Thursday, November 22, 2018

Book Wish List (Abridged)

Someone recently asked me for a Christmas gift wish list. In response, I buried them under the following list of books - which is only an abridged list of titles I would be interested in reading. I limited myself to one book by each of the following authors or combinations of authors - mainly installments that I missed in series in which I have already read at least one book. Given more time, I could come up with a much bigger list. But the real question is whether I would ever have time to read them all!
  • William Alexander, "Ghoulish Song"
  • John David Anderson, "Insert Coin to Continue"
  • Jonathan Auxier, "Sweep"
  • Jennifer Lynn Barnes, "The Naturals"
  • Dale E. Basye, "Fibble: The Fourth Circle of Heck"
  • Ted Bell, "The Time Pirate"
  • John Bellairs, "The Curse of the Blue Figurine"
  • Jon Berkeley, "The Lightning Key"
  • Jeanne Birdsall, "The Penderwicks at Last"
  • Holly Black & Cassandra Clare, "The Bronze Key"
  • Sage Blackwood, "Jinx's Magic"
  • P.W. Catanese, "The End of Time"
  • Cinda Williams Chima, "The Sorcerer Heir"
  • Chris Colfer, "An Author's Odyssey"
  • Eoin Colfer, "The Time Paradox"
  • Chris Columbus & Ned Vizzini, "Battle of the Beasts"
  • Marianne Curley, "The Key"
  • Gitty Daneshvari, "Get Smart-ish"
  • James Dashner, "The Hunt for Dark Infinity"
  • Gene Doucette, "The Frequency of Aliens"
  • Diane Duane, "The Games Wizards Play"
  • David Eddings, "Guardians of the West"
  • Selden Edwards, "The Lost Prince"
  • Jasper Fforde, "The Song of the Quarkbeast"
  • Charlie Fletcher, "The Oversight"
  • Victoria Forester, "The Boy Who Knew Everything"
  • Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves & Mallory Reaves, "Eternity's Wheel"
  • Robert Galbraith, "Lethal White"
  • Meg Gardiner, "Into the Black Nowhere"
  • Adam Gidwitz, "In a Glass Grimmly"
  • Adam Gopnik, "The Steps Across the Water"
  • Chris Grabenstein, "Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics"
  • Holly Grant, "The Dastardly Deed"
  • Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith, "The Rift Walker"
  • Lev Grossman, "The Magician's Land"
  • Michael Gruber, "The Book of Air and Shadows"
  • Shannon Hale, "Forest Born"
  • Michelle Harrison, "13 Secrets"
  • Joseph Helgerson, "Crows & Cards"
  • Michael Hiebert, "A Thorn Among the Lilies"
  • Tami Hoag, "Down the Darkest Road"
  • Charlie N. Holmberg, "The Glass Magician"
  • Tom Holt, "The Portable Door"
  • Anthony Horowitz, "Crocodile Tears"
  • Polly Horvath, "One Year in Coal Harbor"
  • Tonya Hurley, "Homecoming"
  • Catherine Jinks, "How to Catch a Bogle," also titled "A Very Unusual Pursuit"
  • Jane Johnson, "Dragon's Fire"
  • Jonathan Kellerman & Jesse Kellerman, "A Measure of Darkness"
  • P.B. Kerr, "One Small Step"
  • Kaza Kingsley, "The Search for Truth"
  • S.J. Kincaid, "The Empress"
  • Wesley King, "Enemy of the Realm"
  • Matthew J. Kirby, "Icefall"
  • J.A. Konrath, "Whiskey Sour"
  • Dean Koontz, "Saint Odd"
  • Daniel Kraus, "At the Edge of Empire" (Book 1 of "The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch")
  • Adrienne Kress, "Timothy and the Dragon's Gate"
  • Caleb Krisp, "Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket"
  • Rob Kroese, "Mercury Rises"
  • R.L. LaFevers, "Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus"
  • A.J. Lake, "The Circle of Stone"
  • Katherine Langrish, "Troll Blood"
  • M.A. Larson, "The Warrior Princess of Pennyroyal Academy"
  • Ingrid Law, "Switch"
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Dispossessed"
  • Jason Lethcoe, "Wishful Thinking"
  • Josh Lieb, "Ratscalibur"
  • Robert Liparulo, "Watcher in the Woods"
  • Sam Llewellyn, "Desperado Darlings"
  • David Lubar, "My Rotten Life"
  • Jonathan Maberry, "Dust & Decay"
  • Marianne Malone, "Stealing Magic"
  • Ari Marmell, "Hallow Point"
  • Amanda Marrone, "The Shape Shifter's Curse"
  • Katherine Marsh, "The Twilight Prisoner"
  • Kelly McCullough, "Magic, Madness and Mischief"
  • Adrian McKinty, "The Lighthouse Keepers"
  • Scott Mebus, "The Sorcerer's Secret"
  • Colin Meloy, "Under Wildwood"
  • Maile Meloy, "The Apprentices"
  • Christopher Moore, "Practical Demonkeeping"
  • Brandon Mull, "Arcade Catastrophe"
  • Matt Myklusch, "The End of Infinity"
  • Henry H. Neff, "The Fiend and the Forge"
  • Anne Nesbet, "The Cabinet of Earths"
  • James Nicol, "A Witch Alone"
  • Garth Nix & Sean Williams, "The Missing" (also titled "Missing, Presumed Evil")
  • Naomi Novik, "Temeraire" (also titled "His Majesty's Dragon")
  • Kenneth Oppel, "Darkwing"
  • Gigi Pandian, "The Accidental Alchemist"
  • Edith Pattou, "West"
  • Dale Peck, "The Lost Cities"
  • Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter, "The Long War"
  • T.R. Ragan, "Abducted"
  • Michael Reisman, "The Octopus Effect"
  • Mike Resnick, "The Buntline Special"
  • Adam Rex, "Smek for President"
  • Kat Richardson, "Possession"
  • Ransom Riggs, "Library of Souls"
  • James Riley, "The Stolen Chapters"
  • Rick Riordan, "The Son of Neptune"
  • Laura Ruby, "The Chaos King"
  • E. Rose Sabin, "When the Beast Ravens"
  • Angie Sage, "Darke"
  • Brandon Sanderson, "The Dark Talent"
  • John Sandford, "Rules of Prey"
  • Kevin Sands, "Mark of the Plague"
  • J. Scott Savage, "Fires of Invention"
  • Liesel Schwarz, "A Clockwork Heart"
  • Michael Scott, "The Magician"
  • Darren Shan, "Allies of the Night"
  • Delia Sherman, "The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen"
  • Mike Shevdon, "Strangeness and Charm"
  • Polly Shulman, "The Poe Estate"
  • Neal Shüsterman, "Ship out of Luck"
  • Matthew Skelton, "The Story of Cirrus Flux"
  • Obert Skye, "Ambush"
  • Katie Slivensky, "The Seismic Seven"
  • Roland Smith, "Chupacabra"
  • Alan Snow, "Worse Things Happen at Sea!"
  • Justin Somper, "Tide of Terror"
  • John Stephens, "The Fire Chronicle"
  • Caroline Stevermer, "Magic Below Stairs"
  • Caroline Stevermer & Patricia Wrede, "Sorcery and Cecelia"
  • Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell, "The Curse of the Gloamglozer"
  • Trenton Lee Stewart, "The Prisoner's Dilemma"
  • Jeff Strand, "Grave Robbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary)"
  • Shanna Swendson, "Damsel Under Stress"
  • G.P. Taylor, "The Ghost Diamonds"
  • Kim Thompson, "Eldritch Manor"
  • Guillermo del Toro & Daniel Kraus, "The Shape of Water"
  • Megan Whalen Turner, "Thick as Thieves"
  • Anne Ursu, "The Real Boy"
  • John Vornholt, "The Troll Queen"
  • Scott Westerfeld, "Goliath"
  • Ysabeau Wilce, "Flora's Fury"
  • Maiya Williams, "The Fizzy Whiz Kid"
  • F. Paul Wilson, "Gateways"
  • N.D. Wilson, "The Last of the Lost Boys"
  • P.G. Wodehouse, "The Inimitable Jeeves"
  • Patricia Wrede, "Mairelon the Magician"
  • Rick Yancey, "The Isle of Blood"
  • Jane Yolen & Adam Semple, "Pay the Piper"

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Dragon's Path

The Dragon's Path
by Daniel Abraham
Recommended Ages: 14+


Sorry about all this pending going on. I have been getting very little recreational screen time lately. If I didn't park these reminders here, I would never be able to catch up!

This is Book 1 of a series titled "The Dagger and the Coin." My review is based on an audiobook read by Pete Bradbury.

Friday, October 19, 2018

DVD Reviews: Cheapo Bin & Double Features


Three Movie Reviews


The first of two Halloween-themed Jack Black vehicles that came out practically on top of each other, this movie was based on a beloved book by John Bellairs. It is perhaps for the best that I hadn't re-read the book for several years before seeing this movie, so my impression of it as a fan of the book is that it was pretty faithful to the source material. More importantly, as an amateur judge of filmmaking, I thoroughly enjoyed this spooky, magical family movie.

It's all about a somewhat pathetic boy named Lewis Barnavelt (less pathetic in the film than in the book, as I recall), who loses both his parents and ends up being raised by his uncle Jonathan. Then he finds out that Jonathan and the neighbor lady, Mrs. Zimmerman, are a warlock and a witch, and that the house and its grounds are full of weird stuff, such as carnivorous topiary and friendly furniture. It also has a dreadful book that Lewis is warned never to touch (but of course, he disobeys), and an ominous ticking inside the walls that Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman worry about, when they aren't bickering like an old married couple. Unfortunately, having his best friend at school turn against him is the least of little Lewis's problems. Soon he is being drawn into a plot to end the world by an evil wizard from beyond the grave.

The cast is just right. Jack Black is much better in the role of a midwestern sorcerer, without the unconvincing fake British accent he affects in his Goosebumps role. Also, Uncle Jonathan is much more loving and lovable than his R.L. Stine persona, and his chemistry with Mrs. Z (Cate Blanchett) is terrific. As Lewis, Owen Vaccaro makes a promising lead-role debut; he previously played Will Ferrell's stepson in two Daddy's Home and has played somebody's son in a couple other films. The vulnerability of these characters is a Bellairs trademark. Kyle MacLachlan takes a villainous turn as the wizard Izard; seeing the little people thwart his plan is truly a pleasure. Not to be glossed over is the production design of this film, which created a nostalgic look for its 1955 small-town-Michigan setting and the even more historic Izard mansion, not to mention Uncle Jonathan's old beater of a car.

Three scenes that made it for me: (1) Mrs. Z remarks, "He's so weird," when Lewis demonstrates his unique style of making magic. (2) Naturally, the jack o'lantern attack. (3) Lewis' dodge-ball revenge on the best friend who betrayed him.


by Brandon Sanderson
Recommended Ages: 14+

Subtitled The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds, this book (as I read it) is somewhat successful as a novel, although it was originally three novellas: Legion and Legion: Skin Deep, both previously published, and the brand-new Lies of the Beholder. Its main character is a unique genius who has learned to function, and indeed to excel, in spite of a devastating mental illness. Stephen Leeds has an extreme form of multiple personality disorder that would be a constant, debilitating torment, if not for the ability to converse with his alter egos that he learned from a similarly afflicted woman, the love of his life. Now he can say, "I'm perfectly sane. It's my hallucinations that are mad."

Using an indescribable combination of eidetic memory and mental division of labor, Leeds has the ability to become a world-class expert on anything in only minutes or hours. Each new specialty is embodied in a different personality that he can see, hear, and converse with. They are so real to him that he has to buy plane tickets for the ones he takes along on his globe-trotting, mystery-solving, troubleshooting career. Luckily, he makes enough money at it to keep them in a mansion with plenty of rooms for all of them. Nevertheless, his trouble distinguishing real people from imaginary ones makes it difficult for him to spend much time among the former, while his latest spate of cases have a weird way of putting the latter in danger.

His cases involve an artifact that could disprove at least one major religion, a piece of technology that could turn every person's body into a supercomputer, and the ultimate threat to his own piece of mind. Other than that, I don't want to say anything that might spoil your discovery of this book's psychologically gripping adventures. It's yet another example of Brandon Sanderson's peculiar way of building fascinating and totally original fantasy worlds that perhaps take some time to absorb, but that will stay under your skin forever afterward. Forward in brainy concepts and character drama but not at all behind in action, thrills and surprises, this book (typical of his work) is a completely satisfying piece of entertainment.

There are two types of Brandon Sanderson novels: Ones that I wholeheartedly recommend, and ones that I look forward to reading. For more examples of what Sanderson can do, see Elantris, The Rithmatist, Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians and its four sequels, the two Mistborn trilogies starting with The Final Empire and The Alloy of Law, and the Reckoners trilogy starting with Steelheart. Or, if you prefer, join me as I discover Warbreaker, Skyward, the Infinity Blade titles Awakening and Redemption, the Stormlight Archive trilogy starting with The Way of Kings, the Cosmere novels starting with Sixth of the Dusk, and (if I live long enough to get that far in the series) the concluding installments of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time cycle.

Deep Freeze

Deep Freeze
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+

In the 10th Virgil Flowers novel, the Minnesota Burea of Criminal Apprehension's most easy-going investigator returns to Trippton, the riverside town where he previously arrested the entire school board for murder. This time, he is called out to catch the killer of a beautiful banker who was apparently killed by a fellow member of her high school class reunion committee.

While Virgil gets closer to figuring out who done it, several red herrings are dragged across the trail - including a rough-trade boy toy, a married ex-boyfriend with an explosive temper matched only by that of his wife, a transgender ex-husband whose business is on the rocks, and a couple whose hopes for a business loan were about to be shot down by the victim.

Even though the reader knows who killed the homecoming queen right from the start, it is thrilling to watch Virgil and the characters around him navigate the perils of Trippton - including a killer who is prepared to kill again if it serves his interests. Meantime, the main character continues to reshape the idea of a tough-guy detective, as he continues to exhibit a reluctance to carry a gun, gets beaten senseless by a group of women, and has his beloved pickup shot out from under him.

It's sexy, funny, murderous fun with a slice of life in a small Minnesota town that cuts through all the layers of the social pie. It also serves a bracing snort of local color at the time of year when the Mississippi is frozen over, a side of Minnesota that many miss because they flee to warmer climes during the winter. I myself did most of my John Sandford reading from the relative warmth of Missouri; this was my first return to his series of mystery thrillers since I moved back to Minnesota last winter, and I believe in the lyric precision of his landscape writing more strongly than ever.

The 11th Virgil Flowers novel, published in October 2018, is titled Holy Ghost. Meantime there are going-on-29 Lucas Davenport novels, some of which also have Virgil as a character; the latest is currently Twisted Prey. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Jane, Unlimited

Jane, Unlimited
by Kristin Cashore
Recommended Ages: 13+

Jane is a college dropout who is still shaken by the death of her Aunt Magnolia, an undersea wildlife photographer who got caught in a blizzard in Antarctica. The last time Magnolia came back from a photo shoot, she made Jane promise to accept any invitation to visit Tu Reviens, a lavish, cobbled-together mansion on an island off the coast of New York. When she gets just such an invitation from her former tutor Kiran, who grew up there, Jane packs up her umbrella-making supplies and allows herself to get swept into...

Well, what she gets swept into depends on which of five options she chooses at a critical point in this story. Somewhere between a "choose your own adventure" book and an exploration of a multiverse layered with parallel realities, Jane's adventures - depending on which character she decides to follow at that crucial moment - include an art heist investigation, a secret agent caper, a case of paranormal creepy-crawlies, a visit to a dimension in which a convoy of spaceships is all that remains of the Earth, and a fantasy world that I don't dare to describe for fear of blowing the surprise.

At times, while pursuing one path or another, Jane picks up faint echoes of the other might-have-beens. Some versions of her visit to Tu Reviens reflect better on her character than others. Some of them lead to a reasonably good fate, some to a pretty bad one, and only one ties up everything for her in just the way she needs.

It comes together as a uniquely structured book, something like five books in one. It seems to explore a variety of possible stories that could grow wild in the same earth, while leaving the impression that there could have been even more to tell about that weird house with mismatched rooms and the unhappy eccentrics who live there. Grief, loneliness, disillusionment, artistic creativity, feelings of belonging, feelings of being trapped, and fits of dread and shock all come into expressive focus in this one book, which dares to let the curtain drop and let the reader see an author's choices steering the course of a ship-like house, an island, a world. And yet, despite being up-front about its own fictionalness, this book is also an immersive experience.

Adult Content Advisory: Parents who like to keep tabs on what is going into their kids' heads should be advised that this book features some profanity and sexuality, including same-sex attraction and a post-intercourse bedroom scene. It seems to be marketed for teens, but I would advise specifying older teens. On the other hand, a book that invites young readers to wrap their heads around a mash-up of five different fiction genres may both expect and foster a certain maturity of mind.

Kristin Cashore is also the author of the "Seven Kingdoms" books Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue. Her forte seems to be fantasy that challenges genre conventions and develops powerful emotions in its reader. It is interesting to see her striking out into an even more unusual direction. I plan to try to keep up with where she goes from here.