[personal profile] rj_anderson
I just finished Adam Rex's novel The True Meaning of Smekday and I loved it SO MUCH I can hardly find words to tell you.

An 11-year-old girl named Gratuity, her cat Pig, and an utterly adorable alien who answers to "J.Lo" end up taking a road trip across the southern USA in a souped-up hovercar to find Gratuity's missing mother and incidentally maybe save the world -- this is a book full of quirky delights and unexpected depths, not to mention some pretty incisive social commentary (albeit deftly handled and never preachy). The cast is diverse without falling into stereotypes (actually I'd say this book is pretty much the opposite of Racefail), and the writing is smart, funny and in places unexpectedly beautiful.

I loved this book so much that the moment I was done I wanted to read it again -- preferably out loud to my middle son so I could watch him enjoy it as much as I did. Since it was first released in 2007, it's available in paperback now and at 425 pages, it's a nice meaty read without ever feeling padded or stretched thin. Plus it comes with delightful illustrations (including many in comic book form) by the author, who is clearly one of these people with more talent than anyone has a right to.

You can find out more about the book at the Smekday site, which includes an excerpt from the text, among many other entertaining things... like Gratuity and J.Lo in comic form giving you 10 reasons you should read the book. (If you pay attention to no other part of this review, at least check out that last link!)

***

Another book I have been meaning to talk about for days now is Sarah Rees Brennan's The Demon's Lexicon. Now, this is a book I would normally have bypassed due to its having the word "demon" in the title, because I am really not keen on fantasy that involves the occult. However, since I have come to know and appreciate the delightfully witty and talented Ms. Sarah through chatting with her on the [livejournal.com profile] debut2009 community, and had read a few excerpts from the book that made me positively salivate with eagerness to find out more, I resolved to give the story a chance and find out how the titular demons were handled.

Well. As it turns out, these are not the fallen angels of Christian theology who chose to follow Satan, or anything even really like them. The demons in this book are powerful creatures from another world or plane of existence who long to break through into our reality -- but who can only do so by taking possession of a human body (which is extremely unpleasant for the human involved and tends to result in them dying very soon afterward).

Certain humans with magical abilities have learned to make bargains with the demons in exchange for power -- a practice which invariably corrupts those who participate in it. Meanwhile the book's heroes, a pair of brothers named Alan and Nick, are on the run from the evil magicians and forced to fight for their lives. That's just the beginning of everything that goes on in The Demon's Lexicon, however -- this is one tight, action-packed, complex (yet never incomprehensible) story that I personally couldn't put down.

The cold, seemingly amoral Nick provides most of the book's POV, which could have been a terrible mistake if Sarah Rees Brennan hadn't succeeded so brilliantly in making the reader sympathize with him. For all his Byronesque bleakness and savagery, Nick is honestly bewildered by a lot of the emotional dynamics going on around him, yet at the same time completely without self-pity -- and manifestly devoted to Alan, who is a wonderfully rich and sympathetic character himself and is equally loyal to his younger brother. They make a great team, whether fighting back to back with sword and gun in hand, or bantering with each other over plumbing and girls -- and when a pair of comparatively ordinary teens named Mae and Jamie get into the mix, the chemistry between all the characters just gets more delightful.

This is quite a dark book in many respects, which makes it more appropriate for older teens (as opposed to Smekday which is suitable for about nine and up). But overall I found reading The Demon's Lexicon to be an engaging, exciting, and brilliantly surprising experience, and I am really looking forward to the next book in the series.

Check out the first chapter on Sarah's site for a taste of her lyrical, witty writing, or visit her Livejournal at [livejournal.com profile] sarahtales to enjoy her hilarious posts about her life as an author.

***

And now, since I seem to be recommending books in reverse order from when I actually read them -- [livejournal.com profile] lisamantchev's Eyes Like Stars is finally out and I can't wait to buy my own hardcover copy!

This is a delicious tale full of whimsy, suspense, action and a touch of romance, in which the heroine Bertie (short for Beatrice Shakespeare Smith) is threatened with expulsion from the Théâtre Illuminata, a magical theatre that's the only home she's ever known, unless she can persuade the Theater Manager that she's an invaluable asset to the company. And that's just the beginning, because Bertie has the four fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream hanging around her causing trouble and hilarity wherever she goes, as well as a handsome pirate, a vengeful sea-witch, and a dangerously seductive elemental (Ariel from The Tempest) complicating matters along the way...

Eyes Like Stars is different from anything else I've ever read -- in a good, refreshing way. The prose is lovely, the wit sharp, the characters engaging and the plot full of unexpected turns. Like Demon's Lexicon this book is also the first in a series, so I'm glad to have more of Bertie's adventures to look forward to!

Check out an excerpt from the book if you want to know more, or find it at a bookseller near you.

Date: 2009-07-08 06:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] penmage.livejournal.com
Smekday is one of my favorite favorite books. I talked my teen book club into reading it because I just had to share it. I love JLo!

Date: 2009-07-08 07:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] olmue.livejournal.com
My middle son also loves Smekday, to the point that every time it is in the house he steals it back to read again. We really must get our own copy sometime!

Date: 2009-07-08 09:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jennifer-j-s.livejournal.com
I adored The True Meaning of Smekday. I need to go check out the other books you enjoyed. You wouldn't steer me wrong, would you?

Date: 2009-07-08 10:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
Not deliberately, to be sure!

Date: 2009-07-09 03:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] deva-fagan.livejournal.com
Ooo, I will have to add Smekday to my to-read list. Everything you've recommended highly that I have gone on to read has been well worth it. Plus, aliens!

I just finished DL last week and loved it too (not a huge surprise, since I've loved all the excerpts SRB has shared). I was blown away by Nick's voice, which as you say could so easily have gone wrong if mishandled. And also, I love Alan!

Date: 2009-07-09 03:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] peanut13171.livejournal.com
Adam Rex is not only a great author, he's a poet and artist. I've been getting his other books from the library (PSST and FRANKENSTEIN MAKES A SANDWICH) and they're charming and a LOT of fun.

Will check out your other recs.

Date: 2009-07-10 03:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] checkers65477.livejournal.com
I've heard great things about Smekday, but when I've tried to get teens in my library to read it, few have wanted to. Cover art? Title that doesn't immediately make sense? I dunno. I need to read it so I can do a better job in talking it up.

Date: 2009-07-10 07:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
I think SMEKDAY is more naturally appealing to 9-12 year olds than teens -- although I'd like to think that an open-minded teen who wasn't on his/her dignity about ONLY reading "grown-up" seeming books would love it too if s/he gave it a chance.

I admit the title didn't grab me at first, nor would the cover have if I hadn't heard enough about the book to be charmed by its premise and curious about how the author would pull it off. So yeah, I'd recommend reading it yourself and then you'll know better how to talk it up.

Date: 2009-07-23 04:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kristin-briana.livejournal.com
Eyes Like Stars was epic. I loved it. :)

Date: 2010-02-17 11:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tapinger.livejournal.com
The demons in this book are powerful creatures from another world or plane of existence who long to break through into our reality -- but who can only do so by taking possession of a human body (which is extremely unpleasant for the human involved and tends to result in them dying very soon afterward).

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

I see a connection between "steal and kill and destroy" and "possession" and "dying very soon afterward." I'm curious to know why you don't?

(FYI: I read only about half the book but was, sadly, spoiled by the "world-ending spoilers" on the author's blog because RSS readers don't show cut tags or the labels on them, just what's inside them.)

Date: 2010-02-18 11:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
I looked it up to be sure -- John 10:10 is not referring to demons or Satan, but contrasting Christ as the Good Shepherd with the false teachers who came before him. So while I wouldn't deny that demons in the Bible are dangerous and destructive, I don't think that verse is a good description of how they operate.

In Scripture, demons are fallen angels under the command of Satan, and their goal is to deceive people into worshiping and following Satan instead of worshiping the one true God -- or at the very least, believing that a relationship with God is not desirable or possible. They may possess human beings and use them as tools for their purposes, but only as a means to that end. I can't think of any Scriptural example of a demon killing someone that they possessed -- the man called Legion cut himself and lived in squalor and misery among the tombs terrifying everyone who passed by, but the demons didn't kill him.

Whereas the demons in THE DEMON'S LEXICON are independent beings from another physical dimension, with no leader that we know of, and no interest in theological or philosophical matters. They simply want to get into our world because their own is so bleak, and taking over human bodies is the only way they can do it. They are summoned and controlled by mechanical rituals that do not involve worship or devotion, only bargaining and exchange. And the humans they possess don't live very long, so when they die the demon is forced back into its own world and has to try again.

If SRB had called her demons "aliens" or "bodysnatchers" or "weirdos from another dimension", I don't think there would be an issue here.

Sorry you were spoiled for the twist, but I actually enjoyed the book more when I knew what was coming because I could appreciate how cleverly it was set up along the way... but then I love being tricked, and not everybody does.
Edited Date: 2010-02-19 12:00 am (UTC)

Date: 2010-02-20 01:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tapinger.livejournal.com
You have nothing to be sorry for about the twist. It wasn't your fault at all. I normally don't even mind spoilers that much but that was a crucial one...

Good point on context. I don't pay nearly enough attention to it. However, I'd say the crucial distinction you're making is not false teachers versus demons (they both try to lead people away from God, though perhaps for different reasons) but their goal as opposed to the (nominal) goal of SRB's demons (emigration).

I will have to think on it some more. In the meantime, thank you for your thoughtful response.

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