Six Impossible Things

A Blog About Fiction and Reading

InterWorld

InterWorldInterWorld by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves

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I’m always a bit shocked when a Neil Gaiman book manages to make a public release without me knowing about it.  I wonder if I’m paying close enough attention to the blogs and journals that let me know about new releases.  I mean, it’s Gaiman, and I didn’t know about it?  What network did I miss?

InterWorld is a juvenile novel, not even a YA novel, though, and that might be how I missed it.  I almost missed out on M Is for Magic, and I remember the first time I saw Coraline was long after it had been originally released.   At least, that’s the story I’m telling.

InterWorld tells the story of Joey Harker, a young boy who discovers his ability to walk between similar worlds.  There’s a theory in quantum physics that predicts that any time a serious enough decision is made, the world splits at that point, and creates one world that goes off in the direction where the decision goes one way, and one world where the decision goes off in another direction.  Both worlds exist independently of each other, and each is equally valid and true.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that a world splits off whenever you decide to eat cereal for breakfast instead of eggs, but it could mean that The Man in the High Castle may exist as nonfiction in another dimension.

Joey is a Walker, and can move between all those worlds.  He’s also the most powerful Walker in existence, so he suddenly becomes the most popular guy in the InterWorlds, since the good guys, the bad guys, and the bad bad guys all want him for different reasons.  It’s all a bit hokey and convoluted, and also a bit contrived and forced.  It’s also awfully convenient in points, and shallow, and two-dimensional (ironically), and….

Well, if you’re a Neil Gaiman fanboy, nothing I can say will stop you from reading this book, except maybe this: This is not a Neil Gaiman book.  I say this partly because this simply doesn’t read like a Neil Gaiman novel.  I haven’t read much by Michael Reaves, but I’ve read a lot of Neil Gaiman, and think I can say with certainty that this is much more a Michael Reaves book than it is a Neil Gaiman book.  I think a certain part of me wants to say that it’s a Reaves novel because it’s just so bland, but that’s really not why I say that.  The book lacks a certain charm that Gaiman puts into his writing, and the language used doesn’t seem to be similar to that which Gaiman uses.  A footnote at the end of the book details that the story is over 10 years old, and was put together as a novel over a long weekend after existing first as a television proposal.   It doesn’t specify who served as the idea man, and who did all the grunt work, but it’s pretty obvious after finishing the book.

Look, remember Lady JusticeTeknophageMr. Hero the Newmatic Man?  They all served to prove that a Neil Gaiman idea could not turn into a Neil Gaiman story unless Gaiman himself wrote the words.  Unfortunately, InterWorld proves the same point.  The book isn’t a complete disaster (for the target age group, the story probably works quite well), but if you’re looking for good Gaiman fiction for kids, look for M Is for Magic or Coraline, instead.

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January 2, 2008 Posted by | Juvenile Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

M Is for Magic

MagicM Is for Magic by Neil Gaiman

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Ever have those days where you put on an old jacket from last winter, and find a $20 bill in the pocket?  That’s how I felt when I first heard about M Is for Magic.  I didn’t know that Neil Gaiman had a new book coming out, much less that he had pulled a Ray Bradbury by picking some of his stories appropriate for younger audiences, and packaging them together under a new title.  Shoot, he even acknowledges Bradbury in the introduction and in “October in the Chair,” so it’s no surprise that he even adopted Bradbury’s old title format for the collection.  Bradbury had R Is for Rocket and S Is for Space, and now we’ve covered the Ms, as well.

So, the reality is that if you’re a hardcore Gaiman fanboy, then you’ve read most all of these stories.  There’s only one story here that’s an “exclusive” (“The Witch’s Headstone,” a wonderful romp that’s reminiscent of Jonathan Carroll’s early stuff), but I believe it’s going to see print in a future publication, anyway.   The good news is that this is a lot like a “greatest hits” for Gaiman.  “Chivalry,” possibly the best short work of fiction published last century, is there, as is “Troll Bridge” (which shows the darker side of growing up) and “The Price” (an even darker look at our pets and what they do for us), along with a newer “classic,” “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” (an odd science fiction story that probably owes a small debt to Harlan Ellison).

Like any short story collection, there are a few misses here, including “The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds,” but the premises and ideas behind the stories make up for what they lack in punch.  Even Neil Gaiman can’t be on all the time, but even when he’s just puttering along, there’s much more going on to keep your interest than just the presentation.  The story itself should keep you reading.  Besides, as I’ve mentioned before, mediocre Neil Gaiman is definitely better than the best of some other authors I’ve read.

So, there may not be anything new here, and it may not all represent the best stuff that Gaiman has written, but M Is for Magic is a great introduction to a wonderful author.  That it’s been released just in time for you to pick the collection up for the young reader in your family for Christmas isn’t, I doubt, a coincidence.  Besides, if you haven’t read “Chivalry” yet, then your life isn’t quite yet complete.

October 17, 2007 Posted by | Juvenile Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

Coraline

CoralineCoraline by Neil Gaiman

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I had to take a road trip earlier this week, for work, and figured that a good audiobook would help pass the time during the three-hour trip.  Late the previous week, I had been checking the library system for new Neil Gaiman stuff, and I wandered across Coraline, and old favorite, which I’ve read once before, and listened to once before, also.  I figured it would be good to take an old friend along with me to keep me company on the trip.

The coolest thing about the audiobook is that Neil reads his own work.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen Neil perform his own work (and even to meet him, and he’s as kind and generous and gracious a person as you’ve probably heard), and I’m pleased to say that he’s as much a teller of stories as he is an author of stories.  He understands the nuances of a character’s voice, and really gets in to the parts.  He’s funny, spooky, endearing, and charismatic, and I really ought to just invest in a copy of the audiobook, as much as I enjoy listening to it.

Because, really, Coraline isn’t just a great Neil Gaiman story, it’s a fantastic example of what makes good horror fiction good.  There’s no blood, no gore, no offal, but with the easy placement of a few black buttons, some isolation and desperation, and a touch of bravery and courage, the story accomplishes so much more than any in-your-face remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, or what have you.  Reading the story is an incredible experience, and the purist in me will tell you to read the book for yourself before you have Neil read it to you, but the audiobook experience is one worth having, as well.

Whether you read it or listen to it, though, do so.  This is a wonderfully creepy story, suitable for children and adults (and if you have a mix of both in your house, maybe the audiobook is the way to go).

August 26, 2007 Posted by | Juvenile Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

HallowsHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

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So, did anyone else not know that Joanne Rowling has no middle name?  That she adopted her grandmother’s first name as her middle name to create a gender-neutral name, so that Harry Potter would appeal more to boys, and that word-of-mouth recommendations among young male readers helped capitulate Harry Potter to the ruler of the world tops of the bestseller charts?  I didn’t know anything about that until today.

See, I’m no Potter Fanboy.  I enjoy the series, and was on the leading edge of people discovering the books when they hit the US, but I didn’t get so caught up in it that I was delving into all the little details behind the stories.  Because, when you finish the books and look back on them, there are portions of the stories that simply don’t make sense.  Character motivations come into question, as well as the convenience of nearly all the major events in the stories.  But, see, you tend not to notice these things when you’re reading the book, because Rowling is such a great storyteller.  You’re simply caught up in the stories, and nothing else tends to matter.

I finished this book late last night, after imposing a TV/news/Internet blackout at my house.  Too many people were talking about the story, flat-out spoiling it for many people (one local bone-headed newscaster started his piece by saying, “I’m going to read the last chapter of the final volume of the Harry Potter saga…”), and since I work in a library, where people are wanting to read and talk about the story, I figured it was time to get cracking on the book.  So, I raced through this final chapter, as if wolfing down a seven-course gourmet meal in ten minutes.

I’m not going to talk about the book, though, because if you’re a fan, you’re going to read it anyway, and there’s no sense in me spoiling it for you.  And if you’re not a fan, then nothing I can say here will change your mind.  But this book is on par with the rest of the series, which to me is a good thing.

And that’s really all you need to know.

July 23, 2007 Posted by | Juvenile Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

Cat’s Eye Corner

SilverThe Silver Door and Invisible Ink by Terry Griggs

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Books two and three in the Cat’s Eye Corner series by Terry Griggs are just as magical and entertaining as the eponymous first book.  Each book follows the main character, Olivier, who is staying at his step-step-step-Grandma’s house, called Cat’s Eye Corner.  The house is not what it appears to be.  The rooms have a tendency to shift around, and sometimes disappear, so that Olivier and his grandparents have to eat dinner in the library.  Sylvia, Olivier’s step-step-step-Grandma (so called because she is his Grandpa’s third wife), owns a lot of interesting gadgets, including a flying carpet, an inkpen named Murray who has a personality all his own, and a book titled Enquire Within About Everything, which has a tendency to loose spirits and other living things from its pages.  The house also borders a wooded area, where some strange characters live, including Linnet, a young girl who lives in a boat in a tree and has a command of the winds.

I was sold on the first book in this series long before I knew it had been nominated for (and received) some literary awards in Canada, because it reminded me so much of the books that I read and enjoyed when I was a kid.  Olivier, in the first book, says that he considers The Phantom Tollbooth a personal friend, and a lot of the puns and other cleverness from that book are used in this series.  In a way, the author almost uses them too much, since I saw some obviously derivative characters and settings, but it’s forgivable.  They also borrow a lot from Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, as well as a key scene from Kai Meyer’s The Water Mirror, but the stories are just too much fun, with too many wild ideas, to judge them for being a little too familiar.

InkBesides, Griggs has her own style of writing, which makes her books unique.  Her characters are lively and realistic (well, as realistic as magical creatures can be, at least), and the challenges they face have a sense of importance and necessity to them.  The books themselves are full of wild ideas, vivid imagination, and creativity, and that alone will keep me reading these stories.  They’re very much children’s books, but the amount of detail and imagination in them should appeal to anyone who likes fantasy and magic realism, child or adult.

What’s interesting to discover is that the three novels in the series (thus far) all seem to take place within the same summer while Olivier is visiting his grandparents.  This timing gives the novels a sense of immediacy between them, even if a year or more is passing between the release of each novel.   It’s also interesting to note that there is very little repeated between the books, as far as the characters and settings that Griggs invents for the novels goes, so there’s also a freshness to each novel, even if they use the same central characters.

The books are great fun, and should be an inspiration to creative thinkers, inspiring imaginations in children and adults.  If you don’t walk away from these books with a chuckle and a wish to create something of your own, then you don’t understand the power of fiction and how it can shape people.  Luckily, I don’t think anyone who follows my blog are those kinds of people.

June 11, 2007 Posted by | Juvenile Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

The Higher Power of Lucky

LuckyThe Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

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Score one for the librarians! It’s about time that those of us who are closest to the books and their readers finally get to represent among the Newbery winners with Susan Patron’s delightful story of a 10 year-old girl coming of age in the middle of nowhere. Susan Patron is the Juvenile Materials Collection Development Manager at the Los Angeles Public Library, where she’s probably familiar already with the knee-jerk reactions from the public over innocuous statements taken out of context.

I’m referring to the controversy surrounding her book, since the word “scrotum” appears on the first page of the novel. I try not to be too shocked when I hear these sorts of things (the marquee change of “The Vagina Monologues” to “The Hoo-Hah Monologues” last month is another example), but I can’t help it. Are we really that repressed? Or are we really that convinced that the mere mention of a word is going to have a detrimental effect on our children? In the library where I work, I’ve heard 10 year-old kids using the F-bomb like it’s “the,” so it’s hard to be worried about how children will respond to medical terms about the human body. Penis, scrotum, vagina, breast. Have I missed anything? And is there anyone left to read my review of the book in question, or have I run you all off with the power of offensensitivity?

The Higher Power of Lucky is a sweet story of a young girl, Lucky, coming to terms with her own self-doubts, in a small town (population: 43) in the middle of the desert. She spends her days collecting bugs, sweeping up after the participants in the many 12-step programs that meet at the local insect museum, and trying to find the higher power that all of those 12-step participants talk about during their meetings (she eavesdrops on the meetings through a hole in the wall and hears the participants talking about their own higher powers). To further complicate matters, Lucky is being raised by her guardian, a young French woman who was her father’s first wife, but who came to the United States to care for her when Lucky’s mother died in a car accident. Living with the insecurity that her guardian could leave to return to France at any time, Lucky finds herself in a mix of wild emotions where it’s hard to trust anyone, even her best friend.

Lucky is a finely-drawn character, as are all the other characters in the book. Even the secondary characters, who play the smallest of roles in the story, breathe with a unique life, and I think this is what makes the book so compelling. The self-doubt, paired with the self-awareness that we all develop as we grow up, will be familiar to us all, especially those of us who grew up as cautious children. Lucky serves as a great role model for girls of that age and character.

It’s a shame that some children won’t even get a chance to read this book, since some librarians are choosing not to order the book for their collections, over concern about the aforementioned use of the word “scrotum.”  The book hasn’t even been challenged, as far as I know; the librarians are just choosing to censor it to avoid the controversy all together, thus robbing their patrons of making the choice for themselves.  It’s questionable, and against the practice of a library to provide materials of all sorts for the public.

It almost makes me ashamed to say that I’m a librarian.

March 23, 2007 Posted by | Juvenile Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony

ColonyArtemis Fowl: The Lost Colony by Eoin Colfer

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I’m such an Artemis Fowl fanboy.  I get eager and excited whenever I hear there’s going to be a new book in the series, so much so that I’ll even read Half-Moon Investigations, a sad substitute by the same author.  This one snuck up on me, though; I didn’t even realize it was out until I saw it in a bookstore.

I like the way that the author has developed Artemis over the years.  He started out as a precocious and unlikeable criminal mastermind; now, he’s much more focused on doing good, and he’s no longer motivated by money and fame.  It’s a clever ploy, and one that could have proved disasterous, since most people knew Artemis as one kind of character from the beginning.  Luckily, Colfer pulled it off.

In The Lost Colony, Artemis is studying the appearances of demons around the world, and trying to figure out why they pop up and disappear so quickly.  During his studies, he discovers that someone else is going to the same places, studying the same phenomenon.  This is a 12-year old girl, with a bodyguard or two, and she proves herself to be as much of a young genius as Artemis himself.  Is she his competition, or confidante?

Colfer has scaled back a bit on the lunacy and puns of the original few books (a good thing, too; Piers Anthony proved that too much of that sort of thing could overpower the series), but he hasn’t let up on the pacing and suspense that he’s known for.  His skills in both areas are comparable to Dan Brown and Preston/Child.

If you’re not familiar with Artemis, go back and start at the first book.  They’re just fun to read.

February 24, 2007 Posted by | Juvenile Fiction, Reviews | 1 Comment

The Stone Light

LightThe Stone Light by Kai Meyer

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Ever since reading The Water Mirror, I’ve been eager to read the rest of the Dark Reflections series.  Luckily, a copy of the second book in the series trickled through the library a few weeks back, because this one was released without a whole lot of fanfare.

It’s really a shame that the likes of Harry Potter will overshadow a lot of the other fantasy books for children, because there are a lot of other great writers of children’s fiction, Kai Meyer being one of them.  His imagery and style are outstanding, and though it may be a bit dark in places, it’s vivid and compelling throughout the story.

The Stone Light picks up literally right where The Water Mirror left off, with the three main characters being split up to follow their own adventures (much like the fellowship of the ring, I should add).  Serafin is left to fight the Egyptians back in Venice; Merle has left with Vermithrax the stone lion to search for the ruler of Hell; and Junipa has disappeared from Arcimbolo’s lab.  The story focuses more on Merle this time around, and honestly, if you haven’t read The Water Mirror, you’re not going to find much to like here.  This is a transitory volume in the series, and sets up a lot of the exposition for the last book, so some parts of the story feel like they drag, while others don’t make much sense all by themselves.  But it sets up the rest of the story quite well, and anyone who’s already familiar with the characters will want to know what happens next.

The wait for the final volume shouldn’t be as long as the wait for The Stone Light; the back of the book says the last volume should be published by Fall, 2007.  Here’s to the wait!

February 24, 2007 Posted by | Juvenile Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

Pirate Curse

PirateThe Wave Walkers: Pirate Curse by Kai Meyer

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Last year, I was delighted to discover Kai Meyer through The Water Mirror, a fantastical look at Venice, Italy though the eyes of a young woman who owned a mirror with a surface of water, who also had a blind friend given sight through shards of a mirror.  He captured a sense of wonderment and excitement that I hadn’t read in a children’s book in a long time (including the Harry Potter series), and added a level of myth and fable to the entire story.  Now that I think about it, the book gave me the same sense that a Neil Gaiman book provides, so it’s no surprise that I liked it as much as I did.

The Pirate Curse is by the same author, but is the start of a different series.  This time, the author focuses on Jolly, a polliwog who was part of a pirate’s crew.  A polliwog is a person who can walk on water, and they are valuable to many people, pirates not excluded.  Once the ship is sunk, and the pirate crew defeated, Jolly escapes to a nearby island, where she meets a young boy and a mysterious trader friend of his.  Thus begins the story of Jolly and her friend, as they travel across the Caribbean and straight into fantastical adventures.

This book didn’t grab me quite like The Water Mirror did.  It has a magical sensibility about it, but it didn’t quite have the same atmosphere that the previous book had.  Nearly everything in Venice was steeped in magic and mysticism, and it was accepted as something normal and mundane.  In the Caribbean, though, the magic is a result of two worlds colliding together, and it’s more something to be feared and avoided, rather than part and parcel of the everyday.  As a result, I felt less engaged with the story, even though I raced through it.

Meyer is a fine writer, and has a great way of telling a story, but The Pirate Curse had fewer memorable passages than The Water Mirror had.  The prose was more firmly grounded, which would be fine under any normal circumstances, but after reading some of the poetic descriptions from The Water Mirror, I was expecting more along those lines.  So, I was a bit disappointed.

The funny thing is, this is a good book, and one that will likely appeal to young readers.  It’s about pirates, which is always good (it draws in the boys), and it has a strong female lead character (which draws in the girls), and it has magic (good for both the boys and the girls).  I also see some parallels to The Lord of the Rings, but to tell any more about that would be to spoil part of the novel.  The book has potential, no doubt, but for those who started reading Meyer with The Water Mirror, I think they’re going to be disappointed.

January 30, 2007 Posted by | Juvenile Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

The Prophet of Yonwood

YonwoodThe Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne DuPrau

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I didn’t realize I had done this when reading these two books back to back, but I managed to finish out two trilogies with this book and with A Dangerous Man. While the first was a brutal look at life in the Russian mafia, this is a gentler sort of book, but with a theme just as dark. The Prophet of Yonwood is a prequel to The City of Ember and The People of Sparks, and sets the stage for the events that led to those books. I didn’t realize this as I was reading the book, but found out that this was only because I hadn’t read anything about the book before seeing it at the library.

Prophet is also a timely book, thanks to its theme. The story centers around a woman’s prophetic vision of destruction, complicated by the fact that the woman then falls into a semi-catatonic state.  One woman in the town takes it upon herself to be the woman’s caretaker, and interprets what she is saying to be passed along to the rest of the community of Yonwood.  Of course, she soon becomes the only person who is in communication with the prophet, and the rest of the members of the community follow what she says blindly.  As a result, people are no longer allowed to sing, or dance, or anything else that this woman interprets as being a sin, based on the prophets mutterings.

This book shows what can happen if people blindly follow what one person says is right, and how it tends to snowball from one thing into another.  What’s most disturbing about the novel is what happens to the people who persist in doing what has been declared a sin … and how it seems to be accepted.  Given the current state of politics and world affairs, it’s easy to believe in this sort of a situation, especially in areas where people are willing to be led.

As a result, The Prophet of Yonwood is a heavy-handed book.  I don’t disagree with the theme of the book, but I wish that it hadn’t been hitting me over the head at every possible moment.  I understand that juvenile books have to be a bit more accessible and straightforward, but given that I’ve also read some juvenile books that approach heavy themes more subtlely, I can’t help but think that DuPrau underestimated her readers’ abilities to understand her point.  That being said, the story is compelling, and once I was about a third of the way into the book, I was sure that there was no way I was not going to finish it.

You can probably skip over this book and not lose anything from the entire Ember trilogy.  Plus, I hear that there’s a fourth book planned for the final book in the series, which picks up after The People of Sparks.  I’m eager to read that one, too.

January 11, 2007 Posted by | Juvenile Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment