Friday, December 2, 2011

Withering Tights, by Louise Rennison (fiction) - theater camp, boys, and more drama

Performing arts school!
Taught by real actresses and dancers!
Far in northern England, on the Yorkshire dales...

It's Fun Friday, as Tallulah searches for her time in the spotlight, on stage, away from her silly little brother. She's off to Dother Hall and a chance to audition at the end of summer for a permanent spot at the school.

Such *dramatic* drama instructors... and weird improv exercises... and strange interpretive dance classes. How is it that she suddenly can't dance or sing or act?

Throw in a brooding mother owl, the nearby boys' school, various odd villagers, worries about casting for Dother's all-girl version of Wuthering Heights, and Tallulah's concern that her legs will keep growing (and the interesting parts never will), and you can see why Georgia's cousin (as in the hilarious "Confessions of Georgia Nicolson" series) is a just trifle worried about passing her audition.

So what will Tallulah be doing on stage next? Watch for book 2, A Midsummer Tights Dream, due out in February 2012.

Book info: Withering Tights (Misadventures of Tallulah Casey #1) / Louise Rennison. HarperTeen, 2011 [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Tallulah knows that summer drama school will be better than bug sandwiches with her crazy little brother. With her parents overseas pursuing their own interests, it’s certainly time for her to dance and act in Yorkshire. Her just-older cousin Georgia promises to write with advice about boys – surely, there are boys nearby…

Rooming in the village with the wacky Dobbins family (they’re keen on squirrels), she and Vaisey (staying with the pubowner’s family) walk past millions of sheep on their way to Dother Hall, where improvisation and dance and art and the rest of the students live.

The full-time girls perform strange plays with confusing dialogue, the handyman plays heavy metal music in the workshop, and the instructors tell the girls to act without any scripts. Their modern version of Wuthering Heights is, um, uh, different.

Things start looking up when the boys from Woolfe Hall invite Tallulah and friends to the cinema. The school director says it will help them look through the inner darkness; the girls just want to be with the boys.

A local band is performing at Dother so they can get a live recording – and village badboy Cain is the lead singer. How many hearts will he break over the summer? If he’d just stop harassing the owl nest and killing foxes…

Will Tallulah pass her auditions to become a permanent student at Dother Hall if she can’t tap dance or sing? Can a knobby-knees girl who’s waiting for the rest of her body to grow up to match her 14-year-old heart find happiness on stage? Is a first kiss too much to ask of this summer?

More laugh-out-loud fun from the author of the Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series, who brings readers along on Tallulah’s bumpy ride through a summer that’s much more dramatic than she dreamed it could be. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Zahra's Paradise (fiction)

Fraudulent elections.
Violence against protesters.
Hospitals invaded by the Revolutionary Guard.

World Wednesday takes us to Iran in the bloody days following the June 2009 elections which were manipulated by the powerful Supreme Guardian Council. Hundreds of thousands of students descended on Freedom Square in Tehran to demonstrate - many never returned home.

This unflinching graphic novel began as a webcomic about an anonymous Iranian blogger attempting to let the outside world know how Iranians felt about the election results. His family's search for Mahdi represents all the missing students and the agonies suffered by their families while searching for them. Two chapters are still available on the book's website with translations in ten languages.

Amir and Khalil also include information on the Omid Memorial, "hope" in Persian, which collects the names and stories of those who have perished in Iran while standing up for human rights since the 1979 Khomeini revolution.

Strong feelings, unfettered language, detailed black and white art - Zahra's Paradise is not for the faint of heart, but is a call for human rights and freedom.

Book info: Zahra's Paradise / written by Amir; artwork by Khalil. First Second, 2011. [book website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Iran, summer 2009 – students protest against rigged elections, and Alavi’s brother doesn’t come home. It makes no sense; Mehdi was studying for his final exams so he wasn’t out partying. As Alavi and his mother search Tehran’s hospitals in this graphic novel, their despair deepens – is Mehdi one the many who have disappeared into Evin Prison, that horror of abuse and degradation?

Alavi prints up missing person posters with Mehdi’s picture, meeting a sympathetic copy shop owner near the university and a beautiful woman who reminds him of well-respected Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi. In 2003, Zahra was taken into Evin Prison for questioning and came out in a coffin. Chief Justice Mortazavi said she had tripped; an autopsy showed that she had been tortured and raped.

Swirling connections of corrupt officials and powerful politicians continue to block every avenue that the Alavis pursue in search of Mehdi. The few people who dare to help them are well aware of the risks involved, but what decent person wants another dead son dumped into an unmarked grave in Lot 309? Ah, Zahra’s Paradise, the cemetery named for the wife of the Prophet, has a growing hidden section that no one publicly mentions.

This intense graphic novel about struggle, power, and loss is a brutal testimony to the thousands of Iranians who asked for free elections and were silenced. The closing pages of the book contain their names, page after page in the smallest readable font, as part of the Omid Memorial, so that they may not be forgotten, even though their final resting places be unknown. It is no wonder that the author and artist published this compelling story using only fictitious first names.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Legend (fiction)

Elite soldiers and expendable worker drones.
Iffy electrical power and repeated plagues.
Endless slums and a handful of luxury apartments.

Future Los Angeles is a far cry from today's sunny tourist destination. Most of its 20 million people are doomed to slums because of their mediocre Trial scores at age 10. Those who score too low are removed by the Government as a useless burden on society.

Scoring well on the Trial means high school and college and a good position in the Elector's own police force. June is the only person who ever made a perfect score and has raced through all her classes in just four years, getting ready to stand as an officer on the front lines with her brother Metias.

When he is murdered by the notorious teen-criminal Day, who's survived on his own since escaping from prison after his failed Trial, June's hunger for revenge and Day's drive to protect his impoverished family set the pair on a collision course with consequences that no one could envision.

Scheduled for Nov. 29 publication, so grab the first book in the Legend trilogy at your nearest indie bookstore tomorrow!

Book info: Legend / Marie Lu. Putnam, 2011. [author's website] [series website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: No one expected a 10-year-old to break out of prison like Day did. No one expected a 10-year-old to get a perfect Trial score like June did either. Future Los Angeles only educates the very brightest – the middling ones become drudge labor, the Trial failures are turned over to government prisons or research labs.

Now 14, June is bored with her military college classes and longs to be on active duty full-time like her older brother Metias. Her parents would be so proud of them both, if they were still living… When Metias is killed on a routine patrol, June is not sure she can keep on living, but duty to the Elector keeps her going.

Day moves along the fringes of underground society, stealing supplies to keep his family alive in the slums, even though they think he’s gone forever. Fleetingly captured on security cameras, Day’s exploits against government stations are becoming legendary, even though no one knows exactly who he is.

Another plague is stalking the poor areas of the city, and Day spies as his family’s house is marked with the infected-quarantine mark. Now, getting the plague suppressant for his brother is Day’s main concern – and that means infiltrating high-security hospital labs undetected.

As Day searches for the medicine, the police continue searching for Day. June is assigned to the case and takes to the streets in disguise, trying to capture this renegade before he becomes more of a folk-hero in the slums.

The more Day learns about this plague, the more worried he is for his family. The more June learns about Day, the more she questions the Republic’s actions.

Was Day involved in Metias’s death? Why are the plagues so common in the City? Will June find answers in her brother’s journals or just more questions?

Leap into a gritty future adventure with Legend, recounted by Day and June in alternating chapters, first in a series. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.