24. March 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Eric, Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery, Paranormal · Tags: ,

How to Catch a Bogle by Catherine Jinks, 313 pages, read by Eric, on 03/23/2014

Ten-year-old Birdie works as an apprentice for Alfred, surrogate father and bogler, in the poor, tough streets and houses of Victorian London. A boglers job is to kill the various dark monsters infesting London, and snatching up their favorite snacks, children. Birdie is the bait for the team’s salt-circle traps, and is vital to luring out the bogles. She’s proud of her work, even though it is very dangerous, and doesn’t pay well. When Miss Eames, an upper-class lady fascinated with the science of monsters, convinces Alfred to allow her to observe their work, they soon find themselves faced with monsters of both the bogle and human kind.

This is an excellent start to a new trilogy, and right up my darkened alley. The bogles are nasty, the dingy Victorian setting is ominous, and the Alfred-Birdie monster hunting team is great. The human murder mystery at the center of it all is creepy, satisfying, and makes me wish for the next book. Recommended.

05. March 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Apocalyptic, Children's Books, Eric, Fiction, Science Fiction

Rip Tide by Kat Falls, 314 pages, read by Eric, on 02/28/2014

The continuing adventures of Ty and Gemma, introduced in Dark Life. Someone has dragged under and chained a huge floating township, trapping the inhabitants inside to die. Ty and Gemma are swept into the mystery of the deaths, which soon involves Ty’s family, the infamous Seablite Gang, and those forced into a harsh existence on the ocean’s surface.

Nearly the entire book takes place above water this time, which partially is to blame for my lessened enthusiasm. Ty and Gemma face an array of characters and places straight from the set of Waterworld, or any other number of post-apocalyptic movies. There are to-the-death boxing matches, dirty dealings (and people), and a race against time which didn’t seem very hurried. A second novel can’t possibly capture the enjoyment of being introduced to a fantasy world, but even so, I can’t wait for these two to leave the surface behind, and swim down to where things are far more interesting.

18. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Eric, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Fantasy, Fiction

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, 247 pages, read by Eric, on 02/15/2014

Mix equal parts Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz, stir with a Victorian pen filled with modern ink, and soon the outline of this exceptional fairy tale starts to form. September, a twelve year old from Omaha, Nebraska, is swept away to Fairyland by the Green Wind, and eventually ends up Circumnavigating Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making for a purpose which I won’t spoil. What happens between these events is some truly inventive, wildly imaginative wordplay, filled with classic (and very strange) characters, and off-kilter plot developments which can only take place in Fairyland. This is both a bright and cruel place to live, two sides which are contrasted, compared, and even mixed throughout the book.

Normally, it takes a Terry Pratchett or a Neil Gaiman to get me to tap my wife on the shoulder, and repeat sentences aloud. I was sharing bits and pieces from this tale the entire time I read it. Highly recommended.

07. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Eric, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction

A Hero for WandLa by Tony DiTerlizzi, 445 pages, read by Eric, on 02/07/2014

A Hero for WandLa continues the adventures of Eva Nine, introduced in A Search for WandLa. Eva and her alien traveling companion, Rovender, journey to New Attica, the idyllic modern human city founded by Cadmus Pryde, the mind behind the Sanctuaries and test-tube breeding program of which Eva is a product. All is not what it seems, however, and soon Eva is on the run.

DiTerlizzi is both a wonderful author and illustrator, and this book is a great example of that talent. Even though the plot covers several science fiction tropes (paradise with a rotten core? Shocking!), the story is more satisfying than the first novel. The relationship between Eva and Rovender is genuinely touching, and the addition of a certain familiar face adds a nice twist. Unfortunately, this book also ends like the first- smack dab in the middle of great things, as if the author simply decided it was as good a point as any to break for the next installment. I know I will be reading it. Recommended.

31. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Eric, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen Books · Tags:

Dark Life by Kat Falls, 297 pages, read by Eric, on 01/31/2014

Rising oceans put much of the Earth’s coastline under water, and the land-based world survives in overpopulated towers. Meanwhile, humanity spreads to the sea, creating a homesteading society on the seafloor. When Ty, a homesteader teen, stumbles across Gemma, an orphan teen from topside, he soon is embroiled in a search for her brother, and mixed up with the Seablite Gang.

I’ve always enjoy underwater sci-fi, and so appreciate the society Falls has created here. The homes and lifestyle of the families on the ocean floor are interesting and believable, and a great backdrop for the adventure/mystery plot the teens are tossed into. The Seablite Gang may seem straight out of an anime series, but considering the setting, this isn’t a bad thing. A great start to a series, and one I’m looking forward to following. Recommended.

28. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Eric, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Fantasy, Fiction, Paranormal, Short Stories · Tags:

M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman, 260 pages, read by Eric, on 01/25/2014

“M is for magic. All the letters are, if you put them together properly.” This tasty tidbit is from Neil Gaiman’s introduction to the book, and wonderfully sums up my view of most of his writing. He has a way of stringing letters together which makes the mundane magical, or at the least, a bit odd. I like a bit odd, and so enjoyed this collection of short stories. It also was interesting to compare stories written earlier in his career to more recent ones, both of which are in this collection. I had read a couple of these tales before, and one in particular (The Witch’s Headstone) became a chapter in Gaiman’s 2009 Newbery winner, The Graveyard Book. Short stories are a great introduction to an author, and so if you are one of the five people not familiar with Neil Gaiman, this collection is a decent place to start. Although it is a collection intended for younger readers, the content is pretty mature, including older cultural references I doubt young readers will understand.

10. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Eric, Fantasy, Fiction

The Lost Kingdom by Matthew J. Kirby, 348 pages, read by Eric, on 01/07/2014

In a fantasy/alternate Colonial America, Billy Bartram joins his father and other members of the American Philosophical Society in a quest for allies in the coming war against the French. They seek the Kingdom of Madoc, a rumored ancient Welsh colony beyond the Mississippi River. Their mode of transportation, a unique air-sailing ship, is also sought by the French, in hot pursuit of the explorers.

The setting and plot are interesting, and I enjoy alternate history and fantasy. The mix here, however, starts to spiral toward the end, until fantasy completely takes over for the final handful of chapters, and situations get increasingly far-fetched. This is a land of mastodons, and a 12-foot-tall bear-wolf capable of tracking a flying vessel across half the continent. To what end other than destruction, I have no idea. Perhaps colonists are particularly tasty. Secret messages tossed from the air into rivers inerringly find eddies and shores for easy retrieval. Convenient! There is plenty to recommend about this book, but I can’t quite give it full marks.

30. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Eric, Fiction, Science Fiction · Tags:

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, 101 pages, read by Eric, on 12/27/2013

When late returning home from a trip to the market for milk, a father explains to his children why he was delayed. A simple setup for an inventive (and hilarious) science fiction adventure story, told as only Neil Gaiman can. Or, possibly, as Douglas Adams would have, because Gaiman seems to be channeling his spirit. The adventures take the father through familiar time-travelling tropes, but the fun is in how Gaiman ties it all together with a neat bow at the end. I especially like his various descriptions for gelatinous aliens. The illustrations are by Skottie Young, and are as funny as the text.

30. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Classics, Eric, Fiction, Graphic Novel

Jules Verne's Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Gary Gianni, 64 pages, read by Eric, on 12/20/2013

Jules Verne’s undersea adventure novel gets the graphic novel treatment by artist-author Gary Gianni, best known for his illustrating work on the Prince Valiant comic. Gianni’s beautiful retro art style is perfectly suited for Verne’s stories, so I’m not surprised he was interested in adapting Leagues. The narrative is necessarily pared down, but the tone and major plot points of the original are here, and the art is wonderful. A reprinting of a 1962 essay by Ray Bradbury serves as an introduction, and alone is worth picking up this book. Also included is the full text of Sea Raiders, by H.G. Wells, which Gianni also illustrates. Highly recommended for those appreciative of classic adventure writing and illustration.

The Lovecraft Anthology is a graphic collection of Lovecraft’s tales, adapted and illustrated by a variety of authors and artists. Featured in this first volume are several classics, including Call of Cthulhu, and The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

Beyond the artwork, these adaptations also are quick verbal sketches of Lovecraft’s work. I enjoyed them, but often regretted the stories weren’t covered in more detail. Creating artwork is very time consuming, though, and being exposed to the styles of multiple artists was worth missing out on a few story details. As with any multiple-artist anthology, I had style preferences (D’Israeli!), but this will vary by reader. Recommended as an introduction to dark Lovecraftian worlds.

29. October 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Eric, NonFiction · Tags: , ,

The Necronomicon Files: The Truth Behind Lovecraft's Legend by Daniel Harms, 342 pages, read by Eric, on 10/29/2013

Fans of H.P. Lovecraft are familiar with the Necronomicon, a mystical book of arcane power which features in several of his stories. Over the years, many have claimed this book to be real, and that Lovecraft was aware of its veracity. In Files, Authors Daniel Harms and John Wisdom Gonce III explore these claims, as well as the many versions of the book which have been published, its impact on occult thinking, and its influence on film culture.

I’m a fan of Lovecraft’s work, and many of the genre films featuring the Necronomicon, so was glad to come across this title on our shelves. Of the two authors, I found Harms’ writing to be the most effective and factual- personal asides and commentary are at a minimum. I was interested in Gonce’s chapters on “magick,” but felt they were included more for their interest to Gonce rather than their importance to Lovecraft and his creation of the Necronomicon. He also is quite disparaging of opposing views, often without facts to explain why. Overall, an interesting read for fans of Lovecraft, but little more.

30. August 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Award Winner, Children's Books, Drama, Eric, Fiction · Tags: , ,

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, 280 pages, read by Eric, on 08/29/2013

13-yr-old Salamanca retraces with her grandparents the route taken by her mother when suddenly she left Sal and her father, and went to Lewiston, Idaho. Along the way, Sal tells her grandparents the story of moving from Kentucky to Ohio, and of how Phoebe, a new friend, also had a mother leave. The journey west combines with stories of the past to determine the future of Sal’s family.

This novel won the Newbery Award in 1995, and deserves all the praise it has gotten over the years. It is a powerful exploration and celebration of life, loss, new love, and mature love. Creech gives Sal’s voice an aching, coming-of-age truthfulness that should be experienced by everyone, and not just middle readers. If you’ve not done so already, read this book!

30. August 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Eric, Fantasy, Fiction · Tags:

The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, 265 pages, read by Eric, on 08/24/2013

In Kolkata, India, 12-yr-old Anand and his sister live with their mother in a tiny, one-room shack, barely scraping by on the combined wages of mother and son. One day, a mysterious old man, Abhaydatta, follows Anand home, and offers him a part in the quest to return a sacred, powerful conch shell to a valley of healers in the Himalayas. Joined by Nisha, an orphaned girl, Anand and Abhaydatta must make their way north, always on guard against the wiles of Surabhanu, former thief of the conch, and powerful sorcerer.

A classic fantasy quest tale with many elements similar to The Lord of the Rings, but with a wonderful Indian setting. Divakaruni’s writing drips with atmosphere, especially when describing native foods and locations. Everyone should hope to fill their lives with children like Anand, and the loving words of guidance and peace shared through this story. I need to look up more novels and poetry by this author!

30. August 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Eric, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Paranormal

Seer of Shadows by Avi, 202 pages, read by Eric, on 08/22/2013

Horace is the apprentice for Enoch Middleditch, a photographer in 1870s New York City. When hired by the wealthy Von Macht family to photograph them in mourning for their lost daughter, the unscrupulous Middleditch has Horace help him create a fake double-exposure ghost image of the dead daughter within the Von Macht portrait, in order to lure them into continuing to use his services. Soon, however, Horace realizes that more than a scam is at work, for it seems that a real ghost is showing up on his photographic plates.

This tale is equal parts ghost story, mystery, and history. The descriptions of the old photographic techniques are interesting, but it is the interactions between Horace and a servant girl, Pegg, which supply the heart of the story. As the secrets of the Von Macht family are unveiled, and the creepy atmosphere builds, I can see why Avi remains a beloved children’s author.

19. August 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Dystopia, Eric, Fiction, Teen Books

The Maze Runner by James Dashner, 375 pages, read by Eric, on 08/05/2013

Thomas wakes in darkness, with no memory of the past, inside an elevator. Soon, he arrives at the Glade, which is surrounded by impossibly-high walls, and is greeted by the inhabitants- other teen boys. He soon learns that outside the Glade is a maze of unknown, deadly purpose, filled at night with horrific creatures known as Grievers. Why are the boys here?  How will they ever escape? Who is Thomas?

A decent mysterious object/device/location story is enough to get me to crack most any book. This story has a great one, in the towering form of the stone maze, which changes configuration each night. I also enjoy teen fiction, mostly because writers of it feel free to delve into the most outlandish plots and scenarios. A huge maze filled with amnesiac boys? Why not? Dashner spins a nice dystopian mystery- well enough that this is becoming a movie to be released next year. The characters are believable, and the setting is both cool and creepy. Don’t expect all the answers to life and the universe by the end, however. This is the first in a trilogy. Recommended!

05. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Eric, Fiction · Tags:

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea, 269 pages, read by Eric, on 07/04/2013

Written from the perspectives of seven different fifth-grade students, this much-beloved novel spans a year of school in the class of Mr. Terupt, a new teacher. Much like a Breakfast Club for the younger set, each of the seven children represents a personality type, and class (and home) events are filtered through each of these types. It’s not a new concept, but it is an effective one. Buyea’s own classroom observances as a teacher inspired personality types and plot points in the story, and it is better for it. The bow tied by the final few pages is a bit too neat for my tastes, but I would be more than happy to share the positive messages and encouragement with a new fifth-grader.

14. April 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Eric, Fiction, Poetry, Teen Books

Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?: A Mystery in Poems by Mel Glenn, 100 pages, read by Eric, on 04/14/2013

Free verse poetry is used to record the reactions of various students, fellow teachers and community members to the murder of one of the teachers at Tower High School. Eventually, the killer is revealed.

Although the book was written in 1996, the subject of campus killings couldn’t be more relevant. Glenn’s characters are rather stereotypical, but at the least they represent a cross-section of a typical urban high school. No one is perfect, and this point is well made. Particularly interesting is a side-by-side comparison of reactions from twins- opposing views offered in a nearly identical manner. The murderer, however, is a mashup of traits and activities society enjoys associating with violent behavior. I’m surprised tattoos weren’t involved. Overall, an interesting read.

12. April 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Eric, Fiction, Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller/Suspense

Natural Selection by Dave Freedman, 414 pages, read by Eric, on 04/11/2013

The problem with killer creatures from the sea is that once sharks, octopuses, naughty whales and various cryptozoological meanies have rampaged through the pages of novels, finding fresh species to feature is difficult. Enter author Dave Freedman, and the antagonists of this novel, bloodthirsty rays. As in cousins of Manta and Sting. It seems that Earth’s oceans are being invaded by a virus, GDV-4, and it is triggering all kinds of havoc, including the migration and rapid evolution of a deep-sea ray, the adults of which grow to about a 14-foot wingspan. Wingspan is a well-chosen term, because somewhere about the middle of the book, they are flying through the air like birds, and hunting with teeth the width of forearms. Luckily, there is a team of scientists/adventurers on the path of their migration, attempting to discover the new species, keep their jobs with the millionaire funding their expedition, and survive to tell the tale.

I love beach reads. I’ve read many tales along the lines of this one, and for the most part, I’ve been able to overlook the absurdities, and enjoy the bloody action. Manta rays possibly are my favorite sea creature, as well. Envisioning one madly flapping through the skies is more silly than terrifying, though, and matters aren’t helped much by the writing. Fewer humans and other creatures are killed than the author uses the word literally. At one point, I started counting the number of times, and literally, he used literally three times in the two pages I scanned. After that, it became a game of spot-the-literally, to the point of distraction. In the end, all the chasing came down to a single creature hunting the scientists, and literally, I didn’t care which side won. Recommended for those routinely checking the skies for sea creatures.

20. March 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Eric, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Fantasy, Fiction

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman, 117 pages, read by Eric, on 03/18/2013

The not-so-odd tale of young Odd, and three of the Norse gods in animal form, attempting to win control of Asgard back from a frost giant. Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. No matter how short the fiction, he manages to put distinctive twists and touches on the tale. Knowing this, I was surprised to read this rather straightforward mythological adventure. It’s well-told, but if I didn’t know this was Gaiman, I wouldn’t have realized it. Certainly worth a read, however.

18. March 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Eric, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen Books · Tags:

The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea M. Campbell, 340 pages, read by Eric, on 03/16/2013

Damien Locke is a typical 16-year-old, assuming everyone grows up in a world dominated by superheroes and villains. He’s anticipating his sixteenth birthday, when his thumbprint will transform into a V, assuring his place at the supervillain university, just like his parents. When the magical day arrives, however, his print forms an X, proving he is a combination of hero and villain genes. His actual father is a hero. What could be worse? With only a handful of weeks to influence the outcome, Damien pledges to do everything he can to embrace his villainous ways, and turn that X into a V, and not an H. It won’t be easy. Especially when he’s forced to live with his father’s current family of heroes.

Create a written mashup of the films The Incredibles and Sky High, and the result is this book.Those looking for realistic personalities, especially for adult characters, look elsewhere. Damien is snarky, reasonably intelligent, and never quite in control to the level he believes. In other words, he’s a teen. His juggling of relationships is humorous, as is a good portion of the interaction between the characters. Recommended for fans of comics, humor, and deadly lasers.