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.

 

06. March 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Eric, Fiction, Horror, Paranormal

The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red by Ridley Pearson, 252 pages, read by Eric, on 03/03/2013

Rose Red is a massive mansion in Seattle, the construction and haunting of which is described in the pages of the diary of Ellen, the young wife of an early 1900s oil baron, John Rimbauer. The site of several disappearances and murders, Rose Red becomes a living entity to Ellen, both welcome and terrifying. The fate of Ellen and her family mirrors the fate of the mansion.

The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer is fiction disguised as a diary, presented as paranormal evidence by a fictitious doctor, Joyce Reardon. Adding to the confusion is the real-world misconception that this novel was written by Steven King. Actually written by Ridley Pearson, this book was created to promote Stephen King’s Rose Red miniseries, which aired two years later. I didn’t find it particularly frightening, or believable as a diary, for that matter. A fair portion of the first half concerns world travel and the start of Ellen’s rocky marriage. Once back at Rose Red, however, the story starts a slow, unsettling burn toward a final confrontation, which is more compelling. This is a better than average tie-in novel, recommended for readers in search of creep rather than gore.

26. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Eric, Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction (chick lit) · Tags:

Jim & Louella's Homemade Heart-Fix Remedy by Bertice Berry, 209 pages, read by Eric, on 02/25/2013

When Jim and Louella’s longtime marriage finally loses its romantic zing, Louella resorts to consulting her dead ancestors for advice. It does the trick, but what’s more, both Louella and Jim find they are able to hear the thoughts of others, and have a knack for helping them through their own troubles.

Far outside my usual fare, this often-hilarious story is like steamy chicken soup for the elderly sexual soul. Through Louella, author Bertice Berry delivers life lessons and sexual re-ignition with a Southern sensibility that is equally blunt and caring. It’s hard not to like this couple, even when they make the neighbors blush. Recommended for those with an open mind and a humorous bent.

14. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Apocalyptic, Eric, Fiction, Horror · Tags: ,

Devil's Wake by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due, 278 pages, read by Eric, on 02/14/2013

The sheer bulk of zombies and similar human horrors in films, books, and television makes it increasingly difficult to bring something new to the genre. In Devil’s Wake, the husband-wife writing team of Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due don’t attempt to do so. In their scenario, the undead are of the infected variety, which pass the infection on through bites.  A ragtag group of young adults must avoid being bitten as they travel from the state of Washington to Devil’s Wake, a reportedly “freak free” island off the coast of Southern California.

For the most part, the characters’ back stories are given perfunctory glances. A majority of them are delinquent teens from a work camp. At times, their dialog seems out of place for their age, and the cultural references too dated. This, combined with the familiarity of the plot, failed to spark my interest much until they were on the road, and interacting with other survivors. Unfortunately, the novel abruptly ends after this point, not because it’s a natural break in the story, but so there can be a series of books. I’m not sure I’ll go along for the ride.

05. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Eric, Fiction, Historical Fiction

1356: A Novel by Bernard Cornwell, 416 pages, read by Eric, on 02/04/2013

The latest in Cornwell’s Grail Quest series of historical fiction, featuring Thomas of Hookton, an English archer during the Hundred Years’ War. 1356 is the year of the battle of Poitiers- a significant conflict, but also one which is not very well known today. Thomas, leader of the deadly archers known as the Hellequin, also is on a quest for la Malice, the sword believed by many to have been St. Peter’s. Regardless of his belief in such a relic, Thomas must fight his way through hostile France in pursuit of it, battling those he has crossed in the past, as well as new enemies in search of the same.

Bernard Cornwell is one of a handful of authors I will read the latest from, no matter the plot. Those familiar with his Sharpe novels will find much the same character in Thomas of Hookton. Honestly, they are nearly interchangeable. Considering Sharpe is a personal favorite, this similarity isn’t a problem for me. Despite my changing tastes in fiction, my enjoyment of Cornwell’s writing hasn’t waned much over the years. His action is second to none, and attention to details as strong as ever.

20. January 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Classics, Eric, Fiction

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, 270 pages, read by Eric, on 01/19/2013

tarzan of the apesUndoubtedly, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ most famous literary creation is Tarzan, John Clayton, Earl Greystoke. As a teenager, I became obsessed with the many adventures of this hero. I collected an entire paperback set, and even reproduced the cover art from one as a pencil project when I was taking art lessons.

This is my first revisiting of the original tale in nearly two decades, and although it’s still a wonderfully pulpy read, my ability to overlook its faults has waned. Racially and sexually, Tarzan’s adventure has its share of swooning women and “noble savages.” Luckily, it also has adventure on a grand scale, and a wonderful sense of humor as balance. This classic is far removed from the various filmed versions attempted over the decades, and worth a look as the origin of an iconic figure.