Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Halloween Tree (Ray Bradbury)

The Halloween Tree
Ray Bradbury, illustrations by Gris Grimly
Fiction, CH Chiller
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: In a small Midwestern town on Halloween, Tom Skelton and his friends can hardly wait to race into the autumn night, full of costumes and candy and spooks and shadows... but their best friend, Pipkin, hasn't joined them, asking instead that they meet him at the old house in the ravine past town. Here, the eight boys find a great, towering tree full of lit pumpkins: a real Halloween tree. And with it, they find the mysterious black-robed figure Mr. Moundshroud, who takes them on a wind-wild flight through history, down to the roots of all the fears and rituals that have become today's Halloween - all the while chasing a phantom of Pipkin, a soul dreadfully close to its final departure from Earth...

REVIEW: With Bradbury's signature poetic prose and Grimly's borderline-surreal grayscale illustrations, The Halloween Tree is a holiday classic, an ode to the timeless spirit of boyhood as much as a celebration of Halloween. It's a story of wonder and of terror, stretching from ancient caves and Egyptian tombs to modern Mexican celebrations of the Day of the Dead. The story isn't so much a coherent arc with driving characters as it is a series of events they experience, a gauntlet of time and fear building up to a choice on which Pipkin's life ultimately depends, a choice to either cower from the ageless fear of Death or confront it. Some kids would likely be put off by Bradbury's prose, which can get a bit convoluted even to grown-ups, and others might find the subject matter unsettling, but it contains some great imagery. It's much truer to the spirit of the holiday than so many modern interpretations, those bubble-wrapped cutesy commercial "specials" that file down the fangs of what is supposed to be a subtly unsettling night. Though the driftings of the boys almost grew tedious at times, and I could almost swear Bradbury was recycling a few turns of phrase and images from previous works (writer's prerogative, of course), I still give it a solid Good rating.

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Coraline (Neil Gaiman) - My Review
Griffin's Castle (Jenny Nimmo) - My Review
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Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Vampyre (John William Polidori)

The Vampyre: A Tale
John William Polidori
Open Road Media
Fiction, Horror
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Lord Ruthven's arrival in England's society scene caused quite a stir, the man's peculiar mannerisms and aloof behavior attracting men and women, young and old, alike. When young, naive Aubrey decides Ruthven would be an ideal role model and travel partner, he enters into a relationship that will doom not only himself, but those whom he loves the most - for Ruthven proves to something quite other than the ordinary, if eccentric, figure he appears to be...
This edition also includes an account of Lord Byron's residence in the Greek isles, as visited by the author during his absence.

REVIEW: This short story, from 1819, relates Aubrey's encounter and subsequent haunting by the monster Ruthven in the manner most prevalent at the time - namely, thick, wordy, and distant as a glance across a crowded ballroom. It's hardly a spoiler that Ruthven's an inhuman fiend, a fairly typical vampiric specimen of the type elaborated on in (to greater terrific effect) in le Fanu's Carmilla and Stoker's Dracula. The only unique trait, one that ultimately never comes to much fruition, is how Ruthven actively enables vice, even as his gifts always seem to bring recipients to grief. Aubrey's fascination eventually gives way to revulsion, then fear when he realizes just what he has befriended, though it all seems a bit muted to modern readers who have come to expect less telling and more showing in narratives. The ending's predictable and a tad pointless.
As for the excerpt about Byron, I have no clue what it was doing with this story, save both involve Greece as experienced by the English elite.

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Carnacki, the Ghost Finder (William Hope Hodgson) - My Review
Carmilla (Joseph Sheridan le Fanu) - My Review
Dracula (Bram Stoker) - My Review

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors (Drew Daywalt)

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors
Drew Daywalt, illustrations by Adam Rex
Balzer + Bray
Fiction, CH Humor/Picture Book
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: In ages past, three undefeated warriors roamed the land in search of worthy opponents. All fell before them... until they finally faced each other in one epic battle.

REVIEW: A hilarious "backstory" for the ubiquitous hand game places a mythic spin on the adventures of crushing Rock, covering Paper, and slicing Scissors. Each one meets and defeats several challengers (as when Rock takes out a tangerine, Paper jams the arrogant Printer, and Scissors confronts the dreaded horde of Dinosaur Shaped Chicken Nuggets) before the final fight. The silly dialog and illustrations made me laugh.

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Shark vs. Train (Chris Barton) - My Review
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Friday, October 13, 2017

The Ables (Jeremy Scott)

The Ables
Jeremy Scott
Clovercroft Publishing
Fiction, MG Sci-Fi
**+ (Bad/Okay

DESCRIPTION: Twelve-year-old Phillip Sallinger always loved superhero comics, but never dreamed he came from a family of them - or that he himself had powers. Blind since birth, he never considered he could be a hero himself. But that was before his mom and dad moved him to the town of Freepoint, and before Dad explained that they come from a long line of "custodians," as people with powers are known. According to DNA tests at birth, both Phillip and his kid brother Patrick will be developing powers, soon, too - which is why they moved to Freepoint, a custodian town. Now that Phillip's of age and showing his telekinesis, he needs to be around others of their own kind.
Ordinarily, going to a new school just for superheroes would be the most exciting thing Phillip could think of... but, due to his blindness, he's sent to the Special Education room with other disabled custodian kids, deprived of opportunities to test his budding powers in citywide "SuperSim" games like the other students. As Phillip and his new friends chafe under restraints, determined to prove themselves the equal of any other kids, a new danger arises - a rumor about the return of a long-fallen custodian, one more powerful than any living today... one whose return would herald a new era, and one which some custodians are willing to go to extreme measures to enable.

REVIEW: The author, Jeremy Scott, runs the popular movie-mocking CinemaSins channel on YouTube (among others.) Given his familiarity with movies, and his willingness to call them out on overused cliches and stereotypes and other symptoms of flabby writing, I looked forward to seeing what he would do with his own tale. Unfortunately, The Ables soon degenerates into a series of overused cliches and stereotypes, with several stretches of padding - not to mention moments that jerk the reader around. Phillip isn't the most dynamic of protagonists, the usual "everyman" young hero-to-be, aside from his blindness. He finds friends and enemies at school, who tend to be other shallow, familiar tropes... almost all of whom are males. Despite there being a few girls in Phillip's Special Education classes (who also might've enjoyed proving themselves to other superpowered students, or just having friends), they're gone almost as soon as they're introduced. The only females with notable roles at all are the Supportive Teacher and the Concerned Mom. (As for the latter, risking a minor spoiler, I'd honestly expected better of a cinema buff like Scott than to stoop to "fridging" as character motivation.) The story runs a little long, as Phillip and his friends push against the limits of their disabilities, get pushed back, and ultimately have to face a threat that's paralyzed the grown-up population... against a villain whose "secret identity" was pretty easy to guess, between clues in the book and general story tropes. A fair bit of padding and banter, not all of it particularly interesting, fills out page count. The ending dropped things a half-star for not only drawing itself out too long but being far to predictable in how it played out. I found myself disgruntled enough to dip the rating below the bland Okay it almost merited.

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The Tower (J. S. Frankel) - My Review
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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Free Fall (David Wiesner)

Free Fall
David Wiesner
Fiction, CH Fantasy/Picture Book
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION:When a boy falls asleep while reading a book, his dreams take him to all manner of bizarre lands teeming with adventures.

REVIEW:Wiesner's picture books have yet to disappoint me. This one incorporates an Escheresque metamorphosis through the pages, evoking a dreamlike fluidity and impermanence as perspectives shift and adventures blend into each other. The images invite revisiting and lingering, even for grown-ups.

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Imagine a Night (Sarah L. Thompson and Rob Gonsalves) - My Review
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