Book Review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig


Author:Matt Haig
TitleHow to Stop Time
Narrator: Mark Meadows
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2018)
Summary/Review:

The narrator of this novel Tom Hazard has a genetic condition that makes him age physically at a significantly slower pace than the typical human.  In the present day he is over 400 years old but only appears middle-aged.  The narrative switches back and forth from Tom’s present day attempt to make a normal life for himself as a history teacher in London and memories of his past.  These include the horrors inflicted upon him by superstitious people, his one true romance with his wife Rose in Elizabethan England, and his recruitment into a club of similar people who age slowly in the late 19th century.  It makes for a charming mix of historical fiction and a contemporary romance.  Haig is good at filling in the details of what it would be like to live, work, and love over the time of centuries, accumulating memories and experiences.

Recommended booksThe Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Time and Again by Jack Finney
Rating: ***1/2

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Book Review: The Princess, The Scoundrel, and The Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken


AuthorAlexandra Bracken
TitleThe Princess, The Scoundrel, and The Farm Boy: An Original Retelling of Star Wars: A New Hope
Narrator: Rebecca Soler, Marc Thompson
Publication Info: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group , 2015
Summary/Review:

The is a new novelization of the  original Star Wars film adapted for younger audiences (albeit the original novelization is something I enjoyed as a kid and this is something I enjoy as an adult so those specifications are rather loose).  Bracken uses the movie script, the 1981 Star Wars radio drama, and her own imagination to retell Star Wars: A New Hope in three parts: first from Leia’s point of view from her capture by Vader to the destruction of Alderaan, the story picks up with Han from the cantina to their escape from the Death Star, and Luke holds the point of view for the final third of the movie.

Since everything is seen from the point of view of one of these three characters, scenes from the movie such as those involving R2-D2 and C-3PO and Darth Vader and other imperial leaders are left out, while the part of Luke’s story from the early part of the movie is only told in conversations and Luke’s memories.  But what is lost is made up for by the rich detail of each character’s inner life and perspectives, as well as scenes that aren’t in the movie (my favorite involves Luke going through an X-Wing simulator test with Wedge Antilles).

I can’t imagine that there are many people who would come to this book with no previous knowledge of Star Wars but I think it would be a treat for that reader, while stilling allowing a lot of surprises if they eventually see the movie.  The audiobook is enhanced by familiar John Williams music, sound effects, and voice acting by the narrators Soler and Thompson.  This would make an excellent accompaniment to a long family road trip.

Recommended books: Star Wars by George Lucas and Star Wars : Before the Awakening by George Rucka

Book Review: Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett


Author: Terry Pratchett
TitleMonstrous Regiment
Narrator: Stephen Briggs
Publication Info: Harper Collins Publishers, 2004
Previously Read by the Same Author: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (with Neil Gaiman)
Summary/Review:

I’ve been wanting to find a way into the Discworld series but not knowing where to start, I asked folks on library Twitter, and this book was recommended as an entry point.  This novel follows Polly Perks as she disguises herself as a man and joins the army in order to find her missing brother.  Her ragtag regiment has a lot of individuals not ready for war as well as a vampire, troll, and an Igor.  It turns out that Polly is not the only one in the regiment with a secret.  Spoiler: It turns out that pretty much every member of the regiment is a woman. This leads to a comical plot where they go undercover disguised as washer women.  This is a funny and sharply satirical book, and it does make me want to read more Discworld (recommendations welcome).

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger


Author:  Audrey Niffenegger
TitleThe Time Traveler’s Wife
Narrator: ‎ Fred Berman and Phoebe Strole
Publication Info: HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books
Summary/Review:

It’s worthwhile to sometimes go back and reread one of the books that made my list of Favorite Books of All Time.  It’s been 14 years since I’ve read this book, and I’ll append my original review at the end of this post.

A lot of the things that made me love this book in the first place are still quite appealing.  I love stories of time travel, and that this one has a protagonist whose travel through time is uncontrollable and unexplained makes an interesting twist and creates a great structure for the book.  I also like that he’s a librarian who likes punk rock, because you know, that’s like me.  There were a number of things I forgot from my previous reading as well, most importantly Kimmy, Henry’s childhood landlady who acts a surrogate mother and is an absolutely wonderful character I’ll never forget again. Having become a fan of Doctor Who in recent years, it’s interesting to revisit this book and see how it influenced the story of River Song and the Doctor.

Of course, there are a lot of creepy things about this book, such as an adult man visiting his future wife as a child and establishing a relationship with her (arriving naked to boot).  I do credit Niffenegger for taking a direct approach to these uncomfortable issues rather than shying away from it.  Another thing I realize now that I must’ve been clueless about as a younger reader is that it plays with the romance novel genre as well.  But that’s one of the things that keeps this on my favorite books is that it works on so many levels, science fiction and fantasy, realism and magic, romance and for lack a better term “manliness.”

The voice performances of Fred Berman and Phoebe Strole as Henry and Claire add a lot to this audiobook version of the book as well.

Ok, here’s my short review from 2004:

This book reads almost as if Jasper Fforde took a serious turn. Almost. Complements to Niffenegger for adroitly managing the timeline, both in the story world and how she presents it to the reader. I also admire that she made Henry real by not always having him likable. Yet you can sympathize with him for what he has to do to survive with his chronological problems. I find it interesting that he travels in both time and in space, yet he never seems to travel too far from Chicago or Clare’s childhood home. Curious also that he always bounces back to the “present,” never jumping onward to another time or just staying there for a long time. But I’m quibbling, not with the book, but with the thoughts that occur as I ruminate this brilliant novel. Over 500 pages and I read this in less than a day.

Recommended books:

Time and Again by Jack Finney, Q : a novel by Evan J. Mandery, Every Day by David Levithan, and The Little Book by Selden Edwards

Rating: *****

Movie Review: Coraline (2009)


TitleCoraline
Release Date: 2009 February 6
Director: Henry Selick
Production Company: Laika
Summary/Review:

Coraline has been on my “too-watch” list for some time, so it was good to finally take in this visually stunning stop-motion animated fantasy based on a story by Neil Gaiman.  Coraline is a preteen girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning, with the expressions and mannerisms perfectly matching the voice) moved into a strange old apartment building with eccentric neighbors by her inattentive parents.  She discovers a small door with a passage to a mirror universe of the apartments where her Other Mother and Other Father live and spoil Coraline with her favorite things, and the sad neighbors are actually spectacular circus performers.  It seems a wonderful place even if everyone creepily has buttons for eyes.  All is not as good as it seems and Coraline will have to team up with a black cat (my favorite character) and neighbor Wybie, she uses her wits to avoid being trapped in the alternate universe.

I think Coraline is spectacular visually and great at creating mood and atmosphere.  The story feels a bit thin and Coraline’s game against Other Mother is rushed compared with the rest of the movie and the resolution feels too easy.  That being said Coraline is a remarkable piece of art.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Groundhog Day (1993)


TitleGroundhog Day
Release Date: 12 February 1993
Director: Harold Ramis
Production Company: Columbia Pictures
Summary/Review:

I hadn’t watched Groundhog Day since the 1990s so I figured the 25th anniversary of its release would be a good time to see if it has held up.  The first thing I noticed about the movie is that the production is very 80s/90s, and OMG! Bill Murray looks so young!  The story is familiar, seeped into our culture by now. We see egocentric meteorologist Phil Connors head to cover the Groundhog Day ceremony and then he has to live that same day again and again and again, until he learns a lesson and does it right.  The thing that’s always impressed me is that Phil doesn’t repeat the same day for a week or two, but it’s implied that he’s caught in the loop for thousands perhaps tens of thousands of times. It’s also impressive that the filmmakers were brave enough to never offer an explanation of how or why Phil gets caught in the loop (or how he gets out), it just happens.

Groundhog Day is more melancholy than I remembered.  It moves very smoothly among madcap comedy, romantic comedy, and a more solemn reflection on mortality and morality rather seamlessly.  Much of this is due to the versatility of Bill Murray who can offer both wacky and gravitas depending on the situation.  I guess Groundhog Day  set him up for these type of roles that he’s become more well-known for in his later career in movies such as Rushmore and Lost in Translation.

So it turns out that Groundhog Day is actually better than I remembered and a deserved classic.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik


AuthorNaomi Novik
Title: Uprooted
NarratorJulia Emelin 
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2015)
Previously Read by the Same Author: His Majesty’s Dragon
Summary/Review:

This epic, high fantasy rooted in the Polish folklore focuses on a land tormented by an evil, sentient forest (the Wood) that can only be held in check by the magic of wizards.  The wizard who lives near the provincial village of Dvernik in the kingdom of Polnya, known as The Dragon, selects one teenage girl every 10 years as a tribute.  The novel begins when the protagonist Agnieszka is unexpectedly selected and brought to the Dragon’s castle, The Tower.  There she’s made to perform domestic chores and the Dragon trains her in simple magical spells, frequently berating her for her clumsiness and unruly appearance.  From this “Beauty and the Beast” scenario it’s not surprising that these two will fall in love.

It turns out that Agnieszka is in fact skilled in magic although not in the way that The Dragon expects.  As she becomes more experienced, her compassion moves her to challenge The Dragon’s pragmatic approach of using magic to simply hold back the approach of the Wood.  Instead she liberally applies magic to rescue people trapped by the Wood and pushes the Dragon toward more aggressively combating the evils of the Wood (yes, this book can totally be read as a metaphor of the 2016 Democratic primary campaign).

Agnieszka ends up finding herself thrown into the politics of the royal family and into the ultimate conflict against the Wood.  It’s grim and gory but with a satisfying ending.  I found the book a bit too long and humorless, but a good example of informing a women-centered heroic narrative with elements of classic folklore.

Recommended booksBaba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić, The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and Wicked by Gregory Maguire
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro


Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
TitleThe Buried Giant
Narrator: David Horovitch
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2015)

Previously read by the same authorA Pale View of HillsAn Artist of the Floating World, and  The Remains of the Day 
Summary/Review:

I went through a phase in the 1990s when I read every Kazuo Ishiguro book up to that point. Since then, I’ve completely failed to read any of his new books as they were released.  I decide to make up for that by reading his most recent novel.  While his earlier works are set in the 20th century and have first-person narrators reflecting on their interior lives, and the melancholy of everyday life, this novel is quite different.  The Buried Giant is set in England at a time after the Saxon invasion when the Britons and Saxons are living side-by-side in an uneasy peace.  The novel focuses on an elderly Briton couple, Axl and Beatrice, who have low social status in their community and are suffering from a forgetfulness that’s plaguing the land.  They decide to visit a son that they vaguely recall living in another community, and as they set off on their journey, the seemingly historical fiction begins to take on elements of fantasy.  King Arthur lived and reigned in recent memory and the meet his aged nephew Sir Gawain as well as a Saxon warrior Wistan, and a boy named Edwin who is feared to have been bitten by an ogre.  Others encountered on their journey are a mysterious ferryman, duplicitous monks, and the she-dragon Querig who is responsible for the mist that is causing the forgetfulness. As memories returns, the characters begin to question if they want to remember as forgetting has helped them heal and put aside guilt.  It’s a deeply meditative and atmospheric book that works as a fantasy story and a highly symbolic parable.

Recommended booksThe Sword in the Stone by T. H. White, Company of Liars by Karen Maitland
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White


Author: T.H. White
TitleThe Sword in the Stone
Narrator: Neville Jason
Publication Info: Naxos AudioBooks (2008), originally published in 1938

Summary/Review: For a long holiday road trip with my son, I thought he’d enjoy this introduction to Arthurian mythology.  I did it with some hesitation, as The Once and Future King was one of my favorite books as a child and I feared it may not hold up to nostalgia.  I’m pleased though that this first installment of the tetralogy is still an enjoyable, modernist spin on the story of King Arthur, filling in the story of Arthur’s childhood. Of course, I always thought the The Sword in the Stone was the best of the four parts.  One thing I didn’t know is that White actually made major changes when he incorporated The Sword in the Stone into The Once and Future King, and while I can’t really remember enough to recognize most of the changes I was surprised that Disney didn’t actually make up the duel between Merlyn and Madame Mim.  Another thing I didn’t notice is a kid was just how blatant the anachronisms are, with Meryln living backwards in time making them a running gag.  Knowing how much White loved hunting, I also noticed that he puts a lot of detail into his descriptions of hunts throughout the book, something I must have glazed over as a child.  What remains the same is that the book contains a lot of humor, adventure, animal lore, a cameo by Robin Hood (er, Robin Wood), and surreptitious pacifist social satire.  And my son, well he covered his ears a lot during the scary party, but insisted we keep listening to the story and that we move on to The Witch in the Wood next.

Recommended BooksThe Dragon Stone: A Tale of King Arthur, Merlin & Cabal by John Conlee, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, and The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
Rating: ****1/2

TV Review: Doctor Who (2017)


Title: Doctor Who
Release Dates: 2017
Season: 10
Number of Episodes: 12
Summary/Review:

The 10th series of Doctor Who includes several landmarks.  First, it is Peter Capaldi’s third and final series as The Doctor.  I’ve grown to love his performance and wish he could stick around for one more series.  Of course, I thought that about previous Doctors too, but Capaldi has joined the ranks of my favorite Doctors of all time.  Second, this is the sixth and final series for Steven Moffat as showrunner.  Moffat has been an innovator and changed Doctor Who for the future.  He does have a habit of repeating himself in his themes and ideas, though, so it may have been better if he’d finished a little earlier.  He apparently intended to leave after series 9 but was asked to do one more series, but oh wouldn’t Hell Bent been a story to go out on.   Nevertheless, series 10 shows that Moffat had a few more good story ideas left.  Third, the series sees the return of Matt Lucas as a full-time companion Nardole, a decision that seemed odd at first, but paid off across the season. Finally, this series introduced Pearl Mackie as the new companion, Bill.  As a young, working class woman of color and a lesbian, Bill is a unique character in Doctor Who history, and Mackie shined with her humor, intelligence, and clear chemistry with Capaldi.

Moffat stated that the season was a jumping on point for new viewers and the first four episodes followed a familiar pattern for new companions: meeting the Doctor in the first episode, traveling to the future in the second episode, an historical adventure in the third episode, and the supernatural intruding into the companion’s everyday life in contemporary times in the fourth episode.  All of this is undergirded by the mystery of what The Doctor is keeping in a vault underneath the university.  The middle four episodes took a huge left turn and were more reminiscent of highly experimental style of series 9.  First there was Oxygen, one of the standout episodes of the series that is a caustic critique of capitalism, and features a grave threat to Bill and The Doctor making a sacrifice.  This is followed by three episodes linked together as “The Monks Trilogy,” although each episode features a different screenwriter and director.  Moffat introduces a major new villain in the Monks but unfortunately they’re too reminiscent of previous villains the Silence and the Headless Monks.  The trilogy starts off well with Extremis which could easily be edited to make a stand alone episode, but there are diminishing returns in the ensuing two episodes.  There are good parts to each story, although I don’t know if it would be possible to pare it down to just one or two episodes instead of three. The final four episodes feature a couple of more episodes that fit more into the theme of Bill discovering the thrills of travel in time and space, while also incorporating Michelle Gomez Missy into the Tardis team (spoiler: she’s what was hidden in the vault).  The concluding two-part story World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls is a tour-de-force that explores Missy’s efforts to try to be “good,” the return of John Simm as an earlier incarnation of the Master, and some extreme body horror in the form of the Mondasian Cybermen.  Capaldi, Gomez, Simm, and Mackie all put in a remarkable performance in a mindblowing and heartbreaking story.

The mid-season “Monks Trilogy” derail makes it hard to give the series as a whole top marks, but for the most part it’s some excellent television and a fitting finale to the Capaldi era.  Now Christmas needs to get here so we can say farewell to these characters and meet our first woman Doctor!

Below are links to my reviews of each episode from my Doctor Who sideblog on Tumblr:

  1.  The Pilot (7 of 10)
  2.  Smile (5 of 10)
  3.  Thin Ice (8 of 10)
  4.  Knock Knock (6 of 10)
  5. Oxygen (8 of 10)
  6. Extremis (8 of 10)
  7. The Pyramid at the End of the World (6 of 10)
  8. The Lie of the Land (5 of 10)
  9. The Empress of Mars (7 of 10)
  10.  Eaters of Light (8 of 10)
  11. 12. World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls (8 of 10)

A note on ratings:  A score of 5 is the baseline for a decent story from end to end with 10 being an all-time classic and 0 being an utter stinker.  Basically, any story rated 8-10 is a great story, 5-7 is good and worth watching, 2-4 has its moments but can be passed, and 0-1 is only for the Doctor Who completionist.

Book Review: The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain


Author: Mark Twain
TitleThe Prince and the Pauper
Narrator: Kenneth Jay
Publication Info:  Naxos AudioBooks , 2001
Summary/Review:

I remember enjoying this book as a child (although I can’t remember what age) and since my son is interested in Mark Twain, we listened to the audiobook on a recent road trip.  It was a little bit more complicated than I remembered, and frankly we both had trouble following parts of the story, but perhaps that is a challenge of audiobooks compared with print.  The basic story is well-known in which the poor and abused Tom Canty meets Prince Edward and discovering they resemble one another, swap clothing.  Through a comedy of errors, they are separated and end up with Tom unwillingly becoming king and the prince having to live life at the very bottom of society.  All works out in the end, and Twain is probably too kind on Edward VI’s actual legacy as king, but the book delves into some of the gritty realities of impoverished masses and the court intrigues of the elites.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones by Brandon Sanderson


Author: Brandon Sanderson
TitleAlcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones
Narrator: Ramon De Ocampo
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2012)
Previously Read by the Same Author: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians
Summary/Review:

Six years ago I read the first book in the Alcatraz series and really enjoyed it and meant to continue with the series.  Now at last I’ve read the second book in the series and it was worth the wait.  Sanderson’s Alcatraz Smedry is an unreliable narrator who keeps interrupting the story to deliberately make the reader question everything.  It’s gimmicky but in-universe it works since the concept of this world is that evil librarians control reality.  It’s a funny adventure set in the Library of Alexandria, and Sanderson is committed to the idea of the wraith-like curators persistently trying to trick the human visitors into taking a book in exchange for their soul.  It’s a clever and enjoyable read and I should not wait so long to continue the series.

Recommended booksA Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik


Author: Naomi Novik
TitleHis Majesty’s Dragon
NarratorSimon Vance
Publication Info: Books on Tape (2007)
Summary/Review:

I imagine the author read the Aubrey/Maturin series and thought “I’d like to write that same type of book. With dragons.”  Set in the Napoleonic Wars, this is a historic novel for the most part, with the exception that dragons are real and used by the British and French for airborne battles.  It begins when Naval captain Will Laurence captures a dragon egg from a French ship and forms a bond with the young dragon Temeraire after he hatches.  Laurence and Temeraire quickly form a close relationship, but Laurence is forced to resign from the Navy and join the Aerial Corps, which is not only mysterious and dangerous, but has very low social standing.  Laurence learns that life in the Aerial Corps is more relaxed than in other branches of the military, and that women are paired with dragons and afforded equal standing, so the book is also a comedy of manners in many ways.  Plus, there are cool aerial battles.

I’ve learned that this is the first in a series of 9 books, and while I enjoyed this book, I’m not sure I want to commit to the whole series (I couldn’t even get through all of Aubrey/Maturin).  If you’ve read them, let me know if it is worth continuing.

Recommended booksMaster and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Blizzard of the Blue Moon by Mary Pope Osbourne


Author: Mary Pope Osbourne
TitleBlizzard of the Blue Moon   
Publication Info: New York : Random House, c2006.
Summary/Review:

This may be my favorite Magic Tree House book yet.  Jack and Annie are sent to Depression-era New York City to find a unicorn (SPOILER: If you didn’t guess, it’s in the Cloisters museum, although there’s a great diversion where Jack & Annie try to go to the Bronx Zoo).  Jack & Annie take a subway and a cab on their quest as they have to fight against a blizzard and a pair of dark wizards en route to their goal.  What’s great about this book is that the fantasy and adventure elements are blended so well with an honest portrayal of the poverty and desperation of the Depression.
Rating: ****

TV Review: Game of Thrones (2016)


TitleGame of Thrones
Release Dates: 2016
Season: 6
Number of Episodes: 10
Summary/Review:

In the brutal winter of 2015, I idly decided to give this Game of Thrones show a chance (my wife is a huge fan of the books) and ended up binge-watching all four seasons then in existence.  Medieval fantasy is not usually my thing and the violence on this show can be overwhelming, but I got sucked into the stories and the performances, particularly by Maisie Williams, Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Rory McCann, Conleth Hill, John Bradley, Jerome Flynn, Liam Cunningham, Gwendolyn Christie, and Natalie Dormer.  So then I listened to all five of the audiobooks, and was ready just in time to watch season five as it was broadcast.

And I was disappointed.  The show not only went off-the-book, it went off the rails.  The Dorne plot – a dull tangent in the books – became even more pointless in its tv adaptation.  Ramsey Bolton was repeatedly depicted as senselessly cruel turning a menacing character into a caricature.  And interesting characters like Brienne, Arya, and Daenerys tread water for much of the season.  So I was not looking forward to season six.

Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised.  Season six sees an improvement in writing, several startling revelations, and most impressively some really fantastic directing and cinematography.  This is particularly true of the final two episodes, “Battle of the Bastards”  and  “The Winds of Winter,”  both directed by  Miguel Sapochnik. This season also re-introduces the Greyjoy story on the Iron Islands and the story of Bran and his companions north of the wall, although both stories felt rushed, it was good to see these characters again.  In retrospect, I think it would’ve been wiser of Game of Thrones to spend more time with these stories sprinkled over seasons 5 and 6, rather than their half-assed attempt at the Dorne story (which they literally killed off in season 1.

Some highlights of season 6:

  • The rise of the High Sparrow in King’s Landing (Jonathan Pryce does a great job of making a religious fanatic seem to be the most reasonable person around)
  • The return of Jon Snow
  • The reunion of Jon and Sansa
  • Bran’s visions of his family’s past
  • Theon reuniting with Yara and supporting her as Queen
  • Daenerys victory over the khals
  • The death of Hodor – “hold the door!” – <sniff>
  • The return of The Hound and the Brother Ray’s pacifist community
  • Lady Mormont in every single scene she appears in
  • Arya recognizing her identity and purpose
  • The “Battle of the Bastards” is an amazingly filmed and choreographed with scenes unsettlingly reminiscent of the Hillsborough Disaster but with swords and pikes.  It was amazing work of film, but so disturbing I don’t think I’d ever want to watch it again
  • The building tension of the scenes leading up to the destruction of the Great Sept and the heartbreaking simplicity of the depiction of Tommen’s suicide
  • Sam’s joy at seeing the library at the Citadel
  • The revelation of Jon’s parentage
  • Daenerys making Tyrion the Hand of the Queen

There are still moments of the season that missed the mark, with some poor leaps of logic, but overall this season showed the best of what Game of Thrones can be and established the setting for the climactic final seasons.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Jackaby by William Ritter


Author:  William Ritter
Title:  Jackaby
Narrator: Nicola Barber
Publication Info: HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books (2014)
Summary/Review:

This detective novel set in 1892 in a fictional city in New England openly acknowledges that it is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche in the opening pages.  Even “Sherlock Holmes with fantastical and supernatural elements” has been done before, but Jackaby remains fresh and entertaining.  The title character is an investigator who can see evidence of the paranormal.  The story is narrated by Abigail Rook, a young woman seeking adventure who steps off the ship at New Fiddleham and quickly becomes Jackaby’s assistant embroiled in solving a series of grisly murders.

The narration wisely stays with Abigail as we see Jackaby slowly become a warmer character, but still retaining an air of mystery.  The story has a lot of humor mixed with moments of horror, although nothing overly terrifying.  It’s a fun story and I will seek out other installments in the series.

 

Favorite Passages:

“Monsters are easy, Miss Rook. They’re monsters. But a monster in a suit? That’s basically just a wicked man, and a wicked man is a more dangerous thing by far.”
This makes them dreaded creatures, feared and hated by any who hear them, a treatment far disparate from the honor and appreciation they used to receive for their mourning services. Banshees themselves are not dangerous, though, just burdened with the task of expressing pain and loss.

That the battles are usually in her head does not lessen the bravery of it. The hardest ones always are.

Happiness is bliss–but ignorance is anesthetic.

Recommended booksThe Diviners by Libba Bray,  The Monster in the Mist by Andrew Mayne, The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl, The Technologists by Matthew Pearl, The Night Inspector by Frederick Busch, and The Alienist by Caleb Carr
Rating: ****

Book Review: Good Morning, Gorillas by Mary Pope Osbourne


Author: Mary Pope Osbourne
TitleGood Morning, Gorillas
Publication Info: New York : Random House, 2006.
Summary/Review:

Another delightful Magic Tree House journey where Annie and Jack spend a few days living among a family of mountain gorillas in Congo and learn the “magic” of communication.  Osbourne knows a lot about gorilla behavior and incorporates it into the story in informative and entertaining ways.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Reviews: Haunted Castle on Hallows Eve by Mary Pope Osbourne


Author: Mary Pope Osbourne
TitleHaunted Castle on Hallows Eve 
Publication Info: Random House Books for Young Readers (2010)
Summary/Review:

There’s such a great variety of stories in the Magic Tree House series.  Having just read the historical fiction of a story set at the Paris World’s Fair of 1889, we read this book set in the totally magic world of Camelot.  Annie, Jack, & Teddy must go to a clean up a haunted castle.  Oh, and they turn into ravens.  And there’s a pretty cool divide of talents among the three children.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Reviews: Night of the New Magicians by Mary Pope Osbourne


Author: Mary Pope Osbourne
TitleNight of the New Magicians
Publication Info: New York : Random House, 2006.
Summary/Review:

This is a really entertaining installment of the Magic Tree House series where Annie and Jack visit the Paris World’s Fair of 1889 to learn of for forms of “magic.”  The magic is actual the inventions and discoveries of Gustave Eiffel, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison, and Alexander Graham Bell who all meet in a memorable scene atop the Tour Eiffel.  Annie and Jack also end up flying on a bicycle.  Cool stuff!

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)


Title: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Release Date: 2008
Director:  Dave Filoni
Summary/Review:

Feeling all Star Wars-ish lately, I decided to watch this animated movie set in between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.  Obi Wan and Anakin are leading clone armies into battle against the separatists and have to negotiate a treaty with Jabba the Hutt and have a padawan Ahsoka Tano delivered into their midst.  The animation allows for visual sequences that might not be possible/plausible in a live-action film, although some of the battle sequences remind me of 1980s GI Joe or Transformers cartoons (which may be good or bad depending on how much you enjoyed them).  I thought that the character work was pretty strong especially the interactions between Obi Wan and Anakin and Anakin and Ahsoka.  Much better than in the prequel trilogy where characterization and development was given short shrift.  But really this movie is worth watching for the scene in which R2-D2 basically uses a Baby Bjorn to carry Jabba the Hutt’s son.

If that’s not weird enough, we also meet Ziro the Hutt, Jabba’s uncle who is coded as being fabulously gay with the voice of Truman Capote.  Padme is introduced late into the story, and while it’s good to see her, she is swiftly taken captive and doesn’t add much to the story.  But I found myself enjoying this movie despite myself.  I hear that the spinoff series is better, so I may give that a watch.
Rating: **1/2