Monday, March 14, 2011

2011 Battle of the Books - Round 1 - Whalen VS Wiles

The Judges have been announced and we know which books they will read.  Now, it's just a matter of trying to figure out which way their votes will go.  Will Mitali Perkins (Bamboo People) pick Trash or Will Grayson, Will Grayson?  Will Dana Reinhardt (Harmless, Things a Brother Knows) pick Conspiracy of Kings or Countdown?  I don't know, but I have my dreams!!

A Conspiracy of KingsA Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner 
Note: This is the fourth book in the series and I read them back to back. Not that it matters but, you know, full disclosure and such.

Conspiracy opens with a prologue of Sophos and Magus and they are spitballing the King as he passes in a parade.  Turns out, he's a friend of theirs.

Sophos then launches into the story of How A Boy Becomes A King.  He takes us back, all the way back to his training and how he was betrayed and sold.  As he is telling us this story, we sense a sort of holding back, as if he is sitting behind a glass wall, holding a phone, and we are on the other side, listening.  We hear him and see him, but we are not really with him.  He has to tell us this while keeping in some strong emotions, he lost a few close family members during this saga and was gutted emotionally by those he trusted.  He was lost to himself and us.

"What could I do but go quietly?"

As we tend to do when unhurried and unfettered by excess responsibilities, Sophos learns a lot about himself while enslaved.  He relaxes into this way of life and uncovers his strengths.

My previous life just seemed to slip away...Something about the careful choosing and positioning of stones, something about the way way something so durable grew out of an accumulation of small decisions, filled me with satisfaction."

But, you know you can't hide from life. "My father said, 'Your uncle is dead.' The magus said, 'You are Sounis.'" Sophos has become a King in his own right but wrong in the eyes of those he loves best.

So, we come to the point where we have these three "friends", King Sophos, King Eugenides, and Queen Eddis, and they have to figure out how to unite their countries and avoid war.  They are young but there is so much more at stake than just their friendships.

And we are not even half done with the book! Turner hooks you and pulls you in slowly, you don't even know you've been caught.  Then, while you swim, she starts slowly turning up the heat.  A Conspiracy of Kings is a great fantasy that really isn't.  It has war, betrayal, friendship, and love just like life.  This is a story of trust and the building, and possible destroying, of kingdoms.

CountdownCountdown: The Sixties Trilogy by Deborah Wiles 
"I am eleven years old, and I am invisible."
So begins the story of Franny. Well, after about 20 or so pages of document excerpts and pictures.  Countdown is not just a book to be read, but experienced. Interspersed are pictures, flyers, brochures, quotes, and other things that serve to bring the sixties to life.  On the hardcover, there's a record and you can actually feel the ridges.  The endpapers are also griddy.  The paper is smooth, creamy off white.  It all screams, this is not just a book, it's a documentaryhistoricalfictionally thingamob.  You need to see it.

Franny not only goes to school during the Cuban-Missile Crisis, she belongs to a military family.  My full review is here but a little excerpt:

Fifth-grader Franny is on the outs with her best friend, Margie.  Her Uncle Otto is starting to lose his mind.  Jo Ellen, her older sister, is disappearing longer and longer each day.  Franny's life is falling apart and she's not sure why.  The constant air raids and news of the missle crisis has everyone on edge.  There is one bright spot though, Chris Cavas has moved back to the neighborhood and although she's having a tough time with Margie, maybe Chris can be her new friend.

Franny's is a military family.  Her dad is a pilot and her uncle is retired from the military.  They live in a neighborhood with other military families.  It is their life.  When President Kennedy comes on the news talking about the Russians stockpiling weapons, it changes things in many ways for these families.  Everyone is on high alert.  The stress proves to be too much for Uncle Otto and the family is afraid of what he will do next or what will happen to him.

Countdown feels just like that, a countdown to what has to be a war and like Franny, we want to avoid it.  But we also want to live a normal life.  Wiles puts us inside Franny's "normal life" and teaches us about being fearless in a world filled with fear.

The Winner?
Both books deserve to be in your library as they are in ours.  Turner's tale goes back and forward and sideways so that we can clearly see all sides of  the story.  We start in the middle, go  backwards and then go forward.  Along the way we get a glimpse of how a country could be run. Wiles' story is straightforward and the storyline relentlessly moves us forward, sort of like a march.

Although I enjoyed the backmatter and internal matter of Countdown, at times it felt like an intrusion.  I found myself skipping over some of it and coming back to it later.  But I never really wanted to revisit Franny's story, as captivating as it was while reading.  A Conspiracy of Kings has survived quite a few readings for me.  I had to force myself to put it down to finish this post! I find myself trying to figure out what Sophos is hiding; what is he holding back from me?  And Eugenides is as intriguing as a King as he was a thief.  I love that we have these three friends in power positions and how it changes them in subtle ways. Cause no matter how much you value the friendship of others, your family and it's needs must always come first.  Or must it?  This is a book, nay a series, well worth the week it will take to read all four books twice!!

I'm giving the nod to
  A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner.  

What do you think?


  1. We agreed on Cardturner but I went with Countdown.

    A Conspiracy of the Kings was hard to follow since I've only read The Thief ( which I loved) but it simply wasn't enough to follow the storyline. There language is beautiful but there was too many things I couldn't follow.

    I loved Countdown. I thought the voice of the MC was perfect, the photographs were great but the text was not dependent on the pictures.

    I think A conspiracy of the Kings will win the undead poll

  2. Hi there,

    I read Countdown over the summer and really liked it for all the same reasons you mentioned. The question that I keep coming back to, however, is - will kids like it? Any thoughts? As a librarian, what has been your experience in getting kids to read this book, and do they like it?

    Very curious...


  3. Hi Kathy,

    I do love Megan Whalen Turner but think that on its own, Countdown is stronger. The series itself is awesome tho!

    And so happy to see Cardturner won!

    On to the next match!

  4. I loved the opening line of Countdown. That was excellent.

  5. @Shannon - I must admit that neither book has received much love outside of the Newbery book club. Will work on booktalking them more, thought students will laugh at me if I try to offer a fourth book in a series! I will get back to you...

    Doret - I'm hoping for The Cardturner!!

    Athenagirl-is this Kris? Lisa? Alicia? Thanks for stopping by! You are prolly right since I did read them all in a row, it's hard for me to judge!

    Cheryl - it reminds me of The Schua was Here!


Thanks for chatting! I love comments and look forward to reading yours! I may not reply right away, but I am listening! Keep reading and don't forget to be awesome!


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