The Explosionist

by Jenny Davidson

Fifteen-year-old Sophie lives in Edinburgh, Scotland in the 1930s, but Sophie’s Scotland is much different from the 1930s Scotland found in our text books.  In Sophie’s world, England lost the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and the northern countries banded together to form the New Hanseatic League.  Sophie’s Scotland is dealing with suicide bombers who are thought to be related to a group called the Brothers of the Northern Liberties but the truth behind the bombings may be a bit more sinister than that.  When a bombing happens close to Sophie’s school, Sophie becomes more interested in who is in charge of the bombings, especially when her classmates begin to suspect Sophie’s beloved teacher, Mr. Peterson.  Bombings aren’t the only thing Sophie has to worry about.  A medium forewarns Sophie of a terrible danger that is heading her way and not long after the premonition, the medium is found murdered.  Is their a connection between the medium’s warning to Sophie and her death?  On top of all this, Sophie is concerned that her future aspirations of going to college will be dashed when she is sent to IRLYNS (the Institution for the Recruitment of Young Ladies for National Security), a supposedly prestigious group of young women groomed to be the best secretaries for high-up male officials.  Sophie learns that there is something horrible happening at IRLYNS but she has been sworn to secrecy with her life on the line if she tells.  How will she save herself and her friends from IRLYNS clutches?  Sophie’s life is about to be turned upside-down.  With the help of her friend Mikael, will Sophie be able to get to the bottom of all the horrible things happening to her country before its too late?  Sophie is forced to make some tough decisions in her fight to help protect her country and for her own survival.

Reaction: The Explosionist covers a lot of territory.  It was very hard to write a summary because so many different things are going on.  I really enjoyed the alternative history aspect of the book.  I think I would have enjoyed it more if I knew more about the true history but the concept was creative and well done.  I did think some of the writing was a bit shaky.  My biggest complaint was with the ending.  I thought it was rushed and wrapped up a bit too easily, despite the open-ended nature.  Also, there were several moments where I felt I was told not shown.  One major example of this is when Sophie finally realizes her feelings for Mikael.

All that being said, I think this would make a truly awesome book club book if you have a mature group of book club members because there are so many issues covered in the book that are relevant to the present day, specifically regarding what the possibility of going to war because of false information or pretenses (much like Bush and the whole WMD thing), the effect of war on the soldiers–how do soldiers really feel about the wars they are fighting–and what is an acceptable price to pay for “the good of the country” and where does one draw the line?  Plus, I think it could bring up lots of great discussions about what the world would be like if other major events had happened differently.  For example, in the book the United States is two countries because the south won the war.  What would it be like now if this had happened?  How long would it have taken for slavery to have been abolished in the south?  Or would it have been abolished yet?  And what would the north be like with out its attachment to the south?

Here is one particular passage that caught my eye.  The background is Mr. Peterson, the beloved teacher, is babbling while teaching Sophie how to drive to keep them both distracted from her inexperience:

“Most motorcars in Scotland are powered by fuel cells.  A fuel cell is similar to a battery, except that whereas batteries run down, you can keep fuel cells going indefinitely by pumping in more chemicals.  Thomas Edison invented this particular version in the 1880s; you put in hydrogen and oxygen, and the cell converts them into electricity, the only by-product being perfectly pure drinking water…

Ironically, given that Edison was an American, his invention never really caught on over there.  You’ll find a few fuel-cell enthusiasts in the Americas, of course, but most of their motorcars are powered by a filthy and wasteful method called internal combustion.  All very well if you’re an American sitting on top of huge petroleum reserves, but that kind of reckless consumption doesn’t suggest a very sensible attitude toward the future!” (pg 133)

So many things could be discussed from this passage alone.  It also reminded me that I forgot to say that many famous people are mentioned throughout the novel, such as Edison.

In the end, this book’s best quality is its ability to make you think and question.  While I wasn’t in love with the writing and it took me awhile to really get into the book, I am still eagerly awaiting the next book in the series to see what Davidson concocts.

What’s Next: Sequels, possibly a trilogy.  I’ve heard many things but have not found concrete evidence on my own.  Check out Jenny Davidson’s blog for (hopefully) more information.

Phew.  It took me longer to post on this book (10 days) than it took me to read it!

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Library Mistrepresentation…For a Good Laugh

From Bookshelves of Doom:

She and/or her producers obviously haven’t been in a library in awhile.  Card catalogs!  Repressed young librarians w/ glasses and sweater vests!  Shelf after shelf of old encyclopedias!  Hilarious.

And I promise I’ve actually read some books and I am going to post about them I’m just having a hard time coming up with the right words.  Maybe a post tonight?  We’ll see.

Teens' Top Ten

8,000 teens voted on their top ten books.  Here’s the list:

  1. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
  3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
  4. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
  5. Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports by James Patterson
  6. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
  7. The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
  8. Extras by Scott Westerfeld
  9. Before I Die by Jenny Downham
  10. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

The first two aren’t surprising.  I thought Diary of a Wimpy Kid was for a younger audience but it is extremely popular so I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked to see it on the list.  I am happy to see Vampire Academy so high on the list.  It is my absolute favorite teen vampire series but I wasn’t sure it was as popular as some of the others that I don’t like as much, for example, the House of Night series.  I am also happy to see Before I Die on the list.  I, sadly, have not read it yet but I’ve heard great things about it.

For more information on Teens’ Top Ten, click here.

Teens’ Top Ten

8,000 teens voted on their top ten books.  Here’s the list:

  1. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
  3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
  4. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
  5. Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports by James Patterson
  6. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
  7. The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
  8. Extras by Scott Westerfeld
  9. Before I Die by Jenny Downham
  10. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

The first two aren’t surprising.  I thought Diary of a Wimpy Kid was for a younger audience but it is extremely popular so I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked to see it on the list.  I am happy to see Vampire Academy so high on the list.  It is my absolute favorite teen vampire series but I wasn’t sure it was as popular as some of the others that I don’t like as much, for example, the House of Night series.  I am also happy to see Before I Die on the list.  I, sadly, have not read it yet but I’ve heard great things about it.

For more information on Teens’ Top Ten, click here.

And the Nominees Are…

I’m a little behind in my blogging, so many of you may already know this, but the Cybils nominees have been announced.  The lists are long and full of many great books.  Of course, I am most interested in the Young Adult and the Fantasy and Science Fiction (Young Adult) categories, but you can check out the nominees for all the categories here.

I wish all the panelists happy reading and can’t wait to see which titles will make it to the final round!

Tail of the Moon (vols. 1 and 2)

by Rinko Ueda

Usagi’s grandfather is the leader of a prestigious clan of ninjas.  At one time, he had hoped that Usagi would become one of his ninjas but he has given up hope.  Usagi is clumsy and not at all interested in ninja studies.  Since she will never be a ninja, Usagi’s grandfather sends her away to marry Lord Hanzo, another ninja clan leader, and have lots of ninja babies.  At first Usagi is resistant to the idea, then she meets Lord Hanzo and he is the most handsome man she has ever met; now Usagi can’t wait to marry Lord Hanzo.  Too bad Hanzo says that he will never marry.  Usagi is determined to change his mind.

In volume one Usagi learns she has stunningly beautiful competition for Hanzo’s hand in marriage.  In order to win Hanzo’s heart, Usagi decides that maybe she can become a ninja after all.  Though she does her best, Usagi just isn’t cut out for ninja work.  Despite this, she promises Hanzo that she will continue training.  In volume two, Usagi returns to her home village after a fight with Hanzo and her former fiance and childhood friend, Goemon, decides he wants Usagi back.  Usagi tells him that she only loves Hanzo but Goemon still tells everyone that he and Usagi will be married.  Of course word gets back to Hanzo and he’s none too pleased.  After that situation is resolved (no marriage but Goemon’s not giving up!) Usagi turns to helping two friends who love each other but have broken up get back together.

Reaction: Tail of the Moon follows a fairly typical Shojo storyline with a not uber attractive girl who is none-the-less cute and sweet falling for a man who is a 10+ on a hotness scale of 1 to 10.  While hot guy resists attraction, cute girl can’t help but win his affections, even if it is a slow process.  And of course, there are many obstacles in their way.  At first Usagi annoyed me.  She seemed lazy as well as clumsy.  You’re obviously not going to do well at something if you don’t even try.  But she grew one me.  It turns out that she does have a skill and one that she has worked very hard on, proving that she is not as lazy as I first thought.  Her skill is with medicine.  Once her skill is found out, she becomes very valuable and can certainly contribute something very useful to whichever clan she associates.  Also, it becomes obvious that she is truly caring and can be selfless.  Besides being hot, Lord Hanzo is gruff and has high expectations for those around him (as well as himself) but he is also very loyal.  His character is a bit flatter than Usagi’s but there is certainly an air of mystery around him (why does he refuse to marry?) that makes him intriguing.  The first two volumes were fun so I’m looking forward to continuing with the series.

National Book Award Finalists

The National Book Award finalists have been announced.  The young adult nominees are:

I haven’t read any of these (three have yet to be released) though The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks has been on my must read list for some time now…as I mentioned in this post.  My library owns The Underneath and What I Saw and How I Lied so I have them on hold.  It will be interesting to see who wins!