Tag Archives: 2000-2009

Heart of the Dragon

Author: Keith R. A. DeCandidoheart-of-the-dragon

Supernatural books, vol. 4

My rating: 4 of 5

SPOILER ALERT: The events in this book take place after season 5, episode 8, so there are likely to be spoilers for any episodes prior to that. Plus, knowledge of events leading up to that point will be very helpful in knowing what’s going on in this book.

In 1859, an honorable ronin, known as “Heart of the Dragon” for his brave feats, is defeated by a far-sighted demon and turned into a vengeful spirit, one that may one day be of great use to the forces of darkness during the apocalypse. Years later, a young descendant of this ronin discovers how to bring this spirit back and bend its will to his own petty vengeances. The rash of mysterious (and obviously supernatural) deaths that follow become a plague to three generations of Campbells and Winchesters as the spirit returns once every 20 years.

My experience with media tie-in novels has been extremely patchy, with some being little better than poorly-researched fanfiction (minus the fandom) and others actually being great stories in their own right. I thing Heart of the Dragon is a surprisingly good story . . . if you love the TV series and know what’s going on. And I do have to say, watching the show up to season 5, episode 8, is basically essential to really get much out of this book. But within that context, I was actually really impressed and enjoyed this book quite a lot. I felt like DeCandido got a much better feel for who the characters are than he did in his previous novel Nevermore (which didn’t really impress me). The characters don’t just have a few phrases or stereotypical elements that typify them; they act and talk more like I expect Sam and Dean and the rest to act and talk on-screen. Plus, I thought the plot was interesting. I’ve heard people complaining that there’s just too much going on or that only a small portion of the story actually focused on Sam and Dean. True on both counts, but I enjoyed having a story that spanned from Mary and her parents to John and Bobby to Sam, Dean, and Castiel. Plus, the author did a great job of bringing in authentic period detail in relatively subtle ways to help keep the time jumps distinct. My biggest complaints are probably just me being snobby, honestly; for instance, the author uses “Cass” instead of “Cas” for Castiel’s nickname–he claim’s it’s what’s officially in the scripts, but I’ve never seen that actually used anywhere. Why would you even? But truly, I really enjoyed Heart of the Dragon for both its great characterizations and its interesting plot . . . but mostly for the characters.

 

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The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Author: Jonas Jonasson/Translator: Rod Bradburythe-100-year-old-man-who-climbed-out-the-window-and-disappeared

My rating: 4 of 5

On his one-hundredth birthday, Allan Karlsson finds himself in a nursing home with a big party planned in his honor. If only they had deigned to ask what he wanted! Allan would much rather have a bottle of vodka to enjoy–something that is, in fact, forbidden in the home. In that case, it’s time to stop sitting around. Allan climbs out the window of his room and embarks on quite the adventure, one including murder and elephants and, of course, vodka. Not that it will be the first adventure of his long life.

I first discovered The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared through a review by Paul@The Galaxial Word (which you should check out; it’s excellent). It seems that this is a book which inspires rather polarized opinions in either direction. Personally, I enjoyed it, but I think you have to come at it with the right expectations. Because this book is, essentially, an extended tall tale, a larger than life story that’s meant to be fun and funny but that can’t be taken too seriously. The humor is rather dark, I must warn; there’s some violence (actually, quite a bit) scattered throughout the story as well. I found that, while I didn’t exactly like the characters, they were interesting and they all contributed to the story. As for the plot, it’s a fascinating blend. Half of the time, you get a present-day romp through contemporary Sweden with this old man and the people he picks up along the way sending the police and the papers on a merry chase. The other half, scattered between the present-day chapters, is a historical progression through Karlsson’s long and storied life. It shows his intimate involvement–brought about by his coincidental presence in most circumstances–in numerous high-profile situations throughout the years. Obviously, such involvement is highly improbable and historically unlikely (a common complaint that I’ve heard). Duh. It’s a tall tale; it’s meant to be improbable and unlikely. I did enjoy the close-up walkthrough of those historical events though. I guess what I’m getting at is that, while it’s not for everyone, I personally found The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared to be enjoyable, and I’m planning to check out others of the author’s books (which all seem to be just as ridiculously titled!).

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Cell

Author: Stephen Kingcell

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Clay Riddell has finally gotten his big break, signing a ridiculously good deal for his comic Dark Wanderer as well as a sequel. But his euphoria doesn’t get a chance to last for long as the world around him seems to go mad in a matter of minutes. People lose all appearance of reason, attacking each other, biting, running cars into buildings and people. In the following days, as Clay manages to make contact with a few normal people, it becomes apparent that this madness is linked to using a cell phone . . . and these days, who doesn’t use one? Distraught and desperate, Clay and his new companions, Tom and Alice, begin making their way across country in an attempt to reach Clay’s estranged wife and son–while doing their best to avoid run-ins with those who have come to be known as “phoners”. Especially as the phoners’ behavior becomes increasingly concerning and odd.

Stephen King is an amazing author, and while Cell is probably not my favorite of his books, it is certainly both an exciting and a thought-provoking read. It actually reminds me a great deal of Patterson’s Zoo, only better in every aspect. The idea of someone hacking the cell phone system is both chilling and just possible enough to get under the reader’s skin, however improbable the reprogramming of millions of people’s brains using such a signal is. I admired that King limited the story, kept it to a select group of individuals, kept the reader from knowing everything that’s going on, and never revealed the actual source of the problem. It made Clay and his companions’ experience seem much more present and real, more emotionally gripping. And this is certainly an emotionally loaded story, full of adrenaline and horror and sorrow and worry, but also of affection and laughter and joy, surprisingly enough. I enjoyed the characters and found that each brought something indispensable to the story. On a much more detailed note, I loved the allusions to Clay’s comic and his attention to signage and fonts (which is carried through by using different fonts in the text at key moments); I just found that this added a nice extra touch of character development. For those interested in a chilling cyberpunk zombie story that’s a bit open-ended, I think Cell is a great choice, one I would certainly recommend.

 

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Mercury

Author/Illustrator: Hope Larsonmercury

My rating: 3.5 of 5

In 2009, Tara Fraser runs through the town of French Hill in Nova Scotia, passing the burned out remains of her old family home–the place she’d lived most of her life. Little could she imagine the deep ties she unwittingly retains with her ancestress Josey Fraser, a girl who grew up on the very same homestead back in the 1850’s. But when Tara finds an unusual quicksilver-containing family heirloom in her mother’s old jewelry box, the ties that connect these two girls begin to reveal themselves, uncovering a history of unexpected fortune and tragedy both.

My experience reading Mercury was really kind of mixed. I really love what the author tried to do here, melding the stories of these two girls. And I think overall the way the story revealed both of their stories side-by-side was very effective. But I found the extreme similarities between them rather forced at times; their own appearances were too similar, as were the relations between them and their best friends (who were also remarkably similar). I guess this is something that works better for the middle-grade audience this seems to be intended for, but it was counterproductive for me as a reader. On the other hand, I did like the characters and their stories. And I loved the setting, both in historic and present-day Nova Scotia–it’s pretty rare to find graphic novels set in Canada, so that’s always fun. The art was nice too, definitely a western (non-manga) style, but in a modern graphic-novel sense, not in an annoying comic-book sense. The other thing I found notable about this story was the touch of magical realism thrown in towards the end of the book. From reviews I’ve seen, this is pretty typical of Hope Larson’s writing, but I definitely wasn’t expecting it, so it really threw me. On the whole though, Mercury was a nice graphic novel, most recommended for a middle-grade or high-school audience, but with enough depth to be appreciable by adult readers as well.

 

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Everlost

Author: Neal Shustermaneverlost

My rating: 5 of 5

Nick and Allie were complete strangers until they were thrown together–quite literally–by the car crash that killed them both. They were supposed to get to the light at the end of the tunnel, but their mid-tunnel collision sends them off course and into the in-between, to what its residents call “Everlost”. This ghostly world, which seems to them now more real than the living world, is full of strangeness, rumor, rules, and confusion. And despite their differences, Nick and Allie must together find a way to make it in a world where none of the known rules apply.

I first discovered Neal Shusterman’s writing with his fun book Antsy Does Time, but I didn’t even realize until recently that there were other incredible books by him right next to it on the shelf . . . mostly because the covers are in a completely different style! I was delighted to discover that Everlost is also written by him, and was equally delighted when I finished reading it. The world building in this unusual ghost story is exceptional. I think that’s probably what stood out most immediately–the author put a lot of thought into all the “physics” of this world, the rules that govern how it works, to craft a world that’s convincing and that allows for unique plot occurrences that could never happen in a normal book. And because of his world building, the plot really does give a different perspective on our fears, our personalities, our characters, what makes us human even. Especially in a world where everyone is, say, 16 or younger–but no one ever dies (being already dead and all). The feel and flow of the story remind me a lot of Peter Pan in many regards. There are a lot of great characters here as well, characters who grow with the story and whose growth powers the story along swimmingly. I’m really looking forward to reading the sequel (this is the first of a trilogy). Highly recommended for all readers, say, 11 and up.

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Angel

Created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt

Leaving Sunnydale behind, Angel finds himself alone in Los Angeles, brooding (what else is new), alone, and still nursing his guilt over his previous (pre-soul, vampiric) life. Fortunately, the powers that be (truly) send help his way in the form of Sunnydale expatriate Cordelia Chase–who’s not making the big movie break she was expecting–and Doyle–an Irish half-demon with skull-bursting visions that point the team to those in trouble. Together, these three form the beginnings of a team, “Angel Investigations,” dedicated to rendering aid to those who need it–and, of course, to opposing the working of evil in the city, which in L.A. means the law firm, Wolfram & Hart. Angel and his team are sure to have their work cut out for them, but they just might be able to make a difference . . . and if they’re lucky, they might even make enough money to stay in business!

I came to Angel as, probably, most viewers do: as a spin-off series from Buffy, starting simultaneously with season 4 of the Sunnydale classic. I’m honestly not sure if that’s a good thing or not. There are certainly things that carry over–you have a lot of back-story on the characters going in to Angel if you’ve watched the first few seasons of Buffy first, for instance. But the genres are pretty different. I feel like I should pause and say first that I honestly enjoyed Angel very much and would watch it again. Having said that, I felt like it was, on the whole, a weaker story–the plot’s all over the place, the character set is erratic, and sometimes I had no idea what sort of genre I was supposed to be watching. Plus, they used all that CSI flashing between scenes at the beginning; that just about gave me vertigo (hyperbole), ugh. But in spite of not knowing whether it’s a detective story or a soap opera, I usually enjoyed the story, wherever it went. I think a lot of that is attributable to the characters, many of whom I absolutely loved. I think one of the most positive aspects of this show for me was that it took characters that I rather disliked in Buffy–namely Cordelia and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce–and actually developed them into mature characters that I truly enjoyed. Also, the inclusion of more peaceable characters like Lorne and Fred (love those two!) added a lot to the story. Honestly, the one character I really didn’t care for was Angel himself, not because he was poorly placed–Boreanaz did an excellent job portraying him–but because I just don’t like who he is, never have really. But I guess the show must have some significant redeeming qualities elsewhere if I like it despite disliking the main character. Finally, the ending was somewhat abrupt, but I do understand that the show was cut unexpectedly (and is said to be continued in some graphic novels, though how that’s possible, I don’t know).  Anyhow, I enjoyed Angel, and I think Buffy fans who have a taste for more detective-y, urban stories would likely enjoy it also.

Starring: David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, Glenn Quinn, Alexis Denisof, J. August Richards, Amy Acker, Vincent Kartheiser, Andy Hallett, James Marsters, & Mercedes McNab

Note: This TV series consists of 5 seasons (yes, it doesn’t seem like it should end where it does).

Note 2: Does anyone else get a Star Wars vibe out of Connor?

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Armageddon Summer

Authors: Jane Yolen & Bruce Coville

The members of the charismatic Reverend Beelson’s congregations are convinced that he’s right: the world’s ending on July 27, 2000. And based on that belief, they’re packing up their families and heading out to Mount Weeupcut, the only safe place to be for the chosen few, according to the Reverend. In the wake of their respective families’ dissolution, Jed and Marina find themselves dragged along by their remaining parents. Marina wants to believe, if only because her mother believes and she so desperately needs for her mother to be right. Jed doesn’t give a care–he’s just there to protect his dad who’s been a bit batty since Jed’s mom left. When these two meet up on the mountain, they find something in each other they can relate to, someone they can really talk to without feeling judged for their unbelief. Which is good, because if Reverend Beelson’s right, they’re going to be stuck with each other for a long time.

I normally shy away from books like this; they’re just a bit too angsty and mercurial for my taste. But a Jane Yolen/Bruce Coville combo was something I just couldn’t pass up. Armageddon Summer was much better than I expected, even knowing and respecting the authors as I do. I guess the best way to put it is to say that it was tasteful and non-judgmental. Even though they were largely writing about folks who were clearly nuts, they also showed the good sides of those people. Furthermore, they depicted with painful honesty the challenges of faith and uncertainty, especially in circumstances such as when everyone around you is fully convinced or when your parents clearly believe and want you to. I think the struggle of what to do when your beliefs and your parents don’t mesh is a key element in this story–one on which I truly appreciate the authors’ thoughts. The writing itself is, as expected, flawless, engrossing, thoughtful, and dynamic. I really enjoyed the alternating voices between Marina and Jed, as well as the interlacing of snippets from radio broadcasts, sermons, and conversations for flavor. I don’t think Armageddon Summer is for everyone. Some might find it offensive; others may find the challenges it raises to their own beliefs to be disconcerting. But for the brave and the thinking reader, I think Armageddon Summer is sensitive, thoughtful, poignant, and well worth your time.

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