Sunday, December 31, 2017

Retro-Robbie Awards

To atone for the grievous sin of not having inaugurated the Robbie Awards until this time last year, I will now step backward and see what I can see about a few previous years. Unfortunately, I can't go back any further than 2009, since 2008 is the year I ransacked the archives of the original "Book Trolley" and brought them over to this blog - including reviews that date back to 2003 and, in some cases, earlier. And so...

2015 Robbie Awards (Year -1)

The nominees (i.e. all the books I reviewed during that year):
  1. An Irish Country Village by Patrick Taylor
  2. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
  3. An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor
  4. Inkspell by Cornelia Funke
  5. Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens
  6. The Trumpet-Major by Thomas Hardy
  7. Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke
  8. The Dark at the End by F. Paul Wilson
  9. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  10. An Irish Country Wedding by Patrick Taylor
  11. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  12. The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley
  13. The Doctor and the Rough Rider by Mike Resnick
  14. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
  15. A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
  16. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
  17. An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor
  18. Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley
  19. Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
  20. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier
  21. Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
  22. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
  23. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley
  24. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley
  25. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
  26. Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith
  27. The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
  28. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
  29. The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
  30. The Martian by Andy Weir
  31. The Outsorcerer’s Apprentice by Tom Holt
  32. The Woodcutter by Kate Danley
  33. Felicity the Dragon by Ruthie Briggs-Greenberg
  34. The Chessman by Dolores Gordon-Smith
  35. The Siren and the Sword by Celia Tan
  36. The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari
  37. A Dark Mind by T.R. Ragan
  38. Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide by Graeme Davis
  39. Inkling by John D. Waterman
  40. Dead Weight by T.R. Ragan
  41. Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith
  42. The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith
  43. The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith
  44. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
  45. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  46. Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter
  47. In the Company of Cheerful Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith
  48. A Box of Gargoyles by Anne Nesbet
  49. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  50. Vindications: Essays on Romantic Music by Deryck Cooke
  51. 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith
Oh, goodness. There are a lot of really good books on this list, even though I only managed a paltry 51 books that year. In my defense, I spent that year living with my parents - while working full-time, mind you - and the TV was more of a distraction than it is when I'm living alone. In quantitative terms, the difference is "continuously on" vs. "never even plugged in." So, to move on to the winners:
  • Critic's Choice: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker.
  • People's Choice: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
  • Kid's Choice: This one’s an anachronism, since I didn’t start awarding this one until this year. Nevertheless, the choice is easy: Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman. I absolutely love this book.
  • Best Newcomer (i.e. pre-publication review): Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide by Graeme Davis.
  • Best Comeback (i.e. golden oldie): It's almost a tie, depending on whether I'm evaluating this from a "critic's choice" or a "people's choice" point of view. But since A Trumpet-Major was far from the first book by Thomas Hardy that I had read, the award goes to The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, because it was more of a fresh discovery for me at that time.
  • Best Audiobook: The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, read by Amy McFadden.
  • Best Documentary (i.e. non-fiction): Vindications: Essays on Romantic Music by Deryck Cooke.
  • Best Foreign-Language Book (translated): No award.
  • Best Short Subject (i.e. less than novel length): Inkling by John D. Waterman.
  • Honorable Mentions: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak; The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie etc. by Alan Bradley; The Martian by Andy Weir; Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

2014 Robbie Awards (Year -2)

The nominees:
  1. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
  2. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
  3. The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima
  4. Parsifal’s Page by Gerald Morris
  5. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
  6. Fat Vampire by Adam Rex
  7. Necromancing the Stone by Lish McBride
  8. Pegasus by Robin McKinley
  9. Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
  10. The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
  11. The Enchanter Heir by Cinda Williams Chima
  12. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  13. The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
  14. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
  15. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo
  16. Rotters by Daniel Kraus
  17. The Ballad of Sir Dinadan by Gerald Morris
  18. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  19. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
  20. The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan
  21. The Sign of (the) Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
  22. Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta
  23. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  24. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
  25. The Journal of Curious Letters by James Dashner
  26. The Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson
  27. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
  28. Railsea by China Miéville
  29. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  30. The Well-Beloved by Thomas Hardy
  31. Untold by Sarah Ress Brennan
  32. Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith
  33. Rise of a Hero by Hillari Bell
  34. Aliens on a Rampage by Clete Barrett Smith
  35. Blood Oranges by Kathleen Tierney
  36. Darksolstice by Sam Llewellyn
  37. Troubletwisters by Garth Nix & Sean Williams
  38. The Monster by Garth Nix & Sean Williams
  39. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
  40. The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt
  41. The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore
  42. The Mystery by Garth Nix & Sean Williams
  43. Bite Me: A Love Story by Christopher Moore
  44. The Secret War by Matt Myklusch
  45. Forever Odd by Dean Koontz
  46. The Genius Wars by Catherine Jinks
  47. Brother Odd by Dean Koontz
  48. The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
  49. Hot Lead, Cold Iron by Ari Marmell
  50. A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull
  51. Seeds of Rebellion by Brandon Mull
  52. Side Jobs: Stories from the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
  53. Legacies by F. Paul Wilson
  54. Conspiracies by F. Paul Wilson
  55. Odd Hours by Dean Koontz
  56. The Serpent’s Shadow by Rick Riordan
  57. Odd Interlude by Dean Koontz
  58. Heartless by Gail Carriger
  59. Geek Fantasy Novel by E. Archer
  60. All the Rage by F. Paul Wilson
  61. Timeless by Gail Carriger
  62. Scumble by Ingrid Law
  63. The Book of the Sword by A.J. Lake
  64. Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
  65. Turbulence by Samit Basu
  66. Odd Apocalypse by Dean Koontz
  67. Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
  68. Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
  69. Resistance by Samit Basu
  70. Hosts by F. Paul Wilson
  71. The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
  72. The Haunted Air by F. Paul Wilson
  73. Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson
  74. Wildwood by Colin Meloy
  75. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car by Ian Fleming
  76. The Wizard in the Tree by Lloyd Alexander
  77. Deeply Odd by Dean Koontz
  78. Once Upon Stilettos by Shanna Swendson
  79. Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
  80. The Thief Queen’s Daughter by Elizabeth Haydon
  81. Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull
  82. The Dragon’s Lair by Elizabeth Haydon
  83. The Enchantress Returns by Chris Colfer
  84. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
  85. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  86. A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore
  87. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
  88. Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire
  89. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
  90. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  91. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  92. The Tree of Water by Elizabeth Haydon
  93. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
  94. A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire
  95. Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire
  96. An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor
Well, that's better. Almost made it to 100! Also, another year with so many really good titles, choosing a handful to anoint as "the best" is really hard. Nevertheless, the winners:
  • Critic's Choice: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson.
  • People's Choice: Railsea by China Miéville.
  • Kid's Choice: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.
  • Best Newcomer: Resistance by Samit Basu.
  • Best Comeback: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.
  • Best Audiobook: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, read by David Case.
  • Best Documentary: No award.
  • Best Foreign-Language Book (without repeating one that already won an award): The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
  • Best Short Subject: Odd Interlude by Dean Koontz
  • Honorable Mentions (without belaboring literary classics that need no further recommendation): Pegasus by Robin McKinley; Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith; Turbulence by Samit Basu; The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith; Wildwood by Colin Meloy.

2013 Robbie Awards (Year -3)

The nominees:
  1. Jack and Yani Love Harry Potter by Mary E. Twomey
  2. Cursor’s Fury by Jim Butcher
  3. Plugged by Eoin Colfer
  4. Adam Bede by George Eliot
  5. Snuff by Terry Pratchett
  6. The Rose and the Ring by William Makepeace Thackeray
  7. Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  8. The Search for Belle Prater by Ruth White
  9. Ironside by Holly Black
  10. One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde
  11. A Thief in the Night by E.W. Hornung
  12. The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
  13. The Vampyre by John Polidori
  14. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
  15. The Woman Who Died a Lot by Jasper Fforde
  16. Trials of Death by Darren Shan
  17. The Vampire Prince by Darren Shan
  18. House of Secrets by Chris Columbus & Ned Vizzini
  19. Love Divine by Alan Kornacki, Jr.
  20. A Great and Mighty Wonder by Alan Kornacki, Jr.
  21. One Thing’s Needful by Alan Kornacki, Jr.
  22. Captain’s Fury by Jim Butcher
  23. Agent Colt Shore: Domino 29 by Axel Avian
  24. Hunters of the Dusk by Darren Shan
  25. Princeps’ Fury by Jim Butcher
  26. The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer
  27. The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter
  28. The Humming Room by Ellen Potter
  29. The Secret History of Tom Trueheart by Ian Beck
  30. The Well Between the Worlds by Sam Llewellyn
  31. Star of Stone by P.D. Baccalario
  32. The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean
  33. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
  34. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
  35. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  36. Love Among the Chickens by P.G. Wodehouse
  37. The Golden Ocean by Patrick O’Brian
  38. The Suburb Beyond the Stars by M.T. Anderson
  39. In the Company of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez
  40. Cold Days by Jim Butcher
  41. Ptolemy’s Gate by Jonathan Stroud
  42. The Empire of Gut and Bone by M.T. Anderson
  43. The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group by Catherine Jinks
  44. The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima
  45. Tales from the Hood by Michael Buckley
  46. The Unknown Shore by Patrick O’Brian
  47. If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late by Pseudonymous Bosch
  48. Little People by Tom Holt
  49. The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
  50. A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
  51. The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
  52. Dirty Magic by Carol Hughes
  53. The Seven Keys of Balabad by Paul Haven
  54. The Ropemaker by Peter Dickinson
  55. Storybound by Marissa Burt
  56. The Rope Trick by Lloyd Alexander
  57. Tom Trueheart and the Land of Dark Stories by Ian Beck
  58. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages by Tom Holt
  59. InterWorld by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves
  60. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
  61. Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
  62. Blimpo: The Third Circle of Heck by Dale E. Basye
  63. Doughnut by Tom Holt
  64. 13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison
  65. The Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman
  66. 13 Curses by Michelle Harrison
  67. Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery
  68. First Lord’s Fury by Jim Butcher
  69. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  70. Emma by Jane Austen
  71. The Last Siege by Jonathan Stroud
  72. The Floating Island by Elizabeth Haydon
  73. LightLand by H.L. McCutchen
  74. The Wall and the Wing by Laura Ruby
  75. Greywalker by Kat Richardson
  76. The Castle Corona by Sharon Creech
  77. Harry Potter: A Christian Chronicle by Sonia Falaschi-Ray
  78. The Boy Who Lived: Magikal Spirituality in the Harry Potter Universe by Rik Potter
  79. One Fine Potion: The Literary Magic of Harry Potter by Greg Garrett
  80. Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin
  81. Poltergeist by Kat Richardson
  82. Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin
  83. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  84. Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  85. Escape from Castle Cant by K.P. Bath
  86. Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud
  87. Rocannon’s World by Ursula K. Le Guin
  88. Planet of Exile by Ursula K. Le Guin
  89. City of Illusions by Ursula K. Le Guin
  90. Underground by Kat Richardson
  91. The Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman
  92. Angel Isle by Peter Dickinson
  93. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
  94. Choosing Up Sides by John H. Ritter
  95. Over the Wall by John H. Ritter
  96. Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin
  97. Vanished by Kat Richardson
  98. Powers by Ursula K. Le Guin
  99. Labyrinth by Kat Richardson
  100. The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
  101. Downpour by Kat Richardson
  102. The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud
  103. The Drowned Vault by N.D. Wilson
  104. The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez
  105. Seawitch by Kat Richardson
  106. Soulless by Gail Carriger
  107. The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen
  108. Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
  109. Changeless by Gail Carriger
  110. Hero by Mike Lupica
  111. Fall of a Kingdom by Hillari Bell
  112. Blameless by Gail Carriger
  113. Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
  114. Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
  115. The Magician King by Lev Grossman
Holy cow! That year's total is second only to 2016, so far. And lo, the winners:
  • Critic's Choice: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin.
  • People's Choice: The Ropemaker by Peter Dickinson.
  • Kid's Choice: The Well Between the Worlds by Sam Llewellyn.
  • Best Newcomer: House of Secrets by Chris Columbus & Ned Vizzini.
  • Best Comeback: Stretching the parameters of this award to include a revival of a classic franchise by a new author, I'm giving this one to a fresh addition to the "Sherlock Holmes" canon, The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz.
  • Best Audiobook: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter, read by Michael Fenton Stephens.
  • Best Documentary: One Fine Potion: The Literary Magic of Harry Potter by Greg Garrett.
  • Best Foreign-Language Book: Star of Stone by P.D. Baccalario.
  • Best Short Subject: Rocannon's World by Ursula K. Le Guin.
  • Honorable Mentions: Everything I read that year by Jim Butcher, Jasper Fforde, M.T. Anderson, Tom Holt, and (must I even say it?) Ursula K. Le Guin; The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry; and The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly.

2012 Robbie Awards (Year -4)

The nominees:
  1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  2. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
  3. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  4. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  5. Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
  6. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
  7. The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
  8. The Road to Bedlam by Mike Shevdon
  9. Cryptid Hunters by Roland Smith
  10. Tentacles by Roland Smith
  11. A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner
  12. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  13. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
  14. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  15. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
  16. Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher
  17. White Night by Jim Butcher
  18. Small Favor by Jim Butcher
  19. Bad, Bad Darlings by Sam Llewellyn
  20. Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez
  21. Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
  22. The Vampire’s Assistant by Darren Shan
  23. Tunnels of Blood by Darren Shan
  24. Antsy Does Time by Neal Shüsterman
  25. Standard Hero Behavior by John David Anderson
  26. Changes by Jim Butcher
  27. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  28. Chasing the Moon by A. Lee Martinez
  29. The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson
  30. The Merlin Effect by T.A. Barron
  31. The Named by Marianne Curley
  32. The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin
  33. The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
  34. The Dark by Marianne Curley
  35. Favorite Operas by Italian and French Composers by Paul England
  36. The Point Man by Steve Englehart
  37. The Tomb by F. Paul Wilson
  38. The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
  39. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  40. Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe by George Eliot
  41. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
  42. Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
  43. My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
  44. Cultural Amnesia by Clive James
  45. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  46. Simon Bloom: The Gravity Keeper by Michael Reisman
  47. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer
  48. The King’s Fifth by Scott O’Dell
  49. Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor
  50. Dead Eye: Pennies for the Ferryman by Jim Bernheimer
  51. Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde
  52. The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima
  53. The Old Country by Mordicai Gerstein
  54. The Coming of Dragons by A.J. Lake
  55. Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery
  56. Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
  57. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  58. Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher
  59. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
  60. The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  61. Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite by Anthony Trollope
  62. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  63. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  64. What-the-Dickens by Gregory Maguire
  65. Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt
  66. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
  67. Hero’s Song by Edith Pattou
  68. Fire Arrow by Edith Pattou
  69. The Amateur Cracksman by E.W. Hornung
  70. The Hunter’s Moon by O.R. Melling
  71. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (ed. by Christopher Tolkien)
  72. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
  73. Academ’s Fury by Jim Butcher
  74. The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
  75. A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  76. Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
  77. The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
  78. Ring for Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
  79. Very Good, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
  80. Young Men in Spats by P.G. Wodehouse
  81. Ring of Fire by P.D. Baccalario
  82. The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby
  83. The Accidental Hero by Matt Myklusch
  84. The Eye of the Forest by P.B. Kerr
  85. You Wish by Jason Lethcoe
  86. Keys to the Demon Prison by Brandon Mull
  87. The Second Siege by Henry H. Neff
  88. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
  89. Syren by Angie Sage
  90. Flora’s Dare by Ysabeau S. Wilce
  91. Valiant by Holly Black
  92. Ghost Story by Jim Butcher
  93. The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima
  94. Spirits in the Park by Scott Mebus
  95. Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
  96. Vampire Mountain by Darren Shan
  97. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  98. Snakehead by Anthony Horowitz
  99. The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs
  100. Villette by Charlotte Brontë
  101. The Black Mask by E.W. Hornung
  102. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
  103. The Golem’s Eye by Jonathan Stroud
  104. Ukridge by P.G. Wodehouse
Here was another fairly productive year, book-review wise. The winners:
  • Critic's Choice: Middlemarch by George Eliot - easily, since I consider it the best book I have ever read.
  • People's Choice: The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs.
  • Kid's Choice: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.
  • Best Newcomer: No award. Though I did read an author-signed copy of Dead Eye: Pennies for the Ferryman by Jim Bernheimer, I don't believe it was a pre-publication copy.
  • Best Comeback: Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy.
  • Best Audiobook: The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy, as read by the late, great Alan Rickman.
  • Best Documentary: Cultural Amnesia by Clive James - also, I think, one of the best books I have ever read.
  • Best Foreign-Language Book: Ring of Fire by P.D. Baccalario.
  • Best Short Subject: Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë.
  • Honorable Mentions: Any title by Jim Butcher, A. Lee Martinez, Nancy Farmer, or Neil Gaiman on the above list; The Magicians by Lev Grossman (basis of a cable-TV series I have never seen); The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (basis for the animated feature Home, which I've never seen); The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson; The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin; and, in a class by itself, Tolkien's Silmarillion.

2011 Robbie Awards (Year -5)

The nominees:
  1. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
  2. Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway
  3. True at First Light by Ernest Hemingway
  4. I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb
  5. Sunshine by Robin McKinley
  6. Ramage and the Guillotine by Dudley Pope
  7. Ramage’s Diamond by Dudley Pope
  8. The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin
  9. The Complete Midshipman Bolitho by Alexander Kent (Douglas Reeman)
  10. Stand into Danger by Alexander Kent (Douglas Reeman)
  11. Inda by Sherwood Smith
  12. The Fox by Sherwood Smith
  13. Ramage’s Mutiny by Dudley Pope
  14. Ramage and the Rebels by Dudley Pope
  15. The Ramage Touch by Dudley Pope
  16. Ramage’s Signal by Dudley Pope
  17. A Prayer for the Ship by Douglas Reeman
  18. Badge of Glory by Douglas Reeman
  19. Ramage and the Renegades by Dudley Pope
  20. Ramage’s Devil by Dudley Pope
  21. Ramage’s Trial by Dudley Pope
  22. In Gallant Company by Alexander Kent (Douglas Reeman)
  23. Sloop of War by Alexander Kent (Douglas Reeman)
  24. To Glory We Steer by Alexander Kent (Douglas Reeman)
  25. Ramage’s Challenge by Dudley Pope
  26. Ramage at Trafalgar by Dudley Pope
  27. The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe
  28. Litany of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe
  29. Ramage and the Saracens by Dudley Pope
  30. Sixty-One Nails by Mike Shevdon
  31. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  32. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
  33. The Multiplying Menace by Amanda Marrone
  34. Monster by A. Lee Martinez
  35. Too Many Curses by A. Lee Martinez
  36. The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski
  37. Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris by R.L. LaFevers
  38. The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone
  39. The First to Land by Douglas Reeman
  40. The Dwarves by Markus Heitz
  41. Pillage by Obert Skye
  42. Choke by Obert Skye
  43. The Dragon’s Tooth by N.D. Wilson
  44. The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey
  45. The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman
  46. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
  47. Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
  48. The Chestnut King by N.D. Wilson
  49. Death Masks by Jim Butcher
  50. Blood Rites by Jim Butcher
  51. Fire by Kristin Cashore
  52. City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
  53. Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception by Maggie Stiefvater
  54. Rapacia: The Second Circle of Heck by Dale E. Basye
  55. Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  56. Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean
  57. Un Lun Dun by China Miéville
  58. Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie by Maggie Stiefvater
  59. The Calder Game by Blue Balliett
  60. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
  61. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  62. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  63. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
Well, that wasn't much of a year, in terms of the number of books I read - though there are some pretty hefty tomes in that list. The winners:
  • Critic's Choice: Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.
  • People's Choice: Sunshine by Robin McKinley. I still think about this book now and then. It has stuck with me.
  • Kid's Choice: The Chestnut King by N.D. Wilson.
  • Best Newcomer: No Award.
  • Best Comeback: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Doing it via audiobook helped.
  • Best Audiobook: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, read by Barrett Whitener.
  • Best Documentary: Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway.
  • Best Foreign-Language Book: The Dwarves by Markus Heitz.
  • Best Short Subject: No award.
  • Honorable Mentions: True at First Light by Ernest Hemingway; Un Lun Dun by China Miéville; and anything by Neil Gaiman, N.D. Wilson, or A. Lee Martinez on the above list.

2010 Robbie Awards (Year -6)

The nominees:
  1. Dragon Games by P.W. Catanese
  2. A Wizard of Mars by Diane Duane
  3. Mercury Falls by Robert Kroese
  4. Ramage and the Drumbeat by Dudley Pope
  5. Ramage and the Freebooters by Dudley Pope
  6. The Crow by Alison Croggon
  7. Fablehaven: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary by Brandon Mull
  8. Governor Ramage R.N. by Dudley Pope
  9. Ramage’s Prize by Dudley Pope
  10. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  11. The Singing by Alison Croggon
  12. Savvy by Ingrid Law
  13. Spirals of Destiny: Rider by Jim Bernheimer
  14. A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
  15. Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome
  16. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
  17. How to Be a Pirate by Cressida Cowell
  18. How to Speak Dragonese by Cressida Cowell
  19. How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse by Cressida Cowell
  20. How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale by Cressida Cowell
  21. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
  22. The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester
  23. Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers
  24. Things Hoped For by Andrew Clements
  25. Spellbound by Anna Dale
  26. The Split Second by John Hulme & Michael Wexler
  27. The Harp of the Grey Rose by Charles de Lint
  28. The Riddle of the Wren by Charles de Lint
  29. Freaks by Annette Curtis Klause
  30. Evening in the Palace of Reason by James R. Gaines
  31. The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks
  32. Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberberg
  33. Whistle Bright Magic by Barb Bentler Ullman
  34. The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
I almost can't believe that year happened. I'm not sure what was up with that, other than that I seemed to have been watching a lot of TV on DVD. As for book awards - the best thing I can say is, I don't have to be as choosy to choose the winners:
  • Critic's Choice: The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon.
  • People's Choice: The Crow by Alison Croggon, about which I wrote, "This book is so good that I hope nobody decides to make a movie out of it."
  • Kid's Choice: The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester, which I remember as a most beautiful book.
  • Best Newcomer: Dragon Games by P.W. Catanese.
  • Best Comeback: Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome.
  • Best Audiobook: No award.
  • Best Documentary: Evening in the Palace of Reason by James R. Gaines.
  • Best Foreign-Language Book: No award.
  • Best Short Subject: No award.
  • Honorable Mentions: Graceling by Kristin Cashore; Savvy by Ingrid Law; The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks; and Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberberg, about which I wrote that it made me laugh and cry.

2009 Robbie Awards (Year -7)

The nominees:
  1. The Name of This Book Is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch
  2. I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
  3. Ironhand by Charlie Fletcher
  4. Hate that Cat by Sharon Creech
  5. Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst
  6. Tunnels by Roderick Gordon & Brian Williams
  7. The Book of Animal Ignorance by John Lloyd & John Mitchinson
  8. The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley
  9. The Unusual Suspects by Michael Buckley
  10. The Problem Child by Michael Buckley
  11. Once Upon a Crime by Michael Buckley
  12. Magic and Other Misdemeanors by Michael Buckley
  13. Happenstance Found by P.W. Catanese
  14. An Ocean of Magic by Stephen Elboz
  15. Alfred Kropp: The Seal of Solomon by Rick Yancey
  16. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  17. The Secret Hour by Scott Westerfeld
  18. The Tree Shepherd’s Daughter by Gillian Summers (Berta Platas & Michelle Roper)
  19. Into the Wildewood by Gillian Summers (Berta Platas & Michelle Roper)
  20. The Secret Country by Pamela Dean
  21. Dandelion Fire by N.D. Wilson
  22. Touching Darkness by Scott Westerfeld
  23. Blue Noon by Scott Westerfeld
  24. The Hidden Land by Pamela Dean
  25. The Little Grey Men by BB (Denys Watkins-Pitchford)
  26. The Dragon of Never-Was by Ann Downer
  27. The Whim of the Dragon by Pamela Dean
  28. Tales from Shakespeare by Charles & Mary Lamb
  29. The Grand Complication by Allen Kurzweil
  30. Measle and the Mallockee by Ian Ogilvy
  31. Minerva Clark Goes to the Dogs by Karen Karbo
  32. Measle and the Slitherghoul by Ian Ogilvy
  33. Measle and the Doompit by Ian Ogilvy
  34. The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
  35. Soul Stealer by Martin Booth
  36. House of Dark Shadows by Robert Liparulo
  37. The Siren Song by Anne Ursu
  38. Faerie Lord by Herbie Brennan
  39. Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks
  40. Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague by Brandon Mull
  41. Arabel and Mortimer by Joan Aiken
  42. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
  43. Gods of Manhattan by Scott Mebus
  44. Changeling by Delia Sherman
  45. Tattoo by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  46. The Black Tattoo by Sam Enthoven
  47. The Monsters of Otherness by Kaza Kingsley
  48. Olivia Kidney Stops for No One by Ellen Potter
  49. The Shoemaker’s Boy by Joan Aiken
  50. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
  51. Silvertongue by Charlie Fletcher
  52. The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan
  53. The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
  54. City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
  55. Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
  56. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  57. Puddlejumpers by Mark Jean & Christopher C. Carlson
  58. Leon and the Champion Chip by Allen Kurzweil
  59. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart
  60. If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period by Gennifer Choldenko
  61. Genius Squad by Catherine Jinks
  62. King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green
  63. The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green
  64. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  65. London Calling by Edward Bloor
  66. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip
  67. Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip
  68. Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
  69. Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
  70. Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
  71. Thud! by Terry Pratchett
  72. Making Money by Terry Pratchett
  73. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
  74. The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
  75. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
  76. Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska
  77. Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson
  78. Tales from Moominvalley by Tove Jansson
  79. Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson
  80. Moominvalley in November by Tove Jansson
  81. Queste by Angie Sage
  82. Dragon and Liberator by Timothy Zahn
  83. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
  84. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  85. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
  86. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
  87. Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski
  88. The Hour of the Outlaw by Maiya Williams
  89. Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko
  90. Airman by Eoin Colfer
  91. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  92. Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
  93. Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery
  94. Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes
  95. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
  96. Time at the Top by Edward Ormondroyd
  97. Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go by Dale E. Basye
  98. Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
  99. Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett
  100. Johnny and the Dead by Terry Pratchett
  101. Johnny and the Bomb by Terry Pratchett
  102. The Stones of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston
  103. The Dragon Heir by Cinda Williams Chima
  104. Ice by Sarah Beth Durst
  105. Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan
  106. Summerland by Michael Chabon
  107. Tales of Ancient Egypt by Roger Lancelyn Green
  108. The Naming by Alison Croggon
  109. The House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones
  110. Nick of Time by Ted Bell
  111. The Riddle by Alison Croggon
  112. The Life and Death of Classical Music by Norman Lebrecht
  113. Ramage by Dudley Pope
  114. X Isle by Steve Augarde
Whew! That was a big reading year for me! The winners:
  • Critic's Choice: The Secret Country by Pamela Dean.
  • People's Choice: Summerland by Michael Chabon.
  • Kid's Choice: Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks.
  • Best Newcomer: X Isle by Steve Augarde.
  • Best Comeback: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
  • Best Audiobook: No award.
  • Best Documentary: The Life and Death of Classical Music by Norman Lebrecht. I got to sing Handel's Messiah once under the baton of the conductor whose recording of The Messiah Lebrecht listed as one of the 20th century's 100 most important classical recordings. Good times.
  • Best Foreign-Language Book: No award.
  • Best Short Subject: The Shoemaker's Boy by Joan Aiken
  • Honorable Mentions: Dandelion Fire by N.D. Wilson; The Grand Complication by Allen Kurzweil; The Black Tattoo by Sam Enthoven; Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake; Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip; Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko; Airman by Eoin Colfer; and anything by Alison Croggon listed above.
As for previous years, here is a post in which I list (without specifying which book I read which year) books I had pegged as "the best book I have read this year."

Robbie Awards 2

One year ago, and I fear many years late, I inaugurated a one-man award show, recognizing the best among the books I read during the calendar year. This year, I haven't quite lived up to 2016's record of reading 127 books, but at least I made it through 105 books - not counting a hymnal that I tore apart in a savage review, more on account of my interest in Lutheran hymnody than as a reading addict and chronic book reviewer. So, here is the full list of this year's 105 nominees for whatever awards I feel like handing out:
  1. Rogue Knight by Brandon Mull
  2. The Elusive Elixir by Gigi Pandian
  3. The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens by Henry Clark
  4. Close to the Broken Hearted by Michael Hiebert
  5. A Darkness at Sethanon by Raymond E. Feist
  6. Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings
  7. The Steel Kiss by Jeffrey Deaver
  8. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  9. The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay
  10. The Magic of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  11. Jinx by Sage Blackwood
  12. The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright
  13. The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
  14. Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger
  15. Beyond the Kingdoms by Chris Colfer
  16. Waiscoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger
  17. Manners & Mutiny by Gail Carriger
  18. The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places by Pete Begler
  19. Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright
  20. Spiderweb for Two by Elizabeth Enright
  21. The Lost Train of Thought by John Hulme & Michael Wexler
  22. A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz
  23. The Door Before by N.D. Wilson
  24. The Best Mistake Mystery by Sylvia McNicoll
  25. The Legend of Sam Miracle by N.D. Wilson
  26. The Song of Glory and Ghost by N.D. Wilson
  27. Hades by Candice Fox
  28. Magician’s Gambit by David Eddings
  29. Dirty Martini by J.A. Konrath
  30. Fuzzy Navel by J.A. Konrath
  31. Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings
  32. Enchanter’s End Game by David Eddings
  33. Dark of the Moon by John Sandford
  34. Heat Lightning by John Sandford
  35. Field of Prey by John Sandford
  36. Gathering Prey by John Sandford
  37. Pilfer Academy by Lauren Magaziner
  38. Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson
  39. Extreme Prey by John Sandford
  40. Saturn Run by John Sandford & Ctein
  41. Deadline by John Sandford
  42. Rook by Sharon Cameron
  43. The Shadow Cadets of Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson
  44. Rough Country by John Sandford
  45. Bad Blood by John Sandford
  46. Shock Wave by John Sandford
  47. Mad River by John Sandford
  48. Storm Front by John Sandford
  49. Escape Clause by John Sandford
  50. Hidden Prey by John Sandford
  51. Invisible Prey by John Sandford
  52. Broken Prey by John Sandford
  53. Phantom Prey by John Sandford
  54. Storm Prey by John Sandford
  55. Buried Prey by John Sandford
  56. Stolen Prey by John Sandford
  57. Silken Prey by John Sandford
  58. Ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley
  59. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
  60. Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
  61. Dragons vs. Drones by Wesley King
  62. Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
  63. The Wandering Fire by Guy Gavriel Kay
  64. The Five Fakirs of Faizabad by P.B. Kerr
  65. The Grave Robbers of Genghis Kahn by P.B. Kerr
  66. Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande
  67. Tyrannosaurus Lex by Rod L. Evans, Ph.D.
  68. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
  69. The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
  70. Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer
  71. Frederica by Georgette Heyer
  72. Goblin Secrets by William Alexander
  73. The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio by Lloyd Alexander
  74. Reamde by Neal Stephenson
  75. Sudden Prey by John Sandford
  76. Secret Prey by John Sandford
  77. Certain Prey by John Sandford
  78. Easy Prey by John Sandford
  79. Chosen Prey by John Sandford
  80. When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin
  81. God Save the Queen by Kate Locke
  82. The Silver Dream by Neil Gaiman, Michael Reaves & Mallory Reaves
  83. Prince of the Blood by Raymond E. Feist
  84. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  85. No Wind of Blame by Georgette Heyer
  86. The King’s Buccaneer by Raymond E. Feist
  87. The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan
  88. The Story Thieves by James Riley
  89. Mistborn (The Final Empire) by Brandon Sanderson
  90. Sword of the Rightful King by Jane Yolen
  91. Mindhunter by John Douglas & Mark Olshaker
  92. The Snowman by Jo Nesbø
  93. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
  94. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  95. The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin
  96. Daisy Miller by Henry James
  97. The Diviners by Libba Bray
  98. The Apothecary by Maile Meloy
  99. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
  100. The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen
  101. The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
  102. The Queen Is Dead by Kate Locke
  103. Firefight by Brandon Sanderson
  104. Calamity by Brandon Sanderson
  105. Twisted by Jonathan Kellerman
And now, here are the second annual Robbie Awards!

Critic's Choice
I'm a critic, kind of. In my critical opinion, the best book on the above list, in terms of overall literary merit, is The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay.

People's Choice
I'm a person, too. My favorite book on the above list, for pure fun and popular appeal, is Mistborn (The Final Empire) by Brandon Sanderson.

Kid's Choice (NEW!)
The kid in me is alive and kicking, though 14 years have passed since I could say I was "31 on the outside and 13 on the inside." It is no accident many of my reading choices have been books packaged for teen and pre-teen readers. I just like the straightforward, good storytelling of books in this category. In a narrow victory, the book that most deeply touched the forever-young piece of my heart this year was Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos.

Best Newcomer
A few of my book reviews this year were based on pre-publication proofs. Of a small handful of books I read this year before they were released, three were by N.D. Wilson. The best among them, and I think the best overall, was The Door Before.

Best Comeback
I don't limit my reading to new releases, however. This past year, I reckon the "oldie" I most enjoyed rediscovering was The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer, published 1950. Not her first book, it was, however, the first of her books I read, and it brought to life a captivating reconstruction of the Regency period that I hope to explore again.

Best Audiobook
Some of my favorite reading experiences have gone in through my ears, rather than my eyes. Deserving special recognition for going far beyond the call of duty (i.e., keeping me sane during long road trips) is this year's winner, a 32-disk, unabridged edition of Reamde by Neal Stephenson, read by Malcolm Hillgartner.

Best Documentary
I know people who seek out non-fiction books for entertainment. Somehow, in spite of having stumbled on many non-fiction books that were a pleasure to read, I still feel surprised when it happens again. This year, to compound my surprise, I've been forced to call a tie in this category, between Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande and Mindhunter by John Douglas & Mark Olshaker. Both are valuable, informative works of fact. But at the same time, Casagrande's is one of the funniest, and Douglas & Olshaker's one of the chillingest, books I read in 2017.

Best Book Translated from a Foreign Language
I had a moment of panic when I saw this category coming up, and the thought struck me that I might have to hand this award to Ian Rankin (for The Naming of the Dead), based on my theory that the American edition dialed back the author's Edinburgh idiom. But then I remembered The Snowman by Jo Nesbø, and all was right in the world. Either of them would deserve an award, and not just as a "by default" winner, because of their excellent quality as revivals of the hardboiled genre I love. But on technical grounds, the Nesbø wins.

Best Short Subject
Once again proving that good things can come in small packages, the best book I read this year that didn't quite measure up to novel length was undoubtedly Daisy Miller by Henry James.

There are so many "honorable mentions" I would like to list - such as Uprooted by Naomi Novik and Seraphina by Rachel Hartman - that I wish I could add more categories, just to permit me to bestow awards on them. But my awards aren't really worth anything, except to gather up all my wonderful reading experiences of the past year in one last attempt to provide sound advice to anyone who needs help choosing a book to read. Maybe next year, I'll roll out genre awards or something. But for now, may 2018 be a bountiful year for books!


by Jonathan Kellerman
Recommended Ages: 15+

Petra Connor is a female homicide detective in the male-dominated Hollywood Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. Her captain has it in for her, but he just hates women. The precinct's receptionist is a passive-aggressive word-that-my-mother-taught-me-never-to-say. Her only other female colleague has been gone for some time, killed in a skiing accident. Even though Petra closes more of her cases than the average detective on her squad, she seldom gets credit for her role in catching the bad guy, partly because she tends to run her plays along the outside edge of the boundary line of correct police procedure.

She'll talk directly with the press, instead of going through all the torturous departmental bureaucracy, when she thinks the publicity will help her find an elusive witness or person of interest. She'll take down a suspect on her own, or at most with her off-duty ex-partner Eric as backup, when she sees an opportunity but can't reach anyone on the task force. And she'll run an off-the-books investigation of six cold cases, based on a tip from a bright young intern who thinks he has spotted a pattern connecting them, even while she's on suspension and could get in serious trouble for impersonating an on-duty police officer. Don't get me wrong; in general, good cops play it by the book. But when it's the only way to stop a killer who has, so far, gotten away with multiple crimes because of a systemic breakdown of by-the-book detection, being ready to go off the playbook is what makes Petra a great cop.

Petra has two cases in this book. The one her woman-hating captain knows about involves a drive-by shooting that kills four teenagers outside a club, which leads in turn to a search for a crime family with a theatrical flair. The other case, brought to Petra's attention by a 22-year-old doctoral candidate and second-generation Salvadoran-American named Isaac Gomez, involves a pattern nobody else noticed. Every year, going back at least six years, someone in L.A. has had his or her brains bashed in with a blunt object, precisely on June 28. That's all they've got to start with, and except for vague suspicions, it's all they've got until almost the end. Petra, sometimes aided by Eric, and Isaac, sometimes aided by a randy librarian old enough to be his mother, follow separate lines of investigation much of the time. This ensures that the closer they get to the killer, the more certain it becomes their hunt will end in an out-of-control, blood-spattered mess. The build-up to that foreseeably thrilling climax is a precisely controlled crescendo of tension and chills.

This 2004 book is the second of two "Petra Connor" mystery thrillers, following 1998's Billy Straight. The series itself is a spinoff from the "Alex Delaware" novels, featuring a child psychologist who helps the police solve crimes; the franchise will reach Book 33 as of Feb. 13, 2018, with the release of Night Moves. Besides a handful of collaborations with his wife Faye Kellerman, also a prolific mystery author, and with their son Jesse Kellerman, an up-and-coming novelist and playwright, Jonathan K.'s titles also include the award-winning Delaware installments When the Bough Breaks (original title, Shrunken Heads) and Monster, standalone novels The Butcher's Theater, The Conspiracy Club, and The Murderer's Daughter, and several non-fiction books about child psychology. Taking this family's output altogether, I seem to have stumbled on another huge pile of books that I'm going to have to read before I die. At the rate I'm going, I'd better live forever!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Darkest Hour

I took myself out to the movies last night, and saw the Joe Wright film Darkest Hour, starring an almost unrecognizable Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. The film depicts Churchill's first few weeks after he became prime minister of the U.K., when the odds of his country fighting a war against Nazi Germany had suddenly gone from "it's so preposterous, nobody is worried it could happen" to "we're so screwed, we might as well sue for peace and hope Hitler lets us off lightly."

Churchill, as depicted in this movie, had always wanted to lead his country, but typically, he only got the chance when the situation was practically hopeless. He knew he was unwanted, but the support of the opposition was needed to hold the government together, and they wouldn't support anyone else from his party. King George VI didn't trust him. His predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, and the foreign secretary Viscount Halifax were secretly trying to undermine him and/or force him to accept peace terms from the enemy. The U.S. was not yet being at all helpful, thanks to a series of laws enforcing the country's neutrality in the war (coded language for "cowardice") and reneging on deals with its allies (code for "betrayal"). And the whole country's military apparatus was trapped on the wrong side of the English Channel, surrounded in all directions by either water or a numerically and tactically superior enemy. It really seemed to be a problem even Churchill could not solve. But then, as Halifax put it, he mobilized the English language for battle.

The film only sees the great man through this first crisis of his tenure as P.M., but as a title at the end explains, as soon as he was done guiding his country through a five year ordeal, almost immediately upon victory Churchill was voted out of office. Nice.

Besides Oldman as Churchill, the movie also features Ronald Pickup (best known to recent movie audiences for his role in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel series) as Chamberlain, Ben Mendelsohn (Orson Krennic in Rogue One), Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient, Four Weddings and a Funeral) as Clementine Churchill, Lily James (who headlined 2015's Cinderella and 2016's Pride and Prejudice) as Churchill's secretary Elizabeth Layton, Stephen Dillane (The Hours, Game of Thrones, and Merlin in 2004's King Arthur) as Halifax, and Samuel West (who played George VI in Hyde Park on the Hudson) as Churchill's friend Anthony Eden.

To keep this review short, let me point out the Three Scenes that Made It For Me and leave it at that - except just to mention that it has a very powerful visual style and elicits award-worthy performances from several actors, especially Oldman. As to those three scenes - and by the way, SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

(1) The king pays a surprise visit to Churchill in his bedroom, when the P.M. is at the end of his rope and is feeling completely powerless and alone. Viewing it from Churchill's point of view (in spite of a knowledge of history that would prove otherwise), my gut, as the king entered the room, told me: "This is where George VI asks Churchill to step down." Then, amazingly, he sits down next to Churchill on the edge of his bed and whispers, "You have my full support." I actually burst into tears at that point, so strongly did I feel what that moment meant for Churchill.

(2) Acting on a hint from the king, Churchill impulsively bolts from his limo and rides the Underground to Westminster, chatting up the common people along the way. What he finds out from talking to them, added to what he learns later by polling the "outer cabinet" at Westminster, emboldens him to stand up to the War Cabinet that has been trying to undermine his policy "to wage war at all costs."

(3) The scene in which Churchill hides in a closet (a water closet, actually) and phones Franklin D. Roosevelt. It is not a scene that presents the U.S., or F.D.R., in a favorable light. But in a very powerful way, it visually conveys Churchill's frustration, isolation, and helplessness at what the film's title very aptly - in spite of the years of Luftwaffe shelling that followed - describes as his nation's darkest hour.

Friday, December 29, 2017


by Brandon Sanderson
Recommended Ages: 13+

In Book 1 of the "Reckoners" trilogy (Steelheart), David Charleston began a career assassinating people with super-powers, but only because they really deserved it. In Book 2 (Firefight), he started to doubt they necessarily deserved it, and started looking for a better way to rein in the evil of the super-powered Epics who have devastated the world since the red star Calamity rose in the sky 13 years ago. Now his theory about how to defeat the darkness is put to the test, as the girl he loves - Megan, a.k.a. Firefight - rejoins the anti-Epic freedom fighters she betrayed, while their hero-worshiped leader - Jonathan Phaedrus, a.k.a. Prof, a.k.a. Limelight - becomes their deadliest enemy. Whatever Limelight has planned, the Reckoners must stop him fast, even though their theories about how to do it are half-baked and, as likely as not, they are walking right into a trap.

The third Reckoners adventure also introduces another American city that has been transformed into a peculiar playground for powered people. We've already seen Chicago turned into a honeycomb of steel tunnels and cloaked in everlasting night, and we've seen New York submerged, up to about the 20th floor, with an indoor jungle bearing glow-in-the-dark fruit. Now we find the former city of Atlanta, now known as Ildithia, transformed into saltstone and moving around the country. Everything in the city grows up on the leading edge, lasts a week, and crumbles off the trailing edge, so its denizens are constantly moving. Limelight is muscling in on the leader of the local gang - a lazy Epic named Larcener, who specializes in stealing other Epics' powers.

Caught between them are David and his team, hoping to stop whatever Limelight has planned, and if possible, convert him back to the side of the good guys. They also hope to rescue one of their former crewmates, who has been captured by the enemy. In spite of the doubts of Megan, Abraham, Cody, and Mizzy, David thinks he knows a way to break through to Prof before he takes a step that he can't take back - or, in other words, before they have to kill him to save the world. But their foe knows them as well as they know him. When he pushes their timetable up, they do not have time to test their theories or learn to use their secret weapon. They simply have to commit, ready or not, to an all-out battle, and must face an even greater enemy than they ever anticipated, while surprising discoveries about the nature of their world continue popping out all the way to the end.

This series' journey into the dark, Bizarro side of the superhero universe receives a fast-paced, explosive conclusion in this book, with the kind of intricate plotting that leaves you re-evaluating the entire series, combined with a first-person narration by an immensely entertaining main character. David is not only funny, audacious, and full of admirable qualities; he also struggles with inner conflicts and powerful feelings that will endear him to the reader. I came to the end of this trilogy entirely satisfied, and more interested than ever in reading more that Brandon Sanderson has to offer, such as his continuing "Mistborn" saga and the final installments in the late Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" cycle.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


by Brandon Sanderson
Recommended Ages: 13+

In Book 2 of the "Reckoners" trilogy, 19-year-old David Charleston begins to entertain doubts about his calling as an assassin who kills super-powered people. It was all very well when he was on a mission to avenge the murder of his father by the virtually indestructible Steelheart. He's proven himself very good at finding the weaknesses of Epics, the usually monstrous people who (for unknown reasons) have gained superhuman abilities since the red star Calamity first rose in the night sky 13 years ago. But David, nicknamed Steelslayer, just isn't sure it's the right thing to do anymore.

For one thing, he believes in the goodness of his personal hero, Jonathan "Prof" Phaedrus, the leader of the Reckoners - even though Prof is secretly the Epic known as Limelight. Then there's the reincarnating Epic Firefight, a.k.a. Megan, who seems more able than most of her kind to control the urges to murder ordinary people indiscriminately. Even though Prof and the other Reckoners believe Megan to be a killer and a traitor, David is convinced she is living proof that Epics can fight the darkness that grows each time they use their powers. But while David is still trying to work out a way to prove the Epics can be turned to good, the epic ruling Babilar - Babylon Restored, formerly known as New York City - maneuvers Prof into a trap from which neither he nor the Reckoners can escape unscathed.

Just as Steelheart, the first book in this series, transformed Chicago into a maze of steel blanketed under eternal night, Manhattan gets the full Brandon Sanderson treatment in this story. Thanks to Epic activity, the sea level has risen to cover all but the top few floors of the city's high-rise apartment buildings. The people have become docile, grooving to music and the juice of glow-in-the-dark fruit that grows, against all the laws of botany, inside the partially submerged buildings. Order is kept by a gang led by Newton, who can deflect any force aimed at her, and whose henchmen seem to be gaining new Epic powers somehow. Disorder is ensured by a mad prophet named Obliteration, who plans to wreak exactly what his name advertises on the Big Apple. Behind it all is a wily epic named Regalia, who keeps her own location carefully hidden while trying to sniff out the Reckoners' lair.

While the Reckoners are trying to lure Regalia into a trap, David realizes she is doing exactly the same to them. He may have realized it too late, however. To save New York and his friends, he must regain their confidence after losing it in a spectacular way. Meantime, he also faces a terrible temptation. Megan must face her worst fear. And Prof must face the dilemma between saving the world and losing his soul.

It's a super-powered action fantasy with lots of blood-quickening action and loads of mind-blowing fantasy. The thrill-ride is enlivened still more by the often goofy narration of tough, stupidly brave, good-hearted, natural-born-leader David. He combines a frequently commented-on ability to persuade people to go along with his plans, a reckless tendency to improvise that, somehow, usually pays off, and a fantastic ability to mangle metaphors (for example, comparing how he can't keep Megan off his mind to a penguin who can't accept that the plastic fish in its aquarium tank aren't real). His love for Megan, his faith in Prof, his struggles of conscience, and the growth in his outlook all go right to the reader's heart, in spite of his sometimes chilling willingness at times to shoot superheroes dead.

More is in store for fans of this trilogy. Book 3 is titled Calamity, and I'm already reading it. I can bear witness, there is an arc of tension that builds throughout this series, and it continues to increase straight through Book 2 and into Book 3. For more by this author, see also his "Mistborn" series, The Rithmatist, Elantris, and the final three books of Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" cycle, which Sanderson completed after Jordan's death.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Queen Is Dead

The Queen Is Dead
by Kate Locke
Recommended Ages: 14+

When we first met Alexandra Vardan, she was a member of the Royal Guard protecting the vampire Queen Victoria in an alternate present-day version of London. She believed she was just an ordinary halfblood (vampire duke father, human courtesan mother), like her half-siblings Val, Avery, and Dede, and her former lover Rye was killed by some dirty rotten humans (ick), and there might be something special between her and her mentor, the vampire Churchill. One book later, she's learned differently on several of those counts, and will soon be disabused of at least one more. For now it seems Xandra is not a halfblood, but a goblin - what you get when you cross vampire and werewolf blood - and not just any goblin, but a goblin queen, able to take human form and go out in sunlight.

Honestly, she didn't know. But Victoria was not amused. Xandra has moved out of her siblings' flat, banished from the walled Mayfair neighborhood where halfbloods and plagued "aristos" (vampires and werewolves, who have a mutated strain of the bubonic plague in their blood) are free to roam, protected to some extent from another human uprising. Nobody wants to have anything to do with her, except her alpha werewolf lover Vex MacLaughlin, and William, the goblin prince. Forced to live in a human neighborhood, Xandra has trouble getting along with her neighbors - some of whom have taken to nailing rats to her front door. A couple of Scotland Yard detectives suspect her of murdering Churchill (which actually isn't far off the mark). Her werewolf mum and her maternal sister Ophelia want to use Xandra to forge an alliance between their revolutionary movement and the goblins. Vex's pack wants a similar arrangement between the gobs and the wolves. And now a bunch of betties (humans who are obsessed with becoming plagued) has scrobbled Xandra's brother Val, and she fears he may become the victim of either a "horror show" (you really don't want to know) or some kind of fiendish experiments. It's a mystery nobody seems to want solved except Xandra and those closest to her.

Adult content advisory, everyone. This novel is a sexy, free-swearing, sometimes dark and disturbing journey into the seamy underbelly of a society in which the undead feel no need to hide themselves (except, you know, during the daytime). It is a suspenseful, action-filled caper involving sinister conspiracies, media spectacles, extreme violence, and a civilization teetering on the edge of civil war. Also, it's weird, funny, and totally original, exploring an urban fantasy world closely paralleling ours - a present-day, post-steampunk phenomenon with slightly different technology, but the same rock bands and Hollywood movies.

This sequel to God Save the Queen is Book 2 of "The Immortals Trilogy," which concludes with Long Live the Queen. When my mummy asked me what three things I wanted for Christmas, two of them were this book and Long Live the Queen. I just didn't want 2017 to end without finding out what happens in this series penned by a Canadian-American paranormal-romance/steampunk/steampunk-romance/urban-fantasy novelist who, depending on her genre at any given moment, alternates between the pen names Kate Cross, Kady Cross, and Kathryn Smith. Some of her numerous other titles include the "Brotherhood of the Blood" quintet, two "Nightmare Chronicles" books, "The Steampunk Chronicles" (The Girl in the Steel Corset and three more), "The Clockwork Agents" trilogy, and such individual books as When Marrying a Scoundrel and The Dark Discovery of Jack Dandy.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

It started with a 1981 children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, who also wrote Zathura (later also made into a movie, directed by Jon Favreau). Then Jumanji became a 1995 movie starring Robin Williams and directed by Joe Johnston, which I fondly remember seeing with my college friends. I have seen it more recently, and to be honest, the special effects don't look all that good today. But with a little willing suspension of disbelief, it's a humdinger of a fantasy, featuring a board game that brings the animal, vegetable, and human dangers of the deepest, darkest jungle into a small town in New England - the same Brantford, N.H. in which this something-of-a-sequel is set. (Watch closely for a reference to Williams' character in this movie.)

The differences are huge between the original Jumanji and this generation's retooling. In the 1995 version, children playing a dusty old board game bring the magic of the jungle out into their everyday world, and encounter a boy who was sucked into the game a generation ago and could only come back when somebody resumed playing it. The 2017 version flips this around, with (SPOILER ALERT!) present-day children getting sucked into a dusty old video game(!) and meeting someone who's been trapped in the jungle since before they were born. They must survive rampaging beasts, venomous varmints, villainous henchman, and the wiles of a creepoid named Van Pelt (another name that should ring a bell, if you were a fan of the first flick), to restore a sacred jewel to the eye socket of a giant panther idol, breaking the curse that haunts Jumanji. They have to win the game to get back home, and each of the kids has three lives to do it. Luckily, the game gives them various strengths. Unluckily, it also gives most of them weaknesses. (Cake? Really?)

Also, since this time around the game has configured itself as a video game, each character has an avatar. Therein lies perhaps the movie's biggest strength and weakness, both in one. The movie mines comedy gold from the transformation of the high school football star "Fridge" into shrimpy Kevin Hart, the scared-of-everything nerd into Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, the athletically declined wallflower girl into a kickass babe (Doctor Who's Karen Gillan), and the self-absorbed suburban princess into Jack Black. On the other hand, it misses the opportunity to let the young heroes chart their character growth "as themselves," against the challenges the game throws at them. I think replacing the actors playing the kids inside the game takes some of the edge off the story, by making them less relatable to ordinary people. Their apparent distance from the audience (by being transformed into superhuman avatars, if not caricatures) might make it harder for people, on the level of ordinary mortals, to sympathize with their struggles, or to be charmed by a touch of romance - especially in the case of the "couple" played by Jack Black and Nick Jonas. They have to work harder than I think they should have to keep the audience mindful of the risk they are taking as each character gets closer to using up all his or her lives.

Also featured in the movie are Alex Wolff, the former Naked Brothers Band star who recently played Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Patriots Day, and Bobby Cannavale of Third Watch, Rhys Darby of Flight of the Conchords, Missi Pyle of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Colin Hanks of TV's Fargo, and an uncredited Tim Matheson as the creepy old man who tells Wolff, "This world devours kids like you."

All in all, it was a funny, action-packed story, with lots of in-jokes about gaming, good development of the main characters and their friendship, a nice message about facing the dangers of life with courage, lots of visual effects that never seemed conspicuously bad (something I was watching closely for, recalling some of the defects of the 1995 movie), a gosh-wow fantasy concept that the characters accept without too much difficulty, and an "awww" of light-hearted romance.

And now, the three scenes that made the movie for me: (1) After taking a crash course in flirting from material girl Jack Black, "Ruby Roundhouse" attempts to divert the attention of a couple of "non-player characters." Anyone who sees her "first time seductress" walk, as she approaches her marks, must acknowledge Karen Gillan to be a master (mistress?) of physical comedy. (2) The same girl, in her teenager form, tells off the gym teacher in a simultaneously embarrassing and awesome way. Those of us who remember being physically awkward nerds who never saw the point of P.E. class, cringed and cheered. (3) The scene in which the four hero teens discover that their fifth number got home from in-game 20 years ahead of them, and is now a grownup with kids of his own. For one of the kids in particular, it's a bittersweet moment, and an awkward consequence of the structure of this story that could either make or break this movie. Without taking a position on whether it did one or the other, I have to admire the film for including the scene. It was a daring risk.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Well of Ascension

The Well of Ascension
by Brandon Sanderson
Recommended Ages: 14+

In the first book of the Mistborn series, an elite crew of thieves and impostors with a diverse range of metal-based super-powers overthrew the Lord Ruler and his thousand-year Final Empire. Now, in Book 2, the crew struggles to hang onto the free country they have created, after crew leader Kelsier, the legendary Survivor of Hathsin (long story), sacrificed his life for the cause. A year later, they're feeling his loss deeply. With an idealistic young king named Elend Venture to lead them, their political experiment is now threatened both by a ruling assembly that doesn't share Elend's vision, and by an invading army led by Elend's father, the ruthless Straff Venture, who wants to rule Luthadel, the Lord Ruler's onetime capital city. Then a second warlord, named Ashweather Cett, arrives with his own army a few days later. Plus, a third army, this one made up of savage, blue-skinned giants known as koloss, is on its way, led by Jastes, one of Elend's former friends.

As if to ensure things still aren't too easy for Elend and company, the Deepness has returned: an evil the Lord Ruler supposedly defeated a millennium ago. The eldritch mists that have haunted the nights since the Lord Ruler's Ascension have now, since the empire's Collapse, started to invade the daytime, threatening to destroy crops and cattle, and even killing people.

Elend needs help. His lover is a Mistborn girl named Vin, revered by the working-class skaa as the Heir of the Survivor, and gifted with all the allomantic (i.e. metal-burning) powers, of which the other members of Kelsier's crew have only one each. These powers, depending on which metal one can burn - and most people, these days, can't burn any - include physical strength and agility (pewter), heightened senses and alertness (tin), being able to soothe (brass) or riot (zinc) other people's emotions, being able to pull (iron) or push (steel) on metal objects, and being able to detect (bronze) or hide (copper) the use of allomancy, plus a few more. These individual powers enable certain members of Elend's team to be excellent bodyguards, like pewter-burning "thug" Ham; influencers of people, like "soother" Breeze; scouts, like "tineye" Spook, etc. But Vin is the whole package, with additional abilities no one but a Mistborn could hope for - such as being virtually able to fly. With the addition of a vast supply of the precious metal atium rumored to be hidden in the city - a metal that enables Mistborn to anticipate their opponents' moves - and a newly discovered allomantic metal called duralumin, which concentrates any other metal being burned at the same time in one fast, super-intense flare, Vin is practically a one-woman wall of defense around Elend and his city, especially after she puts the fear of herself into Straff and Cett.

But it isn't enough. The Deepness is getting stronger, and time seems to be running out to find the Well of Ascension and re-do whatever the Lord Ruler did a thousand years ago to stop it - or, rather, to do the opposite of what he did - or something. The three armies camped outside Luthadel won't wait forever for their chance to take the city, in spite of the stalemate between them. The members of the city's assembly won't wait for Elend to learn how to be an effective king - although, with the help of a tutor from the scholarly Synod of Terris, he's making rapid strides in that direction - and is invoking a clause in the city's new charter to take his power away from him, perhaps to hand the city over to one of the warlords waiting outside. And an insane Mistborn assassin named Zane, who is secretly Elend's half-brother, has been filling Vin's head with nonsense about how he needs her more than Elend does, and how she needs him too.

If it doesn't seem events are moving rapidly in this book, it's because it's such a big book with so many events moving in it at one time. Sazed, the Terrisman who who defied his own Synod to help the revolution, using his people's metal-based arts called feruchemy - which has fascinating differences and similarities to allomancy - has come back to Luthadel, once again disobeying his Synod. He thinks he is close to understanding what must be done to stop the Deepness. Vin has been seeing a figure made of mist, and hearing a beating sound coming from the Well of Ascension. Elend risks his neck finding out how Jastes keeps the koloss under control. Both Straff and Cett send teams of allomancers to assassinate Vin and Elend, and Zane tricks a confused Vin into making a disastrous counter-strike. The hero couple's love story reaches a crisis that could either bring them together or pull them apart, forever. And after a pair of epic battles - one a one-on-one one, the other on a scale to alter the fortunes of entire nations - each charged with betrayal, carnage, and irreversible loss - the surviving heroes face a final, terrible choice whose consequences may last a thousand years or more.

In my reading of his work, Brandon Sanderson has repeatedly proven himself a master at creating a dramatic structure that works on an enormous scale, building a detailed fantasy-world spanning a vast area and permeated with unique supernatural properties, and keeping it all centered on the hearts of believable characters who hold the reader's sympathy. He keeps the reader cringing in suspense for long stretches, punctuated at perfectly-judged intervals by bursts of thrilling action. He juggles the motivations of widely diverse characters in ways that often touch deep springs of emotions. For example, this book features what I will now, until further notice, describe as "the last wedding I cried at." It also features not one, but two schools of arcane arts, somewhere on the sliding scale between magic and super-powers, each relying in a different way on certain types of metal. Moreover, new facets of these arts continue to be revealed as the series grows, as witnessed by the table of allomantic and feruchemical metals and their uses, in the back of this book, which isn't complete; in fact, it mentions one metal that has never been mentioned in the first two Mistborn books, and omits two that have been mentioned, including one that sees considerable use in this book. Looking at this in the most charitable light, I suppose Sanderson didn't want to spoil too much for readers who, like me, read the glossary first, before attempting to understand the book.

Book 3 of the original Mistborn trilogy, which I plan to read soon, is The Hero of Ages. The series goes on to include The Alloy of Law, Shadows of Self, and Bands of Mourning. I am also, at the same time, enjoying Sanderson's Reckoners trilogy, including Steelheart, Firefight, and Calamity, and I'm way behind but trying to catch up in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time cycle, of which Sanderson completed the last three novels, after Jordan's death. That's just scratching the surface of the work of this insanely creative, Utah-based writer. So I conclude, in my best vocal imitation of a superhero under strain: "No time to say more. Must get back to my reading!"

Friday, December 15, 2017

233. Christmas Prayer for the Lonely

'Tis the season for seasonal loneliness and homesickness, of which I know a great deal, having blown all my vacation hours for this year and not having time to get home to mom and/or dad for Christmas. Here is a Christmas prayer that, I hope, will spread some of the benefits of Jesus' incarnation on this malady of the heart. The tune is SOLLT ES GLEICH BISWEILEN SCHEINEN by Ahasuerus Fritsch, 1675. Merry Christmas, and God bless!
1. Jesus, in a stable born
Where no inn had room to spare,
Bless the lonely and forlorn;
Let Your presence ease our care.

2. You from ageless throne came down,
Shone upon by distant star:
Strange as may be tongue or town,
God’s right hand is where You are.

3. Far from Joseph’s shop and home,
Far from Mary’s kin and hearth,
To cold welcome have You come,
Bringing peace and joy to earth.

4. Into exile You were flung,
Marked for death by cruel king;
As a foreign flower sprung,
Life to barren wilds You bring.

5. Prophet, slighted by Your own,
To the heartsick testify:
When we stand reviled, alone,
We have fellowship thereby.

6. Birds have nests and foxes holes;
You, Lord, had no place to rest,
Till, to ransom many souls,
In grave-clothes You would be dressed.

7. Stay by us, for whom You died,
Peerless Lamb, in lonely pain.
Draw us daily to Your side,
Where fresh mercies we obtain.

8. Shelter us, Lord; make us one
By Your drowning, birthing flood;
See Your will, as promised, done
Through communion in Your blood.

9. Let us, through the bread You give,
Members of Your body be;
As one body, help us live
Till from death You set us free.

Name That Composer

Back when I lived in an area served by a classical music radio station, I became a power-player in the game of Name That Composer. To help you achieve a similar level of success, here are some of the cheats, I mean rules, I played by. These are only some of the mental shortcuts that helped me maintain a high score. For many composers, however, there is no substitute for simply listening to a lot of their music.

Rule 1. When you tune in and you find what sounds like a symphony in progress, if it sounds like Haydn...
  • 1a. ...but its slow movement drags, it's by Mozart.
  • 1b. ...but it takes unexpectedly daring harmonic risks that totally pay off, it's early Beethoven.
  • 1c. ...but it takes unexpectedly daring harmonic risks that don't entirely pay off, it's early Schubert.
  • 1d. ...but it's scored entirely for strings, it's early Mendelssohn.
  • 1e. ...but nothing, it's Haydn.
Rule 2. If it sounds like Schumann, it's Schumann. Nobody else wrote music that sounded like Schumann's.
Exception: Max Bruch.

Rule 3. If it sounds like Berlioz, it's Berlioz. Nobody else wrote music that sounded like Berlioz's.

Rule 4. If it sounds like Bruckner, it's Bruckner. Nobody else wrote music that sounded like Bruckner's.

Rule 5. If it sounds like Sibelius, it's Sibelius. Nobody else wrote music that sounded like Sibelius.
Exceptions: Early Lars-Erik Larsson and Luís de Freitas Branco.

Rule 6. If it drips with Central Asian exoticism, it is probably by one of a handful of Russian romantic composers. But no matter who is credited with writing it, Rimsky-Korsakov most likely meddled with it.

Rule 7. If it turns out to be an early symphony or orchestral suite by Bizet, Gounod, Massenet, or Holst, your classical radio station sucks. Someone should tell its programming director to play significant music.

Rule 8. If it fills you with an urge to dance,
  • 8a. ...with satyrs and unicorns, it's Beethoven's Sixth (Pastoral) Symphony.
  • 8b. ...with hobnailed boots on, it's Beethoven's Seventh Symphony.
  • 8c. ...while wearing lederhosen, it's the scherzo of Schubert's Great C Major Symphony.
  • 8d. ...with tutu-clad hippos, elephants, crocodiles, and ostriches, it's a ballet by Ponchielli.
  • 8e. ...with anthropomorphic flowers, sugarplum fairies, nutcrackers, or fairy-tale characters, it's a ballet by Tchaikovsky.
  • 8f. ...with a fur coat on, because at the same time the music chills you like a wind off the Siberian steppe, it's a ballet by Stravinsky.
  • 8g. ...because the moment you stop dancing, a Red Army firing squad will open fire on you, it's either Prokofiev (if you feel like you learned your steps at the dacha of your wealthy, upper-class family) or Shostakovich (if you feel like your vodka-merchant father sent you to a dancing school).
Rule 9. If it bores the daylights out of you,
  • 9a. a stuffy, British way, it's Elgar.
  • 9b. a blue-collar, British way, it's Vaughan Williams.
  • 9c. an bourgeois, German way, it's Richard Straus.
  • 9d. a proletarian, German way, it's Hindemith.
  • 9e. a lush, French way, it's Saint-Saëns.
  • 9f. an austere, French way, it's Milhaud or possibly Honegger.
  • 9g. a next-to-banal, French way, it's Poulenc.
  • 9h. the manner of a prosperous Russian émigré, it's Rachmaninoff.
  • 9i. the manner of a starving Russian nobleman, it's Medtner.*
  • 9j. the manner of an obedient member of the Soviet Composers' Union, it's Kabalevsky.
Rule 10. If it sounds like the aural equivalent of an impressionist painting,
  • 10a. ...but with a touch of English folk melody, it's Delius.
  • 10b. ...but with a certain Slavic twinge, it's Scriabin.
  • 10c. ...but with a French or Spanish warmth, it's Debussy.
  • 10d. ...but with French or Spanish coldness, it's Ravel.
I might add more rules in a later post, to deal with genres other than "what sounds like a symphony."

*...although, I suppose, he didn't write much that sounds like a symphony - unless you count Piano Concertos.