Monday, July 29, 2013

Prowlers by Christopher Golden

In recent years, the number of books about shapeshifters, werewolves, ghosts, and other extraordinary characters has multiplied. If you're digging through all of these series in search of your next read, look no further: Prowlers by Christopher Golden has been republished! Get all four books now!

I highly recommend Prowlers. It contains all of the elements which are vital to a good horror story: intriguing protagonists who are both fallible and brave, villains who are devious and memorable, high stakes, interesting plot twists and reveals, and lots of action and tension. Here's my capsulized summary and review:

At age nineteen, Jack Dwyer's best friend Artie is murdered. Not by humans, but by Prowlers, a group of ancient creatures whose handiwork is typically thought to be that of wolves.

But these are no wolves. They are animals, but their ability to think, their emotions and their need for revenge makes them as cunning as humans. Jack, as well as most of America, knows nothing of the Prowlers... That is, until Artie travels from the Ghostlands to tell his friend what truly happened.

Prowlers is positively riveting and inventive. Before the book was through, I was captivated by the villains, connected to the protagonists, and yearning to go on the prowl again.

Luckily, Prowlers is the first of a quartet of novels, so I could continue the journey with Jack and company through the other books. Of course, when the fourth and final book came out, I pretended it wasn't the last book. It couldn't be. As soon as I turned the last page, I felt the need to read all four books again. And again.

Here's the official book flap summary for the first book:

Long have the packs lacked a great leader. Scattered far and wide, they have hunted as best they could in the hard lands, in places where their predations could be passed off as the work of true wolves. Instead of...Prowlers

When nineteen-year-old Jack Dwyer's best friend Artie is murdered, he is devastated. But his world is truly turned upside down when Artie emerges from the Ghostlands to bring him a warning.

With his dead friend's guidance and the help of the one person who doesn't think he's insane, Jack learns of the existence of the Prowlers. Under bold new leader Owen Tanzer, the Prowlers, already eight packs strong, have united. They move from city to city, preying on humans until they are close to be being exposed, then they move on. And unlike werewolves of legend, they aren't human beings whom the moon transforms into wolves...they are savage beasts masquerading as humans.

Jack wants revenge. But even as he hunts the Prowlers, he marks himself -- and all of his loved ones -- as prey. 

There are four books in the series, and they should be read in order:
Laws of Nature
Predator and Prey
Wild Things

Click here to learn more about the series.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Axe Cop by Malachai and Ethan Nicolle

Axe Cop: the name says it all. One day a cop found a magical axe and used it to fight crime. Around the same time, five-year-old Malachai Nicolle teamed up with his professional artist brother Ethan to write a comic book. Ethan took Malachai's words—which usually involve explosions, aliens, and secret attacks—and gave them a visual flourish. And thus Axe Cop was born.
Contained in these pages is a frenzy of unchecked childhood imagination that has been given infinite space to roam free. Malachai invents adventures involving machine gun-toting dinosaurs on the Moon and magic babies with unicorn horns. Axe Cop's adventures are narrated in a plain-spoken manner which adds to their appeal. Axe Cop always says exactly what he is thinking.
"We should put these heads on a stick and hide bombs in them."
This sense of hyper-earnestness and lack of sarcasm on display makes book's tone ridiculously refreshing.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer

The Reluctant Assassin (W.A.R.P. #1) by Eoin Colfer
London, 1898 --  Riley stands over his mark, an old man sleeping in his bed. His master, Albert Garrick, has brought Riley here to make his first kill. He edges closer to the mark. He doesn't want to be a killer, but he's more afraid of Garrick than the man in the bed. The man wakes up, and it's clear he's no ordinary man. Before Riley can figure out what the strange man means when he says that others will figure out what happened, Garrick forces his hand. But as the man is dying, something very strange happens, and Riley finds himself transported.

London, present day -- After embarrassing the Bureau when her first assignment goes south, teenage Special Agent Chevron Savano finds herself babysitting a strange pod in a house in London, working with the strange Agent Orange, who will tell her nothing but that she must watch the pod. Chevie expects nothing but boredom from her assignment. Until the pod lights up and releases Riley (and the corpse of the man Garrick killed) in modern day London. Unfortunately, Albert Garrick soon follows, and Chevie and Riley must team up if they are to survive the murderous wrath of Albert Garrick.

I really enjoyed this book. I polished the whole thing off in one long, late night reading session. The opening sequence, with a knife in the dark, reminded me of Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book, and Albert Garrick is a villain of the same stripe as the Man Jack in that book, with a bit of Gaiman's Croup and Vandemar thrown in as he stalks Chevie and Riley across time and space. I also really liked Riley and Chevie. Sometimes I find it difficult to suspend my disbelief when kids are also kick-ass spies and such, but Colfer built a believable world for his kick-ass characters in a story that's a fun blend of The Bourne Identity and Oliver Twist.

As you can see, this book is the beginning of a series, but the book works very well on its own, so if you want a great action story without committing to a series, you should definitely check this out. And, if you really like the characters, you can look forward to their future adventures without waiting at the edge of a cliffhanger.

This is cross posted at (Library Lass) Adventures in Reading

Monday, July 22, 2013

Itch: The Explosive Adventures of an Element Hunter by Simon Mayo

Some people collect baseball cards.

Others collect comic books.

Fourteen-year-old Itchingham Lofte collect elements. You know, as in lead, sulfur, phosphorous, and the other elements that make up the periodic table. It's an unusual hobby, and one that often gets Itch into unexpected trouble.

Itch's element collection is pretty small, comprised of things he's scavenged from home or managed to buy from a peddler. But some elements are expensive, and some are too dangerous to be sold. When Itch buys a sample of what he thinks is uranium, but turns out to be an extremely radioactive unknown element that could change the world, he must figure out how to keep the rocks out of the clutches of villains who are willing to do anything to get their hands on the mysterious new element.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Inner Game of Tennis

"To uncover and explore the potential within the human body is the quest of the Inner Game; in this book it will be explored through the medium of tennis." (From the author's introduction)

Here is a great article (more than a review)about this book's effect on readers' performance. The ideas are helpful for more than just tennis. I did not read it when it was published in the seventies, because I had William Tilden's How to Play Better Tennis, which really did help my game. I have not been on the court in years. But now I will read The Inner Game of Tennis. It may inspire me to play again, but even if it does not, I expect to learn to find the state of "relaxed concentration" necessary to peak performance. Sounds good to me!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress

Summer, the time Hollywood likes to bombard movie theatres with action movies where lots of things blow up and the balance of life as we know it may hang in the balance. In a world where digital special effects can deliver the most mind-bendingly realistic visions of destruction we have become numbed to the possibilities of things more deadly happening, literally beneath our feet, quietly preparing to destroy mankind.

This is the premise of Nancy Kress's ecological science-fiction story After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall. Despite sounding like a trilogy, what Kress delivers is a tale told fragments of Earth before, during, and after the planet has gone about the process of putting itself back into balance. It's probably best not to say too much about what, exactly, happens except that if you're a fan of earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions -- or more importantly, what happens after all three of those things happen at once -- then that's all you need to know going in.

Well, almost.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

BLUFFTON by Matt Phelan

BLUFFTON by Matt Phelan is an interesting sort of tale. It's fiction, but it's exceptionally real. Named after a place, it's about a fictional boy named Henry, who lives in Muskegon, Michigan, and visits the nearby community of Bluffton, located near the shores of Lake Michigan. Except in a lot of ways, it's about a different boy -- a real boy known as Buster Keaton, who grew to be one of the greatest directors (and actor/directors) in history. Only truly, in the end, it's about what life was like in Bluffton during three consecutive summers (1908-1910), when the vaudevillians came to stay.

You see, once upon a time, before there were movies, there was vaudeville, described by "Ed Gray, Noted Monologuist" in the book as follows:

Vaudeville is variety.

A veritable cavalcade of comedians, jugglers, dancers, magicians, acrobats, musicians, and dramatic actors . . . . all for short, precise acts of the highest entertainment value!

A day in the theater promises twelve to fifteen acts to amuse, inspire, electrify, edify, and enlighten (for one small price).
And along with Harry Houdini, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and others, Buster Keaton was one of the biggest stars of the vaudeville circuit as part of a family act called "The Three Keatons". Their style of act was known as a "knockabout act", in which Buster got kicked, thrown, and dragged around, all while keeping a deadpan expression on his face.

This book is and is not all about Buster Keaton, but it does give you a good impression of what his life and childhood were like, and how it differed from the lives of "normal" children, who grew up in one place, went to school, and had to help out at home or in their father's shops. The book also makes clear why it was that in later years he always said that the happiest days of his life were the summers he spent in Bluffton.

The early 20th century and the people of Muskegon and Bluffton are brought wonderfully back into life, allowing the reader to experience what it must have been like for local kids to mix with the vaudevillians (and a little bit of the vice versa experience). Real - and realistic - in a way that a straight-up biography would not have been, for some readers this book will be a gateway to further research into Buster Keaton and/or vaudeville or Keaton's movies. And that can only be a good thing.

I reviewed an ARC of the book, which was (woefully) in black and white, but came with a fold-out card showing what some of the full-cover spreads are going to look like - and they are spectacular. Below is a photo I took of one of the spreads on the card, although I'm sorry to say that it doesn't do the work full justice. Still, it gives you a feeling for the aesthetic of the book, which is due out on July 23, 2013:

Monday, July 8, 2013

William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher

I hate Ian Doescher. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher, like Cardboard Gods, Josh Wilker’s memoir told through baseball cards, and The Lover’s Dictionary, David Levithan’s story of a relationship told through dictionary entries, is a book whose structure frustrates me. Frustrates me because the latent writer in me hears about it and believes that, had I come up with the idea, I could have written this book. (And by “could have” I of course mean “should have.”) But I didn’t. He did. And for that I hate him. But don’t let my hate stop you from reading Doescher’s excellent five-act iambic pentameter retelling of the original Star Wars. If droid-inspired Daft Punk can top the charts, and science fiction icon Joss Whedon can release a Shakespeare comedy, then surely the time is right for a Shakespearean version of Star Wars.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

After meeting with a class of 7th and 8th graders who had been energetically debating Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, I decided I needed to try and find a way to read it sooner rather than later.

This novel seems like a standard recommendation for anyone who wishes to read YA or write it. I believe it's an important book not only for women (teens and adults alike), but also for boys and men as it shows the difficulty of being the object of sexual abuse and the damage that occurs over the long term. Considering the high-profile events of the past year involving rape and the battle for women's legal rights, a book like this can broaden a male reader's understanding of how male behavior and aggression, as well as female silence, need to be discussed rather than dismissed.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

If Books were Rock Stars

Sometimes, when I go out at night to hear a new band playing somewhere I'll be listening to the opening act and I'll think "These guys are pretty good. I wonder why they're not headlining." Then the headliner will come out and deliver something so much more powerful or subtle or technically perfect or otherwise imbued with such awesomeness that I'll be left thinking, simply, "Oh, that's why."

The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater was like that for me. It's a book so rich and strange and funny and, above all, spooky, that as soon as I started it, it left my previous summer reading--good books, all--feeling like inferior warm-up acts, humbly packing up their gear while the real show got underway.

Blue lives with her mother and some aunts, all of them psychics. A problem with living with psychics is that they may tell you things about your future that you don't necessarily want to know. In Blue Sargeant's case, it's that if she kisses her true love , he will die.