Books for Younguns, Young Adults and the Young-at-Heart

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Scorpio Races

On the island of Trilby, each November the water horses come out of the sea to terrorize and dazzle the natives as well as the tourists who come from around the world to witness the event.  It all culminates in the Scorpio Races, a contest that discovers the fastest horse and always has a death toll.  Sean has won the past four years, but Puck and her land horse are racing for the first time...

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater is a Printz Honor Book for 2012.

This tale, told in alternating voices of Sean and Puck, moves slowly, perfect for those who relish the atmospherics.  There is still plenty at stake and enough exciting situations, but the forebodingly ethereal island is truly another character.  The romance (because of course there's romance) unfolds naturally in the background while the life-or-death risk of the race always takes center stage.  The horses are fully developed and compelling in their own right.  This is, at its heart, a very grown-up version of a horse book.  The sexism Puck encounters after stating her desire to ride in the race (the first woman ever to do so) is all-too-believable and seeing it addressed head-on is a nice bonus.  While this book hit a few of my pet peeves (I'll save you the trouble:  It's meant to be pronounced CAP-el ISH-ka), it proved a surprisingly mature literary effort; an experience that has improved as I've had more time to contemplate it.

The Scorpio Races is published by Scholastic Press and retails for $17.99 (hardcover).  I received my advance reader copy from the publisher (although this review was not solicited or otherwise compensated).  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In Memoriam: Jan Berenstain

Monday brought us the news that Jan Berenstain has passed away after suffering a stroke at the age of 88.  While she isn't the only picture book luminary we've lost recently, she did have unique impact on my life in particular, so I hope you'll indulge me in a brief remembrance.

The Berenstain Bears were a staple in my childhood.  He Bear, She Bear was the first book I ever read (although, to be fair, I probably had the whole thing memorized).  Despite not having seen the attached books for years, I can still vividly recall paws stuck to floors with airplane glue and birds patterned like soccer balls.  I remember my father illustrating the chords that made up the page turning music from their Golden Sight'N'Sound Story, The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Fun House.  I remember taping balloons to paper airplanes a la The Berenstain Bears' Science Fair.  In the tangentally literary realm, I often fought to be the first bear out of the Spooky Old Tree in their board game (always as Sister, thank you very much), and I still have the theme song to their television show pop into my head every time Foursquare informs me that "I'm the mayor!"

Those oh-so-literally-named bears wormed their way into many aspects of my life, always with a welcome invitation, and they've remained there far past most children's books.  Jan Berenstain can rest assured that she and Stan have had a lasting impact on several generations already and many more to come.  Rest in peace.

Monday, February 27, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Journey with a children's book edition at Teach Mentor Texts.

This week, I read:
The adult novel American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar, in preparation for his author visit.
The nonfiction picture book Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson, in preparation for his author visit.
hitRECord's RECollection: Volume 1 compiled by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, just because it's been sitting around unread too long.

I also started Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy.  (Yes, I'm behind.)

This week was also full of picture F&Gs for order prep, this time from MPS:
Barnum's Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World by Tracey Fern, illustrated by Boris Kulikov
Zoom, Rocket, Zoom! by Margaret Mayo, illustrated by Alex Ayliffe
The Scariest Thing of All by Deb Gliori
Little Nelly's Big Book by Pippa Goodhart, illustrated by Andy Rowland
Survival at 120 Above by Debbie S. Miller, illustrated by Jon Van Zyle
Who's Who? by Ken Geist, illustrated by Henry Cole
Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody by Ludworst Bemonster
Cock-A-Doodle-Dance! by Christine Tricarico, illustrated by Rich Deas
Flabbersmashed about You by Rachel Vail, illustrated by Yumi Heo
Horsefly and Honeybee by Randy Cecil
Granny Lamby and the Secret Handshake by Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise
Summer Days and Nights by Wong Herbert Yee
The Monster Who Lost His Mean by Tiffany Strelitz Haber, illustrated by Kirstie Edmunds
Leopard and Silkie: One Boy's Quest to Save the Seal Pups by Brenda Peterson, photographs by Robin Lindsey
Suryia Swims!: The True Story of How an Orangutan Learned to Swim by Bhagavan "Doc" Antle with Thea Feldman, photographs by Barry Bland
Red, White, and Boom! by Lee Wardlaw, illustrated by Huy Voun Lee
Kate and Pippin: An Unlikely Love Story by Martin Springett, photographs by Isobel Springett
Machines Go to Work in the City by William Low
Awesome Autumn: All Kinds of Fall Facts and Fun by Bruce Goldstone
B Is for Brooklyn by Selina Alko
Mom, It's My First Day of Kindergarten! by Hyewon Yum
Even Aliens Need Snacks by Matthew McElligott
On My Way to the Bath by Sarah Maizes, illustrated by Michael Paraskevas

And last but not least, a few other picture books I grabbed from the shelves for various reasons:
Crafty Chloe by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Heather Ross
Seen Art? by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
Clackers: Penguin by Luana Rinaldo and C. Nash
Blackout by John Rocco

What are you reading?

Blackout

The city is always full of hustle and bustle, leaving everyone too busy to just have a little fun.  But what will they do when the lights go out?

Blackout by John Rocco is a 2012 Caldecott Honor book.

This is a perfect book for urban dwellers looking to add a little magic to their environment.  The city before the blackout will be familiar to many children and their parents:  A whir of activity without much time to look around.  As soon as the blackout hits, however, it transforms into a world that rivals the deep forests long familiar to picture book readers.  The rooftops are filled with parties and bar-be-ques.  The streets are alive with vendors and musicians.  Everywhere there is a sense of community.  And maybe that closeness can be preserved, even when the lights come back on.  As a bonus, interracial families are presented as a fact without editorial comment.

Blackout is published by Hyperion and retails for $16.99 (hardcover).  I read my copy by picking it up from the shelves for a few minutes.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday News Round-Up

News from the publishing world:

--Finalists were named for the Agatha Awards honoring traditional mysteries.  Nominees in the Best Children's/Young Adult category are:
Shelter by Harlan Coben
The Black Heart Crypt by Chris Grabenstein
Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby
The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey
The Code Busters Club, Case #1: The Secret of the Skeleton Key by Penny Warner

--A mall tour was announced for the stars of The Hunger Games, the film based on the Suzanne Collins novel of the same name.  Elsewhere, the track list for the film's soundtrack was announced following the release of the official music video, Safe and Sound by Taylor Swift feat. The Civil Wars.

--A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired from an idea by Siobhan Dowd, won the Red House Children's Book Award for 2012.  Scruffy Bear and the Six White Mice by Chris Wormell won the Younger Children's award while The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by Liz Pichon got the award for Younger Readers.

--The nominees for the 2011 Nebula Awards were announced.  Finalists for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book are:
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Chime by Franny Billingsley
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Liani Taylor
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King (previously reviewed)
The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout
The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson

--Finalists were named for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.  Nominees in the Young Adult Literature category are:
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd
Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Links via Shelf Awareness.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Chopsticks

Glory is a piano prodigy.  She's only 16, and she's heading off on a year-long headlining tour of Europe.  But given the choice, she'd stay home with Frank, the boy next door.  And her tour might just be cut short as her mental state deteriorates...

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral was my Valentine's Day staff pick.  (I know, I'm late.)

This book redefines both the conventional high school romance and the storytelling experience.  Rather than reading the story of Glory and Frank, we experience it through the ephemera collected in both of their lives.  This creates the voyeuristic feeling of entering another's life through snapshots (both figurative and literal) of their most intimate moments.  As their story unfolds, we learn more about Glory and Frank than we might ever expect.  There is an accompanying app available in iPhone app store which offers multimedia interaction.  I was not able to review this.

Chopsticks is published by Razorbill and retails for $19.99 (paperback).  I received my advance readers copy from the publisher (although this review was not solicited or otherwise compensated).  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Monday, February 20, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a blog meme hosted by Book Journey and adapted for the children's department by Teach Mentor Texts.

This past week, I read The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater, along with a huge list of upcoming picture books from Penguin and MPS:

Llama Llama Hoppity-Hop! by Anna Dewdney
The Roller Coaster Kid by Mary Ann Rodman and illustrated by Roger Roth
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
Millie Fierce by Jane Manning
Chico the Brave by Dave Horowitz
The Insomniacs by Karina Wolf and The Brothers Hilts
Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship by Edward Hemingway
The Perfect Present by Fiona Roberton
The Dead Family Diaz by P.J. Bracegirdle and illustrated by Poly Bernatene
Hands around the Library: Protecting Egypt's Treasured Books by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya and illustrated by Susan L. Roth
What to Do If an Elephant Stands on Your Foot by Michelle Robinson and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
This Monster Needs a Haircut by Bethany Barton
The Best Bike Ride Ever by James Priomos and Johanna Wright
Dog in Charge by K.L. Going and illustrated by Dan Santat
Duck Sock Hop by Jane Kohuth and illustrated by Jane Porter
Ladybug Girl and Bingo by David Soman and Jacky Davis
Crinkleroot's Guide to Giving Back to Nature by Jim Arnosky
Pearl and Wagner: Five Days 'Til Summer by Kate McMullan and illustrated by R.W. Alley
Heroes of the Surf by Elisa Carbone and Nancy Carpenter
Hanging Off Jefferson's Nose: Growing Up on Mount Rushmore by Tina Nichols Coury and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
Every Cowgirl Loves a Rodeo by Rebecca Janni and illustrated by Lynne Avril
I Know a Wee Piggy by Kim Norman and illustrated by Henry Cole
Look Look Outside! by Peter Linenthal
Monkey See, Look at Me! by Lorena Siminovich
Olympig!: The Triumphant Story of an Underdog by Victoria Jamieson
My Special One and Only by Joe Berger
Dog Gone! by Leeza Hernandez
My No, No, No Day! by Rebecca Patterson
ABCers by Carole Lexa Schaefer and illustrated by Pierr Morgan
Rat and Roach: Friends to the End by David Covell
The World's Greatest Lion by Ralph Helfer and illustrated by Ted Lewin
Andrew Henry's Meadow by Doris Burn
Bea at Ballet by Rachel Isadora
Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Plant a Little Seed by Bonnie Christensen
Stop Thief! by Adam J.B. Lane
My Snake Blake by Randy Siegel and Serge Bloch
Mousterpiece by Jane Breskin Zalben
Lucy Can't Sleep by Amy Schwartz
It's a Dog's Life: How Man's Best Friend Sees, Hears and Smells the World by Susan E. Goodman and illustrated by David Slonim
Some Cat! by Mary Casanova and illustrated by Ard Hoyt
A Home for Bird by Philip C. Stead
Creature Count: A Prehistoric Rhyme by Brenda Huante and illustrated by Vincent Nguyen
Working Mummies by Joan Horton and illustrated by Drazen Kozjan
The Chandeliers by Vincent X. Kirsch
Paiute Princess: The Story of Sarah Winnemucca by Deborah Kogan Ray

Over the next week, I will be reading grown-up book American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar in preparation for his author event along with more MPS picture books.

What are you reading?

Looking at Lincoln

We've all seen the guy on the penny who sits in the big monument in Washington, D.C.  But who is he, anyway?

Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman is my pick for President's Day.  It's also my February review for the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2012.

This beginning biography hits all the major events in Lincoln's life in a general overview perfect for those encountering his legacy for the first time.  However, each page is also littered with little extras about his life; the kinds of things few consider important about the man, but that will really bring him to life for curious kids.    Kalman's colorful illustrations really pop off the page.  This is the type of book that can suck you in from across the room with its cover alone.  This is a great introduction to the great presidents for little readers, but even the more experienced among us will learn something.

Looking at Lincoln is published by Nancy Paulsen Books and retails for $17.99 (hardcover).  I received my folded and gathered copy from the publisher (although this review was not solicited or otherwise compensated).  You can get yours from Left Bank Books today!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday News Round-Up

News from the publishing world:

--Jennifer Gonzalez is joining Macmillan as Vice President, Children's Sales while Mark Von Bargen is being promoted to Senior Director, Trade Sales of children's books.

--Target offered a sneak-peak at The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn--Part 2, based on Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer.

--The finalists for the Romantic Novelists' Association Awards were announced, including the Young Adult Romantic Novel category: Artichoke Hearts by Sita Brahmachari, Dark Ride by Caroline Green, My So-Called Phantom Lovelife by Tamsyn Murray and Angel Fire by L.A. Weatherley.

--Bookmasters added six U.K. publishers to its North American distribution program, including Arcturus Publishing, which counts children's books among its specialties.

Links via Shelf Awareness.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Article 5

In the near future, after a war on American soil, a conservative religious party has taken over the country and enacted a code criminalizing immoral behavior.  As the only child of a mother who has never married, Ember finds herself on the wrong side of the law, landing in a reform school as he mother is hauled off for trial.  To make matters worse, one of the arresting officers is the only boy she's ever loved.  Ember thought she had lost him after he was drafted, until he shows up with her transfer orders in hand.

Article 5 by Kristen Simmons is the first book in a trilogy.  It is also my February review for the Debut Author Challenge.

This is a fast-paced story with plenty of action to keep you turning pages.  Simmons has a knack for ending chapters in such a way that you just have to look at the first few paragraphs of the next one.  The dystopia is chilling in a way that is far too easily imagined as a logical end point for some of today's politics.  The individual villains are effectively horrifying.  However, I had a lot of trouble relating to the protagonist and narrator.  Nine times out of ten, her decisions--which she claimed were always carefully considered--made no sense given her situation and could only hinder the achievement of her goals.  By the end of the book, I had grown very tired of yelling at her to do the opposite of whatever she was doing.    I haven't decided yet whether to give the second book a try.  The world-building here is solid and compelling.  I just wish for some more deserving characters to inhabit it.

Article 5 is published by Tor Teen and retails for $17.99 (hardcover).  I got my advance readers copy from the publisher (although this review was not solicited or otherwise compensated).  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Blog Lovefest: Wonder

When I first read about YA Highway's Blog Lovefest for Valentine's Day, I thought I would probably skip it this year, since a subject didn't spring to mind.  Then about five minutes ago I finished Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

This is, in short, an amazing book.  On the surface, it is about a boy named Auggie who was born with a perfect storm of birth defects affecting everything from his facial features to his hearing.  After spending his childhood being home schooled due to his extensive surgeries leaving him hospitalized much of the time, he finally joins a regular school for the fifth grade.  He feels like a normal kid inside, but he looks anything but.  Naturally, this leads to many new challenges for him and his classmates, both friendly and not.

That's the plot.  But that's not what this book is really about.  It's about the connections people make (and fail to make) with each other.  It gently unfolds to encompass the web of Auggie's influence and the hearts and minds of those he touches.  The narration is so subtle and so sweet, seldom going where you expect it, that the powerful emotions contained inside will sneak up on you.  While it might officially be middle-grade fiction, I would put this up against the finest of adult literary work.  This book is special.

I'll leave you with a quote, but with one caveat.  If you are already going to read Wonder, stop here.  It will probably be better to encounter this organically, in context.  If you still need convincing, see if Justin's words from page 204 can help:

"no, no, it's not all random, if it was really all random, the universe would abandon us completely.  and the universe doesn't.  it takes care of its most fragile creations in ways we can't see.  like with parents who adore you blindly.  and a big sister who feels guilty for being human over you.  and a little gravelly-voiced kid whose friends have left him over you.  and even a pink-haired girl who carries your picture in her wallet.  maybe it is a lottery, but the universe makes it all even out in the end.  the universe takes care of all its birds."


Wonder is published by Knopf Books for Young Readers and retails for $15.99 (hardcover).  I got my complementary copy from the publisher (although this review was not solicited or otherwise compensated).  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Brother Sun, Sister Moon: Saint Francis of Assisi's Canticle of the Creatures

In 1224, Saint Francis of Assisi wrote a hymn praising the natural elements that come together to create a world that serves us all.

Brother Sun, Sister Moon: Saint Francis of Assisi's Canticle of the Creatures reimagined by Katherine Paterson and illustrated by Pamela Dalton is one of The New York Times Best Illustrated Childrens' Books of 2011.

This retelling of Saint Francis's original clearly outlines the aspects of nature that mankind has used to prosper and how their unique properties are to thank in each of our lives in a simple, lyrical language.  The message is communicated in a way that even the youngest listeners will appreciate and understand.  The illustrations are evocative of woodcuttings of the middle ages.  The laws of realism are bent to portray multiple settings in one spread, stacked atop one another like a medieval tapestry.  The small details in each panel are fun to search out, and the overall affect is a wholesome, pure classic.  A translation of the original hymn and sources are included at the end of the book for those wishing to delve deeper.

Brother Sun, Sister Moon: Saint Francis of Assisi's Canticle of the Creatures is published by Chronicle Books and retails for $17.99 (hardcover).  I read my copy by picking it up from the shelves for a few minutes.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday News Round-Up

News from the store:


--On Tuesday, February 7, Adam Rex visited with the sixth grade at Gateway Middle School, where the River City Readers in Mr. Cashman and Ms. Silver's classes each received copies of his new book, Cold Cereal (previously reviewed), complete with a personalized signature and doodle.  Mr. Rex also stopped by Tower Grove Christian School and New City School to share his slideshow presentation and reading.

--Children's favorite, our very own Spike, was named an Excellent Bookstore Cat by Mental Floss.

News from the publishing world:


--A new trailer for The Hunger Games movie (based on the novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins) was released.  We also got to see behind the scenes of the cast's cover shoot for The Hollywood Reporter.

--A behind-the-scenes featurette with cast and crew from Hugo (based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (previously reviewed)) was released by Paramount.

--Producer Dan Angel of the Hatchery has announced that he is developing Dark Eden by Patrick Carman as a movie series with multimedia components.

--Lemony Snicket "accidentally" leaked details on a new four-book autobiographical series called All the Wrong Questions.  The first book, Who Could That Be at This Hour?, will launch October 23, 2012.

--Shawn Levy has signed on to produce a film based on the Fancy Nancy series by Jane O'Connor and illustrated by Robin Robin Preiss Glasser.  Tina Fey has been offered a co-producer role.

--Waterstones announced the shortlist for its Children's Book Prize:
Picture Books
I Don't Want to Be a Pea! by Ann Bonwill and illustrated by Simon Rickerty
No! by Marta Altes
A Bit Lost (known in the U.S. as Little Owl Lost) by Chris Haughton
The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle
Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (previously reviewed)
Fiction 5-12
The Windvale Sprites by MacKenzie Crook
Muncle Trogg by Janet Foxley
Claude in the City by Alex T. Smith
The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by Liz Pichon
Sky Hawk by Gill Lewis
Milo and the Restart Button by Alan Silberberg
Teen Books
Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher
Being Billy by Phil Earle
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Divergent by Veronica Roth (previously reviewed)
You Against Me by Jenny Downham

Links via Shelf Awareness.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cold Cereal

Goodco cereals are known for their magical mascots.  But could they be more than fantastical inventions of the marketing department?  It looks that way to Scott, who has been seeing things since he moved to Goodborough.  Things like leprechauns, rabbit-men and unicats.

Cold Cereal by Adam Rex is the first book in the Cold Cereal trilogy.

This is the type of book that is ridiculously easy to get kids to read.  It's packed with absurd situations and over-the-top characters, and on top of that, it's often laugh-out-loud funny.  This will come as no surprise to fans of Rex's The True Meaning of Smekday, but if this is your first time experiencing his imaginative style, you will be getting a worthy introduction.  The wide variety of human and magical characters gives everyone someone to root for especially and while this phase of their adventures wraps up at the end, plenty of problems are left to solve in the subsequent books (not to mention the promise of more mascots).

Cold Cereal is published by Balzer + Bray and retails for $16.99 (hardcover).  I got my advance readers copy from the publisher (although this review was not solicited or otherwise compensated).  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Left Bank Books has a limited supply of signed copies of Cold Cereal, along with many other books written and/or illustrated by Adam Rex!  Plus each copy has an original illustration!  Call 314-367-6731 for availability of specific titles.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Migrant

Most children feel most safe and secure at home.  But what about the children who have no home, spending their lives moving from one place to another, following the harvest?

Migrant by Maxine Trotter and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault is one of The New York Times Best Illustrated Childrens' Books for 2011.

Anna is part of the Mennonite community in Mexico.  They travel between there and Canada every year along with the crops, never staying in one place too long.  This story is told through Anna's eyes, and she depicts the migrant experience with a child's understanding.  She meditates on the nature of always moving while wondering what it would be like to have a steady home.  Throughout, the soft blush illustrations portray an often dismal subject with a sense of whimsy and finding the beauty in the world around you.

Migrant is published by Groundwood Books and retails for $18.95 (hardcover).  I read my copy by picking it up from the shelves for a few minutes.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday News Round-Up

From the store:
--On Friday, January 27, Ms. Hendley and Ms. Smith's kindergarten, first and second graders at Washington Montessori Elementary School each received a copy of A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis by Matt de la Pena and illustrated by Kadir Nelson (previously reviewed) through our River City Readers program.  Meanwhile, at Patrick Henry Downtown Academy, Patricia C. McKissack spoke to the fourth, fifth and sixth graders, and Ms. Evans and Ms. Dixon's students received copies of Never Forgotten by McKissack and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon (previously reviewed).

From the publishing world:
--Lee & Low bought Children's Book Press, which specializes in multicultural children's books.

Links via Shelf Awareness.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Graceling

In the land of the seven kingdoms, when a child's eyes turn to two different colors, it marks them as a Graceling--someone with a superhuman skill that will soon manifest itself.  Katsa has known her grace is killing since she was a little girl.  When a member of one of the kingdoms' royal families is kidnapped, she teams up with the Prince Po, determined to use her grace for good.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore is the first book in the Seven Kingdoms series.

This is a compelling story for fans of fantasy, but it's not so steeped in the genre to turn off others.  The kingdoms have a medeval feel, but the only mystical aspect is the presence of graces.  These are especially interesting for the ways each grace affects its host differently, even if they are similar in nature.  Katsa's journey of self-discovery in the face of a power that drives her (or rather, causes other to drive her) to do terrible things is believable and relatable.  She begins to build relationships the reader is invested in and certainly serves as a worthy female role model.  This story also contains one of the most viscerally unpleasant villains I recall reading.  To say too much more would be unfair to those who haven't read yet, but Cashore's introduction to him or her is masterful in the way it aligns the feelings of the reader with those of the other characters.

Graceling is published by Graphia and retails for $9.99 (paperback).  I got my complimentary copy from the publisher (although this review was not solicited or otherwise compensated).  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!