Wolfgang Parker talks Crime Cats – Clintonville based mystery series

Wolfgang Parker, author of the Crime Cats mystery series Missing (Volume 1) and The Dusenbury Curse (Volume 2), talks about the books and the inspiration to write a series set in Clintonville, Ohio.

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For the “backstory” to this interview see below.

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The Icy Hand (Something Wickedly Weird #2) by Chris Mould

I went ahead and read The Icy Hand, the second book in the Something Wickedly Weird series, even though I wasn’t all that impressed with the first.

Cover of "The Icy Hand: Something Wickedl...
Cover via Amazon

Even more wicked and weird than the first! Stanley is looking forward to a relaxing winter. After all, nothing could have been weirder than the werewolf curse and plotting pirates he had to face the summer before! Or at least that’s what Stanley thinks; but he has a lot to learn about Cramdon Rock, especially after accidentally bringing some dead pirates back to life—ones that make the previous pirates he faced look like cuddly puppy dogs and ones that are trudging across the arctic determined to fi nd a magical medallion in Stanley’s house. The only person who can save him is his dead great-uncle Bartholomew, which is a little tricky considering he’s…well, dead. Oh, and did we mention headless? With the help of a talking stuffed fish and a new friend named Daisy, Stanley sets out to find his great-uncle’s head, stop the pirates, and win over some new readers in this second funny and spooky installment of a thrilling new series.

In the end, however, I had the same reaction.

While there are some creative aspects, and the illustrations add to the fun, the series (or at least the first two books) just seems too simple and kind of flat. The best fantasy books, even or perhaps especially those for younger readers, give you a sense of depth and mystery; the feeling that there is more to the world you are exploring than is on the pages.

In these two books, however, the plot just moves forward somehow both nonchalantly and yet fast paced. Neither the setting nor the characters really develop depth or mystery. The lead character in particular is not all that compelling and I had a hard time rooting for him.

So no more Something Wickedly Weird books for me. They just didn’t work for me.  (Again with the caveat that this is a chapter book for early elementary readers so perhaps my expectations are off.)

 

The Sandman and the War of Dreams (The Guardians #4) by William Joyce

I have enjoyed the Rise of the Guardians series and so grabbed the latest release,  The Sandman and the War of Dreams, from the library just before vacation.

When the Man in the Moon brought together the Guardians, he warned them that they would face some terrible evils as they strove to protect the children of earth. But nothing could have prepared them for this: Pitch has disappeared and taken Katherine with him. And now the Guardians are not only down one member, but a young girl is missing.

Fortunately, MiM knows just the man to join the team. Sanderson ManSnoozy—known in most circles as the Sandman—may be sleepy, but he’s also stalwart and clever and has a precocious ability to utilize sand in myriad ways. If the other Guardians can just convince Sandy that good can triumph evil, that good dreams can banish nightmares, they’ll have themselves quite a squad. But if they can’t…they might never see Katherine again.

It turned out to be a great addition and perhaps my favorite of the series so far.  I was furiously reading it in the van as we started our vacation.  Interesting characters and some tension filled plot twists make filling in the back story on the guardians, and this particular guardian, a fun ride. [some spoilers ahead]

As I have noted each time I review a book in this series, they are more chapter books in style than YA Fantasy.  There is less world building and detail and more reader imagination and action.  That said, I really like the flow of this volume. It starts with the story of Sanderson Mansnoozie aka The Sandman, brings in the other guardians, and reminds us of the tension with Katherine being captured by Pinch.

Then Sanderson tells his story (via dream of course) and his interaction with Pinch’s daughter, and thereby Pinch, who becomes Mother Nature. This whole section, highlighted by its white type on black paper design, is very well done. It really highlights Joyce’s ability to spin imaginative yet simple tales with fascinating characters.  There is a great sense of mystery and magic lurking behind these stories; they seem like mythology weaved from shared memories and folklore. Just different enough to hold your interest but with enough shared ingredients to already be a part of your imagination.

These threads then connect as Sandman and Nightlight seek to save Katherine and they do; in ways that change them forever.  Even as all of this is going on, Katherine helps Nicholas embark on his dream which in turn will play a role in her rescue and its seems a happy ending for once … But even with all the power of the guardians, Pinch manages to turn things to his favor – as he always seems to do.

And we are left once again waiting for the next book.

But so it is with great series.  And this is one I am very fond of.  I have a feeling this will become something of a classic in our family. Moving from bedtime read aloud stories to exciting reading for young readers to a favorite shared by everyone.

And it is a bonus that they are beautifully designed and illustrated and so that much more fun to have in your library.

If for some reason you haven’t checked out this great series, I recommend it.  For even younger readers, the picture books are great too (The Man in the Moon and Sandman)

 

The Sandman and the War of Dreams (The Guardians #4) by William Joyce

I have enjoyed the Rise of the Guardians series and so grabbed the latest release,  The Sandman and the War of Dreams, from the library just before vacation.

When the Man in the Moon brought together the Guardians, he warned them that they would face some terrible evils as they strove to protect the children of earth. But nothing could have prepared them for this: Pitch has disappeared and taken Katherine with him. And now the Guardians are not only down one member, but a young girl is missing.

Fortunately, MiM knows just the man to join the team. Sanderson ManSnoozy—known in most circles as the Sandman—may be sleepy, but he’s also stalwart and clever and has a precocious ability to utilize sand in myriad ways. If the other Guardians can just convince Sandy that good can triumph evil, that good dreams can banish nightmares, they’ll have themselves quite a squad. But if they can’t…they might never see Katherine again.

It turned out to be a great addition and perhaps my favorite of the series so far.  I was furiously reading it in the van as we started our vacation.  Interesting characters and some tension filled plot twists make filling in the back story on the guardians, and this particular guardian, a fun ride. [some spoilers ahead]

As I have noted each time I review a book in this series, they are more chapter books in style than YA Fantasy.  There is less world building and detail and more reader imagination and action.  That said, I really like the flow of this volume. It starts with the story of Sanderson Mansnoozie aka The Sandman, brings in the other guardians, and reminds us of the tension with Katherine being captured by Pinch.

Then Sanderson tells his story (via dream of course) and his interaction with Pinch’s daughter, and thereby Pinch, who becomes Mother Nature. This whole section, highlighted by its white type on black paper design, is very well done. It really highlights Joyce’s ability to spin imaginative yet simple tales with fascinating characters.  There is a great sense of mystery and magic lurking behind these stories; they seem like mythology weaved from shared memories and folklore. Just different enough to hold your interest but with enough shared ingredients to already be a part of your imagination.

These threads then connect as Sandman and Nightlight seek to save Katherine and they do; in ways that change them forever.  Even as all of this is going on, Katherine helps Nicholas embark on his dream which in turn will play a role in her rescue and its seems a happy ending for once … But even with all the power of the guardians, Pinch manages to turn things to his favor – as he always seems to do.

And we are left once again waiting for the next book.

But so it is with great series.  And this is one I am very fond of.  I have a feeling this will become something of a classic in our family. Moving from bedtime read aloud stories to exciting reading for young readers to a favorite shared by everyone.

And it is a bonus that they are beautifully designed and illustrated and so that much more fun to have in your library.

If for some reason you haven’t checked out this great series, I recommend it.  For even younger readers, the picture books are great too (The Man in the Moon and Sandman)

 

Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams

Speaking of middle grade fiction, I recently picked up Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom (Heroes in Training) by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams at a library sale. Regular readers are aware of my fascination with mythology, and I figured my son and daughter would be interested, plus it is the first in a series which is always fun.

Ten-year-old Zeus is mystified (and super-annoyed) by the fact that he keeps getting hit by lightning. Every. Single. Year. He also longs for adventure, as he has never been far from the cave where he grew up.

Zeus gets his wish—and a lot more than he bargained for—when he is kidnapped by dangerous, giant Titans! In self-defense, Zeus grabs the first thing he sees—an actual thunderbolt he pulls from a stone that is covered in mysterious markings. Zeus is the only one who can decipher the markings, and sets off on a quest to rescue his fellow Olympians from the evil Cronus. Armed with his trusty thunderbolt (named Bolt, of course), Zeus is on an adventure of a lifetime—and a journey to fulfill his destiny as King of the Gods.

It is an interesting take on the Greek legends of the Titans and Olympians; a humorous and mostly lighthearted one.  This is the first volume and focuses on introducing Zeus and connecting him to the rest of the Olympians (spoiler alert: they are in Cronus’s belly) while setting the foundation for the ongoing battle between the two sides.

The authors do a nice job of  balancing the elements of classic mythology with current language and perspectives.  It is a quick read obviously and seems aimed at younger readers not quite ready for the longer and more complex books like Percy Jackson, etc. and might be a good place to start with young boys interested in mythology and adventure.

This was an example of a middle grade book that was quite different from the more detailed and complex young adult books I have read.  This is more like a chapter book for young readers.  But as I said, a quick easy read with a nice blend of adventure, mythology and humor. Not a series I would want to read myself but something for my kids (my son in particular).

Voyage with the Vikings by Paul McCusker, Marianne Hering (Imagination Station #1)

Voyage with the Vikings, the first in the Imagination Station series, is yet another book I picked up for free for my Kindle.  It is also a book I picked up for my daughter to read but wanted to read first. That the book featured a girl as a lead character was a factor as well.

Here is the publisher’s description:

While visiting Mr. Whittaker at Whit’s Soda Shoppe, Beth and Patrick find a mysterious letter in the Imagination Station requesting a Viking sunstone. The letter is old and says that someone named Albert will be imprisoned if the sunstone isn’t found. Mr. Whittaker sends cousins Patrick and Beth to Greenland circa 1000. On their quest for the sunstone, the cousins meet Vikings Erik the Red and Leif Eriksson–and find the sunstone as they join Leif on his first voyage to North America. But the adventure is just beginning, for when they return to Mr. Whittaker’s workshop with the sunstone, there is another note waiting for them, requesting a silver goblet.

It turned out to be a sort of Christian version The Magic Treehouse series.  Kids go back in time and encounter history and must think there way out of the particular mystery they face in order to get back home.  In this case, the perspective of the children is explicitly Christian and their interaction with the people of the past reflects that as does the character building.

With that in mind, it is fairly well done.  Given its length and style it is not surprisingly rather thin on character development and suspense. But it has an interesting hook, the imagination station and time travel, and offers readers a glimpse into historical characters, geography, etc. It is a quick read and I would imagine a good choice for young readers.

I will also note that my daughter was somewhat disappointed that what she thought would be the lead female character actually takes a somewhat secondary role.  She complained that the boy, Patrick, is the one who has all the action scenes and “saves” the girl, Beth, on a number of occasions.  So take that into consideration for any young budding feminists.

But if you are looking for a fun chapter books series from an explicitly Christian viewpoint, this Imagination Station series from Tyndale House publishers is worth a look.

Voyage with the Vikings by Paul McCusker, Marianne Hering (Imagination Station #1)

Voyage with the Vikings, the first in the Imagination Station series, is yet another book I picked up for free for my Kindle.  It is also a book I picked up for my daughter to read but wanted to read first. That the book featured a girl as a lead character was a factor as well.

Here is the publisher’s description:

While visiting Mr. Whittaker at Whit’s Soda Shoppe, Beth and Patrick find a mysterious letter in the Imagination Station requesting a Viking sunstone. The letter is old and says that someone named Albert will be imprisoned if the sunstone isn’t found. Mr. Whittaker sends cousins Patrick and Beth to Greenland circa 1000. On their quest for the sunstone, the cousins meet Vikings Erik the Red and Leif Eriksson–and find the sunstone as they join Leif on his first voyage to North America. But the adventure is just beginning, for when they return to Mr. Whittaker’s workshop with the sunstone, there is another note waiting for them, requesting a silver goblet.

It turned out to be a sort of Christian version The Magic Treehouse series.  Kids go back in time and encounter history and must think there way out of the particular mystery they face in order to get back home.  In this case, the perspective of the children is explicitly Christian and their interaction with the people of the past reflects that as does the character building.

With that in mind, it is fairly well done.  Given its length and style it is not surprisingly rather thin on character development and suspense. But it has an interesting hook, the imagination station and time travel, and offers readers a glimpse into historical characters, geography, etc. It is a quick read and I would imagine a good choice for young readers.

I will also note that my daughter was somewhat disappointed that what she thought would be the lead female character actually takes a somewhat secondary role.  She complained that the boy, Patrick, is the one who has all the action scenes and “saves” the girl, Beth, on a number of occasions.  So take that into consideration for any young budding feminists.

But if you are looking for a fun chapter books series from an explicitly Christian viewpoint, this Imagination Station series from Tyndale House publishers is worth a look.

Toothiana: Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies by William Joyce

In case you haven’t been scoring at home, I picked up The Guardians series (in a box set actually) because I liked the picture books that inspired them and wanted to be prepared for the movie. Toothiana: Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies is the third book (following Nicholas St. North and E. Aster Bunnymund).

Beware a tooth fairy queen scorned in this, the third chapter book of Academy-Award winner William Joyce’s The Guardians series. There’s a lot more to this tooth-swiping sprite than meets the eye!

Now that the back story of Nicholas St. North has been told, and the mysteries of E. Aster Bunnymund have been revealed, we can permit you to meet one of the most riveting, mysterious Guardians of all time: the Tooth Fairy.

Do you want in on a few of her secrets? Well—she can spin herself into a multitude of selves, all depending on nightly teeth-placed-under-pillows rates. And her diminutive size is not at all indicative of how fierce a warrior she can be—Pitch, the Nightmare King, that nefarious villain and the Guardians’ nemesis, who loathes all things good, has no idea what he’s up against. And be forewarned: If you try to stay up to spy on her nocturnal pursuits, there’ll be Spell to pay.

We present to you Her Serene Royal Highness, Toothiana, Queen of the Tooth Fairies, The third Guardian.

Not surprisingly, this volume is much like the others. Full of imaginative adventures and characters, with creative wordplay and mythology and a sense of humor (often with tongue firmly in cheek).

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