as it turns out, he doesn’t. His talent speaks for itself; and by its own merit as an engaging and clever tale, The Peculiar debuts as one of the most promising books of 2012. It also debuts as one of the most tantalizing cliff-hanger endings of 2012. So come on, Bachmann…give us #2! Your fans are waiting!

5 Yak Smacks

 

Tuesday Tunes: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals STARS

January 29, 2013 in Romance, Tuesday Tunes, video

I’m currently obsessed with this album. If you have the opportunity to see Grace Potter and the Nocturnals live, DO IT. They put on an incredible show!

This song is so angsty and delicious it makes me want to WRITE ALL THE TEEN NOVELS. Apply this song to whatever YA book you’re reading right now. Somehow it works, right?
 

Life Lessons from YA: An Apology

January 28, 2013 in Blog stuff

One of the greatest things about YA (and books in general) is that it manages to teach you valuable life lessons while simultaneously entertaining you. I’ve learned many things from books. For example, Anne of Green Gables taught me that hair dye sold by shady merchants is probably not the best. And Harry Potter taught me that some friends are willing to walk with you into the lair of the Dark Lord, and those are the friends you should probably keep around.Anne of Green Gables Green Hair

But it is another book that taught me today’s lesson. Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander series has a lot of nuggets of pure gold sprinkled throughout, as is common with Collins. One lesson, in particular, stands out to me, however. When Gregor says (and I’m paraphrasing slightly here):

My dad always taught me that if you hurt someone in public, you apologize in public.

I love this. I’ve incorporated it into my life (for reals). And today, I’m putting it into practice.

You see, for the last…err…month or so…I’ve totally dropped off the face of the earth for my dear friend and fellow blogger, Renee. I mean, seriously, Christmas hit and I vanished. Like Professor Slughorn’s goldfish.

In my absence, Renee has calmly and beautifully kept Yakety Yaks going. She’s read. She’s reviewed. She’s engaged. Meanwhile, I wrapped myself in an Invisibility Cloak and laid low.

There are reasons for my disappearance. None of which are nearly as valid as Harry’s reasons for leaving Hogwarts. But despite the fact that I was not literally saving the world from death and decay, Renee was patient with me. She let me hide, and occasionally slipped me doses of butterbeer and chocolate frogs. Her patience saved my sanity, and gave me hope.

So this is me embracing Suzanne Collins’ advice and apologizing to Renee in the very forum where I abandoned her. Thank you, my friend, for loving me and Yakety Yaks enough to trudge ever-on while I hid!

The good news is, I’m back. (I think.) I’ve even read a few books. (Yes, I was hiding from books, too.) So look out, Yakers! Lindsay is back in the game!

…Starting later this week. ;)

PS. Yes, the Harry Potter references are my shameless attempt to amuse and endear myself to Renee, who is, I believe, the greatest Harry Potter fan in all the world. Trio-3-harry-ron-and-hermione-26030628-500-207_large