On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

Despite listening to the audio book in 2016 I never went ahead and read the whole Wingfeather Saga series. With new editions coming out in 2020 I decided to go back and start from book 1: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson spins a quirky and riveting tale of the Igibys’ extraordinary journey from Glipwood’s Dragon Day Festival and a secret hidden in the Books and Crannies Bookstore, past the terrifying Black Carriage, clutches of the horned hounds and loathsome toothy cows surrounding Anklejelly Manor, through the Glipwood Forest to mysterious treehouse of Peet the Sock Man (known for a little softshoe and wearing tattered socks on his hands and arms).

Full of characters rich in heart, smarts, and courage, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness presents a world of wonder and a tale children of all ages will cherish, families can read aloud, and readers’ groups are sure to discuss for its layers of meaning about life’s true treasure and tangle of the beautiful and horrible, temporal and eternal, and good and bad.

It held up well. While it is obviously a series for children, it is still an imaginative and engaging series with interesting characters and quality world building.  Plus, there is just enough whimsy and humor to make it fun but not hokey.

Continue reading

Frozen Dreams by Moe Lane

Last week I mentioned my policy of reading books by friends, online or “in real life,” in relation to Jim Geraghty.  Well, it was actually a conversation about Moe Lane which sparked my memory of not reviewing Jim’s book. Which brings us around to Moe’s book. Wait, what?

Let me start again. I try to read and review books written by people I know.  Writing a book is hard. Getting it published is too. So I try to do my small part by reading and offering thoughts in pixels when friends/acquaintances achieve this milestone. Well, Moe-another blogging friend from way back- has a book out. Frozen Dreams.

Frozen Dreams Book Cover
Frozen Dreams Flying Koala; Kindle 210 pages Amazon

It’s a very straightforward detective story! Well, one where the detective lives in a post-apocalypse fantasy setting where there are orcs rampaging in the eastern desert, evil sorcerers lurking in their towers to the north, and Adventurers looting and exploring the post-American ruins. But they all come to Cin City: Cinderella, the capital of the Kingdom of New California. Maybe it’s because of the glitter. Maybe it’s because of the giant iceberg in the middle of the Gulf of California. And maybe it’s because they got nowhere else to go.

I should confess that I am not really a Geek in the sense of plugged into and fluent in the language of fantasy, comics, and elements of pop culture (TV, video & role playing games, etc.). I am sorta Geek adjacent, if you will.

I bring this up because, Frozen Dreams is a mash-up of classic detective fiction and urban fantasy with a dash of dystopia. Someone on Goodreads explained it this way:

Dragonlance ala Dashiell Hammett during a Canticle for Leibowitz.

Sounds about right. I enjoyed it because I know Moe and found it interesting to picture him creating the world and story; and voicing the main character, to be honest. Could have used a little more world building setup and character depth, but as I have frequently noted, most first time novels do; particularly in what is the first in a series.

Continue reading

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (3/100)

FYI, I’m blogging my way through what I hope to be 100 books read in 2020.

I really enjoyed listening to The Night Circus on audiobook so when Erin Morgenstern’s new novel The Starless Sea came out I figured why not go with the same format. My reward?An enchanting, mythical, romantic and adventure filled story about stories. Rich with characters, world building, and storytelling of the highest order.

Publishers Description:

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues—a bee, a key, and a sword—that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth. What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians—it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also of those who are intent on its destruction. Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose—in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

As noted, I started with audiobook, which I listened to in the car, but I had to read it when I wasn’t driving because I was so enthralled with the writing, story and characters. Having read some of the reviews, I will admit I am open to the idea that the audio version is the more engaging one.

After all, it is a story about stories. And what better way to get sucked into a story is to have it told to you complete with characters, voices, and all that modern audiobooks provide? Now, granted not all audiobooks pull you in and hold your attention but great storytelling with audio production values can really work.

Once I was sucked into the story, I quickly found myself reading the Kindle version when I wasn’t in the car. But I listened to the vast majority of the book.

Here is what I wrote about The Night Circus:

Morgenstern builds her world slowly and at first you might be tempted to ask “Where is all this going and what does it mean?” But the details are worth reading even as the world begins to come together.  And even as you know in some important ways what will happen you are carried along increasingly pulled into how it will happen and what the ramifications will be for these future events.  And just as you begin to get a sense of understanding all of the intertwining threads Morgenstern begins to pull at these threads and reveal more in the unraveling.

And there is a sense that the details are more important than the larger picture. If you are looking for intellectual or philosophical depth or coherence I am not sure you will find it. Instead, it works best if you can lose yourself in the details.

I think that is equally true for The Starless Sea.

Continue reading

The Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare by Zillah Bethell

At some point I stumbled on The Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare by Zillah Bethell at the library while looking at books with my kids and put it on my “to read” list. It looked like one of the many creative and interesting middle grade novels:

Auden Dare is colorblind and lives in a world where water is scarce and families must live on a weekly, allocated supply.

When Auden’s uncle, the scientist Dr. Bloom, suddenly dies, he leaves a note to Auden and to his classmate Vivi Rookmini. Together, the notes lead them to Paragon―a robot.

As Auden, Vivi, and Paragon try to uncover Paragon’s purpose and put together the clues Dr. Bloom left behind, they find out that Dr. Bloom’s death was anything but innocent, that powerful people are searching for Paragon―and that it’s up to Auden and Vivi to stop them.

I waited a while to see if I could get it on Kindle or audiobook through my local library but eventually just decided to read it in good old hardcover.

I enjoyed it but it felt a little thin in the world building department. Like the dystopian world that was the setting was just a backdrop or plot hook. I also found Auden rather annoying at times but given his age and circumstances perhaps that is to be expected.

Once I got into it, however, the plot picked up and the ending was enjoyable. Paragon was a fun character if you can suspend your disbelief a bit. And Vivi was a welcome contrast or juxtaposition from Auden. Their friendship seemed realistic and true to life; the rollercoaster ride of competition, emotion, and companionship.

The mystery of Auden’s dad and how it tied into the mystery of his uncle was well done too. I thought the second half of the book was stronger than the first (which is better than the other way around).

All in all an enjoyable read given the usual caveats regarding YA/Middle Grade fiction not aimed at me, etc. Would recommend for young readers.

The Test by Sylvain Neuvel

This was an impulse library pick up and read. I read the Themis Files series by the same author and I am always tempted by novellas and short pieces of fiction these days so I checked out The Test and put it by the bed for nighttime reading. It turned out to be an enjoyable read, although it is a dark and in many ways disturbing one.

Britain, the not-too-distant future.

Idir is sitting the British Citizenship Test.

He wants his family to belong.

Twenty-five questions to determine their fate. Twenty-five chances to impress.

When the test takes an unexpected and tragic turn, Idir is handed the power of life and death.

How do you value a life when all you have is multiple choice?

Despite its disturbing nature, the strong characters, thought provoking and suspenseful plot, and unexpected ending make it a worthwhile read. A novella that packs a punch in a few words.

This is one of those books that you should read it in one sitting, put it down and let it percolate, and then read again. Would be a fascinating book club read as well, as different people likely have very different reactions given their politics, culture, taste, upbringing, worldview, etc.

It touches on immigration, assimilation, ethics and morality, family, and more all in a hundred pages. What struck me on first reading was the way extreme choices fundamentally change a person. How even if you make the “right” choice it could have negative consequences; unforeseen and unalterable ones. Tragedy tests the human psyche and soul; sometimes beyond the breaking point.

Highly recommended for fans of futuristic fiction that makes you think.

Angle Catbird (Volume 1) by Margaret Atwood (Author), Johnnie Christmas (Illustrator

I picked up this very weird graphic novel after I ran into it at an art show at the local bookstore where art was paired with Margaret Atwood books. Not knowing that Atwood had written graphic novels I felt compelled to check it out.

On a dark night, young genetic engineer Strig Feleedus is accidentally mutated by his own experiment and merges with the DNA of a cat and an owl. What follows is a humorous, action-driven, pulp-inspired superhero adventure– with a lot of cat puns.

It turned out to be weird and very much not my style.

Pretty typical comic book plot (an ugly, devious bad guy out to rule the world and good guys (and girls) working to stop him) but it involves half-rats and half-cats and the titular Angel Catbird.

To add to the oddity, there are cat welfare factoids and information posted throughout the book. The are supplied by Nature Canada and part of a #SafeBirdSafeCat campaign of some sort. Hard to suspend belief and get into the supernatural element of the plot when there are public service type announcements every other page or so.

To be fair, I’m not a comics type, although I frequently dip into graphic novels that my kids are reading, and so perhaps I am not one to judge. And I am not an Atwood fan either. But even with those caveats, this seems like a weird project started on a whim that would not have happened without Atwood’s literary fame (the introduction adds to this suspicion).

The illustrations are well done and engaging but they can’t hide the poor plot and dialog. Everything moves forward just exactly how you would expect to do so in a comic book or story of this type and the characters lack depth. Nothing draws you in and makes you want to keep reading or catches you off guard.

Don’t think I will keep reading this series …

The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough

I stumbled on The Language of Dying at Half Price Books and put it on a list of books I would like to read.  I was really taken by one particular blurb:

“A beautiful story, honestly told.”—Neil Gaiman

Isn’t that what every reader is looking for?

Well, I finally managed to request it from the library and read it.

It is an artful yet rather depressing novella about a family dealing with the pending death of their father. The grief brings out both love and a difficult past. The tension ratchets up the conflicts and relationships.

I felt like it was well done, but hard to say you “enjoy” a book like this.

The Kirkus review captures some of the problems:

Through flashbacks, Pinborough reveals important parts of the family’s history: the day their mother left, the day one of the twins began doing drugs, the abusive former marriage of the narrator. But this back story proves to be the book’s weakness; it offers little in terms of actual perspective on the characters and instead feels somewhat clichéd. Perhaps this is the point: this family could represent, and does represent, all of us as we deal with death. But at the same time the author has created these pasts for the characters for a reason, and they could have been more unusual. The other weakness is the writing itself: the sentences lack true lyricism, and the use of second-person narration is jarring. The one thing that elevates it is the strange and inexplicable vision that awaits the narrator at the moment of her father’s death. She waits to revisit something she has seen before at times of great emotional change, and the meaning of that vision, while ambiguous, is also full of life, violence, and wild beauty.

Moments of strange fantasy make this meditation on loss both unexpected and meaningful.

I found the writing moody and atmospheric but, yeah, there did seem to be an element of the cliche in there too. But the mix of fantasy and harsh reality, combined with family dynamics, makes it a worthwhile short read.

Quick Take: The Map to Everywhere by Carrie Ryan & John Parke Davis

I decided to listen to The Map to Everywhere because Gwenda Bond spoke highly of the series.  So I downloaded it using Libby and listened to it on the commute, dog walks, etc.

I found it to be an interesting start to a middle grade fantasy series. I love the hook for Fin, no one can remember who he is for more than a few minutes. He uses this to become a master thief but it keeps him from making human connections with anyone.

Starts a little slow but picks up by the end. It is middle grade so has a simplicity necessary for younger readers. I listened to it on audio so not sure if that impacted the way I engaged with it. I liked it but didn’t love it.

Maybe should have my kids read/listen and get their take …