Dear Glen Rounds,

March 18, 2010

The Blind Colt – Glen Rounds – 80 pages

When ten-year-old Whitey discovers a blind colt amid a herd of mustangs and takes a liking to him, Whitey’s uncle forbids him to bring the colt home and says the colt probably won’t survive long, anyway.  He’s proven wrong as the colt adapts and stubbornly survives, and Whitey just can’t resist going against his uncle’s wishes and sneaking the determined colt onto the ranch.

I picked up The Blind Colt in a used bookstore somewhere or other, because I have a special fondness for horse books no matter the topic or reading level.  This one is a bit unlike the girl-and-horse, English-riding-stable love stories that I inhaled as an adolescent, but still entertaining.  Though I wonder about the political correctness of a white kid named “Whitey,” it was written so long ago that I can’t really fault you for that–instead, I’ll focus on what a kick I got out of the Western ranch-speak, and the tenacious colt’s antics, and the fantastic little sketch illustrations at the bottom of every page.  Nothing endears me more to a book than great illustrations, especially a book in that mysterious reading level somewhere between learning to read and middle-grade stuff, because though I might enjoy the plot, it’s still a bit too simple to be engrossing.  Anyway, your tiny sketches of the colt and his adventures are so funny and loose and adorable, and the story is a fast enough read that I could re-read it a bunch of times just for the pleasure of turning the page to a new sketch.

Some perusal of the internet tells me that there are a whole series of books about Whitey, so now I have something new to keep my eyes peeled for at library sales and used bookstores!  Four stars for this one!

Love,

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Dear Lisa McMann,

January 16, 2010

Fade – Lisa McMann – 256 pages

Janie is a dream catcher, and can enter the dreams of others (mostly) at will.  She puts her rare talent to good use working undercover alongside her fellow investigator and secret boyfriend, Cabe.  When she’s called upon to be the bait in a trap to catch a sexual predator at the high school they both attend, Cabe’s overprotectiveness begins to strain their already tense relationship; meanwhile, Janie’s lessons in dream-catching from the notes of a dead woman begin to reveal the truth about her ability–and what it will cost her to continue using it.

Fade, like Wake, was not quite what I expected it to be.  I’m not sure what I expected, really, but you went subtly in some other direction, and I’m left feeling a little confused as to what I think.

I really enjoyed your prose, and the premise of the book is pretty intriguing, but it seemed like you were skirting the edge of cliché.  Janie’s undercover act going so predictably wrong…the terrible price of using her power…Cabe’s excessive protectiveness…these are all things that could be okay, and were okay by virtue of your writing style, which I really like, but you’re coming awfully close to the perilous land of Melodrama.  I liked the book overall, but it didn’t feel quite as unique as Wake did, and I’m hoping that Gone, when it comes out, will even things out a little.  I like to give the middle book in a trilogy a little slack, because it’s a weird place to be plot-wise, and sometimes it’s hard to make something have a beginning and end and an emotional arc when the whole thing is neither the beginning nor the end of a larger story.  It was more than worth the read, though, and it gets four stars, along with high hopes for the third book to tie things up in some wonderful and exciting way.

Love,

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Dear Jon Stone and Michael Smollin,

January 13, 2010

There’s Another Monster at the End of This Book – Jon Stone, illust. Michael Smollin – 32 pages

“In this vibrantly illustrated sequel to the much-loved The Monster at the End of This Book, Grover, now accompanied by Elmo, has heard that there’s something lurking on the last page of the book. Grover invents all sorts of hilarious ways to stop the reader from turning the pages. But Elmo is curious, and he slips by every wacky barrier in his quest to see what he might find.”  –from RandomHouse.com
As almost any kid will tell you, Grover is impossible to resist.  I’m a big fan of There’s a Monster at the End of This Book, which never fails to make me giggle, and of course you can never have too much of a good thing, which is why I was delighted to see There’s Another Monster at the End of This Book.  As in the original, you’ve got a very meta experience going on here, with Grover trying to convince the reader not to turn the page because the monster might be scary.  This time there’s the added layer of Elmo, adding some mischief and acting as a foil for all Grover’s efforts.

They’re both quite funny, and the text is true to the way they each speak on Sesame Street, though I did find myself thinking that perhaps Elmo’s interference took something away from the experience by the end of the book.  Elmo is cute, and his constant ability to find a way around Grover’s preventative measures is funny, but it removes some of the agency that a reader has in the original book, when it’s just Grover and the reader playing against each other.  With Elmo already sneaking past Grover’s walls of blocks or steel, there’s less satisfaction in actually turning the page and thwarting Grover oneself.  My favorite part of the first book is Grover’s harried state when I, by turning the page, knocked down his brick wall, and he told me I was “very strong.”  That interplay is missing here, I think, and by the end of the book, it’s Grover and Elmo talking to each other, rather than either of them talking to the reader.

Still, it’s fun and sweet, and the illustrations are just as fantastic as the original book, with great lettering and cool visual illusions every time Elmo pulls back the corner of a page, inviting the reader to turn.  Four stars for adorable effort!

Love,

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Dear Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean and Todd Klein,

January 10, 2010

Black Orchid – Neil Gaiman, art by Dave McKean, lettering by Todd Klein – 144 pages

“After being viciously murdered, Susan is reborn fully grown as the Black Orchid, a hybrid of plant and human, in order to avenge her own death. Now as this demigoddess attempts to reconcile her human memories and botanical origins, she must also untangle the webs of deception and secrets that led to her murder. Beginning in the cold streets of a heartless metropolis and ending in the lavish heartland of the thriving Amazon, this book takes the reader through a journey of secrets, suffering, and self-rediscovery.”  –from DCComics.com/Vertigo

I picked up a Black Orchid comic quite some time ago because I love female crimefighters, and I find orchids to be both visually pleasing and symbolically appealing, so the combination seemed like the kind of thing I’d enjoy.  When I discovered the Gaiman/McKean version of Black Orchid, I knew I’d hit paydirt.

Mr. Gaiman, anybody who reads this blog knows I’m a huge fan, but for some reason I’ve never gotten around to reading Sandman–so my experience of your writing in comics is limited to graphic novels or guest writing of single arcs in continuous series.  I’ve liked all the graphia of yours that I’ve read, though, and this trade is no exception.  Somehow you managed to write something that captures and keeps my attention, but is so dreamlike that I’ve forgotten what it was about almost as soon as I’ve finished reading it–I’m just left with this really pleasant sense that some kind of fascinating journey has occurred, and I got to go along for the ride.  Maybe that doesn’t sound like a compliment, but it’s meant as one.

Part of the dreaminess, though, is the incredible art.  Mr. McKean, I love your work no matter what style you’re using, but this gritty-yet-ethereal sort of photorealism works so well with the strange story, and you do such a lovely job making the orchids seem so alien without being frightening.  The juxtaposition of color palettes, of gray city and red violence versus the orchids and verdant jungles and things…well, it was fantastic.

Also, I don’t know if the excellent placement and coloration of the text boxes and speech bubbles were part of the art or went with the lettering work, but either way, it was brilliant.  Mr. Klein, never let it be said that I don’t appreciate excellent lettering–you make the whole thing readable, and yet it never looked out of place with the art style.  Awesome.

Four enthusiastic stars for Black Orchid!

Love,

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Dear Holly Lisle,

September 21, 2009

Moon and Sun Book 1:  The Ruby KeyMoon and Sun Book 1:  The Ruby Key – Holly Lisle – 384 pages

“Human and Nightlings are never to meet, but when Genna and her brother Dan venture into the old forest at night, they encounter a Nightling slave who reveals a terrifying secret: Genna and Dan’s village chieftain has made a dangerous deal with Letrin, ruler of the Nightlings, offering the lives of his people in exchange for his own immortality. To save the villagers and themselves, Genna and Dan strike their own bargain with the Nightling lord, but the stakes are even higher. Now, the siblings must embark upon a journey along the Moonroads, and bring back the key to Letrin’s downfall.”  –Scholastic online store

I’ll be totally honest here–I picked up The Ruby Key because the cover art was appealing, particularly the waifish fairy girl.  Covers really do matter!  I judge books by them all the time!  At any rate, it looked like something I would enjoy, and I was totally right.  You’ve pulled together this really interesting mood that starts out sort of The Village-or-Forest of Hands and Teeth-esque, and then it sort of morphs into this slightly weirder Campbellian journey.  The Moonroads reminded me a little bit of the Abhorsen walking around in Death, or perhaps of the path through the clock to the Red Bull’s lair in The Last Unicorn.  Still, though it reminds me favorably of other things, the idea of traveling roads that most people can’t see is mysterious and thrilling in its own unique way–a nice twist  on the traveling.

Also, as one might expect from the first book in a series, it had an unfinished feel to me.  I think there wasn’t quite enough time between the solving of Book 1’s main conflict and the beginning of the new conflict that I presume Book 2 will tackle.  I needed a little more time to feel relieved, and like the story had ended, before you sprung the next problem on me.  Of course, that didn’t prevent me from groaning aloud and then scouring the internet for news of when the next book would be coming out!  I think you’ve got a good mix of fantasy elements here without the story feeling like it’s been done before, and also a great mix of characters and a lot of confusion and suspense about who to trust.  I like that quite a lot!  Well done, you get a solid four stars.

Love,

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Books this year: 93

Pages this year: 17,978


Dear A. David Lewis, mpMann and Jennifer Rodgers,

September 6, 2009

The Lone and Level SandsThe Lone and Level Sands – A. David Lewis, mpMann and Jennifer Rodgers – 160 pages

“Pharaoh Ramses II hasn’t seen his long-lost cousin Moses in nearly forty years. Yet while pressed by the Hittites to the North and construction delays in the South, Ramses must make time for this ancient desert rascal, the long-ago mystery he represents, and the impossible demands of an alien deity. Drawing on the Bible, the Qur’an, and historical sources, writer A. David Lewis (Mortal Coils) and artist Marvin Perry Mann (Arcana Jayne) present a retelling of the Book of Exodus through the eyes of the man who is either its greatest leader or its worst villain: a man trying to rule wisely, love his family well, and deal justly in the face of a divine wrath.” – taken from the publisher’s website.

The Lone and Level Sands is an odd but well-woven mix of extrapolation, Biblical storytelling, and murky ancient history.  I’m not entirely sure how much of the story of Moses, or at least of Ramses II, is actually historical, but I’m sure that anything documented somehow wound up in this graphic novel.  You’ve got an intriguing political story set alongside the more familiar spiritual one, and it’s a perspective I don’t think I’ve quite seen before.  Clearly it’s all reminiscent to me of The Prince of Egypt, because I love that movie and have seen it a million times, and the basic story is the same.  You take less license with appearance, which I appreciated–though it’s cool to see Moses as a heroic young man, it’s probably more accurate to portray him in the aged way you do, and it changes the dynamic between Moses and Ramses dramatically.  I also enjoyed the focus on Ramses’ family, his relationship with Nefertari and with his son made the whole thing more emotionally gripping.

I agree with what a reviewer quoted on the publisher’s website said, in that this is an “intelligent book.”  I think, though, that it’s a little dense–both in plot, which might have been easier to follow if taken at a slower pace, and in art, which was interestingly stylized but difficult to “read” in such volume and in a relatively small size.  That said, you’ve done something really interesting here, and I found it enlightening though not completely engrossing.  Four stars!

Love,

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Books this year: 90

Pages this year: 17,253


Dear Pamela Porter,

September 4, 2009

The Crazy ManThe Crazy Man – Pamela Porter – 176 pages

It’s 1965 on a small Saskatchewan farm when Emmaline’s dog Prince runs in front of her father’s tractor.  Emmaline leaps in to save him, without thinking, and is caught under the tractor in his stead.  Her father, torn with grief and guilt over his daughter’s crippling injury, shoots Prince and runs away; Emmaline and her mother are left alone on the farm.  Desperate, Emmaline’s mother hires Angus from the local mental hospital to do the heavy field work, and in spite of the wild rumors and prejudices of a small town, Emmaline discovers that Angus may be exactly what their family needs.

I love a good novel in verse, and The Crazy Man is a really good novel in verse.  It was a well-chosen gift from someone who always picks excellent books for me, and I’m glad she found it, because otherwise it might never have crossed my path.  You’ve got the Karen Hesse Out of the Dust vibe going on here, historical fiction in free verse, and I adored it.  You have a really light touch, with a lot of plain language that’s beautiful in its starkness, and a lot of subtlety.  I love the way you use the simplest actions and body language to convey a character’s inner workings–it’s a style I aspire to, but I’m usually just too in love with the sound of my own words to pull it off.  😉  You’ve written a painful yet hopeful book about loss, a gentle statement about prejudice and mental illness, and a great introduction for people who don’t like or “don’t get” poetry, all in one slim volume.  Well done, you get four stars!

Love,

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Books this year: 89

Pages this year: 17,093