Friday, September 30, 2016

September Site Update

The September update for the main site has been posted, archiving and cross-linking the previous twelve reviews.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Art of Kubo and the Two Strings (Emily Haynes)

The Art of Kubo and the Two Strings
Emily Haynes
Chronicle Books
Nonfiction, Art/Media Reference
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: LAIKA's 2016 animated masterpiece Kubo and the Two Strings, the story of a boy in mythical ancient Japan who must find a lost set of armor to save himself and avenge his family, featured cutting-edge stop-motion and CGI blended seamlessly with traditional influences and techniques. This book explores the artwork and designs used in the film, with some notes on the production and storytelling process.

REVIEW: I saw this movie twice on the big screen (so far), and - like all great animated movies - found it fascinating on both a technical and a storytelling level. This book, as promised, offers a closer look at the characters, settings, and other elements of the film. Some "art of" books delve further into the storytelling process, script alterations during production, and character development - features this title mostly lacked, save some mention of the tale's roots in the foreword by director/producer/animator/studio founder Travis Knight and a note on how Kubo was aged up as the story became darker and more complex - but overall it's an interesting look at how LAIKA put the pieces together. This stuff fascinates me, making me wish (once again) I had the money, time, ambition, and talent to do stuff like this, creating impossible wonders and breathing them to life.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Art of Anastasia (Henry Deneroff) - My Review
The Art of How to Train Your Dragon (Tracy Miller-Zarneke) - My Review
The Lord of the Rings: The Art of the Fellowship of the Ring (Gary Russell) - My Review

Monday, September 26, 2016

Spirelli Paranormal Investigations: Episodes 1 - 3 (Kate Baray)

Spirelli Paranormal Investigations: Episodes 1 - 3
(The Spirelli Paranormal Investigations series)
Kate Baray
CreateSpace
Fiction, Fantasy
*** (Okay)


DESCRIPTION: Jack Spirelli, owner of the Junk Store secondhand shop, just went public with his new business as a paranormal investigator. Despite having no magic of his own, he'll take on most any case for the underground community of magic users and nonhuman beings in modern Austin... but he'll need an assistant to be truly effective. When the dragon Marin walks into his shop (in human form, of course), he's naturally suspicious - dragons don't often leave their families to seek their own way in the world - but he can't afford to be too picky. Soon, Jack and Marin are neck-deep in cases ranging from a missing earth witch to supernatural memory theft to protecting a defector from the dangerous Coven.

REVIEW: This is a spinoff of another series by author Baray which I haven't read. That may explain some of my trouble getting invested in the characters and their world. I felt I didn't really know enough about her urban fantasy setting, the differences between magic users and other possible players in paranormal problems, so troubles and solutions tended to materialize out of nowhere. The characters were decent for what they were, but I never really connected with them. They played their roles competently, if without too much originality in these three short episodes. I could see hints around the edges of potential in future installments. The three adventures contained in this volume follow the usual PI format: a problem shows up in Jack's office, he and his assistant head out to investigate it, they get in a few scrapes, and things get resolved in time for the proverbial closing credits. It's not bad, though the third episode had some repetitions and other issues that hinted at a too-speedy editing round, but it's just not my cup of cocoa. If you're looking for a quick PI-style urban fantasy read, this might fit the bill.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Death Warmed Over (Kevin J. Anderson) - My Review
Hounded (Kevin Hearne) - My Review
A Pocket Full of Spells (Ash Stirling) - My Review

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Lumberjanes Vol. 2: Friendship to the Max (Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, authors, illustrations by Brooke A. Allen)

Lumberjanes Vol. 2: Friendship to the Max
(The Lumberjanes series, 5 - 8)
Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, illustrations by Brooke A. Allen
BOOM! Box
Fiction, YA Comics/Fantasy
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: The adventures of the Lumberjanes girls of Roanoke cabin continue. From friendship bracelets to Capture the Flag, summer camp continues... to be plagued with monster attacks and magic and general weirdness in the woods. The mystery surrounding the golden-eyed beasts deepens as a fellow camper proves to be more than just another Lumberjane, drawing Roanoke into a case of celestial sibling rivalry with the power of the universe up for grabs.

REVIEW: Much like the first collection, this volume starts quickly and maintains high levels of action and humor. Cabin counselor Jen has been drug into the strangeness, adding a new dynamic as the five core characters continue to grow. Still a fun series.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Fairy Quest: Outcasts: #1 (Paul Jenkins) - My Review
Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy (Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters) - My Review
Princeless: Save Yourself (Jeremy Whitley) - My Review

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Forbidden Library (Django Wexler)

The Forbidden Library
(The Forbidden Library series, Book 1)
Django Wexler
Kathy Dawson Books
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Alice has always been a good girl, studying hard and following the rules and never being a bother to her tutors... but everything changes the night she sees her father talking to a fairy in the kitchen. Dad always told her storybook creatures like fairies weren't real, but there's no mistaking what the winged man is - nor is there a doubt that he's somehow responsible when her father suddenly leaves on a steamship the next day, a steamship that goes down with all hands. When the swarm of solicitors finish picking the estate's bones, Alice finds herself packed off to "Uncle Jerry", a man she never knew existed, and his peculiar home in the countryside. Here, in his immense and mysterious library, she meets a talking cat, a mystery boy, dangerous books imprisoning magical beings, and powers she never knew she had - powers that might lead her to the fairy man and the truth about what really happened to her father. But first, she's going to have to break a few rules...

REVIEW: Another discount find, this middle-grade book has obvious appeal for those of us who love reading and fantasy. Alice makes a competent, intelligent heroine, not above the odd mistake but never one to whine or give up, no matter the odds. Surrounding her are numerous characters of often-dubious moral fiber, each with their own agendas and a certain disregard for the consequences to others... traits that Alice begins to pick up by association as her Reader abilities - the power to enter magical books and bind their prisoners to her service, among other things - develop. The story moves at a good pace, with some great descriptions and real peril, though the ending is more of a hook for the next book than a solid conclusion (something I've sadly gotten used to in this day and age, where series are the rule rather than the exception.) Still, I enjoyed it, and - marketing tactic or not - I'll be looking forward to Book 2.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Libriomancer (Jim C. Hines) - My Review
The Book of Story Beginnings (Kristin Kladstrup) - My Review
Behind the Canvas (Alexander Vance) - My Review

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Swords and Deviltry (Fritz Leiber)

Swords and Deviltry
(The Fafhyrd and the Gray Mouser stories, Volume 1)
Fritz Leiber
Open Road Media
Fiction, Collection/Fantasy
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: In the long-ago and faraway world of Nehwon, a world of sorcery and barbarism and wonders untold, two unlikely souls find their fates entwined, their lives and exploits becoming the stuff of legend: towering, skald-trained swordsman Fafhyrd of the icy north, and the clever little magic-dabbling thief called the Gray Mouser.
This collection contains the first four tales in the adventures of Fafhyrd and the Gray Mouser:
Induction: A vignette of the meeting between the two soon-to-be heroes.
The Snow Women: On the verge of manhood, Fafhyrd grows restless with the backward, custom-bound ways of his northern kinsman, enamored with the distant allure of civilization - and with Vlana, an exotic woman traveling with a troupe of entertainers.
The Unholy Grail: A white wizard's apprentice, Mouse, returns from an initiation quest to find his master's home burned by the cruel lord of the land, turning to black magic for revenge.
Ill Met in Lankhmar: In the great "city of cities" at the heart of Nehwon, Fafhyrd and the Gray Mouser meet when both cross wits and blades with the all-powerful Thieves Guild... a challenge that brings tragic consequences to themselves and their loved ones.

REVIEW: Fafhyrd and the Gray Mouser are classic heroes in the sword and sorcery genre; indeed, Fritz Leiber is credited with coining the term "sword and sorcery". As a fantasy reader and would-be writer, I figured I ought to explore them, and a recent sale on the e-book edition gave me that chance. Though not the first ones penned in the series, these short stories are the first, chronologically, in the characters' lives, the "origin" tales. Leiber writes with imagination, adventure, and the odd touch of humor, crafting an archetypical world built on tropes - though some of the tropes I'm familiar with possibly originated with Leiber, such as the now-ubiquitous Thieves Guild. It was the author's intention to write more human characters than those that existed at the time in the genre, such as Conan, and in this he succeeded; though still larger than life, both Fafhyrd and the Gray Mouser have very human weaknesses and failings, making them more relatable and approachable. The genre's sexism shines through, particularly in The Snow Women with the emasculating, fickle northern ladies and their ice sorcery (and the way in which female characters and their whims and weaknesses lie at the heart of much of the tragedy in all the tales), and here and there the age of the works is also evident. Of the four tales, the last one, the award-winning Ill Met in Lankhmar, is clearly the best, while the first is more of an incomplete prologue - indeed, I'm not quite sure why it was included, save to whet readers' appetites for the other three stories. Overall, though, this collection holds up fairly well; enough for me to forgive the sexism and a few other issues to rate a solid good (largely on the back of the final story). I don't know if I'll follow the series further, though I'm more likely to read more of Fafhyrd and the Gray Mouser than such stiff, broodingly inhuman figures as Conan.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Phoenix on the Sword (Robert E. Howard) - My Review
Hero for Hire (C. B. Pratt) - My Review
Sword-Dancer (Jennifer Roberson) - My Review

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Animal Farm (George Orwell)

Animal Farm
George Orwell
Signet Classics
Fiction, Literary Fiction
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: After years of neglect by their drunken human master, the animals of Manor Farm - heeding the words of a wise old pig, who foresaw a future utopian republic of free animals across England - rebel and take control... but what they fought for is not what they find, as the promise of a republic crumbles into a harsh, new reality on the renamed Animal Farm.

REVIEW: This classic is a scathing commentary on politics, totalitarianism, class warfare, revisionist history, and human nature in general, delivering its messages with the subtlety and repetition of a five-ton jackhammer. The farm animals prove too stupid and easily manipulated to realize they're being betrayed by those they'd considered their own kind, and power inevitably corrupts. It's a story with no real heroes, only villains and fools, plus a few cynics who, while aware of the situation, are ultimately in just as bad a place as the fools and so don't gain much with their cynicism. Is there any hope for a better tomorrow, or any system that won't inevitably succumb to the base greed and manipulation of the Few over the Many? Apparently not. This was likely Orwell's point - a point sadly as obvious and valid today as when Animal Farm was first published in 1946 - though it seems like he took an awful lot of time and effort writing this 128-page fable when he could've said much the same thing in a shorter speech or essay.
As a closing note, the Signet edition I read included a foreword by P. G. Wodehouse, but I confess to giving up on it partway through.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely) - My Review
The Prince (Niccolo Machiavelli) - My Review
Gulliver's Travels (Jonathan Swift) - My Review

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Cryptid Hunters (Roland Smith)

Cryptid Hunters
(The Cryptid Hunters series, Book 1)
Roland Smith
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Adventure/Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: Thirteen-year-old twins Marty and Grace O'Hara seem like polar opposites. Marty's bold to the point of recklessness, a constant headache to the headmaster of their Swiss boarding school, while bookish Grace is shy, prone to fainting spells when frightened and nightmares she can never remember. Despite their differences, they're deeply devoted to one another, as they have been ever since their parents sent them overseas to school. But a helicopter crash in the Amazon changes everything. The O'Haras are missing, presumed dead. A relative they've never heard of, Uncle Wolfe, fetches the children from Switzerland to his home on Cryptos Island, off the Pacific Northwest coast... but there's much more going on here than meets the eye, and secrets on Cryptos that none of the strange grown-ups on the island will tell them. It turns out Wolfe is a cryptozoologist: a seeker of hidden animals, unknown to science. His chief rival is popular nature show host and conservationist Noah Blackwood, whose global wildlife parks serve as a cover for his illegal hunting and poaching operations. Just as Marty and Grace show up, Wolfe rushes off to the Congo, trying to beat Blackwood to the elusive Mokele-mbembe, a small sauropod-like cryptid... a chase the twins inadvertently find themselves in the middle of when they get dropped with a cargo capsule into the deadly African jungle.

REVIEW: I found this for a buck at a clearance sale, and was actually considering putting it in the cull pile: books I've bought on impulse but don't expect I'll get around to reading. But I decided to give it a quick try... and found myself unexpectedly drawn in. Marty and Grace start out as collections of middle-grade tropes: he's impulsive and fearless (except a somewhat pointless fear of ghosts), always getting into trouble yet somehow getting away with it, while Grace has a list of fears into the triple digits and clings to her battered stuffed bunny like a lifesaver despite her prodigious intelligence. Other characters generally align with genre expectations, as well. Yet somehow it manages to click together into a compelling tale of adventure and mystery and peril, and they all (save the baddies, naturally) manage to become somewhat more rounded characters as the story progresses. Some too-convenient plot elements and lingering cliches, plus some significant loose threads deliberately left dangling at the end (it is Book 1 of a series, after all) just barely held it back in the ratings, but on the whole it was an unexpectedly fun adventure. Younger readers, particularly those looking for a good, red-blooded yarn with real danger and few false punches, will likely enjoy it more. I'd consider picking up Book 2 if I found it cheap enough... and this time, it won't go to the cull pile.
As a closing note, one of the reasons I considered passing on this was the generic cover. I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but let's be honest: we all do it, and if covers weren't important, publishers wouldn't invest so much time and money designing them. They're the first impression one has of a book, after all. This one, however, has almost nothing at all to do with the story inside: it shows an iguana, what it claims is a Velociraptor, and a baboon, while the closest the story itself manages is a green mamba snake, a distinctly non-Velociraptor cryptid, and a bonobo ape. The story deserved better representation, here.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Cryptozoology A - Z (Loren Coleman and Jerome Clarke) - My Review
The Lost World (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) - My Review
Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow (James Rollins) - My Review

Friday, September 9, 2016

Flight (Sherman Alexie)

Flight
Sherman Alexie
Open Road Media
Fiction, YA Fantasy/General Fiction
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: Half-Indian Michael, better known as Zits, is a fifteen-year-old ball of pain and rage. Abandoned by his father at birth and by his mother after she died of cancer, he's bounced from foster home to jail to halfway house and back, with numerous short stints on the streets, only finding more misery and rejection everywhere he goes... until one day he walks into the lobby of a Seattle bank with a loaded gun, beyond caring what happens to him or anyone else. Then, in the blink of an eye, he's in another man's body halfway across the country and forty years in the past. As Zits bounces from life to life through history, he confronts hatred, betrayal, heartbreak, and pain in innumerable forms, all far beyond his control. Can he ever return to his own life, or is it too late for him, too?

REVIEW: A brutal look at the cycles of hatred, fear, abuse, and prejudice, this isn't a particularly easy read, nor is Zits an easy character to sympathize with. He starts out so broken, full of anger and betrayal to the point of numbness, stuck in a situation that seems utterly beyond hope or redemption, that it took me a while to decide if I even wanted to spend the length of a book, even a relatively short book, with him. But I pushed ahead anyway, more on faith in the known author than in the character or situation. Once Zits makes his great mistake and starts time traveling, forced to see the world through other people'e eyes, he started growing on me. The solution feels a little clean, and there never really is an explanation for his miraculous time-slip (hence me splitting the category with Fantasy), but overall it's a decent, if sometimes tough, story.

You Might Also Enjoy:
A Boy's Best Book of Magic (David Castlewitz) - My Review
The Tiger Rising (Kate DiCamillo) - My Review
The Takers (R. W. Ridley) - My Review

Sunday, September 4, 2016

An Unwelcome Quest (Scott Meyer)

An Unwelcome Quest
(The Magic 2.0 series, Book 3)
Scott Meyer
47North
Fiction, Sci-Fi
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Thanks to their computer skills and a hidden data file that controls reality, various programmers, engineers, and hackers have made themselves "wizards," time-traveling to various places in history where their skills will be more appreciated (and less likely to draw national or international law enforcement on their heads.) But that doesn't mean they've lost touch with their original decades; the wizards in Medieval England, for instance, have a weekly movie night. Usually, they're uneventful, if occasionally traumatizing (as when showing a geek from the 1980's what Hollywood later did with the Star Wars prequels or the fourth Indiana Jones film) - until the night five of their number inexplicably vanish. As Martin, Gwen, Roy, and the Brits (Elder and Younger) race to find them, their friends find themselves trapped in a video game created by an old rival, the first (and, until Jimmy, only) programmer/wizard to ever earn banishment for his crimes: sadistic, mentally unstable Todd.

REVIEW: Amazon had a bundle deal on the whole trilogy, so Book 3 was in queue when I was finished with Book 2 - and, with other plans for the day not panning out, I succumbed to a reading binge. This book maintains the fun nerd-culture/genre-tweaking air of the first titles, placing the wizards at the mercy of a man who has spent decades plotting suitable revenge. Gamers in particular will enjoy Meyer's take on modern role-playing games as seen from the inside. The characters remain interesting and fun, growing in their own ways as they make their ways through Todd's adventure. It moves along decently, with a climax that leaves things open for more books and is somewhat ambiguous on one or two notes. It makes for an enjoyable, light sci-fi adventure.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide (Douglas Adams) - My Review
Bad Unicorn (Platte F. Clarke) - My Review
Heroics for Beginners (John Moore) - My Review

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Spell or High Water (Scott Meyer)

Spell or High Water
(The Magic 2.0 series, Book 2)
Scott Meyer
47North
Fiction, Sci-Fi
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Just a few months ago, Martin was an ordinary man living an ordinary life as an ordinary data entry wage slave. Now, he's essentially a wizard in medieval England. After discovering a hidden computer file that controls reality, he wound up traveling back in time, meeting a group of other hackers who made the same discovery and, like him, bungled things bad enough to have to flee in time to avoid federal investigation. It's a decent life, save the odd attempted coup/murder by other "wizards". Martin has friends, a certain amount of prestige and respect, and what amounts to immortality and magical powers straight out of a video game. Not bad for a no-name data entry guy from the 21st century.
Martin and his friend Phillip, as representatives of the Medieval England wizard enclave, are summoned by their old friend Gwen to the colony of Atlantis, where most female programmers-turned-wizards go after getting tired of the sexism of history and the constant awkward passes of their male colleagues. Here, the sorceress leader (Brit the Elder, creator of the magic-built city of Atlantis and chronologically-older version of Brit the Younger, who resents living in the shadow of her own future self) convenes a summit to standardize ethics of wizardry and prevention of power abuse. Martin carries faint hopes of rekindling (or, rather, actually sparking) a relationship with Gwen, with whom he totally blew things during their brief previous acquaintance, but soon bigger problems emerge. Someone seems to be using the summit as a means to assassinate Brit the Younger - and, if Phillip is right, the presence of Brit the Elder is by no means an assurance that Brit the Younger will survive.
Meanwhile, in the 21st century, Jimmy has spent thirty years plotting a return to Medieval England to confront the former allies who turned on him... and all because he simply tried to kill them for not following his psychotic scheme to remake medieval England in his own image. They thought they'd rendered him helpless when they stripped him of access to his powers - and any technology more advanced than an incandescent bulb - and returned him to his own time, but they didn't reckon on his most powerful gift: endless, unrelenting patience.

REVIEW: Like the first book in the series, Spell or High Water is a fun romp, playing with genre tropes and nerd culture without alienating those of us who don't make a living typing code. Martin's a fun yet fallible hero, nice enough to root for even as one snickers when his enthusiasm outstrips his brain. Phillip finds a new romance interest and an unlikely ally in his personal crusade to prove free will even in the face of a computer program that seems to predetermine reality: Brit the Younger, who stares (seemingly-irrefutable) proof of predetermination in the face every time she sees Brit the Elder. New allies and rivals come into play from across the wizard community, relationships sometimes complicated by the time travel inherent in their occupation. (A pair of 19th-century-dwelling magicians get off on the wrong foot with Martin and Phillip after citing an encounter in their own time - several centuries in the future from both Atlantean time and medieval England.) Meanwhile, Jimmy from Book 1 forms a partnership of necessity with Treasury agents Miller and Murphy, who watched Martin disappear - literally - while being interrogated over mysterious deposits in his bank account. It all makes for a fun and reasonably interesting, if occasionally scattered, plot, full of temporal paradoxes and programmer/wizard weirdness and the consequences of turning sexism on its ear (the ladies of Atlantis have created a society in which men do all the traditional "women's work" and serve as eye candy while doing so). Roy, the newcomer whom Martin is training at the start of the book (and who found the reality data-file much earlier, temporally, than other wizards even knew it could exist), feels like an afterthought after a fair bit of page count is devoted to him, and the Jimmy subplot's resolution seems a bit awkward unless it's setting up something for Book 3. Overall, though, it retains the whimsy of the first book, and I fully plan on reading the third as soon as possible.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Galaxy Quest (Terry Bisson) - My Review
Off to Be the Wizard (Scott Meyer) - My Review
Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers (Grant Naylor) - My Review

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Neverending Story (Michael Ende)

The Neverending Story
Michael Ende
Penguin
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*** (Okay)


DESCRIPTION: Ten-year-old Bastian never meant to be a thief, let alone a runaway; he hasn't the courage, for one, and for another he'd never leave his father, grief-stricken as he still is from Bastian's mother's death. But the day he saw the old book in the bookstore where he hid from bullies, the old book bound in copper leather with the twin snakes entwined on the cover, he knows he has to read it. The one thing Bastian's always been good at is storytelling, and if this book - The Neverending Story - is true to its title, well, there can't possibly be a better book in all the world for a boy like him... even if becoming a thief means he'll have to hide out in his school's attic to keep from being thrown in jail.
In the endless world of Fantastica, a dark plague known as the Nothing spreads across the land, devouring everything and everyone it touches. When the people seek help from the Childlike Empress, they learn that she has fallen deathly ill, an illness possibly linked to the growing destruction... but there is hope. She has named a hero to act as her champion, seeking a cure for her condition and for the Nothing: a boy named Atreyu, from the Greenskin tribe of the Grassy Ocean.
As Bastian reads of Atreyu's adventure, he finds himself pulled into the tale in ways he didn't expect... but will he be able to return to the human world when the story is over, or is it truly neverending?

REVIEW: I'm old enough to remember (if dimly) seeing the 1984 movie based on this book in theaters. (I also remember seeing the sequel on VHS, but in the interest of preserving nostalgia we'll just pretend that little fiasco never happened, shall we? But I digress...) I recall it being a wondrous experience, full of imagery that set my young mind aglow, but until now I've never read the book it came from.
Having finished, I think I should've stuck to my memories of the movie.
This story starts with much the same sense of wonder as the film, an homage to the powers of a good story and the sheer limitless vistas of imagination, albeit with some stereotypes that haven't aged well (the stoic noble "Greenskin" savages of the plains who hunt the purple buffalo are a particularly glaring example here.) Everywhere are hints of tales yet to be told and marvels just beyond the horizon, both light and terrifying. Some elements were changed from page to screen, a few significantly, but for the first third or so it more or less tracks along the story I remember from the film, and does so with admirable imagination, if not necessarily the deepest characters. Then Bastian actually crosses into Fantastica... and things start to go downhill, imperceptibly at first but with increasing speed. I already knew he wasn't the brightest child with his overreaction to the book theft, but Bastian, it turns out, is a flat-out selfish jerk when it comes down to it, incredibly easy to manipulate and incapable of learning lessons until it's almost too late for him (and actually is too late for a significant portion of Fantastica). Why is he so obtuse and largely unlikable? I spent a while grinding my teeth trying to answer that, until the book itself becomes rather clear: this isn't actually a fantasy story, but an allegory, an embodiment of an inner journey and growth along the lines of Pilgrim's Progress or Narnia, though C. S. Lewis looks downright light-handed by comparison to Ende's mountain-sized hammer as he drives home Lesson after Lesson into Bastian's intentionally-thick cranium. The charm of Fantastica's many stories and sights rapidly grows thin when it becomes blatantly obvious that none of it really matters save how it can try (and, mostly, fail) to teach a spoiled rotten ten-year-old how to be a better person. Only two things spared this book a flat-out Bad rating by the end: the raw imagination of the earlier third-to-half of the book, and lingering nostalgia over the movie's influence on my childhood self... and even then, I had to stretch to justify even a flat Okay.
 If you've ever loved a book so much you wanted to fall into it, if you adore fantastic mind's-eye candy, and if you ever cried for Artax and cheered the masterful puppetry of Falkor, then there are parts of this book that are very much worth reading. The rest of it, much like those movie sequels, is best tucked into a dusty back corner of one's mind and quietly forgotten.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Storybound (Marissa Burt) - My Review
The Chronicles of Narnia (C. S. Lewis) - My Review
The NeverEnding Story - Amazon DVD Link