Monday's Muse, 9th edition.

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): King of Wishful Thinking by New Found Glory.

This was originally an idea from Au Courant started in March, an idea she has graciously let me run with.

The idea is to introduce you to unknown, forgotten, or overlooked fiction that has been lost from regular radar. I am WriterGirl. I am in the business of saving lives, one book at a time.

What I do is go to amazon, narrow it down to a YA field and type in a random word, any word that comes to mind. I then take a sampling of some I have never heard of before, or only vaguely heard of (and hopefully you as well). No infringement is intended for any description I take for the books. It's purely for promotional reasons. I will try and cover as many genres as possible that are fitting for the random word. Simple but it really uncovers some incredible gems. I will be doing this every other Monday. If there are any words you want to prompt me with, go ahead and fire away.

Today's random word:

Half World by Hiromi Goto.

Melanie Tamaki is human—but her parents aren’t. They are from Half World, a Limbo between our world and the afterlife, and her father is still there. When her mother disappears, Melanie must follow her to Half World—and neither of them may return alive. Imagine Coraline as filmed by the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki (Howl’s Moving Castle), or Neil Gaiman collaborating with Charles de Lint. Half World is vivid, visceral, unforgettable, a combination of prose and images that will haunt you.

Shiva's Fire by Suzanne Fisher Staples.

Born during the worst storm ever seen by her small village in India, Parvati is both blessed and cursed with mysterious powers that confound her people. Wild animals flock to her; she is able to charm fish, birds, even deadly cobras. But Parvati's truly exceptional talent is her ability to dance like the Hindu god Shiva himself. At age 6, she hurls herself into a cooking fire and dances safely through the flames, emerging without a single burn. Naturally, these powers scare the other villagers. Only her mother Meenakshi loves and believes in her, protecting her from the their curious and hostile stares. The guru Pillai, a famous Indian dance teacher, hears of Parvati's talent and comes to offer her a position in his dance school, or "gurukulam," in the large city of Madras. Once there, she questions her destiny, or "dharma," as she experiences both a devastating loss and a blossoming romance; "...she thought about the mystery of dharma--how some things were very difficult to accept, while others opened as simply and as naturally as a flower." But through it all, the fire of Shiva burns within her, and Parvati knows that, despite all other callings, she was born to dance. --Jennifer Hubert.

Tree of Life: The World of the African Baobab by Barbara Bush.

According to African legend, each animal was given a tree to plant by the Great Spirit. When the hyena was assigned the baobab tree, the careless animal planted it upside down--"and that is why its branches look like gnarled roots." With this intriguing bit of folklore, Bash proceeds to unfold the life cycle of this majestic bastion of the African savannah. Frequently measuring 60 feet tall and 40 feet across, these giants "outlive nearly everything on earth"--their life span is over 1000 years. In this compelling and moving account, the baobab stands proud and stately as a vivid panoply of activity unfolds within its sprawling branches. With stirring landscapes and lavishly detailed closeups, Bash's realistic watercolors bring this profusion to vibrant life. Finally, an old tree dies and "collapses in on itself, a melted heap of ruins." A seed sprouts, a new baobab tree begins to grow and life continues. One of nature's great lessons is recreated dramatically in this stirring book. --Publisher's Weekly.

Kino no Tabi Volume 1: Book one of THE BEAUTIFUL WORLD by Keiichi Sigsawa

This strange but interesting novel began as a serial in a Japanese magazine, became a popular book series, and spawned an animated TV series and a video game as well. The story begins with a traveling stranger and the girl whom he befriends. Her community requires that all 12-year-olds undergo surgery to make them into adults who will work at their assigned jobs without complaint. When the stranger questions this tradition, the girl's parents kill him. She takes his name, Kino, and his talking motorcycle, Hermes, and escapes–becoming a traveler herself and visiting several dystopian communities. In one, people have taken medicine that allows them to read the thoughts of others, with predictably bad results. In another, political revolutionaries kill anyone who dissents, leaving few inhabitants still alive. Often, the setup seems artificial–Kino's travels are simply a device to move from one disastrous society to another–and wherever she arrives, she finds an eager guide ready to narrate the history of the community. There are also occasional references to events that are not described in the novel, making the story disjointed. Fans of anime and manga might not find these omissions troubling, but if they are hoping for action, they will be disappointed. Black-and-white illustrations between chapters add to the manga feel. Teens with an interest in politics and philosophy will probably enjoy this story. Others may find it puzzling, but also intriguing and unpredictable.–Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library

A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park.

This is a truly magical tale, full of strangeness, terrors and wonders. Many girls daydream that they are really a princess adopted by commoners. In the case of teenager Miranda Popescu, this is literally true. Because she is at the fulcrum of a deadly political battle between conjurers in an alternate world where "Roumania" is a leading European power, Miranda was hidden by her aunt in our world, where she was adopted and raised in a quiet Massachusetts college town.
The narrative is split between our world and the people in Roumania working to protect or to capture Miranda: her Aunt Aegypta Schenck versus the mad Baroness Ceaucescu in Bucharest, and the sinister alchemist, the Elector of Ratisbon, who holds her true mother prisoner in Germany. This is the story of how Miranda -- with her two best friends, Peter and Andromeda -- is brought back to her home reality. Each of them is changed in the process and all will have much to learn about their true identities and the strange world they find themselves in.

Earth Tales From Around the World by Michael J. Caduto.

The theme of this impressive collection of 48 traditional tales from around the world is respect for the natural world. Logically arranged into 10 sections that explore the earth and humankind's relationship to it, the stories within each section are also strongly connected. For instance, a Polynesian Maui yarn that explains the nature of the "sky" is followed by an Inuit story about the creation of the sun, a Navajo tale that introduces the origin of the Milky Way, and an Aboriginal story that looks at how the Pleiades was formed. This book is the first place many of these eloquent tales have been adapted for children; two of them, the Australian legend "The Seven Sisters" and the French folktale "Earth Words," are gems. For both children and adults, the one-page discussion of lessons at the end of each section and the general activities in the back of the book are unobtrusive. There are also extensive scholarly notes, as well as title, culture, and country and geographical indexes. --Julie Corsaro

The Demon Slayer by Samuel Mills.

n this coming-of-age tale, journey five thousand years back to the danger-filled jungles of ancient India and a time when gods and demons walked on the Earth. Meet Abhay, the hunter's son, who must earn his manhood by facing a selfish bully, a man-eating leopard, and a fierce demon before he can earn his manhood. Meet Dayita who must marry according to the rigid laws of her society rather than her heart's choice. Meet Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana, royalty banished to the wilderness far away from friends and family.

An Ocean Apart, A World Away by Lensey Namioka.

Picking up where Namioka's Ties That Bind, Ties That Break left off, this novel opens in 1921 China, where Ailin is about to set sail for America. Ailin's classmate and friend Yanyan, who narrates here, travels to Shanghai to bid her farewell; Eldest Brother and his friend Baoshu serve as Yanyan's chaperones. Baoshu's mixed heritage (a father who served as a Chinese imperial officer and a Manchu mother) offers Namioka an opportunity to explore the mounting tensions in China over beliefs about who can best unite the country. However, the author does not delve deeply enough to give readers a clear sense of the issues at stake. Instead, she concentrates on Yanyan's adjustment to American culture, when the heroine enrolls as a student at Cornell. A romance ignites between Baoshu and Yanyan, who then turns down Baoshu's proposal that she run away with him; later L.H., a fellow Chinese student, also gradually shows signs that he wants more than friendship. Yanyan must decide what she wants for herself and from a partnership. Namioka covers (literally) so much ground (Yanyan's boat trip to America, her cross-country rail trip from Seattle to Cornell, her visit by train to Ailin in San Francisco during her school's Christmas break, etc.) that many of the characters and relationships are fleetingly portrayed rather than fully developed. Some readers may be satisfied with the conclusion, but others may wonder if Yanyan ever fulfills her dream to become a doctor. --Publisher's Weekly.

Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You by Hanna Jansen, Elizabeth D. Crawford.

The patient encouragement of the author to help her adopted daughter, Jeanne d'Arc Umubyeyi, come to terms with her memories provides the frame for this account of genocide in Rwanda in 1994. When Jeanne was eight, Hutu neighbors massacred her family and destroyed her home; she witnessed the murder of her mother and brother, as well as other Tutsis, strangers and family friends. Beautifully crafted and smoothly translated, this searing novel is all the more remarkable for the sense of place it conveys through vividly remembered details of an African world where the mundane experiences of daily life were cataclysmically interrupted by a few months of unimaginable violence. Jeanne's courage, will to live, and understandable anger come through clearly, leading readers to wonder how a person or a country can ever recover from such events. The young woman's adoptive mother's childhood memories, mentioned in one of the chapter introductions, make explicit the connection between Rwanda and Germany. The title, taken from a story Jeanne's grandmother told, also reminds readers of the importance of human connections and continued trust. Painful to read, but unforgettable, this book will provoke thought and discussion.–Kathleen Isaacs.

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac.

Six-year-old Ned Begay leaves his Navajo home for boarding school, where he learns the English language and American ways. At 16, he enlists in the U.S. Marines during World War II and is trained as a code talker, using his native language to radio battlefield information and commands in a code that was kept secret until 1969. Rooted in his Navajo consciousness and traditions even in dealing with fear, loneliness, and the horrors of the battlefield, Ned tells of his experiences in Hawaii, Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. The book, addressed to Ned's grandchildren, ends with an author's note about the code talkers as well as lengthy acknowledgments and a bibliography. The narrative pulls no punches about war's brutality and never adopts an avuncular tone. Not every section of the book is riveting, but slowly the succession of scenes, impressions, and remarks build to create a solid, memorable portrayal of Ned Begay. Even when facing complex negative forces within his own country, he is able to reach into his traditional culture to find answers that work for him in a modern context. Readers who choose the book for the attraction of Navajo code talking and the heat of battle will come away with more than they ever expected to find. --Carolyn Phelan.


Charlotte (The Book on the Hill) said...

Tree of Life and Earth Tales sound so good ! Thank you for sharing this. I love Monday's Muse. :)

NotNessie said...

Interesting idea... I'll have to try that sometime. You've come up with quite a varied collection here =o)

Heather Zundel said...

Charlotte - I'm glad you like Monday's Muse. That one is a picture book, but I loved the sound of it.

NotNessie - Yes, this one took some digging, but I wanted to see how varied I could get. :)