Friday, October 30, 2009

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

#62

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Title: Simon Snootle and OTHER small stories
Author: Lorin Morgan-Richards
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 68
Publisher: A Raven Above Press
Author Website: www.lorinrichards.com
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 www.lorinrichards.com.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

61. M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman

#61

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Title: M is for Magic
Author: Neil Gaiman
Copyright: 2007
Pages: 272
ISBN: 9780061186479
Publisher: Harper Collins
Author Website: www.neilgaiman.com
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

#60

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Title: Mars Needs Moms!
Author: Berkeley Breathed
Copyright: 2007
Pages: 40
Author Website: www.berkeleybreathed.com
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

#59

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Title: Odd and the Frost Giants
Author: Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Brett Helquist
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 117
Publisher: HarperCollins
Author Website: www.neilgaiman.com
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

#58

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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

#57

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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

#56

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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.

EDIT
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.

Monday, October 5, 2009

55. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

#55

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Title: The Maze Runner
Series: The Maze Runner Trilogy
Author: James Dashner
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 374
ISBN: 978-0385737944
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Author Website: www.jamesdashner.com
Twitter: @jamesdashner, @randomhousekids
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 5/5 stars
Finished: 10-4-09
Challenge: 75 Books 09

From Amazon:

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

I've been following James Dashner for awhile now, ever since I received an advanced reader copy of the first book in his The 13th Reality series The Journal of Curious Letters. I enjoyed it enough that I tracked down his earlier series, The Jimmy Fincher Saga. There were some definite improvements in his writing from Jimmy Fincher to The 13th Reality, but you could see the potential in each series that there was something more in James that was wanting to get out, something bigger. And I think that The Maze Runner is that something.

From personal request of the author from his blog, I'm going to leave this review as spoiler free as possible, which of course means that I'm not going to be able to say much at all. The story opens with Thomas finding himself in a metal box that seems to be moving, with no memories of his life, his family, even of who he is. He knows his name is Thomas, and beyond that, he remembers very little of his life before waking up in the box. The box deposits him into the Glade, where he is met by a large group of boys who also have no memory prior to waking in the box, just like Thomas. He soon learns the ropes of living in the Glade, where the boys each have assigned jobs such as gardening or tending to the livestock, but the one job that he is most interested in is being a Runner. The Runners have probably the most important job in the Glade; they enter the huge Maze that surrounds the Glade, trying to find a way out, because as far as anyone can tell, there is no escape through the Maze.

I think that's enough of a teaser with no major spoilers revealed. I know it's not much, but I can say that the book is fast-paced and doesn't quite let up through the whole story, and I never wanted to put the book down once I picked it up. There are some twists in the story, and while I had figured out part of the plot, I still wasn't sure how the entire story would play out or exactly what would be the answer to the question posed in the one plot point. Dashner does a great job of making the feelings of the boys tangible; you really get a sense of their desperation through the story, equally mingled with the continual hope that there will be a solution discovered to the Maze.

The Maze Runner, like most books in this trend, is the first part in a series, but don't let that detract you from picking it up now. The first book that comes to mind as a comparison is Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, and if you are a fan of that book, I don't think you'll be disappointed in The Maze Runner. I've enjoyed watching James grow as a writer over these few short years, and I'm anxious to see where he will be taking us next, because if The Maze Runner is any indication, I'm sure there are some really fantastic ideas floating around in his head, just waiting to be put on paper.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Make a donation to the ACLU or ABFFE at Schuler Books

Schuler Books (at least at Eastwood Towne Center, I don't know about Okemos) is taking donations right now for the ACLU and ABFFE. Now through the end of the week, if you tell your friendly Schuler Books cashier that you would like to make your purchase as a donation to the ACLU, they will donate 20% of your purchase amount. But you have to tell them! This is a very important step. No telling, no donating. That's just the way it is. So, tell them! Also, if you want to make a donation to the ABFFE, simply tell your friendly Schuler Books cashier how much you would like to make that donation for, and they will gladly tender that amount with your purchase. This is all happening through the end of this week, so hurry in to your local Schuler Books (and by local, I mean the one at Eastwood Towne Center) and buy some books and make a donation! I mean, honestly, who doesn't like books? And donating to a good cause just makes you all warm and fuzzy inside. Well, books do too, so it's really like a win-win situation here, folks!