Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best Books of 2009 (in my humble opinion)

Here we go, after the long wait! It's been a pretty good year, and I've never seen so many finales published at once. Know that this list was really, really hard to make. I've been introduced to many authors, started many series and ended many more. So, without any more of this intro (which half of you probably skipped anyway)...

Here's the list:

Best Debut (Adult): The Way of Shadows, by Brent Weeks
Runner-Up: The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie

Best Debut (Children's): The 13th Reality-- The Journal of Curious Letters, by James Dashner
Runner-Up: Bran Hambric-- The Farfield Curse, by Kaleb Nation

Best Title: The 13th Reality-- The Hunt for Dark Infinity, by James Dashner
Runner-Up: Before They Are Hanged, by Joe Abercrombie

Best Series Starter: The Maze Runner, by James Dashner
Runner-Up: The Way of Shadows, by Brent Weeks

Best Fantasy World: Mistborn-- The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson
Runner-Up: Erec Rex-- The Search for Truth, by Kaza Kingsley

Best Whimsy: Erec Rex-- The Search for Truth, by Kaza Kingsley
Runner-Up: Leven Thumps and the Ruins of Alder, by Obert Skye

Best Christian Fiction: Green, by Ted Dekker
Runner-Up: Curse of the Spider King, by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper

Best Movie Adaptation: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Runner-Up: Cirque Du Freak-- The Vampire's Assistant

Best Fight Scene: PENDRAGON: The Soldiers of Halla, by D. J. MacHale
Runner-Up: Blade of Fire, by Stuart Hill

Best Stand-Alone: Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson
Runner-Up: Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson

Best of Stephen King: Under the Dome
Runner-Up: Duma Key

Best Sequel: Before They Are Hanged, by Joe Abercrombie
Runner-Up: The 13th Reality-- The Hunt for Dark Infinity, by James Dashner

Best Middle Novel in a Series: Erec Rex-- The Search for Truth, by Kaza Kingsley
Runner-Up: The Shadow Dragons, by James A. Owen

Best Penultimate Novel: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
Runner-Up: Whirlwind, by Robert Liparulo

Best Finale (Adult): Mistborn-- The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson
Runner-Up: Green, by Ted Dekker

Best Finale (Children's): PENDRAGON: The Soldiers of Halla, by D J. MacHale
Runner-Up: The Last Olympian, by Rick Riordan

Best "To be continued..." Moment: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
Runner-Up: TIE! Timescape, by Robert Liparulo AND Whirlwind, by Robert Liparulo

Book I'm Looking Forward to Most Next Year: The Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
Runner-Up: TIE! Erec Rex-- The Three Furies AND The 13th Reality-- The Blade of Shattered Hope

Author of the Year: Stephen King
Runner-Up: James Dashner

Book of the Year: Under the Dome, by Stephen King
Runner-Up: Mistborn-- The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson

So, there it is. Maybe not your favorites, but they are mine. I'd love to hear your thoughts as we enter the uncertain realm of 2010. Happy new decade!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Movies of the Decade (in my humble opinion)

We've done books. We've done this year's movies. Here's a challenge: the best movies of the decade. Or... my favorites, at least.

In no particular order:

V for Vendetta: We'll start off the list with the Wachowski brothers. This film is smart, has great acting, great cinematography, and great source material. It's absolutely compelling, and you manage to still root for even the ambiguous characters. A great achievement.

Pirates of the Caribbean-- The Curse of the Black Pearl: This is the definition of summer blockbuster, as given to us with Jerry Bruckheimer and Johnny Depp. The portrayal of Jack Sparrow is endlessly inventive and funny, the story is smart enough to stand out, and this movie revived the long-dead pirate genre of films. That's saying something.

The Phantom of the Opera: A feast for the eyes and ears. Who would have thought the same Gerard Butler who screamed his head off in 300 could deliver a performance as the Phantom-- and a good one? Another surprise is Joel Shumacher, who was responsible for Batman and Robin before this. This is hands down my favorite musical of the decade-- and yes, I've seen Chicago and Sweeney Todd.

STAR WARS Episode III-- Revenge of the Sith: The triumphant return of STAR WARS after two exciting, but ultimately disappointing prequels. George Lucas handles the tragedy with broad strokes, and it works in his favor. The standout performance is Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine, a slimy, manipulative monster whose appearance finally changes to match his true character. The saga ends on a high note.

Harry Potter (Whole Series): Adapted faithfully, this is one of the longest and most profitable film series ever made. You can tell the love everyone involved has for the source material, and although some of the films aren't perfect (I'm looking at YOU, Order of the Phoenix), the heart of the story has never been lost to the callous world of Hollywood.

Avatar: James Cameron's only film of the decade deserves its spot. It's an epic spectacle that wows you every minute, keeping your eyes glued to the screen. This is the third time I've talked about it this month, so I won't bore you all with more of the same, but it's truly great.

The Dark Knight: What every comic book turned movie aspires to be. Real-world grittiness mixed with acts of selflessness and heroism, action mixed with chilling dialogue, suspense, tragedy, and humor all thrown in. Heath Ledger's last full role is perhaps his finest, and it's one that makes us truly miss the talented young star.

The Lord of the Rings (Whole Trilogy): An epic which has yet to be equalled in my eyes. A book adaptation that goes above and beyond the call of duty. The passion for Tolkien's words is evident in the first five minutes, and it deserved every penny it made, along with the 11 Oscars Return of the King got. And the Extended Editions are-- gasp!-- even better. Absolutely wonderful.

Serenity: I'm a bit of a closet browncoat. Let's just get that out of the way. I missed the series on television, and the movie when it was in theaters, but shortly after I got hooked. Why? Because it's pure gold. Perhaps some of the best sci-fi ever made. There is nothing that should keep you from watching this. I mean, really.

Stardust: This is the closest thing this generation has to The Princess Bride. It's a great fairy tale, well told, adapted nicely from the Neil Gaiman book. It's smart, funny, and magical to watch, and everyone I've shown it to has liked it. It's one of those movies that makes you feel truly warm inside. I cannot praise it enough.

That's the best 00's (in my humble opinion). The new decade has plenty of promising movies on the horizon, and I'm sure there will be more than a few surprises to come. I, for one, can't wait.

Coming Soon: The best books of 2009.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Dreamhouse Kings: Whirlwind

If you hadn't noticed, serials are becoming a big thing nowadays. There are two Spiderwick serials, Stephen King wrote a serial... they're everywhere. But Robert Liparulo still stands out and delivers, giving a serial story in 300 page chunks every few months. I started reading a year ago, and it's already part 5. the cover for book 6, Frenzy, is on the back of Whirlwind, and it's supposed to be released in March. But Whirlwind is not just a way to describe the publishing schedule for Dreamhouse Kings. It's also exactly the way to describe this serial.

They've been to three worlds in less than a day. Time isn't just running out. It's running wild.

Having been everywhere from the Titanic to the Civil War, David, Xander, and Ed King look for any possible way of defeating Taksidian, the menace who wants their house to himself, and finding their lost mother. Things are getting desperate when they fall into a trap laid by Taksidian in his own lair, but that's only the beginning.

Jesse reveals the secret of the house and of the Kings. The house has a purpose beyond just the portals it fixes into place. In order to achieve this purpose, the Kings must not just survive history... but rewrite it. The clock is ticking, and one false move could be their last.

The key lies with the hulking monster known as Phemus. When is he from? Where is he from? It's these answers that will put the Kings in greater peril than ever.

This is one of those stories that needs to be started from the beginning. It's good news that House of Dark Shadows is so well-written. Robert Liparulo here stretches the boundaries of what a serial can be, making one of the longest ones ever written. Thomas Nelson, who also published Ted Dekker, once again does a nice job, making a great-looking book.

I've really come to enjoy getting to know David and Xander, Toria and Ed, Keal and Jesse, and all the rest of the characters that populate Liparulo's fantasy. Taksidian is truly an unnerving and unpleasant figure, making several chilling appearances in this volume. I know it's been 1500 pages, but it still feels really fresh. Give this series to any child, and they'll love it. Then, when they're done, borrow it from them. It works its magic just as well on adults.

My rating: 9.5/10. I can't wait for Frenzy.

Coming Soon: The best movies of the decade and the best books of 2009.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Best Books of the Decade (in my humble opinion)

Well, this is a big one. I kind of cheated on this one, with the inclusion of series as single items, but I hope you'll forgive me. These books are not the best I read this decade, they're the best that were published from 2000 to 2009. And they're in no particular order.

Harry Potter (Entire Series), by J. K. Rowling: The books that got an entire generation reading. And with good reason, too. They're phenomenal. Harry Potter's journey will be classics from now on, to be passed down from parent to child.

Abarat (Parts 1 and 2), by Clive Barker: This is perhaps the least known one, seeing as the most recent volume was published in 2004. But this insane romp through a world where there are 25 Hours in a day (capitalization intended) and there's a new surprise around every corner is a delight. And these are only the first two of five. Look next year for book three-- Absolute Midnight.

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss: One of the best fantasy debuts in recent memory. It balances nicely the departure from genre cliches and the embracing of them in order to turn them into something different. A must-read, and I can't wait for book two-- The Wise Man's Fear.

The Circle Series (Black, Red, White, Green), by Ted Dekker: A genrebending delight for all fans of fantasy, sci-fi, thrillers and a tale well told. The series that started the whole Books of History Chronicles. Give it a whirl. I think you'll dive deep into its pages soon enough,

Duma Key, by Stephen King: This novel has one of the best buildups I've ever seen, giving great characters before whopping you upside the head with some major twists.

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield: The most "literary" book on this list. Setterfield returns to the style of Jane Eyre, and this Gothic "ghost story" will keep you spellbound. Perfect for anyone who loves books. Even if it doan't seen like your cup of tea, try it.

PENDRAGON (Entire Series), by D. J. MacHale: A fun, epic, 10 volume masterpiece. Bobby Pendragon's journey through time and space has been considered to be as good as Harry Potter, and I'd say it's close.

Mistborn Trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson: This is how trilogies should be done. The first book accomplshes what it usually takes three books to do, and it only builds from there, challenging your perceptions while thrilling you. Wonderful.

Under the Dome, by Stephen King: A 1000 page book anyone will read. Gripping from the very start. One of King's best.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Whole Series), by Rick Riordan: Absolute fun. A magical mix of Greek mythology and 21st century life. There's a movie coming out in February of the first book; read it before watching. This series has come the closst to Harry Potter in terms of getting kids to read. Truly enjoyable.

Those were the best of the 00's. What wonders will the new decade hold?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Under the Dome

I'm writing this review literally five minutes after reaching the concluding page 1072 of one of Stephen King's longest works of his career. And that's saying something. But everything is very jumbled up in my head, and it could be conveyed in this review.

There is something I know for sure: Under the Dome is a masterpiece.

On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester's Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when -- or if -- it will go away.

Dale Barbara, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens -- the town newspaper owner, a physician's assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing to hold on to the reins of power, and his son. Because time isn't just short... It's running out.

That's the story, except it's a lot more than that. It's a huge book, but King wastes no time. Instantly, we are thrust into a thriller-horror-sci-fi epic that all takes place in less than a week's time. The characters are numerous and compelling. The writing has a wondrous fluidity that demands pages be turned (look how fast I read it). The body count is second only to The Stand.

And so much HAPPENS. The book is filled with action and suspense from th moment an airplane crashes into an invisible wall. For the first time this decade, there is a book with a four digit page count that millions of people are clamoring to read. There is a talent behind these words that earns the name King, and I find myself hoping that he lives forever. Well, at least for another sixty years.

But his writing, endlessly compelling will never die... an idea King would love.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: The rest of the lists.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Top 5 Movies of 2009 (in my humble opinion)

It's time for the start of my end-of-year lists! I know you're all wondering: will I ever finish Under the Dome? Patience, children. I'm already at page 800.

First up, it's my personal favorite movies of the year. Are these the best of the year? Probably not. But they're the ones that made me feel the bst upon leaving the theater. So, without further ado...

5. Cirque du Freak-- The Vampire's Assistant: I've read all twelve books in the series years ago, and I was really skeptical. But this movie shows those other chumps (do I hear Lemony Snicket, anyone?) that it IS possible to deviate from the books, combine multiple books, and still manage to give a wildly entertaining ride. And John C. Reilly absolutely steals the show. It did poorly at the box office, but don't let that stop you from renting it when it hits DVD and Blu-ray.

4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: This shows a real maturity in every aspect-- the writing, the acting, the directing, it's all better than before. Props to Steve Kloves for balancing the right levels of deviation and impressive amounts of detail. The saga becomes darker stll, but there's enough humor to lighten it up. As if you haven't seen it already.

3. Star Trek: A franchise reboot by J. J. Abrams. Fun all around, with good acting from both the leads (i.e. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto) and the supporting cast (i.e. Karl Urban and Zoe Saldana-- note that Saldana's work is on the list twice). The goal of this movie was to make a Star Trek the world would love, and it succeeded splendidly.

2. UP: Pixar has done it again. I've liked every one of their movies, with only a few falling below the "excellent" range. In my opinion, this is one of their best. Just watch the first few minutes, and see if any other movie gets a reaction quite that fast.

1. Avatar: And James Cameron comes out on top. This film blew me away completely, from its stunning visuals, masterful score, great directing, and spot-on acting (from Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, and Zoe Saldana, in order of appearance) that's believable even beneath the truly groundbreaking motion capture technology. See it; when you're done, see it again. Epic in every way.

Well, I don't imagine the list surprised you very much, but there it is. Comments?

Coming Soon: Under the Dome, along with more lists.

Merry Christmas!

May all your hearts be filled with good cheer, may all your Christmases be white, and may you receive many books as Christmas presents!

The Writer

Thursday, December 24, 2009


I promise I'm reading Under the Dome. I'm on about page 550. It's just huge. But the review will come soon.

Yesterday, I saw Avatar. I only saw it in 2D, and only at a middle-of-the-afternoon showing. The theater was only half-full. But you know what? I found the film to be absolutely breathtaking.

When his brother is killed in battle, paraplegic Marine Jake Sully decides to take his place in a mission on the distant world of Pandora. There he learns of greedy corporate figurehead Parker Selfridge's intentions of driving off the native humanoid "Na'vi" in order to mine for the precious material scattered throughout their rich woodland. In exchange for the spinal surgery that will fix his legs, Jake gathers intel for the cooperating military unit spearheaded by gung-ho Colonel Quaritch, while simultaneously attempting to infiltrate the Na'vi people with the use of an "avatar" identity.

While Jake begins to bond with the native tribe and quickly falls in love with the beautiful alien Neytiri, the restless Colonel moves forward with his ruthless extermination tactics, forcing the soldier to take a stand - and fight back in an epic battle for the fate of Pandora. And when I say epic, I mean it takes most of the last hour of film. Yeah, epic.

There are those who criticize the film because of the familiarity of the story. But the familiarity is part of what makes the film work. It helps keep the viewer grounded in a world with infinite strangeness, which is populated on screen only by massive blue Na'vi 75% of the time. So this works for me. In the future, if sequels are made, I think Cameron can go for the more complex story, since we've now adjusted to the world.

The world of Pandora is what absolutely must be addressed next. It's beautiful, it's lush, and there are new wonders around every corner. And they are rendered with computer magnificently, so as not to draw attention to its technological origins. One of the people I was sitting next to said, not "Wow, these are incredible computer graphics," but "Wow, that's absolutely beautiful." And that's the truth. I know, in the back of my mind, a lot of this movie has to be on the computer, but I can't deny the life Pandora exhibits easily. I haven't been so absorbed in an alternate world since STAR WARS. And that should be reason enough to see it.

If not, how about a few more? There's great acting from Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and of course Sigourney Weaver. But remember, a lot of the actors have to project emotion through sophisticated motion capture technology. The performances feel real, even though we can't see the actors' faces most of the time. And the score by James Horner is wonderful, fitting the epic nature of the film beautifully.

What more can I say? Not everyone will like it, but Avatar was my favorite movie of the year. If you're not sure, go watch it. And bring friends.

My rating: 10/10
UPDATE: I've seen it in 3D since this review, and I can say it's groundbreaking in that aspect as well, allowing the viewer to be immersed in the action in a way 2D can't achieve. It's not corny, and there are no Jack-In-The-Box moments where objects fly at you for the sake of flying at you. If you can, see the movie in this format.

Coming Soon: Under the Dome.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blade of Fire

I read and reviewed Cry of the Icemark a while ago. Like, March of 2008. Yeah, it's been a while. Well, like last time, I found myself desiring something a little different for a fair bit of downtime. Unlike the last one, however, it's 600 pages instead of 500. Is it still good? Um... yeah.

Here we go!

It's been seventeen years since Queen Thirrin Lindenshield drove back Scipio Bellorum and the Polypontian army from the Icemark, but rumors are spreading of a return of the menacing force. Things are looking dire, and even the allies Thirrin made almost two decades ago may not be enough to stop the Empire's tide. So she sends her youngest son, Charlemagne Athelstan Redrought Strong-in-the-Arm Lindenshield (try saying that three times fast), crippled by polio as a child, away as Prince Regent to the Exiles of the Icemark, in case her homeland falls. In fact, the worst danger may be from her daughter, Medea, a powerful girl attuned to the Dark.

But Maggiore Totus, who has seen more than one war in his lifetime, is devising a plan that will use Charlemagne as the catalyst of the most incredible uprising the world has ever seen. Alliances are made, battles are fought, and it all ties into a prophecy from Oskan: "The exile shall return, a blade of fire in his hand..."

I didn't know how Stuart Hill could improve upon the massive epic that was the first book in the Icemark Chronicles, but he did in every way. Charlemagne is a strong character, and he has quite the dynamic character arc. It's great to get to see Thirrin and Oskan again, this time in vastly different roles. Almost twenty years have passed, and the relationships between returning characters have grown and matured nicely.

I find myself once again surprised at how much Hill manages to cram into this book. There's a lot of new locales to be visited, new battles described with broad, impressive strokes (this book includes a Sky Navy, and I'm not saying anything more about that), and fleshed-out internal struggles that all come to nice conclusions. And that's another thing. Like Cry of the Icemark, this book is self-contained and a nice stand-alone adventure. There's a little of everything, and Hill's great writing make the battle scenes never cease to be exciting. I can practically hear the score in my head...

Suffice it to say I'll be reading Book 3, Last Battle of the Icemark, with a much shorter wait than I gave Book 2.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: Under the Dome.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Shadow Children

Margaret Peterson Haddix is a semi-well-known author who writes for children (which, if you haven't guessed by now, means everybody). I've read some of her works before, but now it's time to look into her most ambitious to date. It's the Shadow Children, or Among the... books. This post will get a tad long. You've been warned.

Among the Hidden: Luke has never been to school. He's never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend's house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend. Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police. He's lived his whole life in hiding. But that's all about to change when he sees a girl's face in a house where he knows two other children live. Jen is willing to risk everything to come out of the shadows. Does Luke dare to become involved?

My rating: 8/10

Among the Imposters: Luke, under the alias Lee, finds himself in hot water. He's finally at school. But there are too many people, all of them with secrets of their own. He finds a door to the outside, but who can he trust?

My rating: 8/10

Among the Betrayed: Nina Idi-- a third child-- has been betrayed by the boy she loved, and arrested by the Population Police as well. The only thing Nina knows is that she is innocent. Now, she has a choice: convince three other prisoners to admit they are shadow children and be spared, or refuse to cooperate and be killed.

My rating: 8.5/10

Among the Barons: Luke Garner, aka Lee Grant, is in yet another scrape: the real Lee's little brother, Smits, arrives at the school, and Luke finds himself in an inescapable web of lies. Can he trust Smits? More importantly, can he trust Smits's bodyguard, Oscar?

My rating: 9/10

Among the Brave: Trey, another third child, goes to Mr. Talbot's home just as Talbot is taken away in chains. Soon Trey, known to be a coward, finds himself with a need to rescue all of his friends from the hands of the Population Police. He also had a need to be brave...

My rating: 8.5/10

Among the Enemy: Matthias saves the life of one of the Population Police, and as a reward, he is taken in among their ranks. In their headquarters, he encounters a young wonam named Nina Idi...

My rating: 9/10

Among the Free: Luke, when he rejects orders to kill anold woman, accidentally kick-starts a revolution. But is freedom really free?

My rating: 9.5/10

Really, I need to post my thoughts about these, but they're all very good, and near impossible to put down. Read them. That's all you need to know.

Coming Soon: I'm not telling you anymore.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What's Coming Soon...

It's that time of the year again: anticipation and good cheer, singing and excitement, tidings of joy and peace and goodwill to men. And Christmas, too.

Of course, I'm talking about the "Best Books of 2009 (in my humble opinion)" awards. This year they're going to be bigger and better than ever, with some interesting surprises along the way. It's been a year of both endings and beginnings, and almost everything I read was quite good. We've had everything this year from the finales of PENDRAGON and Percy Jackson and the Olympians to Mistborn and The Books of History Chronicles. I've discovered both James Dashner and Joe Abercrombie, among many others. There's a lot of good reading out there, and this list will show off my favorites. The categories for this year are:

Best Debut (Adult)

Best Debut (Children's)

Best Title

Best Series Starter

Best Fantasy World

Best Whimsy

Best Christian Fiction

Best Movie Adaptation

Best Fight Scene

Best Penultimate Novel

Best Finale (Adult)

Best Finale (Children's)

Best "To be continued..." Moment

Book I'm Looking Forward to Most Next Year

Author of the Year

Book of the Year
I can't wait to tell you all of what my decisions are!
Until next time,
The Writer

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


I'm back, and I'm starting December off with another book from the King of fiction. This time it's Thinner, the last of Stephen King's books to be published under the Bachman pseudonym in secret. Not long after this book came out, King and Bachman were revealed to be one and the same. He was "outed", so to speak. But what about the book?

The plot is pretty simple, so this'll be a short review. Ben Halleck is a good lawyer, a loving husband, and a family man. But he's fifty pounds overweight, and he's not getting any younger. One day, in a bizarre accident, he hits a gypsy lady. She dies, but that won't stop her legacy. The matter is taken to court, where Halleck gets off scot-free... until the gypsy's father places a curse on him. Suddenly, no matter how much he eats, Ben Halleck is getting Thinner. It seems like the only way to free him will be to track down the gypsies, and's destined to go horribly wrong...

Simple story, right? Well, King's writing is good enough to make up for that. As always, it's fluid and easy to read. Nothing he writes ever seems to get boring. All of the stuff I said about Insomnia is true here, too, and even though this isn't his best, it's a book most authors would be perfectly pleased to publish under their own name. But here's a fair warning in advance: the ending will haunt you.

All in all, a very good read.

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: That's for me to know and for you to find out. But it's also BIG.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I know, it's probably not the Stephen King book you expected, right? Well, I'm all about surprises, I guess. Surprises and being too cheap to buy a brand spanking new $35 hardcover of a 1000+ page book. But this one's pretty big, too. It's 800 pages of fascinating writing, good as always from the masterful King.

Ralph Roberts has a problem: he isn't sleeping so well these days. In fact, he's hardly sleeping at all. Each morning, the news conveyed by the bedside clock is a little worse: 3:15... 3:02... 2:45... 2:15. The books call it "premature waking"; Ralph, who is still learning to be a widower, calls it a season in hell. He's begun to notice a strangeness in his familiar surroundings, to experience visual phenomena that he can't quite believe are hallucinations. Soon, Ralph thinks, he won't be sleeping at all, and what then? A problem, yes - though perhaps not so uncommon, you might say.

But Ralph has lived his entire life in Derry, Maine, and Derry isn't like other places, as millions of Stephen King readers will gladly testify. They remember It, also set in Derry, and know there's a mean streak running through this small New England city; underneath its ordinary surface awesome and terrifying forces are at work. The dying, natural and otherwise, has been going on in Derry for a long, long time. Now Ralph is part of it. So are his friends. And so are the strangers they encounter, strangers who control the dying and who know its secrets. What it comes down to: they have a mission for Ralph and his companion, Lois Chasse, one that involves a boy, a plane, and a Tower. Thousands of lives are on the line. What happens next... that's for you to find out, Constant Reader.

As always, King delivers a combination of realistic dialogue, fluid prose, and gripping situations. The character of Ralph Roberts is a tool for King to show readers the world in a different way than is normally shown. He makes sure to tie Insomnia in with several of his other books, giving clever nods to those who are attentive and have a background in his stories. As a first King book, I wouldn't recommend it, simply because reading more of his books first adds another level to the reading experience.

Yes, it's very good, but I do have a couple of quibbles. Unlike King's other works, this book felt more like it was completely thought out from square one, and despite what you might think, this actually detracts some from the book. The book lacks some of his usual chilling spontaneity that makes you wonder if King is perhaps as surprised as his readers at the outcome. Every once in a while, it feels as though the characters are more pawns than real people. Though I have to admit, I still was brought into the book by the characters, so he's still doing it very well. Not to mention that I became quite attached to the cast of the book, and enjoyed every moment I spent with them. The other thing is that this suffers from the poor marketing of all of King's books. Insomnia was sold off as horror, but it's really more of a fantasy.

Keep in mind, these are minor quibbles. The book is still extremely fun to read, and I look forward to reading more from King. Maybe I'll pick up one of his other novels next. We'll have to see, won't we?

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: Something else from King, more than likely. I'm not quite decided yet.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Before They Are Hanged

A few years back, Joe Abercrombie burst onto the scene with The Blade Itself, the opener to the First Law Trilogy, which I read and really enjoyed earlier this year. While I found the characters a cynical bunch, they were well fleshed out and enjoyable to read, and the book is still a major contender in the category for Best Debut I've read this year at the end of year awards. Abercrombie's writing was experienced, his dialogue witty, and his action scenes gritty and intense. The real problem was going to be topping his introduction to the fantasy world with a sequel.

Or so I thought.

Superior Glokta has a problem. How do you defend a city surrounded by enemies and riddled with traitors, when your allies can by no means be trusted, and your predecessor vanished without a trace? It's enough to make a torturer want to run - if he could even walk without a stick.

Northmen have spilled over the border of Angland and are spreading fire and death across the frozen country. Crown Prince Ladisla is poised to drive them back and win undying glory. There is only one problem-he commands the worst-armed, worst-trained, worst-led army in the world.

And Bayaz, the First of the Magi, is leading a party of bold adventurers on a perilous mission through the ruins of the past. The most hated woman in the South, the most feared man in the North, and the most selfish boy in the Union make a strange alliance, but a deadly one. They might even stand a chance of saving mankind from the Eaters-if they didn't hate each other quite so much.

Ancient secrets will be uncovered. Bloody battles will be won and lost. Bitter enemies will be forgiven-but not before they are hanged.

The briefest way I can describe this is a darkly humorous, fast-paced epic fantasy. Those of you out there who think these can't be combined, be prepared for a shocker.

Abercrombie has improved over The Blade Itself in every aspect. The writing is even more superb. The action is both more frequent and more grippingly realistic. The mapless world (I know he hates maps, but it would so complete the pictre) is nicely fleshed out.

But the characters are what we're here for. If they weren't so blasted entertaining, the book would fall flat on its face. Instead, Abercrombie's brilliant characterization creates some great moments, giving scenes from multiple, wildly different viewpoints and changing voice deftly with POV. The characters here shine beyond the first book, and they're all wonderfully dynamic and fleshed-out. Each time the viewpoint changes, I change my mind about who my favorite character is to read. Is it the rugged Logen Ninefingers (aka the Bloody-Nine)? Or is it the feral Ferro? Perhaps the beautifully spoiled Jezal dan Luthar? The "ferocious" West? Or (and I think this one's in the lead for me personally) the crippled Superior Sand dan Glokta? There are so many to choose from, and even though they all have their despicable moments as in the first book, they become truly believable. The most miraculous thing is that, over the 1000+ pages I've known them, I even sometimes root for these cynical, violent people. The best part is, they're all given interesting things to do, and they all do them in interesting ways. They do things that sometimes surprise me, but that I later realize were exactly what fits with their personalities.

All in all, this has been a great ride so far, and Before They Are Hanged is one of the best fantasy books I've read this year. I can't wait to see these characters again in Last Argument of Kings, the final installment. Now that I think of it, this may be a bad thing, since Abercrombie has no problems whatsoever with killing off major characters.

My rating: 10/10. Joe Abercrombie was right. This guy just keeps getting better and BETTER.

Coming Soon: Top Secret, but it's BIG.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Alex Rider: Crocodile Tears

Well, I've started on Before They Are Hanged, and it's great fun so far. But I didn't suddenly stop reading in the days leading up to its being chosen. That wouldn't be like me. I found a copy of the latest Alex Rider book: Crocodile Tears, the eighth in the excellent teenage spy series by Anthony Horowitz. As always, it's a lot of fun, and it's clear Horowitz enjoys his profession to the utmost degree.

It's just another day in the life of an average kid. If you're Alex Rider, that is.

A con artist has realized there is big money in charity— the bigger the disaster, the greater the money flow! So that is what he will produce: the biggest disaster known to man, all thanks to genetically modified corn that can release a virus so potent it can knock out an entire country in one windy day. But Alex Rider, tired of working for MI6 the past year, will face whatever it takes—gunfire, explosions, hand-to-hand combat with mercenaries— to bring down his most dangerous adversary yet.

Often imitated, never equaled, the series that triggered a reading phenomenon is back, exhilarating and addictive as ever.

Alex is James Bond in miniature, but to just say that would be to deny the greatest fun of the series. Bond certainly didn't have missions with quite so much emotional impact as the almost-15 Alex has had to deal with. Since being recruited part-time by MI6, he has faced an assassin, fought a clone of himself, swam in shark-infested waters, tried to stop a missile on board Air Force One, escaped a burning hot air balloon, left the earth's atmosphere, and found out some frightening truths about his family. All in all, a sense of tiredness has hit Alex, who is weary of missions and really only wants the newest Assassin's Creed game (understandable). That's not to say he doesn't get into some impressive scrapes this time around. My favorite involves armed guards, a school bus, a chimney, a greenhouse full of poisonous plants, and an exploding gel pen. It's quite impressive.

I've been reading this series ever since it came out in the US, and when the UK editions were published a year earlier, I ordered them online from overseas. There's an intensely readable wit that Horowitz infuses in all of his books that really comes into play here. And he knows how to write a good action scene. The last terrifying, desperate battle atop an African dam is a white-knuckled page-turner, and the painfully original torture scene is written with chilling verve. I'm thoroughly convinced Alex can survive anything, from a sniper's bullet to a burning building to a swim in a frozen Scottish Loch. These books are wonderfully over-the-top, and yet... they still manage to be plausible. While certain scenes may indicate this is the end of the series, Horowitz went out with a literal bang. And I'm definitely willing to go an further adventures with Alex Rider.

My rating: 10/10. Read this series.

Coming Soon: Before They Are Hanged.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Shadow Dragons

I've been on board James A. Owen's Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series ever since Book 1, Here, There Be Dragons came out. I've always enjoyed Owen's cavalier restructuring of myths and established stories while paying tribute. Having said that, Book 4, The Shadow Dragons, was a strange reading experience for me. Why? I'll explain soon enough.

World War II has been raging for three years, but a more terrible evil is just over the horizon. The last stones are falling from the Keep of Time, and the Imperial Cartological Society, led by Richard Burton, has collected doors and is building a new tower at the request of an old enemy: the Winter King's shadow. He has a terrible weapon -- the Spear of Destiny -- that can be used to command the shadows of anyone it touches.

The Shadow King uses the Spear of Destiny to enlist an unstoppable army of Dragon shadows. And after the Archipelago falls, the Shadow King intends to use the turmoil of World War II to take over both worlds.

All the legendary Caretakers, past and present, come together to save two worlds, and their only hope lies with a small group of companions who are on the quest for the broken sword Caliburn: the Grail Child, Rose Dyson; her clockwork companion, the owl Archie; a dead professor of ancient literature; and the mythical knight Don Quixote.

That's the story for this one, in it's least spoilerish and complicated form. It's huge, epic, and in other hands might collapse under its sheer magnitude. Even Owen gives this volume the slowest start in the series thus far. This book is the hardest to get into, though not because of poor writing. Owen takes his time to set things up for the biggest climax in the entire Imaginarium Geographica, and if you've read Books 1-3, you know that's saying something. Owen still displays a formidable talent in bringing an incredibly detailed saga to life, with more than a few laughter-inducing moments for the more well-read portion of his crowd. I think my favorite of these is at the end, with a great gag involving the Master himself, Edgar Allen Poe. While the opening is not my favorite, the closing, with all its hints at future volumes to come, makes this entry one of the strongest yet. Bring on Book 5: The Dragon's Apprentice.

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: Well, it's not decided yet, but I can guess it'll be Before They Are Hanged.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Here's a Tasty Little Poll for You...

Well, right now, I'm working on The Shadow Dragons by James A. Owen, Book 4 in the spellbinding Imaginarium Geographica series. After that... who knows? I'll give out a little secret: it's you.

I'd like some guidance on which unfinished series I should start next. Here are my options:

The Night Angel Troligy by Brent Weeks. More specifically, Book 2: Shadow's Edge. I read and absolutely loved the first book of Weeks's trilogy (published in monthly installments), The Way of Shadows. It continues the life story of infamous assassin Kylar Stern. I would not have any trouble convincing myself to read this one.

The Jimmy Fincher Saga by James Dashner. More specifically, Book 2: A Gift of Ice. It's been all of a few weeks (no pun from earlier intended) since I've read The Maze Runner, and I absolutely love Dashner's writing. Also, this would be a nice quick read, since the book's only about 200 pages long.

The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. More specifically, Book 2 (I sense a trend here): Before They Are Hanged. While I'd bet good money that Abercrombie's characters are an unpleasant group to be around in person, they are a delight to read about. Surely a stranger group could not be found to embark upon a quest to save the world.

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (and recently coauthored by Brandon Sanderson). More specifically, Book 4 (Ha! I broke the trend!): The Shadow Rising. Rand, the mythical Dragon Reborn, and Co. do it again, scrambling desperately to fulfill prophecies and overthrow the Dark One. Don't expect it to happen for a while; there are going to be ten volumes following this. But the journey should prove to be enjoyable. A must for all readers of fantasy.

Let me get this straight first: I'm going to read all these books someday. It just may not be right now. And I can be easily convinced to read any of the books mentioned above. Please vote and leave a comment.

And...that's all! Have a pleasant day.

Until we meet again,

The Writer

Curse of the Spider King

What? No Shadow Dragons review yet? Well, I got into this one first. And don't worry, I'm working on it. I've read everything from Wayne Thomas Batson that he's published: The Door Within Trilogy and the extremely fun Isle of Swords duology (I refuse to call them the Pirate Adventures books like the publisher does, simply because these titles are so boring.). Now he's coauthored a book with fellow Christian writer Christopher Hopper, and it's the start of a series of unannounced length: The Berinfall Prophecies. From the looks of it so far, it's the biggest project Batson has dived into to date. But is it good? Can he make the transition to coauthoring without some seriously huge bumps in the road?

Of course he can, silly.

The Seven succeeding Elven Lords of Allyra were dead, lost in the Siege of Berinfell as babes. At least that's what everyone thought until tremors from a distant world known as Earth, revealed strange signs that Elven blood lived among its peoples. With a glimmer of hope in their hearts, sentinels are sent to see if the signs are true. But theirs is not a lone errand. The ruling warlord of Allyra, the Spider King, has sent his own scouts to hunt down the Seven and finish the job they failed to complete many ages ago.

Now 13-year-olds on the brink of the Age of Reckoning when their Elven gifts will be manifest, discover the unthinkable truth that their adoptive families are not their only kin. With mysterious Sentinels revealing breathtaking secrets of the past, and dark strangers haunting their every move, will the young Elf Lords find the way back to the home of their birth? Worlds and races collide as the forces of good and evil battle. Will anyone escape the Curse of the Spider King?

That's right. Curse of the Spider King is an actual curse inside the book, not just some corny title.

I haven't read anything of Christopher Hopper's, but this book has convinced me I need to remedy that situation in the not-too-distant future. His and Batson's voices mix together smoothly and without giving the reader the feeling that only one of the authors wrote any certain part. The execution of this concept is done beautifully, giving basically the whole volume to introducing the ideas of the series to us in a flowing way. While it may not be my favorite of Batson's (that would be The Final Storm), I enjoyed every minute I read it. It kept me glued to the page and even made me laugh aloud in a couple of moments. I honestly am exctied for the upcoming Book 2, which has a preview in the back of Book 1 and is tentatively titled Venom and Song. Give this one to your kids, or better yet, read it aloud so you get to experience the fun to be had here. All in all, a great starter to a promising series.

My rating: 9.5/10

Coming Soon: The Shadow Dragons, for real this time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Maze Runner

In the wake of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, post-apocalyptic is the new "it" genre. Authors are moving from fantasy to throwing their characters into massively challenging and/or deadly situations in the distant future. Don't worry,James Dashner's The Maze Runner was started before The Hunger Games. The closest thing I can describe it to is Holes mixed with William Sleator's classic House of Stairs.

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers. Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

This one's impossible to put down. I mean, I actually read it in a day. The characters are intriguing, the setting is a puzzle, to say the least, and the payoff is great. James Dashner is a fantastic writer, and he has now proven that he can write anything if he so desires. I give him a pat on the back for giving us his best book yet, full of all the literary treats that make a book enjoyable. I can't wait for Book 2 in the trilogy, The Scorch Trials, set to come out next year.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: The Shadow Dragons

Monday, October 19, 2009

My 25 Favorite Move Scenes-- The Final Four!

This is it. The Final Four. The top movie scenes. Welcome to the end.

4. “He is Edmond Dantes” (V for Vendetta): Everyone needs to watch this movie. It’s the Wachowski Borthers’ (Matrix) finest work, Hugo Weaving’s acting is phenomenal, and the writing is absolutely top-notch. This final scene, examining the vengeful nature of its protagonist, has amazing cinematography, intelligent and gorgeous acting from Natalie Portman, and a great score that tastefully uses the 1812 Overture.

3. Opening Scene (Raiders of the Lost Ark): This is what every action movie wants to be, and it pulls out all the stops in the first five minutes. This sequence not only introduces you to the character of Indiana Jones, but it also gives you a good taste of where the movie is going. The moment with the boulder is pure movie magic, and cinema history.

2. Mount Doom (The Return of the King): This is the definition of pure, unadulterated EPIC. The score, by Howard Shore, is at its height for the trilogy, the acting (from Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, and a whole slew of others) reaches an emotional climax, and I believe it’s impossible to watch this sequence without your heart beating twice as fast.

And the number 1 moment is...
1. Oh Captain, My Captain (Dead Poets Society): This film has been seen by far too few people, but it should be seen by everyone in the world. This is Robin Williams’ best role in my opinion, and this final scene is done pitch-perfect. The scene ties in with earlier motifs established in the movie, ties up several emotional character-arcs, and has a great score. There is absolutely no way I can watch this scene without crying, and I am not the world’s biggest softie. Watch this movie. Watch it now. Then watch all of the others on this list.

So there it is. My top 25. Were there any I omitted? Do you think any scenes you remember were better than the ones I included? Feel free to comment below.

Coming Soon: The Maze Runner

Sunday, October 18, 2009

My 25 Favorite Movie Scenes, Part IV

The final four are coming soon, and here we go again!

9. The Really Big Spoiler Scene (The Empire Strikes Back): I’m not going to say anything about this one, but there’s no need. A plot twist this big and unexpected has ingrained itself into popular culture to the point of being a cliché.

8. Rescuing Buttercup (The Princess Bride): I love this movie. Everything about it is great. But this is my favorite sequence, as Westley deals with a master with the sword, a giant, and a cunning Sicilian. But it’s much more fun than all that.

7. I Don’t Think Now Is The Best Time (Pirates of the Caribbean-- At World’s End): The best wedding scene ever. Why can’t all wedding scenes be like this? Or like Maria’s wedding. For sheer fun value, alone with some of Hans Zimmer’s best music, this scene gets a spot.

6. Parade Scene-- Twist and Shout (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off): This. Is. The. Funniest. Most. Incredible. Scene. Ever. I could watch it every day for the rest of my life. Turns a parade into an epic comedic affair.

5. The Sound of Music (The Sound of Music): Beautiful scenery. Beautiful singing. This is a scene that sticks in viewers’ heads through the whole movie. Julie Andrews struck gold once again. The beginning of a tour-de-force that is truly fantastic.

Coming Soon: The Final Four, and several book reviews.

Friday, October 16, 2009

My 25 Favorite Movie Scenes, Part III

The list goes on, and the moments are getting more memorable.

14. Neo vs. Agent Smith (The Matrix): No, not any of the later standoffs with the Smith clones. This is the real deal, the reason people fell in love with these movies to begin with. There is a great use of bullet-time here, one where-- hey-- there are actual bullets being fired.

13. Final Scene (12 Angry Men): Henry Fonda is fantastic. I adore this movie. And the pivotal final moment is one where it is impossible to pull your eyes away from the screen.

12. Can-Can Fight (Stardust): Maybe I should just say “All of Stardust”. You really must watch this movie if you haven’t yet. And read the book, too. They’re both good. That aside, this is the best use of the Can-Can you’ll ever find in a movie, and the Robert DeNiro element is absolutely perfect.

11. Landing Sequence (Airplane!): If you haven’t watched this comedy goofball masterpiece, do so this instant. This is full of so many visual gags, but my favorite is the “just kidding” moment with the lights. Those who have seen it know what I mean.

10. Scar Story (The Dark Knight): Isn’t this just creepy? I mean, seriously. Heath Ledger was one of a kind, and his scenes are both immensely quotable and impossible not to watch. The depth with which he gets into his character proves he deserved his Oscar.
Coming Soon: More of the list.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My 25 Favorite Movie Scenes, Part II

The fun continues! On an aside, sometimes the moments are on there simply because of the way all of the elements come together. For example, if the music element hadn't been present in X3, then it wouldn't have been on the list.

19. Hobbiton (The Fellowship of the Ring): Wow, this is a moment where my mental picture of Tolkien’s words came alive on the screen. It was incredible, and it let me know right away these films would be incredible.

18. The Three Tasks (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade): Interweaving a slew of Biblical allusions with fantastic acting, suspense, and music (John Williams’ third movie on the list), this one is worth watching again and again for the editing as well. The only finale of the Indiana Jones movies that really worked for me.

17. Climax (Serenity): Firefly’s swan song was beautifully done by Joss Whedon. The action is great, and the fulfillment of several character arcs is great. And the shot with River at the end-- if you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I’m talking about-- is jaw-dropping.

16. Music of the Night (Phantom of the Opera): The music is breathtaking. Nuff said.

15. Maria’s Wedding (The Sound of Music): The perfect reprisal of the “How do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” blended with shots of a gorgeous cathedral make for a perfect moment of joy-- before the Nazis arrive.

Coming Soon: More of the list.

Just After Sunset

Stephen King is the master of the short story. (Well, so is Bradbury, but still). Just After Sunset is his newest collection, the last thing of his to be released before his next epic, Under the Dome, comes out on November 10. There are thirteen tales this time around (and what a perfect number), each one a gem in of itself.

I'll just highlight a few this time. There's "The Things They Left Behind", which is sad and moving and very well done. There's the last of his old short stories, "The Cat from Hell", and it's got some loely over-the-top beats. "The Gingerbread Girl" feels like a short reworking of Duma Key, but with a female protagonist and no eerie paintings. Actually, it bears pretty much no resemblance to Duma Key. "A Very Tight Place" goes for the gross-out factor, being the story of a man fighting for survival whilst in a Port-O-San. And "N." is King's creepy masterpiece of the bunch, the one which, like "1408" in Everything's Eventual, will haunt your memory long after it has ended.

But that's less than half of the stories presented. There's a lot of enjoyment to be had in the reading here. King continually shows he is the master, and we would all do well to read some of his short stories.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: More on my Top 25 List.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My 25 Favorite Movie Scenes, Part I

I'm a big fan of movies. I just absolutely love them. And I would reccomend any of the movies on the list for the scenes I picked alone. So, while they may not be the best 25 movie scenes ever, they're my favorite movie scenes.

25. Falling With Style Reprise (Toy Story): I know this is a strange way to start this list off, but it’s true. The music is top-notch, the voice-acting is great, and there’s no way I can keep Pixar off this list. They’re geniuses.

24. Hollywood Finale (Blazing Saddles): And the great Mel Brooks, master of comedy, has made it onto the list. This one is a hoot, ripping the characters out of their time and straight into ours. Don’t miss the great pie fight and the Blazing Saddles premiere.

23. Hogwarts Unveiling (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone): While I am not always a fan of Chris Columbus’ films, this one strikes the perfect balance of music (by John Williams) and visuals. An unforgettable bit of movie magic-- pardon the pun.

22. Anakin/Obi-Wan Duel (Star Wars Episode III-- Revenge of the Sith): This climactic scene from everybody’s favorite series of oddly-named films is an absolute winner, with some of John Williams’ best scoring and one of the saga’s high emotional (and tragic) points.

21. Lucy at the Lamp Post (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe): This is a magical moment with amazing cinematography and authentic acting from Georgie Henley. Once again, the score helps sell this moment.

20. Wolverine and Jean/Phoenix (X-Men-- The Last Stand): I wouldn’t put this one on here, except for the score. The music here is some of the best-placed I’ve ever heard in a movie, and the emotions run high while the scene feels truly epic.

Coming Soon: Just After Sunset and the next five winners.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Leven Thumps and the Ruins of Alder

All things must come to an end. This has been the moral of my reading year as I've read the end of not one, not two, but ten series. That's right, ten. Too many to name. But they're all over now. It's odd, how there are so many that have ended. 2009 was a big year for the story. But the endings aren't finished yet. (No pun intended. Actually, I change my mind. Pun very much intended.) We still have Charlie Bone and the Red Knight, Peter and the Sword of Mercy (What? There's another one?), and any completed series I decide to go ahead and finish up this year. I've been reading from one emotional climax to another, and it's actually quite draining. The things I do for you readers, especially those of you who are kind enough to follow the blog.

On an entirely different note, here's Leven Thumps and the Ruins of Alder.

In the fifth and final volume of the epic saga of Leven Thumps, all of Foo is rushing madly to exit the realm of dreams while Leven is headed in the opposite direction. Fate snatches him to the island of Alder, where he is poised to pass or fail the final test. Meanwhile, in Reality, Ezra and Dennis are welcoming those flowing out of Foo— but only so they can selfishly conquer them and gain control of both realms. Phoebe is loose, and it takes Geth getting ahold of her to begin to balance the emotions and passions of all that is crumbling. And Winter? Well, Winter just might hold the answer to everything.

I have enjoyed this series since it came out. I've always given it props for its creativity and Obert Skye's unique writing style (his use of bizarre examples that clue you in on his own unusual character). The whimsical nature of the writing provides an intriguing contrast to the epic concepts and story at hand. And here's something I hadn't fully grasped: Skye is a master at foreshadowing, giving us hints about the conclusion of his series before page one. I've had a great time reading this series, and I can't wait to get my hands on Skye's next project: Geth and the Return of the Lithens.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: Confidential. Well, not really. But I don't feel like telling you.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles Complete Serial review

Last year, I reviewed The Spiderwick Chronicles about the time the movie adaptation came out. I greatly enjoyed the serial, and I was happy to find Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles, a three-part serial which is connected to the Spiderwick world and which is Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black's last foray into the world of the fae.

The Nixie's Song (1 of 3): The Spiderwick Chronicles leave the old-fashioned charm of New England far behind and head south for some fiendish faerie fun in the hot Florida sun. Eleven-year-old Nicholas Vargas only thinks his life has been turned upside down after his developer father remarries and moves his new wife and daughter into the soon-to-be completed Mangrove Hollow. But an "expedition" to a nearby lake turns up a little nixie with a giant problem - the huge, lumbering, fire-breathing variety - and it's up to Nick; his stepsister, Laurie; and his big brother, Julian (plus a familiar face from the original Spiderwick Chronicles) to figure out the best way to stop a host of rampaging giants before all of Florida goes up in smoke.

A Giant Problem (2 of 3): In the words of Nick Vargas: "Talk about out of the frying pan, into the fire! I was pretty sure that my freaky stepsister and that freaky field guide of hers would ruin my life. But now it looks like they're going to ruin all of Florida, too! Okay, maybe that's not fair. Maybe all these stupid giants would be waking up anyway, but if it wasn't for her and that book, I'd be home playing video games and this would be someone else's giant problem! "

The Wyrm King (3 of 3): In the final installment of Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles, Nick and Laurie had thought they solved their giant problems when they drove all the giants into the sea. But now, the Grace kids have come back to tell them they may have more trouble coming their way!
It turns out the giants control the population of Hydra, a dragon like creature that is creating sinkholes all over Florida. But with the mermaids refusing to return the giants to the shore, the nixie's still missing and the threat of a destroyed Florida drawing closer, the kids have to take matters in their own hands. Will Nick and Laurie be able to stop the destruction they unwittingly caused? Can a new giant hunter help save the day? Can Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide help them out of this or are they on their own?

There's a lot of fun to be had in reading this serial. Like the original, it's fast-paced, imaginative, and always intriguing. The pencil sketches once again really bring out the images that are already put in your head by the writing. This one isn't quite as good as the first, and sometimes it feels even more rushed than the original, but it's still reccomended reading.

My rating: 9.5/10

Coming Soon: Leven Thumps and the Ruins of Alder, and those new reviews...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bran Hambric-- The Farfield Curse

I apologize in advance. This review was a long time coming. I would make this post for multiple books, but I believe Kaleb Nation's debut novel is worth its own post. Bran Hambric-- The Farfield Curse has garnered positive reviews from the likes of D.J. MacHale (PENDRAGON) and Kaza Kingsley (Erec Rex).

On the third night of the third month in 2003, fourteen-year-old Kaleb Nation suddenly imagined a boy and a banker on a roof, waiting for a burglar to come. From that original idea was born the story of Bran Hambric, a novel that would take most of Kaleb’s teenage years to write.

In a bustling metropolis where magic is outlawed, a six-year-old child is found inside a locked bank vault. A scrap of paper reveals his name: Bran Hambric. The child remembers nothing of his life before the vault. Only magic could have done this. But why would any mage risk breaking the law to place a child in a bank vault?

Eight years later the City of Dunce has forgotten about Bran. Even his foster parents don't seem to know he exists. But there are those who have been watching, biding their time, waiting to strike, people who know where Bran came from and why he was sent away. And they will do anything to get Bran back, dead or alive…

Welcome to a world unlike any other where the adventure of a lifetime is just beginning.

In the wake of Harry Potter, we are among a slew of writers being published who are perfectly happy to let their creativity run wild. There are gnomes, magicians, an evil being possessed by an unlikely person, a secret room in the back of a bookstore, and a city where magic is outlawed. Kaleb Nation has promised readers a fun adventure in an interesting world, and he delivers wonderfully. And this book just feels like the tip of the iceberg. There are forthcoming sequels, and I'm hoping for an even deeper look into the bizarre Dunceland. One minor complaint: I'd appreciate a little less screen time from the undesirable family Bran lives with. Their characters get a bit grating after a while.

My rating: 9/10. I am confident Kaleb Nation has a great career ahead of him.

Coming Soon: Leven Thumps and the Ruins of Alder, Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles (full serial review), and as I promised, the start of a new set of reviews.