Wednesday, December 28, 2011


A winner for the Midwinter Hop has been selected!

Congratulations Theresa J!

I have sent an email requesting your address so the publishing company can ship out your prize!!!

Thank you to everyone who participated!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Midwinter's Eve Giveaway Hop and Author Interview!

What are we giving away this Midwinter's Eve? 

A Brand New Copy of Death Watch by Ari Berk!
Sent to you directly from the publisher!

To enjoy excerpts from this book, please visit:
Where you will be able to read two different chapters from Death Watch

The following is an interview with Ari Berk:

1. Could you start out by telling us a little bit about Death Watch?

Death Watch is my first novel, a ghost story about a town (a necropolis, actually) where the dead tend to congregate. But it's also a story about parents and children, and about people who have a hard time letting go. In that regard, it's really about relationships between the living and dead. Without giving too much away, here are some things you'll find in the book: Ghosts. Purgatorial Hangouts. Curious Relics. Grave Robbing. Family Reunions. Wakes. Things Under Water. Night Visiting. Stuff trapped in Tins. Overgrown Cemeteries. Crumbling Houses. Jarred peaches.

2. What was your inspiration for making the main character, Silas Umber, such a solitary character when it comes to the world of the living?

I like outsiders. I was one myself through much of high school. I think, very often, people who are on the outside see the world a little differently. They may also see more of it, because they tend to be keen observers of other people. This is an important part of Silas. He is interested in parts of the world that other people tend to overlook: lore, magic, ruins, the truth behind the stories he hears, the nature of loss, and anything with dust on it.

       Part of his story is about bridging the world of the living and the worlds of the dead, but it's that work that helps him enter more fully into the lives of the living people around him.

3. Is Lichport, the town where Death Watch takes place, based on the history of a real town? (Or, What was your inspiration for the town of Lichport?).

Lichport is not a real town, though at this point, it feels pretty real to me. My inspiration comes from the ancient, little seaport towns I've visited in the West of England, and the fictional towns I've read about in the works of H.P. Lovecraft. I always wished I could visit the towns in his books. One of the larger coastal towns mentioned in Death Watch (Kingsport) is a little nod to H.P. Lovecraft. As strange as Lichport is, it's the kind of place I've always aspired to live in; a town with a weird past within earshot of the sea. I also wondered what a town might be like if it was founded as a Necropolis, as a harbor for funereal practice. What kind of people would populate a town like that? Lichport is my version of what such a place might look like. For me, place is vitally important. Before very much of the plot had been worked out, I had already made a complete map of Lichport. I need to have a sense of place first, then I can drop the characters in and see what happens.

4. Where did the idea for Death Watch come from?

The idea for the book came from seeing a small, sixteenth century, skull-shaped pocket watch in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, UK. The moment I saw that watch, the idea for the book began to form in my mind. I talk a little about that watch here on my website:

5. I see on your website ( that you're a Professor of Mythology and Folklore. Is Death Watch steeped in any particular culture's mythology or folklore?

There is a great deal of lore in the book and it comes from, or was inspired by, a variety of cultures, including British, American, Japanese, Norse, Egyptian and others. In many cases, the folklore has been adapted to make it more Lichportian. I've also invented quite a few things, but my hope is that most readers wouldn't be able to discern the real lore from the invented. It all needed to be believable.

6. Throughout your career you have traveled extensively to places considered haunted. Are any of Silas' supernatural experiences in the book ones that you've had in real life? What was your most terrifying ghostly experience?

I haven't had any encounters with the otherworldly that I would call terrifying, but deeply unsettling, yes. I've had some strange nights in very old houses. And once, at a ruin of a great house in, Devon, England, called Berry Pomeroy, my son (3 at the time) refused to enter an underground chamber and began crying and sobbing, saying "No, the lady. No, the lady." We later learned that part of the ruin is haunted by The Blue Lady, the ghost of a young woman who had been imprisoned and left to die there by her sister.

7. You've written quite a few other books, including a personal favorite of mine, Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Letters. What made you choose the YA Novel format for Death Watch, and how much harder or easier was that than creating illustrated literary works?

To be honest, I don't really consider that a book is "YA" or "Teen" or any other label. The division of the publisher that I work with publishes YA books, so that is what this book has been called. I don't think about such things when I write. Why would I? My concern is that a story should be unique and engaging, and well-written. When I was younger, and would explore the shelves at my local library and book store, I would never bother to see what section I was in. I just choose books that looked interesting to me. Growing up, I was allowed to read anything I could read, so a book's genre or age-level was never really something I thought about. In fact, many of the readers of Death Watch are adults. I think anyone who likes, say, Stephen King, for example, might like this book too.

       As for whether a novel or an illustrated book is harder to write, that's a tough call. Each presents its challenges and delights. At the end of the day, I guess I'd have to say that the novel is more challenging because it's just me, just a long line of words stretching out to the horizon…and if anything goes wrong, in a novel, I can't blame it on the artist!

8. Silas' life is filled with real ghost stories, but as a child, were there any particular ghost stories that kept you up at night? Are there any that keep you up now?

There are so many I love and that still give me chills. But perhaps my favorite, which you can even read online, is by E.F. Benson and is titled "How Fear Departed The Long Gallery."

       More often than not, however, most of my favorites tend to be "real," or folkloric, ghost stories, not literary ones. I love the immediacy of a tale that's told as chronicle, particularly if the account has been recorded from someone who has lived to tell the tale!

9. Who was your favorite character to write and why? Were any characters based on real life people?

That's a tough question, too. I think my favorites to write were some of the secondary characters. Silas's great grandfather was a pleasure to write and he's become one of my favorite characters. He has a very different perspective on the world and on the real meaning of  family in the full historical and spiritual sense. I also REALLY love writing the dialogue of the three ladies of the sewing circle. I could write in their three back and forth voices all day long. I am actually toying with the idea of a little collection called Tales From Old Lichport that would be stories the three sisters tell each other while they're working on their tapestry.

       As for characters being based on real-life people, the answer is yes and no. My mother is already telling all of her friends that Dolores Umber is NOT based on her, and she's right. Dolores is not based on her (for the record). But that's not to say I haven't borrowed moments from my life and the lives of those people unlucky enough to get within range of my pen. Silas's school experiences definitely mirror some of my own, and his life in Saltsbridge is invested with a lot of resonance from my own teen years. I will say this: when I read over the first complete draft of the book, I panicked that I had started out to write fiction but had instead written a bizarre Borgesian memoir.

10. Is there any word on when we can expect book 2 in The Undertaken Series?

Mistle Child, the name of book two, will be out either late, late 2012 or first of 2013.


Please hop by all the other giveaways!

Monday, November 7, 2011

REVIEW: Death Watch by Ari Berk

Death Watch

The Undertaken Trilogy
by Ari Berk

(from Goodreads): They say the dead should rest in peace. Not all the dead agree.
One night, Silas Umber's father Amos doesn’t come home from work. Devastated, Silas learns that his father was no mere mortician but an Undertaker, charged with bringing The Peace to the dead trapped in the Shadowlands, the states of limbo binding spirits to earth. With Amos gone, Silas and his mother have no choice but to return to Lichport, the crumbling seaside town where Silas was born, and move in with Amos’s brother, Charles.
Even as Silas eagerly explores his father’s town and its many abandoned streets and overgrown cemeteries, he grows increasingly wary of his uncle. There is something not quite right going on in Charles Umber’s ornate, museum-like house—something, Silas is sure, that is connected to his father’s disappearance. When Silas’s search leads him to his father’s old office, he comes across a powerful artifact: the Death Watch, a four hundred year old Hadean clock that allows the owner to see the dead.
Death Watch in hand, Silas begins to unearth Lichport’s secret history—and discovers that he has taken on his father’s mantle as Lichport’s Undertaker. Now, Silas must embark on a dangerous path into the Shadowlands to embrace his destiny and discover the truth about his father—no matter the cost.

Silas Umber: Could a name be more poetic? Silas, which is quickly pointed out, sounds much like solace, and Umber, the color of rich, brown earth… the Solace of the Grave, the comfort of being laid to rest peacefully beneath the earth. Is there a more perfect name for an Undertaker? I think not.
Silas is the child of Amos and Dolores Umber, and he is a boy lost. His father disappears in the first chapter of the book, and through the rest of the story we witness Silas coming of age as he moves back to Lichport with his mother, and seeks to find the truth of what happened to his dad.
Bea: A mysterious girl who is infatuated with Silas and, like almost everyone in Lichport, obviously has secrets of her own.
Mother Peale: An elderly woman, and one of the Narrows Folk (the Narrows being the part of town filled with people of the sea) Mother Peale is an old friend of Silace’s father and wise in the ways of those who have remained to wander the streets of this haunted town.
Mrs. Bowe: A close friend of Amos Umber, Mrs. Bowe is a source of knowledge and support for Silas as he tries to walk in his father’s footsteps. Often infuriatingly vague, to the point where you just want to scream, “JUST TELL THE BOY ALREADY!”, she has her reasons for being so, and is always worried about Silas’ well being. She has a special role to play in the town, and is an aide and associate to the work of the Undertaker, as well as someone with invaluable insight into the motives of Uncle. She also has quite the mysterious relationship with bees, and I often wondered, as I read, if we would find out more about this.
Amos Umber:
Silas’s father, and the Undertaker of Lichport, he disappears in the beginning of the book, but his presence haunts the pages throughout. Obviously well loved by his son, as well as the town of Lichport, he is a well formed and delicately constructed character whose portrait is painted for the reader through his own items left behind, as well as the abundant stories of the townsfolk.
Dolores Umber: Silas’s neglectful mother, she spends most of her time at the bottom of a bottle and is a character that one finds it very hard to have sympathy for. She has traits in her, though, that can be seen in Silas, and that the reader spends the book praying he will overcome.
Uncle: Overly kind in the most creepy of ways, it’s obvious something is amiss with Uncle the minute you read his letter. He is set on one mission, and nothing will stop him from carrying it out. As with some of histories best villians, he is scary because he truly believes that what he is doing is right.

If you dislike books like The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien or The Foundling Series by D.M. Cornish, then don’t read this book. Death Watch is filled with eloquent prose rich with world building. The town of Lichport stands out, a character on its own, and invites the reader to walk its streets right along with Silas.   
It is not often that I force myself to slow down while reading a book, but I had to with Death Watch, for fear that it would be over too soon.  I couldn’t help but take the time to savor each page. The book begged to be read aloud, the rich detail of each paragraph pouring from the page and painting a vivid picture of the world through which Silas walked.
Drawn in from the opening pages, this rich, dark story gripped me in the same way that books such as Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Coraline or Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree and Something Wicked This Way Comes have. It was haunting and filled with a potent atmosphere of the macabre. Each chapter offered insight into a new mystery from Lichport’s past, and not a word was wasted.  The ghosts that haunted the pages of this book continued to haunt my imagination long after I put the book down and turned out the lights. They followed me like shadows throughout the day, enticing me from my responsibilities so they could have the chance to further tell their tales, and like Silas, I quickly learned to shut up and listen.
Truly, it was hard to deny this book… and as rich as the world building was, the characters themselves were just as layered and mysterious. Silas spent the book learning mostly through experience, rarely making the exact same mistake twice. He grew as he went, changing from boy to man, letting go of childish behaviors that prevented him from truly seeing the world around him.

I don’t think I can rightly express how happy the end of this book made me. When I read the cover and saw that this was a trilogy, I dreaded reaching the end, because frankly, I’m getting tired of how every YA book these days tends to be a trilogy, and often, most of them could easily have been wrapped up in one book (or just weren’t worth three+ books to begin with).  Death Watch had a complete and satisfying ending, and with it, I was left wondering if this would be more along the lines of The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, where each book was dedicated to different characters. Regardless of whether each book follows Silas, or simply other Undertakers in the town of Lichport, I am now a dedicated reader. I cannot wait to see what book two brings.

This is not a book of sappy, sparkly, meaningless romances that seem to develop without any true rhyme or reason.
Thank God.

This is a coming of age story, under the most dire circumstances. It’s a book that causes the reader to sit back and wonder how, and if, they could handle what Silas is faced with. As much about the world of the living as it is about the world of the dead, the book balances on a knife’s edge between the two, and the reader often finds themselves wondering if Silas will be lost to one or the other.

Death Watch is woven together from multiple story threads that span the history of Lichport, adding to the rich background that serves as the stage for Silas’s own adventure. Each one is just as intriguing as the next, and kept me reading avidly until the end, wanting to know what had happened in each circumstance.

 Believability of World:
Lichport is so rich, so detailed, so steeped in nostalgia that it feels as if I’ve already been there, even though I know I have not. Lichport itself is a real town, and I wonder how much of this book draws from its history. Regardless, the version in this story, even with its paranormal patrons, reads as a town that just might be found if one looked.

Overall Grade: A+ ~ A book for those who love stories with rich, deep histories, with detailed descriptions that make you feel like you were there. Not for readers looking for a gushy love story, or driveling characters that need a significant other to make up their minds for them. Death Watch is for lovers of literature, those readers who revel in the velvety texture of words as they roll off the tongue. It is for those who read aloud at night to empty rooms, just to hear each line sing. This will go on my shelf of favorites, thank you, Mr. Berk, for such a rich tale.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday

To take part in Waiting on Wednesday, click the image above!
To visit Ari Berk's website, click the image above!

Death Watch
by Ari Berk
Release Date: November 15th

They say the dead should rest in peace. Not all the dead agree.
One night, Silas Umber's father Amos doesn't come home from work. Devastated, Silas learns that his father was no mere mortician but an Undertaker, charged with bringing The Peace to the dead trapped in the Shadowlands, the states of limbo binding spirits to earth. With Amos gone, Silas and his mother have no choice but to return to Lichport, the crumbling seaside town where Silas was born, and move in with Amos's brother, Charles.
Even as Silas eagerly explores his father's town and its many abandoned streets and overgrown cemeteries, he grows increasingly wary of his uncle. There is something not quite right going on in Charles Umber's ornate, museum-like house--something, Silas is sure, that is connected to his father's disappearance. When Silas's search leads him to his father's old office, he comes across a powerful artifact: the Death Watch, a four hundred year old Hadean clock that allows the owner to see the dead.
Death Watch in hand, Silas begins to unearth Lichport's secret history--and discovers that he has taken on his father's mantle as Lichport's Undertaker. Now, Silas must embark on a dangerous path into the Shadowlands to embrace his destiny and discover the truth about his father--no matter the cost.
Critically acclaimed folklorist Ari Berk explores the worlds of the living and the dead, and the relationships between parents and children in a novel steeped in lore, mystery and magic.
~ Description from Amazon

This book looks spooky and delightful.
I can't wait!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

REVIEW: Cryer's Cross by Lisa McMann

 Cryer’s Cross
by Lisa McMann

(from Goodreads): The community of Cryer’s Cross, Montana (population 212) is distraught when high school freshman Tiffany disappears without a trace. Already off-balance due to her OCD, 16-year-old Kendall is freaked out seeing Tiffany’s empty desk in the one-room school house, but somehow life goes on... until Kendall's boyfriend Nico also disappears, and also without a trace. Now the town is in a panic. Alone in her depression and with her OCD at an all-time high, Kendall notices something that connects Nico and Tiffany: they both sat at the same desk. She knows it's crazy, but Kendall finds herself drawn to the desk, dreaming of Nico and wondering if maybe she, too, will disappear...and whether that would be so bad. Then she begins receiving graffiti messages on the desk from someone who can only be Nico. Can he possibly be alive somewhere? Where is he? And how can Kendall help him? The only person who believes her is Jacian, the new guy she finds irritating...and attractive. As Kendall and Jacian grow closer, Kendall digs deeper into Nico's mysterious disappearance only to stumble upon some ugly—and deadly—local history. Kendall is about to find out just how far the townspeople will go to keep their secrets buried.

Character Likability:
Kendall: Kendall is the main character, and she suffers from OCD. Before I read this book, I listened to Lisa McMann speak, and I learned that her daughter has OCD, and she wrote this book because she wanted a heroine who had OCD, but that wasn’t the point of the story, simply an aspect of it. I did not question that Mrs. McMann knew what she was talking about when it came to the behaviors of an OCD sufferer, since she had her daughter there to consult at ever step, but I disagree that this book isn’t about a character with OCD. Quite a lot of the story revolved around Kendall’s struggles with the disorder, and the ending hinged on it. Regardless, I found Kendall very likable. I enjoyed a strong female lead, especially when it was clear that being strong was one of the hardest things for her to do.
Nico: Kendell’s best friend since childhood, it’s obvious he adores Kendall… but then he starts to change, becoming distracted. Finally he disappears altogether, and the rest of the book is spent hunting for him.
A boy of Hispanic decent who moved in right around the time of the first disappearance. He and his sister become huge supporting factors for Kendall. Jacian spends a lot of the beginning of the book being a real jerk, but for me, this didn’t make him unlikable, since it was obvious he was suffering from being ripped from the life he knew to being thrown into this tiny town with about 5 kids in his graduating class.

This book was written in third person, and I’ve read tons of reviews where this has really bothered people, but I’m not sure why. I read the entire book in about 4 hours. I couldn’t put it down. It flowed beautifully. It was written in a way that I’ve not seen much of. Many of the sentences were short, not complete, choppy bits that worked well to give us a feel for how Kendall’s OCD thought process worked. It was jarring, but not so much that it pulled me out of the story, since its frantic nature fit right in with Kendall’s constantly active thoughts.  

This book had a decent end. There was some really wonderfully creepy imagery in the final “showdown” and I could visualize it all perfectly. The only thing I’m not sure of is the role of the main character’s OCD in the end. I’ve heard the author speak, and she said she wanted this to be a book about a girl who happened to have OCD, not about OCD… but considering the ending, OCD was pretty important to the story, more-so than just being a side note.

It was an interesting plot. I enjoyed how the story started right out with someone missing, the action kicking in from sentence one. I read the book in 4 hours, I couldn’t put it down until I reached the end. Every couple of chapters, there was a brief, italicized couple of lines that were cryptic and haunting. I really enjoyed pondering the puzzle of what they meant. My only complaint would be that the ending felt rushed. I wish there had been more set up for the final bit of the story. I wish we had learned more about the town’s history. For me, this was a book about the inner workings of a character suffering from some intense personal struggles, and not so much about the town itself, when, for this kind of story, setting is just as important as character development. I never really got a feel for the town, or the town’s past. It would seem to me that, for the secret this place was keeping, the atmosphere could have been heavier with the weight of it. I would have liked to have seen that rich tapestry built up a bit more. There didn’t need to be detailed descriptions of the place itself, but the stain on the town could have been built up with stories and echoes of the past. I guess I wanted more motivation and background on the “big bad” in the story.

 Believability of World:
Fun, haunting, and believable. I really enjoyed Kendall’s small town life, and if anything, would have liked to have heard even more about it.

Overall Grade: B ~ An exciting, quick read, perfect for Halloween. Pick it up and enjoy it, immediately!! The only thing I wish? That it had been longer!!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Blogger Hop and Follow Friday

Book Blogger Hop
Click the image above to join in the hop :)

“What is your favorite type of candy?”

Oh man... this is a loaded question for me. I love candy, how could I choose just one?! If I really truly do, though, there are two types of candy I HAVE to, though, I'm going to have to go with Ghiradelli Chocolate Squares, any and all flavors :) 

To join in Follow Friday, click the image above!

Q: What superhero is your alter-ego?

Just because I'm a girl doesn't mean my Superhero alter ego has to be one. Honestly, Tick, with his slightly moronic ways, his obliviousness to so many things, his crazy catch phrases and total lack of awareness at his own special level of insanity, is probably who I'd end up being... plus I'd spend a LOT of time looking in the mirror and laughing at my own costume's antenna!!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

REVIEW: Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

 Un Lun Dun
by China Mieville

Strange things keep happening in London when Zanna is around, and the only one who notices (or will admit to noticing) is her best friend, Deeba. When the two of them follow a living umbrella and Zanna transports them to the strange world of UnLondon, they are hardly shocked to find that Zanna is the mythical Shwazzy, sent to save UnLondon from the wicked Smog.

Character Likability:
Deeba: “The Funny One”: as categorized by The Book, under Shwazzy sidekicks. A label she finds most insulting. However, it’s quickly apparent that Deeba is, in fact, the main character of this story, having much more depth and personality than the rather bland Zanna. Deeba takes over and pulls us through a danger filled adventure filled with the strangest of creatures.
Zanna: The Shwazzy, revered as the savior of UnLondon, and Deeba’s best friend.
Half boy, half ghost, Hemi is misunderstood and bitter. He knows how society sees him, even if it’s wrong, but there’s little a semi-transparent boy can do about it… except team up with Deeba to save the world.
Smog: The big bad in this book, it is what is sounds like, one big, nasty, black cloud of evil.
Curdle: Deeba’s pet milk carton, Curdle shows amazing courage when you would least expect it from something that smells like spoiled milk.
Obaday: An interesting take on a tailor, Obaday has a pincushion head and makes clothing items out of book pages. I kind of wish he really existed.
Skool: Obaday’s sidekick, and an amusing take on the idea… but I won’t say more.
Book: The Book of prophecy, looked to by all for the answers on what is to come, but quickly it is discovered that what is written in the book isn’t exactly how things will be. The Book speaks, and is often heard lamenting its own new-found worthlessness.
Conductor Jones: A Conductor who came through from London when Conductors were gotten rid, he has found new life in UnLondon with his friend, the bus driver, Rita.
Brokkenbroll: Lord of the Unbrellas (read that carefully) he is working with a man named Unstible to create Unbrellas that can withstand the onslaught of the Smog… but one can’t help think that something sinister might just be up.

This book pulled me right in, starting with the two girls, Zanna and Deeba, standing in London staring at a fox who was most certainly watching Zanna in a sort of awe. I was sucked in, and kept interested by the strange things that kept happening. Mieville’s style is smooth and never once pulled me out of the story, which is the number one thing I ask for from any book. As the story progresses, things start happening faster and faster, and while I enjoyed the action, I wish there had been a bit more time to develop certain characters they met along the way. There was a real opportunity here to create some deep, rich, strange, interesting people, but I think it was somewhat lost, since the story was more plot driven than character driven. The plot, though, was fascinating and rich in ideas and action.

While the beginning of this book was a little slow moving, it quickly picks up speed and races along, straight to the end. I really enjoyed the end of this book, it was one of those endings that you can be satisfied with, even if another book in this world is never written… and really, with the end to this book, one doesn’t need to be.

This particular book has a rich, bursting at the seams plot line. There is so much going on that it almost seems as if the book isn’t quite long enough for everything that is happening. This is one instance where I really wouldn’t have minded this story being broken into a series of more books. The world was amazing, interesting and bewildering, and I would have loved to slow down and see more of it. ESPECIALLY the land of the dead.

 Believability of World:
The author did a wonderful job making a rich world for these characters to play in. UnLondon is supposed to be a bit unbelievable, in so far as all of the insanity that takes place there, and the magic of it all, but it is written in such a way that one can easily buy into it.

Overall Grade: B+ ~ An exciting romp in a magical world, and a very likeable heroine.

Waiting on Wednesday

Please Click the Waiting on Wednesday Icon to go to Breaking the Spine and join in the fun!

by Ally Condie
Publication Date: November 1st, 2011

This week I'm choosing Crossed by Ally Condie

I have to admit, I had a bit of a lukewarm reaction to Matched. For as much hype as it got, I was really expecting a lot more from it... but it was still an interesting enough read that I will give the second book a chance, and see if it's going to branch off into something fascinating and original.

Plus I have to admit, I'm absolutely sucked in by the covers. HUGE kudos to the designer of these.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

REVIEW: The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica

This is book one in the series
The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica
by James A. Owen

John, Jack and Charles, three young men from Oxford, find themselves called to duty to care for what is possibly the most well protected book ever, the Imaginarium Geographica.

Character Likability:
John: The Principal Caretaker of the Imaginarium Geographica, John is logical, wise and patient. He’s not only likeable, he endears himself to the reader with his compassion and at the same time, with his mistakes. He owns them, and does his best to live by a moral code he deems worthy. As the series goes on, John becomes more and more of an adult, and it’s evident in the disregard he pays to the children in the story. He is in no way unlikable, but he is no longer quite in touch with youth. It’s not that he disrespects children, not in the least, more like, he overlooks them.
Jack: Younger, brash, fighting against the powers that be, in the first novel, Jack comes close to being downright annoying. He is the second caretaker of the Imaginarium Geographica. He’s the one chosen to make the stupid mistakes, the one who has to rebel against his own youth and desire to do the right thing. As the series progresses, Jack grows, and it’s easy to see why he was chosen as a caretaker.
Possibly my favorite caretaker, due to his great affinity for the animals of the Archipelago, Charles is a bit of a third wheel once you discover who the first two caretakers are. Historically, he’s not as recognized, but in this story, he’s quite the standout character. If not him, then some alternate dimension version of him. He believes in travel through both time and space, and studies that intently. Possibly the most down to earth of them all, and certainly the one most prone to mistakes without meaning to (for Jack, it always seems to be a choice, to pick good or evil, for Charles, well… let’s just say, accidents happen).
Mordred: The big bad in practically all of the books except The Dragon’s Apprentice, Mordred (yes, the Arthurian Mordred) keeps showing up in one form or another to ruin the caretakers’ day. This may sound dull, or contrived, but let me assure you, Mordred becomes one complex character who I truly enjoyed reading about.
Merlin: Another character who pops up through the books, the story of Mordred and Merlin is captivating (and takes place largely in The Indigo King), setting up quite a bit of what occurs in both previous and future books.
Tummler: A character pulled from The Chronicles of Narnia, Tummler is a badger who is also a printer, making a mock Imaginarium for distribution, as well as guides to the histories of the world, as well as practical things, like how to get out of a binding, in a book called The Little Whatsit.
Samaranth: The greatest of the dragons we know, he’s often a source of knowledge when the characters don’t know where else to go. Unfortunately, he’s fond of not speaking clearly, so they spend a lot of time trying to figure out what he means.
Fred: The Grandson of Tummler, he is a constant companion from The Indigo King onwards, and becomes the first animal to become Caretaker to the Imaginarium Geographica. He’s another of my favorites, with his animal loyalty and ability to sniff out danger or quell it with a well placed blob of tapioca.
Bert: In it from the beginning, he is mentor and guide to the three new caretakers, Jack, John and Charles.
Aven: Daughter of Bert, future queen of the Archipelago.
Arthur: The “Arthur” character, be he the original, or a descendant (In this series, “Arthur” is the title of the kingship, not an actual name) shows up often. Their noble bloodline allows them to do things others can’t, such as summon dragons.
EVERYONE ELSE: Honestly, these books are packed tight with historical figures, be they real or mythical… everyone from Lovecraft’s Ancient Ones to Benjamin Franklin show up… and always with good reason.

The books actually started out catering a bit more to children than I preferred. There were “big reveals” at the end of almost every chapter, and it started to wear on me as a reader. I understand that these books are, in fact, for children, but the “reveals” were starting to get out of hand… especially since the characters being revealed wouldn’t really mean anything except to adults or children who had learned about them. They weren’t often explained historically, and without the background, for kids not in the know, the reveal was meaningless. There was also one point, in particular, where a specific historical figure was eluded to… but one of the characters in the book said the equivalent of “Ah, never mind about them,” which… was actually really annoying… to introduce and then just as quickly dismiss a historical icon.
Other than those brief complaints (and the “big reveal” issue lessens as the series goes on, either that, or Owen has gotten better at making them less blatant), the writing is entertaining, the words flow and action is constant.

I have to admit, at the end of the first book, when I reached the “BIG REVEAL”… I chucked the book across the room in disgust, and refused to pick up the next one… it took me a year to pick the next one up. I had no desire to read the series after finding out who the characters were at the end of the first book. For whatever reason it just annoyed the hell out of me. Perhaps because it seemed like such a gimmick… at the end of the first book, there seemed, at least to me, little point in having the main characters be who they are (I’m being vague on purpose, so as not to ruin the surprise), but as the series went on, it became evident that there was in fact a reason, and that the story was an interesting, well thought out one. I’m glad I picked the series back up… and the ends to the future books in it have been much more satisfying.

The stories follow the adventures of the Caretakers as they try to keep balance between two very different worlds.
I really don’t want to elaborate too much, for fear of giving away something important.

 Believability of World:
The way this series ties in to real world events makes it a believable bit of story telling. It is a wonderful flight into a million “What if”s concerning bringing some of the greatest literary minds together… and you get swept up in the energy of it.

Overall Grade: A-  Stick with this series. I did, and it’s become complex and twisted.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rotters by Daniel Kraus

by Daniel Kraus

Synopsis (from Daniel Kraus’ Rotters website):
Grave robbing. What kind of monster would do such a thing? It’s true that Leonardo da Vinci did it, Shakespeare wrote about it, and the resurrection men of nineteenth-century Scotland practically made it an art. But none of this matters to Joey Crouch, a sixteen-year-old straight-A student living in Chicago with his single mom. For the most part, Joey’s life is about playing the trumpet and avoiding the daily humiliations of high school.
Everything changes when Joey’s mother dies in a tragic accident and he is sent to rural Iowa to live with the father he has never known, a strange, solitary man with unimaginable secrets. At first, Joey’s father wants nothing to do with him, but once father and son come to terms with each other, Joey’s life takes a turn both macabre and exhilarating.
Daniel Kraus’s masterful plotting and unforgettable characters make ROTTERS a moving, terrifying, and unconventional epic about fathers and sons, complex family ties, taboos, and the ever-present specter of mortality.

This book pulls you in, holds you tight and buries you deep within its pages. From the grabbing opening, right until the very end, this story keeps you wondering just what the future of Joey Crouch holds. Devious, wicked, sick, twisted, horrifying, sentimental, emotional, heart-wrenching and tear-jerking, this book runs the gamut of emotion, and certainly introduces the reader to the broad array of occurances, some terrifying, some heartwarming. This is all done artfully through Kraus’ prose, which lead you as easily into the macabre as they do into the scenes of everyday life.

A satisfying end to what was truly a rollercoaster ride of a story. It might not be something that pleases everyone, but it seemed fitting.

This is one of the most twisted, bent, interesting coming-of-age stories I have ever read. Throughout the story, Joey Crouch has to learn to be a man, fending for himself, defending what he cares for, and keeping himself alive in the most basic of senses. His father is inept at childcare, he has enemies he didn’t even know existed… enemies that are bordering on the supernatural, they are so gruesome and twisted, as well as enemies of the everyday, high school bully sort. We go through the learning process with Joey, watch him as he makes bad choices, cheer him on as he makes good ones. Every step of the way, we’re there as he discovers the secret world his father lives in, the world of grave robbers, and every step Joey takes into that world, we take with him… and I could not put this book down until that journey was over.

Believability of World:
As fantastical as this is, it is based in a certain bit of reality, and I found that anchor to true world events to make this world very believable.

Overall Grade: A+ I’ve never read a story quite like this before.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

REVIEW: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

 The Magicians
by Lev Grossman

Synopsis (from back of book):
Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A high school math genius, he’s secretly fascinated with a sweries of children’s fantasy novels set in a magical land called Fillory, and real life is disappointing by comparison. When Quentin is unexpectedly admitted to an elite, secret college of magic, it looks like his wildest dreams may have come true. But his newfound powers lead him down a rabbit hole of hedonism and disillusionment, and ultimately to the dark secret behind the story of Fillory. The land of his childhood fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he ever could have imagined…

Character Likability:
Quentin Coldwater: When the story first begins, I really like Quentin. He’s a brilliant boy who is obsessed with the fictional books of a land called Fillory… and has a pension for slight of hand tricks. Then suddenly he’s whisked off to a place called Brakebills, which he discovers is a school for the magically gifted… but from here on out, my like for Quentin diminishes. He represents the hopeless pursuit of happiness… he is always looking for the greener grass. Nothing is ever good enough, and the last half of the book, before he discovers Fillory is real, degrades into a hedonistic sunnoffabiotch and generally becomes someone unworthy of the trip to Fillory, if (and it’s hard not to) we are considering Fillory to be a thinly veiled version of Narnia. He doesn’t really appreciate what he has until it’s gone, and frankly, he’s kind of a whiner. I think Alice sums it up best when she says something along the lines of “Do you want to be the kid who is remembered for coming to Fillory and moping about it?” She’s right. He’s a downer.
Alice: A talented, hard working, dedicated and devoted witch… she is one of my favorites. She’s shy, brilliant and at Brakebills by her own doing. She begins a relationship with Quentin, has aimless magical parents whom she resents, and has a personal history with the magical school, and her own reasons for being there.
A bit of an enigma… there are certain things introduced concerning this character that make him complex and confusing at the same time. He’s one of the first characters Quentin befriends at Brakebills, but also one of the most aloof. He spends most of his time drunk but functional… always keeping the group well stocked in spirits. Eliot has a bit of an about-face when they find Fillory, suddenly finding direction, motivation and sobriety. I think it might be possible that he is an example of what Quentin hoped to be. A miserable kid who was looking for his magical escape… but, unlike Quentin, when he found it, he also found his sense of purpose.
Josh: Comic relief, really. He’s a cute character, kind of roly poly, not really in control of his magic… it feels like he’s mostly there to round out the group, have someone actually likable. He also seems a bit more childish than the rest of them.
Janet: Bossy, whorish, meddling, troublesome… she’s a bit of a nemesis to Alice while putting on the mask of being a friend. She’d probably be an unlikable character if she didn’t motivate the group into action. I get the feeling that if she weren’t around, though, this book would have been truly dull, seeing as the rest of the characters might have done little more than drink themselves into stupors every day.
Penny: I really enjoyed this character. Another boy to test in the same year as Quentin, his motivations are mysterious, and I was sad to see him disappear until almost the end of the book. When he does come back though, he’s filled with a child-like enthusiasm and belief that I find absolutely refreshing after reading page after page about a bunch of bored kids who have had the world handed to them but are to self-involved to realize it. He’s the vehicle that takes them to Fillory, and a bit of a nemesis to Quentin, which makes me like him even more.
Dean Fogg: Kind of a vague Dumbledore-esque character, his motivations aren’t entirely clear, and I’m wondering if more will be revealed about him in the next book.
The Chatwins: A darker version of the Pevensies. Seriously. They’re kind of the “what would have happened to the kids in Narnia had they lived in the worst of the real world” scenario.
Julia: A friend of Quentin's before he learned that magic was real, and the girl he was obsessed with. She has the potential to be a really interesting character... and it looks like she'll show up a lot more in the second book.

The book was actually a really easy read from this standpoint. The text flowed smoothly, moving along a story that, often, wasn’t going anywhere at all.
One thing I absolutely did not like, however, was how many times Harry Potter was mentioned. Fillory is already a very thinly veiled copy of Narnia… so to mention real world fantasy novels just isn’t working for me… because that means Narnia still exists, and that means that Fillory is nothing more than a sad rip-off of the real thing. Would people have been pissed to see Narnia mucked around with this way? Yes… but for all intents and purposes, that’s what the author did anyhow… so why pussyfoot around it by sticking them in a world with Narnia. Why not just give them their own world? It’s not like the reference is going to be lost on the reader.

Truthfully, I was pretty pissed off to get to the end of this book and find it’s part of a series. Granted, based on the books it references, I should have seen it coming… but I really felt this was something that could have ended in one book… and had the characters not spent so much time drinking and pondering their own self worth, that might have been achievable.

Take a super smart kid prone to bouts of self pity, let him find out that not only is magic real, but so is the magical world of Fillory (aka, Narnia) that he has obsessed about his entire life, then let him go there… and be disappointed.

There was something that I find really interesting attempted in this book, and that is to write a fantasy novel where the main character has actually read fantasy novels and has expectations of how things should be.
Considering that fact, though, when it got to the end of the book and some of the kids started actually doing magic, I was pretty shocked, considering how much time we actually saw them learning magic (and not just drinking and laying around).
The novel also attempted to take the “big bad” (such as Voldemort or the White Witch) out of the book, the author stating that in real life things aren’t so black and white. Unfortunately, for me, the most interesting parts of the book were when its equivalent of “the big bad” showed up. Until then, it was really a bunch of kids mucking about aimlessly, for the most part. Sure, some of them were self motivated and there for interesting reasons (such as Alice)… but at best we get snippets of her story, and what she’s learned/discovered while there.

Believability of World:
This is supposedly set in our world, referencing things like Harry Potter and Narnia… which for me, only makes Fillory less believable. The world itself is fine, though, and Brakebills is nicely set up for believability thanks to the fantasy novel history it draws from in Harry Potter.

Overall Grade: C (Despite the fact that I have gripes about this book, there were many elements in it that were interesting and have potential to make an interesting story. I think my biggest disappointment was the book’s focus on Quentin and how dull he was. There were exciting elements, like the plot involving Alice’s brother and the cover up, that really stirred up some excitement and made me want to learn more… and I’m hoping it’s these kinds of things that are explored in the second book, and not more of Quentin and friends drinking and doing not much of anything.)