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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday Salon 27 XII 2009 - 2009 comes to a close

Good morning, fellow Salon Members! I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday. I received some loverly books for Christmas this year: my uncle sent me The Annotated Alice in Wonderland, The New Annotated Dracula, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, Anne Rice's Angel Time and the first volume in the Bloom County, The Complete Library series by Berkeley Breathed; my mom got me May Sarton's poetry collection The Lion and the Rose, John Connolly's The Gates and Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry; my sister got me a replacement copy of Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City as she absconded with my copy earlier in the year; my LibraryThing SantaThing, bookworm12, sent me Richard Russo's Empire Falls, Orson Scott Card's Ender's Shadow and Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next, First Among Sequels; and my friend Kristin got me The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I bought myself a couple of books, as well: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, The Impulsive Imp by Howard O'Brien (Anne Rice's father), The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens and Soulless by Gail Carriger. My sister also helped me get a copy of Gregory Maguire's The Next Queen of Heaven from the Concord Free Press. So, I'm looking at a January filled with some great reading!
Looking back on my reading for 2009, I can honestly that I disappointed myself a little. After reaching such a grand goal of 100 books in 2008, I really thought I could do the same again this year. Well, I just squeezed in my 75th book of the year, and that's including 12 audiobooks this year, the most I've ever listened to in a year. So really, I only read 63 books this year. I think part of the problem was that I tried to throw myself into too many ready challenges right at the beginning of the year, so that I was feeling overwhelmed by them from almost the very beginning. Another was that I got so sick in March and didn't feel like reading anything for the better part of 2 months. Then in August, for whatever reason I only read one book, and then the same happened again this month (but December was an extraordinarily hectic month for me, so I'm letting that one slide). Overall, just a unusual reading year for me.

I did read some excellent books this year, though. My top books for the year:
  • January - Castle Waiting by Linda Medley
  • February - Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  • March - Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
  • April - Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
  • May - The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • June - Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart
  • July - The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips
  • August - The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
  • September - Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  • October - The Maze Runner by James Dashner
  • November - The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • December - A Dog at Sea by J.F. Englert
My overall breakdown of my cateogories for the year:
  • Childrens - 6
  • Classics - 4
  • Fantasy - 2
  • Fiction - 17
  • Graphic Novel - 9
  • Horror - 1
  • Manga - 1
  • Mystery - 7
  • Non-Fiction - 3
  • Poetry - 1
  • Travel - 1
  • YA - 23
  • Total pages read (taking audiobooks into account, as well) - 19,456
I only read 5 off the 1001 List and 3 Agatha Christie's. Twelve books were audiobooks, and 13 were ARC's. One thing I'd like to do in 2009 is cut back on the number of ARC's that I'm requesting. I think I'm going to stick to the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program, as that's where I started and I've got so many greats books of my own that I'd like to read, I think it would just be best to take a step back from the ARC's for awhile. Not my best reading year, but I guess it's not so bad either, when I start looking at it like this.

Looking ahead to 2010, I've set up some reading challenges for myself: a Baker's Dozen Challenge (13 books with the number 13 somehow in the title); If Neil Wrote It, I Want to Read It (basically, I want to work my way through most of Neil Gaiman's work this year as I've read most of his YA and kids stuff, but somehow have never gotten around to his novels...); my 1001 Challenge (1 book a month from the 1001 List); and my Agatha Christie Challenge (1 book a month). I've also joined the 1010 in 2010 group on LibraryThing, where you read any number of books in 10 categories of your choosing. What's good about many of these challenges is that multiple books will be able to cross over into other challenges. So, hopefully we'll be able to see how that goes for me this year. A little more flexibility in these challenges will be better for me in the long run. At least, that's my hope and I'm sticking to it for right now.

Not much else to report on this final Salon of 2009. I've still got the contest open for a set of J.F. Enlgert's Bull Moose Dog Run series of comedy mysteries. I hope everyone enters and then tells their friends about it. The series is a lot of fun to read, and I'd really like to spread the word! The contest will be open until Friday, January 8, 2010 and you can enter here.

I hope everyone has a great New Year's and happy reading!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Book giveaway - A Dog About Town, A Dog Among Diplomats and A Dog at Sea by J.F. Englert


J.F. Englert's latest installment in his clever Bull Moose Dog Run mystery series, A Dog at Sea, is going to be released later this year, and in celebration of the release, I'm giving away a set of all three books! You can read my reviews of the series here (A Dog About Town), here (A Dog Among Diplomats) and here (A Dog At Sea).

I'll be shipping the books through Amazon, so this giveaway is only going to be open to the U.S. this time. Also, because of Amazon's 4-for-3 deal, if the new book is included in this promotion after it is released, I'll even throw in a fourth book of the winner's choosing so long as it is covered under the promotion and is under $9.99. If the new book is not covered under the 4-for-3 deal, you'll just be getting the 3 books.

For a chance to win, just leave a comment to this post. If you would like more entries, follow my blog (if you are already, just let me know), link back to this post from your blog and tweet or mention this on Facebook! Just let me know that you've done each of these things and I'll throw your name in the hat again. (And not to worry - those that already left comments on the other post will still be counted!)

I'll leave this giveaway open until January 8, 2010 (that gives Amazon plenty of time to get the book in stock).

These books are really good and I'd like the word to get out as much as possible, so please let your fellow reader friends know about the contest!!

Good luck!!

75. A Dog at Sea by J.F. Englert



Title: A Dog at Sea
Related Series: Bull Moose Dog Run Mystery
Author: J.F. Englert
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 288
ISBN: 9780440245414
Publisher: Dell
Author Website: A Dog About Town
Format: Paperback
Rating: 5/5 stars
Finished: 12-22-09
Challenge: 75 Books 09

From Amazon:

For Randolph and his owner, Harry, a struggling artist, it was dog heaven: a pet lovers cruise filled with canine experts and gung-ho trainers—plus plenty of art lectures for Harry and midnight buffets for Randolph. The two have come on board to follow clues that they hope will lead to the whereabouts of the long-lost Imogen, Randolph’s mistress and Harry’s beloved girlfriend. But no one prepared Randolph for being put on a diet (the horror!), not to mention a new meaning for “poop deck”—or anything about murder. Especially when one victim gets killed twice.

Now, with a storm bearing down on the ship, Milton Tabasco, TV’s celebrated dog “mutterer,” threatening to drive him mad, and a mysterious stalker shadowing Harry’s every move, Randolph is running out of time to catch a killer. After all, this Lab was born to eat—not to swim.…

In the latest installment of J.F. Englert's clever Bull Moose Dog Run mystery series, A Dog at Sea, we find our narrator Randolph, an acutely intelligent black Labrador with a penchant for good literature and an expanding waistline, and his human, Harry, on what seems to be a harmless dog-lover's pleasure cruise headed for Curaçao. In reality, the cruise is a useful cover story for their continued search for Imogen, Harry's love and Randolph's true owner. As typically happens with Randolph and Harry, they find themselves involved, through circumstances beyond their control, in a murder mystery and Randolph takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of it all.

After the events of A Dog Among Diplomats when Harry and Randolph discover possible clues to Imogen's whereabouts, they decide to follow the clues to Curaçao to see if they can find her. Using the cruise as a cover for their real purpose, Harry and Randolph also decide to use their time to rest and recuperate. However, this idea is short-lived after what appears to be a suicide on board the ship leads Randolph to think that there is something more going on. Using what limited lines of communication are available to his canine self and the help of Cha Cha the New Yorkie, Randolph helps lead Harry to the necessary clues to help solve the murder in a final whodunit reveal that would have made Dame Christie proud. It is a story of professional ambition (at any cost), unrequited love, corporate sponsored tropical storms and psychotropic doggie treats on the high seas.

I use the word "mystery" loosely here in describing the book. Englert's books are hard to categorize, but since there is a murder mystery in each book, this seems to be the easiest place to shoehorn them. The previous books are so much more than mere "murder mysteries" and A Dog at Sea is no exception. There is also the continuing mystery about Imogen, her whereabouts and the secrets surrounding her past. The books can also be labeled just as easily as comedies; Englert has a knack for creating memorable characters and his sense of humor is the perfect balance of dry wit and downright funny. I found myself laughing out loud through several parts of the book. However, what constantly surprises me in each book, and again A Dog at Sea is no exception, is Randolph's insight into the human condition. From his dog point of view looking out on the people around him, he is able to have a keener perspective on what makes people tick, and those human qualities are reflected back through him; his need for companionship, his feelings of loss and betrayal by Imogen, his loyalty to Harry. It's these very human emotions that Randolph feels that really make the books stand out for me; that in the midst of all the chaos of the murder and the humor sprinkled throughout the book, there are these shining moments of real emotion. I don't know; maybe I'm reading too much into the books, but I honestly feel that J.F. Englert has a really unique and refreshing way of telling Randolph's story and I'm hoping that we'll be able to read more of his adventures in the future.

A Dog at Sea will be released on December 29, 2009 through Dell.

To read more of Randolph's own views on the world, stop by his blog. Also, I'm giving away a set of all three Bull Moose Dog Run books here. And finally, you can read my interview with J.F. Englert from last year here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Salon 12 XII 2009 - Not too much to report except that we have a winner!

Good morning, fellow Salon Members! Ah, the holiday season. The spreading of good cheer. The holiday cards to be filled out and mailed. The shopping. The baking. The total lack of enough hours in the day to get it all done. Where does the time go? Have I gotten those reviews written that I was going to get done last week? Nope. Have I read any another book since last week? And, nope. Do I hope that I can at least get one more book in before the end of the year. I hope so!

On a positive note, I've got a winner for the copy of James Dashner's The Maze Runner that I was giving away; congratulations to Sarah! She was lucky enough to have her name pulled from the hat. If you didn't win, don't despair! I've still got a giveaway going for a set of J.F. Englert's Bull Moose Dog Run Mystery books here. Good luck!

So, not much else to report for this week. I'm sitting on my bed while I'm typing this Salon, and I'm looking at my bookshelves and realizing that it's time to do some serious reorganizing and purging. I know that I have several books that I will never read again and maybe it's time to clean those out. Plus, the shelves are getting a little unorganized, so I think I'm going to have to take a weekend after the first of the year and do some serious housecleaning on them. Take out the stuff that I know I won't reread and get it all alphabetized again. That will be a good project for a nice, snowy weekend. Anybody else feel the need to do some housecleaning on their books too?

Hope everyone has a great week and happy reading!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Book giveaways! The Maze Runner by James Dashner and the complete Bull Moose Dog Run Mystery series by J.F. Englert



Don't forget, I've got 2 giveaways currently on my blog. The first is for a copy of The Maze Runner by James Dashner, and the second is for a set of all 3 of the Bull Moose Dog Run Mysteries by J.F. Englert.

I'm closing up the James Dashner giveaway this Sunday, December 13, so don't forget to stop by to find out all the details about entering. The J.F. Englert giveaway will be open until January 8, 2010, so that Amazon has enough time to get the books in stock.

Good luck!!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Book giveaway #2 - A Dog About Town, A Dog Among Diplomats and A Dog at Sea by J.F. Englert


J.F. Englert's latest installment in his Bull Moose Dog Run mystery series, A Dog at Sea, is going to be released later this year, and in celebration of the release, I'm giving away a set of all three books! You can read my reviews of the first two books in the series here (A Dog About Town) and here (A Dog Among Dilpomats).

I'll be shipping the books through Amazon, so this giveaway is only going to be open to the U.S. this time. Also, because of Amazon's 4-for-3 deal, if the new book is included in this promotion after it is released, I'll even throw in a fourth book of the winner's choosing so long as it is covered under the promotion and is under $9.99. If the new book is not covered under the 4-for-3 deal, you'll just be getting the 3 books.

For a chance to win, just leave a comment to this post. If you would like more entries, follow my blog (if you are already, just let me know), link back to this post from your blog and tweet or mention this on Facebook! Just let me know that you've done each of these things and I'll throw your name in the hat again.

I'll leave this giveaway open until January 8, 2010 (that gives Amazon plenty of time to get the book in stock).

Good luck!!

Book giveaway #1 - The Maze Runner by James Dashner


I had the opportunity to meet James Dashner last month, and due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to buy a second copy of his new book, The Maze Runner, in order to get a signed copy. But this works out in your favor! Because, now that I have 2 copies of the book, I have one to share. So, I'll be sending off my extra copy to one lucky reader. All you need to do is leave a comment here. And for extra entries, follow my blog (if you are already, just let me know), link back to this post from your blog and tweet or mention this on Facebook!

I'll leave this open until next Sunday, December 13, 2009.

Good luck!!

Sunday Salon 6 XII 2009 - November Wrap-up, Looking Ahead to December and Giveaways!

Good morning, fellow Salon Members! I hope everyone had a safe and happy Thanksgiving! I spent a loverly day with my mom, who made a 22lb turkey for the two of us. Yes, a 22lb turkey for two people. Because it was on sale and would have been a waste not to buy it. I have had so much turkey in the last couple of weeks that if I don't have turkey again until next Thanksgiving, it may be too soon!!

I thought October had been a good reading month for me, but November proved even better. Twelve books! Part of that was because I was house-sitting for my mom for 2 weeks in November and that always gives me a lot of time to read (no distractions like I have when I'm at home) and the other part is that I picked up on an old guilty pleasure again, X-Men comics. I've been reading X-Men comics for over 30 years, and while my interest waxes and wanes periodically, I always come back to them. This time however, I've been picking up the collected trade paperback editions, getting entire story lines at one time. Nothing of any great literary value, but fun brain candy all the same. Looking back on November, here's what I read:
For the most part, everything that I read this month was good. The Looking Glass Wars stuff is always a good read, and with the third book finally released, it was great to be able to sit down and read the entire series through. The X-Men stuff, again, is nothing staggering in the literary sense, but still fun escapism all the same. A Christmas Carol is a yearly read for me, so I really shouldn't count it, but I do. It's one of my favorite Christmas stories, and with the release of the new Disney animated film this year, I've enjoyed it that much more. I am going to try to read one of Dickens' other Christmas stories before the end of the year. I had never read A Light in the Attic before (in fact, I think the extent of my Shel Silverstein knowledge to this point was The Giving Tree) and when this new anniversary edition was released, I picked up a copy for both myself and my sister, who loves Silverstein. Well, I hate to say it, but I don't know that I'll ever pick up another again. Maybe I just missed out on him as a kid, so I don't have that attachment to him now, but I wasn't all that impressed with the poems, and quite frankly I found some of them to be downright disturbing (especially the ones about kids dying). Maybe I'm just missing the point, but not for me at all. Ella Minnow Pea was another reread for me; I had originally check it out from the library, and enjoyed it so much that when I found a copy of it at a used bookstore during my last trip to Chicago, I picked it up to read on the train ride home. Finally, many of my friends have been telling me that I would love The Time Traveler's Wife, not only because it is a extraordinarily written book, but because it takes place in Chicago and I'd recognize most of the locations in the book, and they were right on all counts! It topped my reading for the month as my favorite book!!

You're probably noticing some skipped reviews up there, and I'm hoping that I can get to them today. They'll be up by the end of the week for sure.

December is going to be another slow reading month for me, I can tell already. There is just so much to do with the holidays and all. Like I said, I do want to try to get in one more Dickens Christmas story, and I have two books that I will be reviewing, Elle Newmark's The Book of Unholy Mischief and J.F. Englert's latest, A Dog at Sea. Beyond that, maybe a couple more X-Men collected editions? Nothing too heavy, that's for sure!

Now, for the giveaways! I had the opportunity to finally meet James Dashner last month, and since I didn't have a copy of his new book handy (The Maze Runner, it was a my house and I was house sitting for my mom), I just went ahead and picked up another copy for him to sign (and again, no camera, so no picture! Curses!). Well, the good news for you is, I'm giving away my other copy to a lucky reader! My other giveaway is a full set of J.F. Englert's books (A Dog About Town, A Dog Among Diplomats and A Dog at Sea). Stop by and enter!

That's all for this Sunday. Happy reading, everyone!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

74. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger



Title: The Time Traveler's Wife
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Copyright: 2003
Pages: 519
ISBN: 978-0547119793
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Author Website:
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 5/5 stars
Finished: 11-24-09

From Amazon:
A dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare's passionate love affair endures across a sea of time and captures the two lovers in an impossibly romantic trap, and it is Audrey Niffenegger's cinematic storytelling that makes the novel's unconventional chronology so vibrantly triumphant.

An enchanting debut and a spellbinding tale of fate and belief in the bonds of love,
The Time Traveler's Wife is destined to captivate readers for years to come.

Several friends have been trying to get me to read The Time Traveler's Wife for awhile now, and for this reason or that, I kept putting it off. They kept telling me that in addition to it being a fantastic story, I'd love it as it takes place in Chicago and that I'd recognize so many of the places talked about in the story (and for those that don't know me that well, I have a love affair with the city of Chicago and will be moving there, someday!). Well, they were all right on all counts, and I'm just sorry that it took me so long to getting around to reading this wonderful book.

The Time Traveler's Wife is the story of Henry and Clare. Henry is a time traveler; he has a genetic disease that causes him, at random intervals, to fall out of his present and arrive in different locations and times, and never of his choice. Henry seems drawn to Clare continually during his time jumps, from the time that she is a child, continuing through until he meets her in his own present. This is one of the amazing aspects of the book to me, how Niffenegger was able to tell this story: Clare's story moves forward in a clear chronological pace, yet Henry falls in and out of her life at various ages, so that while one meeting with Clare will find Henry in his 40s, the next may find him in his 30s, and he must become continuously aware of his place with Clare, as what is happening in her present may still constitute his future or past self.

Niffenegger tells their story honestly. It isn't always good between Henry and Clare, and we are carried along on the ups and downs of their relationship. It can be a roller coaster of a ride sometimes, but ultimately, isn't that what all relationships are about? The ups and downs, good times and bad? However, when the times are good, Niffenegger buoys us along with their happiness, and you just know it's going to be OK.

I started out listening to an audiobook version of the story, but by the time that I was getting to the end, I couldn't wait until the drive into work the next day to continue the story so pulled out my copy of the book and found where I left off and continued reading. The ending, even though you have a vague foreshadowing of what's to come, is still amazingly powerful.

Some parts of the book seemed a little too long for my liking: scenes where entire games of pool are described, for instance, seemed a little more detail than was completely necessary to keep the story moving. These handful of scenes aside, the book moves along at a comfortable speed. You might think that the jumping back and forth between times might be a little confusing, and it does seem daunting at first, but once you get into the groove of the story, everything moves along nicely and the time jumps aren't even noticeable.

Another word on the audiobook production: it is narrated by William Hope and Laurel Lefkow and since the book is written from both Henry and Clare's points of view, this makes for a nice listening experience, as both characters literally have a voice of their own.

When all is said and done, The Time Traveler's Wife is an amazing book and comes highly recommended.

Monday, November 23, 2009

73. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

A reread from last year so I'm just going to post my review from before, but I found this at a used book store this weekend in Chicago (since I had checked the book out from the library before, I thought I'd like to have a copy of my own) and gave it a quick read on the train ride home.



Title: Ella Minnow Pea
Author: Mark Dunn
Copyright: 2001
Pages: 205
ISBN: 9780385722438
Publisher: Anchor Books
Format: Paperback
Rating: 5/5 stars
Finished: 11-22-09

From Amazon:
Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

*pangram: a sentence or phrase that includes all the letters of the alphabet

This was just a plain fun little book to read! What would happen if the use of certain letters of the alphabet was systematically forbidden? What would you do?

Ella Minnow Pea lives on the fictional island of Nollop, an independent country off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop is so named after Nevin Nollop, creator of the pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." When a letter falls from the monument to Nollop, the ruling council determines that this is Nollopian divine intervention and that the fallen letter must be stricken from use, both verbally and literally. As more and more letters fall, all Nollopians must learn to cope with the increasingly difficult task of making sure that they neither speak nor write words that include these letters.

The book is told through correspondence between the people who live on Nollop, and Mark Dunn is genuinely quite clever in how he presents these letters as the Nollopians lose the rights to use one letter after another. I can honestly say that I had a fun time with trying to work out not only the new ways that the Nollopians found to speak, but also the solution to their problem. This wasn't a particularly challenging book to read, but it was a lot of fun and well worth the time. Give it a read sometime if you're looking for something amusing, clever and completely escapist.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

72. A Light in the Attic Special Edition by Shel Silverstein



Title: A Light in the Attic Special Edition
Author: Shel Silverstein
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 185
ISBN: 9780061905858
Publisher: Harper Collins
Twitter: @HarperCollins
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 2/5 stars
Finished: 11-15-09

OK, I'm going to come clean. I didn't like A Light in the Attic. At all.

Is everyone over their collective gasp of disbelief? Good. Let me explain.

I don't think I remember ever reading Shel Silverstein as a kid. I mean, I must have, right? Every kid has. But beyond The Giving Tree, I have absolutely no recollection of ever having picked up another book by Silverstein. My sister, on the other hand, loved him as a kid. Somehow, I just skipped over that bit of growing up, I guess. My sister loved him as a kid, and still loves him today as an adult. In fact, she has all of her copies of his books from when she was a kid. So, when I heard they were coming out with this anniversary edition of A Light in the Attic that included several new poems, my first thought was that I needed to get a copy for her for her birthday, and it was being released close to that date. My second thought was that I should also buy a copy for myself. I felt I should have a copy in my library, since everyone just goes on and on about him. For future reference, I'm going to simply read what my sister has, that way I won't feel like I wasted my money.

Now, don't get me wrong. I own The Giving Tree and love it. I reread it periodically. It's a great little book. I cannot say the same of A Light in the Attic. I know the poems are geared towards kids, and that they are to be taken completely tongue in cheek, but that still hasn't stopped me from wishing I hadn't bought the book. I was actually shocked by the poems that dealt with kids dying (not that I'm so easily shocked by anything, really, but it really did come as a surprise to me) and thought some of them completely distasteful. Of course, to a kid, that sort of thing can be hysterical. I thought the illustrations were amusing, but not much more than that.

So, I think I missed my formative, Shel Silverstein-liking years. I guess to the right kid, these are great, but for my 34-year-old self who has never read them before and hadn't appreciated them as a kid... well, I won't be picking up another sampling any time soon.

Friday, November 13, 2009

71. X-Men: Blinded by the Light by Mike Carey, et al.



Title: X-Men: Blinded by the Light
Series: X-Men
Author(s): Mike Carey, et al.
Copyright: 2008
Pages: 144
ISBN: 9780785125440
Publisher: Marvel
Twitter: @marvel
Format: Paperback
Rating: 3/5 stars
Finished: 11-13-10

Rogue is still recovering from the events of Supernovas and then X-Men are barely getting an opportunity to relax as they are being hunted, but to what reason? A basic filler storyline going from Supernovas to Messiah CompleX.

68. X-Men: Supernovas by Mike Carey, et al.



Title: X-Men: Supernovas
Series: X-Men
Authors: Mike Carey, et al.
Copyright: 2007
Pages: 336
ISBN: 9780785125143
Publisher: Marvel
Twitter: @marvel
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 4/5 stars
Finished: 11-10-09

Supernovas brought about some significant changes for the X-Men team that Rogue leads. Cyclops basically gives her full reign to choose a team as she sees fit, and while in the end the team isn't exactly to his liking, she reminds him that he let her choose her own team, and they leave it at that.

The volume is broken into three distinct story arcs, the first dealing with The Children of the Vault, a group of humans that were housed in a time accelerating field, so that in the some-odd years that they were housed in the ship where the machine was located, something like 6,000 years have passed, so they can almost be viewed as a separate species now. They want to keep their existence a secret for the time being, but Sabretooth has discovered them, so they go in pursuit of him, and he eventually turns to the X-Men for help and asylum. The Children of the Vault attack SHIELD and capture Northstar (who SHIELD is trying to rehabilitate) and Aurora, to aid them in attacking the X-Men. The story becomes a little convoluted (a little, some ask?) but ends with The Children of the Vault defeated and the X-Men commandeering their flying barge, the Conquistador.

The next story arc deals with the X-Men trying to get SHIELD to help rehabilitate both Northstar and Aurora, now. In the meantime, Exodus and his Acolytes try to capture the Helicarrier to recreate into a new home for the remaining mutants on the planet. Northstar and Aurora come to their senses long enough to help battle Exodus, and the X-Men are victorious because of their aid. Exodus also learns at this point that there are no more mutants and the possibility of a mutant birth is non-existent due to the Scarlet Witch and the events of House of M. (Confused, yet?)

The final story arc deals with Rogue and her team going after the members of the hospital responsible for dissecting mutants and trying to gene-splice their powers onto regular humans, the ultimate goal of which is to create a "super" human out of Pandemic, a former colleague of Professor X, who sees Rogue and her ability to borrow the powers of people she touches as the next step in his evolution, even though he is human. Lots happens here, but the base result is, Pandemic is defeated (by absorbing Sabretooth's powers, including his healing factor) and Rogue is infected with Strain 88, which causes her powers to fluctuate way out of control, to the point that she will instantly kill anyone who touches her, absorbing all their powers and memories. Meanwhile, Providence is attacked by the Hecatomb, a weapon created by the Shi'Ar to defeat the mummudrai (telepathic parasites). A mummudrai makes its way to Earth, and eventually attaches itself to Cable, in an effort to defeat the Hecatomb, but in the end it is Rogue who saves the day, absorbing all 8 billion minds that compose the Hecatomb and making it vulnerable to an attack from the X-Men. And now Rogue is crazy.

So much happens in this volume, and it does seem to jump around quite a bit, but it is refreshing to see some stories that revolve around some of the more sidelined X-Characters instead of the old standbys. Cyclops, Beast, Wolverine, Emma Frost and such do make an appearance in this volume, but they are as peripheral characters, with most of the action revolving around Rogue's team. Mike Carey keeps the pace non-stop through the volume, almost hectically, leaving the read thrown from one even to the next. It does make the story just fly by, but so much is happening, and again, so many characters are thrown into the mix, that the story almost becomes distracting despite itself.

70. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens



Title: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
Copyright: 1843 (2003)
Pages: 129
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 5/5 stars
Finished: 11-13-09

Dickens' perennial Christmas classic about Ebenezer Scrooge and his visits from the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come and the Christmas lessons Scrooge learns from them. I try to read this every year around the holidays, and it never seems to get old.

There's really not much else to be said about the story that hasn't already been said before, so I'll just leave it at that. One thing that I would like to talk about, however, is the new Disney animated feature film version of A Christmas Carol. As I said previously, I'm very close to this story as I read it every year around the holidays so Disney and Robert Zemeckis had to do a fairly bang up job on the film to impress me, and I have to admit that on almost all accounts, they did. They took very few liberties with the story, sticking very close to the source material for much of the dialogue, and what was added did seem to be necessary. The slightly over-the-top chase sequence with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was just that, over-the-top, but I understand the necessity to put something like that into the film. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come sequence is a little on the long side, dark and moody and I can understand why they were trying to lighten the mood for the kids in the audience, but really, it didn't feel like it was a part of the story to me.

The animation is breathtaking, being rendered in complete motion capture 3D CGI. The sweeping, aerial shots of 1840s London were something to behold and the characters themselves were quite believable. Overall, coming from someone who has a great attachment to the book, I can happily say that I was pleasantly pleased with the outcome of the movie.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

67. Uncanny X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi'Ar Empire by Ed Brubaker, et al.



Title: Uncanny X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi'Ar Empire
Series: X-Men
Authors: Ed Brubaker, et al.
Copyright: 2007
Pages: 312
Publisher: Marvel
Twitter: @marvel
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 4/5 stars
Finished: 11-11-09

I've been a little behind on one of my guilty pleasures over the last couple of years, and that's my X-Men comics. I've been reading this series since 1986, and my interest has waxed and waned over the years, but I always inevitably come back to reading the series. I can tell how my reading preferences have changed recently, however, as reading the series in its monthly installment form has not been able to hold my interest at all, so I've instead been picking up the collected story arcs in trade paperback form. Not only is it cheaper in the long run (especially ordering them through Amazon), but it takes up much less space and is easier to organize the volumes on my book shelf.

There is so much back story with the series running for over 40 years now that it's hard to just pick up the series with any issue these days, as well as the fact that most story arcs are written into a 5-6 issue format, knowing that these will be published into a trade paperback form. I can't imagine anyone new trying to figure out what's going on with the characters these days. I've been reading for quite some time now, and I always find myself at a loss when I've taken a break. My other problem is that I have a tendency to jump around quite a bit when I'm reading some of the older but more recent trade paperbacks, so I get a little confused as to the series of events and what happens when.

Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire was one of the bigger events, spanning the course of a year, which in terms of story arc length, I think is rather involved. The story basically picks right up where Deadly Genesis left off, with Vulcan escaping Earth and going on a rampage through the Shi'Ar Empire, in search of the man that he holds responsible for all the wrongs in his life, the Emperor D'Ken. What Vulcan doesn't know is that D'Ken has long since been dethroned and is currently in a catatonic state. Feeling himself responsible for Vulcan's fate, Professor X forms a team of X-Men to go into space to try and capture Vulcan and bring him back to sanity.

There was so much that went on in this issue, it would be tough to get it all into a reasonable blurb, so I'll stop there. Basically, the issue ends with Lilandra deposed, Vulcan crowning himself emperor and half of the X-Men team that went into space is stranded there with the Starjammers, and they decide to stay to try to overthrow Vulcan and reinstate Lilandra as empress. And if none of that makes sense to you, you probably aren't alone. Like I said, so much back story makes it almost impossible to follow the story sometimes!

There was a lot to cram into this storyline, and I think Ed Brubaker did an admirable job, but there were some instances where the story jumped around a little too much, making it hard to follow sometimes. Couple that with the shear number of characters that they tried to add into the mix, and what you end up with is a sometimes overly complex story. The art is good, alternating between Billy Tan and Clayton Henry, but their styles are so disparate, that reading the volume as a whole as opposed to the monthly issues, the differences become immediate. Billy Tan's artwork is so hyper-detailed in some instances that it's hard to follow what exactly is happening in some panels. Overall, however, artistically speaking the volume works well.

66. ArchEnemy by Frank Beddor



Title: ArchEnemy
Series: The Looking Glass Wars, Book 3
Author: Frank Beddor
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 384
ISBN: 9780803731561
Publisher: Dial Books
Author Website:
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 5/5 stars
Finished: 11-8-09

The final chapter in Frank Beddor's The Looking Glass Wars, ArchEnemy really is a satisfying ending to the series. He ties up all the plot lines nicely and doesn't leave too many unanswered questions that may lead to more in the series, even though I wouldn't mind seeing more from Beddor and his take on the Wonderland characters.

King Arch makes his move to take over Wonderland using the best weapon he can come up with, the destruction of imagination as a whole. However, both Alyss and Redd may think differently about his plans. They form a tenuous partnership to help each other overthrow Arch, even though they both understand that either may betray the other when they find the right opportunity. And what role do the caterpillars play in all of this? Whose side are they on after all; their own, or do they actually have the best interest of the Heart Crystal in mind?

I can honestly say that I don't think that Beddor could have done a better job tying up his plot threads, while adding enough new layers to the story to keep this book interesting in it's own right as well as an ending to his story. If Beddor doesn't continue on with his Wonderland characters, I'd like to see what he can come up with next.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

65. Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor



Title: Seeing Redd
Series: The Looking Glass Wars, Book 2
Author(s): Frank Beddor
Copyright: 2007
Pages: 371
ISBN: 9780803731554
Publisher: Dial Books
Author Website:
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 5/5 stars
Finished: 11-7-09

The second installment of The Looking Glass Wars, Seeing Redd opens a mear three months after Alyss Heart reclaimed her throne from her mad Aunt Redd, who along with The Cat flung themselves into the Heart Crystal instead of suffering the humiliation of loosing to her neice. But since the Heart Crystal is the spark of Imagination of the universe, Redd and The Cat find their way back to Earth through rather different means than the usual manner for Wonderlanders, the Pool of Tears.

Finding herself on Earth, Redd discovers a number of Wonderlanders who have taken refuge there, and decides to build her army on Earth, hidden from Alyss, and plans her revenge. Meanwhile back in Wonderland, King Arch, the monarch of Boarderland, is planning his own assault on Wondertropolis, using any means of subterfuge that he finds useful at the moment. Eventually, Redd makes her way back to Wonderland, and finding that she and Arch have similar goals, strike up a precarious alliance. However, Arch has plans of his own that even Redd doesn't know of, in the form of his new weapon WILMA.

Beddor continues to keep the pace fast and exciting in Seeing Redd, just like he did in The Looking Glass Wars. While we've left the similarities of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass behind in the last book, he continues to grow his cast of characters carefully, and each new character is just as imaginative as the last. I continue to be thrilled with this series. It's a fresh take on the Alice mythos and I'll be sad to see the series come to a close with the final volume, ArchEnemy.

75 is the new 100!

Who am I kidding? There is NO WAY that I am going to even come close to reaching a 100 book goal this year, so I'm scaling it back to 75. Yes, it's cheating to decide to change my goal this late in the year, but it's my challenge and blog, so I can change it if I want to. So, there!

Very mature, right?

I will, however, be trying for 100 again next year. I have a plan! Of course, I had a plan this year, and that flew right out the window by March, but I think I have a more achievable plan for next year, but more on that later.

And is there no one out there who is willing to help me with my Baker's Dozen Challenge for next year?

69. Uncanny X-Men: The Extremists by Ed Brubaker, et al.



Title: Uncanny X-Men: The Extremists
Series: X-Men
Authors: Ed Brubaker, et al.
Copyright: 2008
Pages: 120
Publisher: Marvel
Twitter: @marvel
Format: Paperback
Rating: 3/5 stars
Finished: 11-11-09

Basically just a filler story that led from one big event (Rise & Fall of the Shi'Ar Empire) to the next (Messiah Complex), The Extremists finds the team that made it back to Earth back in the Morlock tunnels after discovering Caliban wandering the school grounds, after he had been attacked by Masque. It turns out, in a plot point very similar to the Destiny Diaries, that there was a Morlock named Qwerty who was able to see the future, and not just any future, but every future that could be. These visions eventually drove her crazy, but the Morlocks put her predictions down in a book, and after the events of M Day, they began to reallly pay attention to her predictions. Eventually, the Morlocks split into two factions, the ones that would just let Qwerty's predictions come to pass, and the ones that would make sure that the predictions would come to pass. This second group is led by Masque, who has taken it upon himself to lead in the great change that Qwerty predicted for all mutants in her book.

Really, I didn't find the story all that compelling. Qwerty's book sounded too similar to the Destiny Diaries (which end up playing a part in the concurrently running X-Men: Blinded by the Light) and the whole thing read way too much like a forced filler for me, instead of a necessary bridge from one story to the other. I don't feel that there was anything that really moved the story along, except for the last page and the possibility that Magneto had not lost his powers. Not a bad story arc, but by far not the best.

Monday, November 9, 2009

64. The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor



Title: The Looking Glass Wars
Series: The Looking Glass Wars, Book 1
Author: Frank Beddor
Copyright: 2006
Pages: 358
Publisher: Dial Books
Author Website:
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 5/5 stars
Finished: 11-7-09

Thought you knew the story of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland? Well, think again, because that story was wrong.

The Looking Glass Wars is the first installment of Frank Beddor's clever retelling of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Here we meet Alyss Heart, heir to the throne of Wonderland, where all imagination in the universe is born from. On her seventh birthday, her deranged aunt, Redd Heart, storms Heart Palace, killing Alyss' father and mother, taking control of the kingdom that she feels is rightfully hers. Alyss' mother, Queen Genevieve, sends Alyss away with Hatter Madigan to the Pool of Tears, through which they escape to Earth, but are separated. Meanwhile, General Doppelganger and what few survivors that still back Alyss and White Imagination, begin their counterattacks against Redd and her forces of Black Imagination. Thinking Alyss dead, they called themselves Allyssians in tribute and for 13 years try to overthrow Redd.

During this time, Alyss is marooned on Earth, not knowing how to return to Wonderland and slowly loosing her powers of Imagination, where she is eventually adopted by the Lidells, and eventually she meets Charles Dodgson, who she feels will believe her tale when all others haven't. When he produces the book, Alice's Adventures Underground to her, she then realizes that he was her last hope, and begins to acclimate herself to life forever on Earth. Hatter Madigan eventually discovers here whereabouts and the two return to Wonderland, just in time to help reinvigorate the rebels and their fight against Redd.

The story is incredibly clever, and you will recognize all the characters from Lewis Carroll's stories here, but completely re-imagined. I love how Beddor takes Carroll's stories and completely reworks them into this civil war between the forces of White Imagination and Black Imagination in the first part of the book, then uses Alyss telling Charles Dodgson the story and his reworking this story into Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and then Beddor taking the story even farther from there with Alyss' return to Wonderland and the eventual battle between her and Redd. It's a fast-paced story that moves right along almost immediately in the book and doesn't really let up throughout. Die hard Alice fans may or may not like the changes to the story, but as a huge fan of Carroll's original stories, I can honestly say that I loved these reworkings!

63. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling



Title: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Series: Harry Potter, Book 1
Author: J.K. Rowling
Copyright: 1998
Pages: 309
Publisher: Scholastic
Author Website:
Twitter: @scholastic
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 4/5 stars
Finished: 11-7-09

The first installment in J.K. Rowling's smash hit Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone introduces us to all the key players and locales that will take part in the series: we meet Harry Potter himself, the boy who lived; Harry's remaining living family, the Dursleys (the worse king of Muggles); Hagrid, Keeper of Keys at Hogwarts; all the other instructors and staff of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, including Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts; Harry's best friends, Ron and Hermione; Malfoy, Harry's immediate enemy at Hogwarts; even Voldemort, Harry's archenemy, the dark wizard who tried to kill Harry when Harry was an infant and failed. I could go on about the story and what happens, but I'm sure that most everybody already has an idea of what goes on in the story, either from having read the book or seen the movie. If the only experience that you have with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is from the movie, do yourself and favor and read the book; while the movie is fun and gives you all the basic story, it does leave out some key points and some of the funnier moments from the book. This will be a theme that plays out in all of the movies, and it gets worse as the books become more and more involved.

Having the read the book several times already before, and having finished the series now, I can see the inconsistencies in Rowling's storytelling and structure, but at the same time, knowing what's coming, it's interesting to see where she had been dropping clues to the rest of the story from the very beginning. I also like seeing how she progresses as a writer throughout the series, cleaning up her writing style as the books go on. Also, again still going on the knowledge of what's to come, I had forgotten how refreshing and lighthearted these earlier books are, before the story starts to take on its more darker tones. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the series as a whole, and may even enjoy the later books more than the earlier volumes, but that doesn't change the fact that this was still just a plain fun book.

On a side note, I listened to the audiobook version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone this time around, as I have never listened to any of the books, and I have to say that I really enjoyed Jim Dale's take on the characters and his telling of the story. It took me awhile to get used to his version of the voices (I'll be honest, I kept waiting to hear the voices more like they were in the movies, but the only one that seemed to match was Hagrid), but once I got into the story and his version of everything, I found it easier and easier to enjoy the audiobook. If you haven't had the pleasure of listening to the audiobook versions of the Harry Potter books before, take a couple of hours and give them a listen. It's worth it.

Baker's Dozen Challenge - Help me out!

OK, I know this may sound weird, but I had noticed earlier this year the number of books that I owned that had the number 13 somehow worked into the title, so I thought maybe it'd be fun to try a Baker's Dozen Challenge for next year; 13 books in the year with the number 13 somehow in the title. However, I'm having trouble coming up with thirteen books with 13 in the title, so I'm hoping that maybe I can get some help from every body on this one.

The books that I have so far listed are:
  1. The 13 Clocks by James Thurber
  2. The 13th Reality, Book 1 by James Dashner
  3. The 13th Reality, Book 2 by James Dashner
  4. The 13th Reality, Book 3 by James Dashner
  5. The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie
  6. Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier
  7. 13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison
  8. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  9. 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers
  10. Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede
  11. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  12. The Thirteenth House by Sharon Shinn
  13. Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan
So, put your thinking caps on and help me come up with three more books! I think the third book in the 13th Reality series comes out next year, so really, that puts me down to just needing two. I know that there are a couple more out there that are parts of series, but I don't want to have to read an entire series to get to the proper book, and I know there are a couple more YA books out there that I haven't put on the list but my list is rather YA heavy already, so I was hoping that there may be something that I'm missing that isn't YA (not that there is anything wrong with YA, but like I said, my list is already a little heavy on the YA side).

OK, so the third book in James Dashner's The 13th Reality series is coming out next year, so I'm just down to 1 or 2 more books (if I can't find 2 more, The Twelve and the Genii will just have to do!), so help a guy out here! Any suggestions? At all?

**EDIT #2**
I've got a full list for next year (Thanks, beserene!) with only one book in a series that I'll need to read a previous volume to get me up to speed. I'm excited about it, I think it should be a fun challenge!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Looking Glass Wars in one day - can he do it?

So, I'm going to see if I can read all three books in Frank Beddor's The Looking Glass Wars series today. I have nothing planned to do today, so I thought I'd give it a try. I'll post my progress in the comments as I go along.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday Salon 1 XI 2009 - October Wrap-up

Good morning, fellow Salon Members! I hope everyone had a safe and happy Halloween! It was a quiet night in with friends for me last night, watching The Nightmare Before Christmas and handing out candy to the trick-or-treaters. Of course, this morning I've been completely confused on what time it is (we had our autumn time change last night here in the U.S.) as some of my clocks changed time automatically and some didn't, so while I've run around the house picking up the detritus from Halloween last night (candy wrappers and whatnot), I've also been making sure all my clocks now match my cell phone. Silly time change.

October has proven to be one of my better reading months lately, having finished 8 books with a total number of pages at 1,659! For having been in such a reading slump for the last couple of months, that feels like a huge accomplishment for me. Looking back on October, here's what I read:

Luckily, in addition to simply sitting down and actually reading something, I can say that I had a really top-notch selection of books that I read this month. Everything was really good! I just hope that I can finish out the year with books as good as these are.

I am still working on Joe Hill's collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts, and while I could have probably finished that by now, I have been so impressed with the quality of these stories, I have been taking my time and savoring them. Like I said in my previous Sunday Salon about these stories, they have real heart and soul, so I've been taking my time with them, delaying the inevitable conclusion of the book.

Starting this week, I'm going to be house-sitting for my mother while she is in Florida visiting family, and this is always a good reading time for me, so I've been deciding on what I'm going to take with me. I inevitably take more than I read whenever I go to stay, but at least I know that I have a good selection of books to get me through the two weeks.

Today is one of my best friend's birthdays, so we are going off to go book shopping; what a great way to spend a birthday, right? One of our local independent bookstores, Nicola's Books, sends out an email around your birthday each year with a coupon for a free book, so we're going to take advantage of that, and maybe see what other stores we can stop at on the way over there. I'm going to try to squeeze in one more Joe Hill story by the end of the day, and then I don't really know what I want to move on to. I've got a couple of advanced reader copies, but they aren't on the street until sometime in January, so I may wait on those awhile yet. Maybe something light and fluffy today. Or maybe I'll find something at the bookstore that will be perfect!

Happy reading everyone!

Friday, October 30, 2009

62. Simon Snootle and OTHER small stories by Lorin Morgan-Richards



Title: Simon Snootle and OTHER small stories
Author: Lorin Morgan-Richards
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 68
Publisher: A Raven Above Press
Author Website:
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 5/5 stars
Finished: 10-29-09

I received an email not too long ago from Lorin Morgan-Richards wondering if I would mind reviewing his book, Simon Snootle and OTHER small stories. I'm leery of reviewing home-published books; I've received some less than stellar books this way in the past, but I thought I'd at least do a little research and looked the book up on Amazon and LibraryThing. After discovering that it has received 5 stars across the board at both of these sites, I thought I'd go ahead and offer to review it.

Simon Snootle and OTHER small stories is a collection of seven short stories that introduce us to a variety of characters who all live very bizarre lives. For instance, Simon Snootle himself lives in a cistern with some cats, where he fell as a child and his parents never bothered to pull him out, in fear of what else may come up with him; or Mr. Slowbug, who may or may not have discovered that he is forever more going to be a fashion accessory. The stories are quirky and unusual and the accompanying illustrations fit the mood of the stories perfectly. However, I honestly think that unless you are a fan of the likes of Edward Gorey or Tim Burton, you probably won't get much out of these stories; but the Gorey and Burton fans will love this book.

What makes the volume really shine, however, is the physical book itself; it is handmade! In the author's own words: "...I wanted to make sure I had a personal connection with how each book was created...writing, illustrating, drafting, printing, binding, and pressing each by hand." To say that Lorin Morgan-Richards made a small work of art out his book is an understatement. The book is printed on acid-free paper and bound in a faux-leather cover, and the finished product is a loverly little edition that has a slight quirkiness and imperfection to itself that goes right along with the characters that are held inside it's pages; honestly, I could easily see this sitting on any bookshelf in any store, it is so well presented.

Fans of Gorey and Burton and the like, don't hesitate to pick up a copy for yourself, as I don't think you will be disappointed. Morgan-Richards has created a host of fun characters and has given them a place to live in a beautiful, homemade book. The stories are quick and it won't take you much time at all to finish reading the book, but the overall package and the effort that Morgan-Richards put into his book from start to finish will certainly impress you as it did me.

For more information on Lorin Morgan-Richards or to order a copy of Simon Snootle and OTHER small stories for yourself, visit

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

61. M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman



Title: M is for Magic
Author: Neil Gaiman
Copyright: 2007
Pages: 272
ISBN: 9780061186479
Publisher: Harper Collins
Author Website:
Twitter: @neilhimself, @harpercollins
Format: Paperback
Rating: 4/5 stars
Finished: 10-27-09

M is for Magic is a delightfully creepy collection of short stories from Neil Gaiman. These stories are typical Neil Gaiman, and I find that is a phrase that I frequently use about his work, but that's the best way to put it: typical Neil Gaiman. He has a way of writing something that is so fantastical in such a matter-of-fact way that if you were to encounter one of these stories in the real world, you'd feel like it was an everyday occurance, yet special all the same.

The stories are written for a younger audience, so they aren't quite as creepy as they could be, but that isn't saying that these stories aren't creepy and a little dark in their own right. Some of the stories that stuck out the most for me: The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a perfect example of Mother Goose meets crime pulp fiction; Don't Ask Jack is a little disturbing in it's vagueness and the secrets the Jack in the Box holds; Sunbird tells the tale of the Epicurian Club and their desire to expand their appetites to the extreme; and The Witch's Headstone was later incorporated into The Graveyard Book. The accompanying illustrations by Teddy Kristiansen are dark and creepy, so they fit in with the rest of the stories perfectly.

I enjoyed M is for Magic, but I'm thinking I should have maybe spaced the stories out a little more instead of reading them all at one time. Once finished, I was left wanting a little more, and I think that's because they are short stories, and I really wanted a little more substance from my latest Gaiman selection. Maybe it's time to move onto one of his novels for an "older" audience, or maybe revisit The Graveyard Book; don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed these stories. Maybe as a bit of advice to other readers, space them out. You'll be able to savour them that much more.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

60. Mars Needs Moms! by Berkeley Breathed



Title: Mars Needs Moms!
Author: Berkeley Breathed
Copyright: 2007
Pages: 40
Author Website:
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 4/5 stars
Finished: 10-19-09

Berkeley Breathed takes us on another adventure that is both wild and touching in his book, Mars Needs Moms!. Young Milo sees his mother as nothing more than a bossy, vegetable-pushing, chore-demanding tyrant, and he doesn't quite see what's so special about her. However, on the night that he witnesses her being kidnapped by martians, Milo learns what it is that makes all mothers so special.

The art in the book, in typical Berkeley style, is as quirky and colorful as ever. And his story, while being perfectly ridiculous, is filled with such heart and soul that anyone reading it can't help but love it. A perfect addition to Berkeley Breathed's ever-growing collection of kids books (that are perfect for adults as well!).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

59. Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Brett Helquist



Title: Odd and the Frost Giants
Author: Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Brett Helquist
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 117
Publisher: HarperCollins
Author Website:
Twitter: @neilhimself, @harpercollins
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 3/5 stars
Finished: 10-18-09

Neil Gaiman wrote Odd and the Frost Giants for World Book Day in the UK. It is the story of Odd, a Viking child who has had some very bad luck in his short life: his father died, his leg is crushed, his mother remarries a not so kind stepfather, winter seems to never end. In frustration, Odd decides to leave his village and live in the woods. One day, Odd finds himself in the company of a fox, a bear and an eagle, and they have a story to tell Odd; a story that involves Asgard, Midgard, gods and giants, deceit and mischief and cleverness, and Odd finds himself eventually part of their story.

It's a quick tale, and while it doesn't pull the reader into the heart of the story like some of his other books (The Graveyard Book, for instance), Gaiman's writing is still clever, fun and original. If you are a fan of Gaiman's work, I don't think you'll be disappointed in this story.

58. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak



Title: Where the Wild Things Are
Author: Maurice Sendak
Copyright: 1963
Pages: 48
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 4/5 stars
Finished: 10-17-09

Not much more can be said for this children's classic tale that hasn't already been said before. I'm almost sure that everyone has read this at one point or another in their lives, and if you haven't, it's worth it. I know that it is the illustrations I remember most from my childhood, and as I read it again in preparation to see the new film version, they all came back to me in a rush of nostalgia! No child's library should be without this book.

Having said that, the film version of Where the Wild Things Are really is a different creature entirely. I'm not sure that young fans of the book today will understand the film; the more that I've thought about the movie over the last couple of days, the more I believe it is the generation of parents of today's children that this movie is made for. We will understand the film so much more than our children will. I've talked to a couple of friends who took their children to see it, and in most cases, the movie scared their children, yet the parents got it. I think it deals with many of the insecurities that we all had as children, being angry and not being understood, not having a clear idea how to deal with love, either giving or taking of it, and now that we are grown, we can look back at our childhoods and understand better what the story is about.

In my opinion, Spike Jonze took Sendak's story and pulled from it all the elements that made it perfect for us as children, and made it into a film that makes us nostalgic for that time of our lives, but as seen through the eyes of our adult selves as we relive those emotions through the cinematic eyes of Max. I still stand behind the idea that the book should belong in every children's library (and perhaps every adult's library, too) but the film should be watched by parents first, before taking their children to see it.

Sunday Salon 18 X 2009

Good morning, fellow Salon Members! It has been positively an age since I participated in the Salon, but I've felt out of the loop for so long now that I took a big step back from everything. I've read very little the last couple of months, and am just now feeling like I am going to get back on track. I don't think there is anyway that I can reach my 100 book goal for the year, so I'm just going to go along as best I can and see what I can finish for the year.

I have read some very good books the last couple of weeks, however. Everything that I've picked up I've enjoyed immensely, so that helped get me back in the mood (not that what I was reading before wasn't any good, but these last several books just really stuck with me after reading them). Some of the books that I have particularly enjoyed are Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt's Dracula the Un-Dead, James Dashner's The Maze Runner, Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire and Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain.

I have a few books that I need to review yet: Nail Gaiman's Odd and the Frost Giants, Leonie Swann's Three Bags Full and my thoughts on Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are and the film version, all of which I hope to get to today.

I'm getting into the Halloween spirit by reading Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts right now and then I'll be moving on to a collection of ghost stories by Edith Wharton. I've been surprised by the Joe Hill collection. I wasn't sure what to expect from him, having only read the first volume in his comics series, Locke and Key, which I enjoyed, but just because someone can write comics well doesn't mean that they can write short stories, too. Well, I can say that 3 stories into the collection, and I'm suitably impressed. For those not familiar with Joe Hill, his father is Stephen King (you may have heard of him). The stories so far in 20th Century Ghosts are not your run of the mill horror fodder (well, the first one is...). These stories have heart and soul, and even though they are ghost stories, they are told with feeling. I'm sure that some more in the collection will fall more into the horror genre itself, but Hill has proven already that he can take the idea of the ghost story in a direction that most people wouldn't recognize or expect.

Beyond my few Halloween selections that I've been saving for the season, I've got some other really good books sitting here, waiting patiently to be read. I wish there was more hours in a day sometimes, just so I could have more time to read. I just need to find someone that will hire me on full time as a book reviewer... What, a guy can dream, can't he? Oh well.

So, there is my Sunday Salon. Such a sparse entry after such a long time, I know, but I'm taking baby steps getting back into my old routines.

Happy reading, everyone!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

57. Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann



Title: Three Bags Full
Author: Leonie Swann
Copyright: 2005
Pages: 341
Format: Paperback
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Finished: 10-14-09

I fell in love with Three Bags Full in it's very first pages. It's a story about Irish sheep who set out on a mission to discover the murderer of their beloved shepherd, George, who has been stabbed through with a spade. It's a story fill with lovable characters; more to point, the sheep, and their thoughts on humans and the way the world works around them and their observations on it all. It's a comedy. It's a mystery. It's a little bit of everything, all rolled into a big, woolly yarn of a tale that is both in turns ingenious, funny and inspiring.

When George's flock discovers his body in the meadow one day, stabbed through with a spade, their initial reaction is panic. But to Miss Maple, the cleverest sheep in all of Glennkill, this is something more than just the death of their shepherd: this is a murder mystery. So, she takes it upon herself to discover the murderer, and eventually she is able to convince the rest of the flock to partake in the mystery as well. George was a kind shepherd and took very good care of his sheep, even reading to them in the evenings, and so they take their knowledge of the human character as they have seen through their stories, and begin on a mission to bring justice to their dear, departed shepherd.

The village of Glennkill itself is inhabited by a colorful cast of characters, all whom we learn about through the eyes of the sheep. The sheep have a keen perspective on human nature and the character buildup of the members of the village. Through the course of their investigation, however, they do begin to see people in a new light, discovering that everyone may not be categorized into their initial, limited sheepish view of people. It's through these growing observations that the story really starts to take off, as the sheep themselves begin to view themselves differently as they learn to care for themselves without having a shepherd about.

The story does end on a rather serious note, going in a direction that I honestly did not expect at all. The book is for the most part a fun little story, humorous throughout (I mean, honestly, how can murder mystery solving sheep not be funny?), yet the story loops around and becomes a lesson learned on people and the solitude that they have in their life. Not that the story ends sadly, but it becomes more philosophical than funny at the end, really making the reader question the life of not only the sheep, but their beloved shepherd as well.

I would like to see Swann continue the story of the Glennkill sheep (and she obviously left the story open for more). I would greatly like to see their further adventures and watch them as they discover more mysteries to unravel.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

56. Dracula, the Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt



Title: Dracula, the Un-Dead
Author: Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 411
Format: ARC from publisher
Available: 10-13-09
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Finished: 10-9-09

Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt's Dracula, the Un-Dead is the first official sequel to Bram Stoker's original Dracula. Dacre Stoker, a direct descendant of Bram Stoker and Ian Holt, a well-known Dracula historian, have pieced together a sequel based on notes that Bram Stoker had left about characters and plots that were removed from the original book.

I really enjoyed the story, if some of the plot threads seemed rather rushed. Taking place about 20 years after the events in Dracula, all the key players are still alive: Mina and Jonathan Harker are married, if somewhat unhappily, with a son, Quincey (named after Quincey Morris, who lost his life battling Dracula); Jack Seward has gone mad and has fallen more into his morphine addiction; Arthur Holmwood has taken up the title of Lord Godalming and is trying to forget the love of his life, Lucy Westenra; and Van Helsing is an old man now, trying to live long enough to finish his battle against the supernatural. Each of the key players from the original story have a part to play in this continuation, and each has to pay for their mistakes from before, one way or another.

We are finally introduced to more vampires, and begin to understand that there may be quite a few in the world. The main antagonist in the story is Countess Elizabeth Bathory, a centuries-old vampire who considers herself queen of her kind. She has turned from God completely, due to not only her vampiric state but also because she is a lesbian, and has been frowned upon by her family and the church since she was mortal. She holds a particular grudge against Dracula, and that grudge is never quite made apparent, nor is it clear on what Dracula's role in this story, or even his involvement in the original Dracula is, since we, as readers, may have been deceived from the beginning.

The weaving of historical figures and facts into the story was quite clever. There are ties to the Jack the Ripper murders in the story, and Bram Stoker himself even makes a guest appearance. You could tell that Stoker and Holt have done their homework, drawing on what I'm assuming are actual facts surrounding Bram Stoker's original ideas for the book and compounding on those, even dropping some of the history behind Dracula into this book as well.

I would have given this book 5 stars, except for the way the story ended. Having received an advanced reader copy, I don't know if I am just missing something from the ending of my copy of the book or not, but the story simply stops. I was riding along on a wave of anticipation, waiting to see what happens next, totally engulfed in the story, and I turn the page and... nothing. We get to a certain point, left with possible cliffhangers, but there is nothing left in the book; no indication that this is the first book in a series and that the story will be continued in a later edition, just nothing. So, I'll have to be stopping off to the store now to find a copy and see if there is still something left to this story that was left out of the edition I have, or if there is going to be another book released later. And if that is going to be the case, I'm going to be annoyed. I wish that they could just release everything into one book and be done with it. The trend of constantly needing to leave people dangling with such cliffhangers is getting a little overplayed, I feel.

Other than the book simply ending like it did, with no type of resolution whatsoever, I found the story to be completely entertaining. It was a fast-paced, roller coaster of a ride, touching on all the characters from the original, and adding in new characters that complimented the story well. I found myself missing the Gothic feel of the writing of the original, but writing another book in that style today probably wouldn't go over so well. I have read Dracula several times now, and part of my love for the story is the writing. I was hoping that this book would continue in that theme, also continuing on with the story told through the letters and journals of the key characters, like the original was. Stoker and Holt, however, have taken the book and really made it their own. It lacks something of the Gothic feel of the original, but plays homage enough to it that you can overlook the large stylistic changes. Overall, a fun read and a good enough sequel to the original.

It turns out that the copy of the book I received is missing the last 3-4 chapters (I checked a final copy at B&N the other day). As soon as I get a new copy in hand and actually finish the book, I may have more thoughts on the story.