Author: Elizabeth Peters
Amelia Peabody, vol. 11
My rating: 4.5 of 5
The 1911 season looks to be one full of drama for Amelia Peabody what with the weddings, the weird family drama between Nefret and Ramses, the political intrigue and drug dealers on the loose, the random child popping up claiming to belong to Ramses. And of course, the rash of forgeries attributed to Ramses’ best friend, David–falsely attributed, obviously, but proving that is being a bit challenging. Maybe it’s a good thing the only site Emerson was able to get this season is a bit boring on the whole.
I absolutely always love Peters’ Amelia Peabody books; there’s some great history combined with lots of thrills, good humor, suspense, mystery, and romance. Basically, they’re just good historical adventures all around. The Falcon at the Portal fills this excellently, although I do have to say that it’s just generally less cohesive than some of the other stories in this series. Honestly, there’s just so much going on that it’s hard to keep track sometimes of what’s actually important. Add to that the fact that you’ve got three separate narrators (even though I love having Nefret and Ramses’ perspectives), and the story can be a bit all over the place at times. But really, I feel like the actual mystery plot takes second place to the character development and drama in this volume anyhow, so it’s not such a big deal to miss plot threads at times. And wow is there some drama going on here! For one, we’ve got some actual development in one of my favorite (of all time, not just of this series) ships–Nefret and Ramses. Plus the whole mess with Amelia’s nephew Percy and the Americans who keep hanging around. And of course, this is where Sennia joins the family. So yeah, lots of drama, a good touch of heartache, but lots of fun, too. Recommended.
Author: Marguerite Abouet
Illustrator: Clément Oubrerie
Aya, vol. 2
My rating: 3.5 of 5
The town of Yopougon is booming with life. While Adouja struggles to care for her new baby, her father roams the streets taking pictures of everyone he can in an attempt to identify his grandson’s father. Adouja’s friends try to help her with the baby while attending to their own lives as well (like Bintou’s new boyfriend). A beauty pageant is in the works for the whole of Yopougon. The local beer factory struggles to stay in business, making uncomfortable cuts in employment to do so. All over town, couples pair off and make love. And in the midst of it all, young Aya lives circumspectly, kind and beautiful, devoted to her studies and her friends.
Aya of Yop City was a graphic novel I randomly picked up off the shelf after seeing it mentioned several times in various places. I’m glad I did, even though it isn’t my favorite graphic novel by any means. For one thing, it provides a really insightful look at daily life in Ivory Coast in the 1970’s–and how often do you find a book that takes you there? I think this is the first book I’ve found that is set in Ivory Coast at all, regardless of the time period. And I think the style and plot of this book allow it to present a good picture of the culture, which is really neat. Furthermore, the story is funny (especially Hyacinte going around taking snapshots of everyone) and warm. I found the author’s explanations in the back of the book about child-rearing in this sort of community was also really interesting, as well as the way this is played out in the plot. The art is really attractive and bright; it fits the story well and gives a great feel for the community. On the other hand, I found the extent to which the book was scattered around numerous people and plots to be somewhat distracting. And the number of affairs going on in the story was a bit much. . . . I guess what I’m trying to say is that I would have enjoyed this graphic novel even more if it had been more focused on Aya herself, who is a fascinating character. Maybe it’s my own fault for jumping in on the second volume (although I have to say that this volume is generally quite easy to get into without feeling like you missed a lot from the first volume). In any case, for those who enjoy graphic novels full of drama and culture, I think Aya of Yop City would be an interesting choice to try.
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 5 of 5
Finding her place and her own rhythm seems nearly impossible for twelve-year-old Sunny. She’s just moved to Nigeria–her parents’ native home–from the United States where she was born. She has Nigerian features but albino skin . . . which means she can’t play ball with the other kids outside during the day like she wants. Plus, her father never can seem to approve of her. Then there’s that terrifying vision she recently had in a candle flame. . . . But when Sunny becomes friends with Orlu (after all her so-called friends at school desert her) and subsequently also becomes friends with his friend Chichi, life begins to take shape for her. It begins to expand in unexpected, wonderful, dangerous ways into a world of magic where Sunny can become her true self.
I was unfamiliar with Okorafor’s work when I randomly heard that Diana Wynne Jones had praised her writing–certainly sufficient incentive for me to try reading her books, and I’m glad I did. Akata Witch is a wonderful journey into unknown places both without and within. The writing itself is superb from the descriptions to the characters to the brilliant fusion of Nigerian culture and magic. There are elements of this book that remind me almost of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone–mostly in the sense that a young person goes from knowing nothing of magic to being immersed in the world of magic and all its wonders. That whole experience is presented here, and it’s glorious, especially since Sunny’s world is so richly imagined and so unique from anything I’ve ever read before . . . while still being reminiscent of Rowling’s world in all the best ways. I really enjoyed the rich cultural experience that Okorafor presents here; she could totally have written a slice-of-life coming-of-age story in this setting and it would have been wonderful. Adding this whole huge magical, epic fantasy element to the tale is just overkill, not that I’m complaining. The one thing I found . . . not bad so much as just unnerving, was the teachers’ attitude towards their students being put in dangerous situations. They seem almost to not care whether they survive or not, which is just really different from the mindset of anyone in a role mentoring and leading children that I’ve experienced. I think because of that, I would recommend Akata Witch as more of a YA/Adult book, even though the main character is twelve and the content is otherwise fine for middle-grade readers.
Author: Lloyd Alexander
Illustrator: Trina Schart Hyman
My rating: 4.5 of 5
A young carpenter has become disillusioned with his career and uncertain of his future. So one day, on a whim, he visits an old fortune-teller who has set up business over a cloth merchant’s shop. The fortune the old man gives him is absurd–but couched so cleverly that it sounds impressively positive. The young man leaves, convinced his future is bright, but he soon comes back with more questions . . . only to find that the old man has disappeared and the family he was staying with is convinced that he transformed himself into the young carpenter. And clever enough to see an opportunity when it presents itself, the young carpenter decides to take up a new career in fortune-telling, with surprising results!
If you’ve read any Lloyd Alexander, you’ll quickly recognize his distinctive, fable-like style in The Fortune-Tellers. Although, unlike most of his books, this is a short story–a children’s picture book, actually–it carries much the same feel as longer works such as the Prydain books or The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian. It’s quite the charming tall tale, full of wit and irony in good measure as well as a hefty dose of humor. It’s notable that the text itself is–like many of his stories–very unspecific regarding the location; this is the sort of story that could happen anywhere (which I love about his books!). But this picture book does something very interesting; it takes a story that could happen anywhere, anytime, and through the use of illustrations, sets it in a very specific location–the country of Cameroon. Hyman’s pictures are exquisite–colorful, intricate, and full of life and personality. The portray the place and the individuals involved so well that it gives an entirely new flavor to the text. It’s quite charming. I especially love her work with all the fabric patters–they’re really beautiful. I think The Fortune-Tellers is a fun and fascinating tall-tale sort of story that would be enjoyable for both children (probably around 5 and up) and for adults as well.