Tag Archives: Bruce Coville

My Teacher Is an Alien

Author: Bruce Coville

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Susan is actually excited to be going back to school–mostly because this year (sixth grade) her class is being taught by Ms. Schwartz, possibly the best teacher ever. They’re even supposed to be putting on a play soon, which has Susan’s aspiring actress heart soaring. But when class starts back after spring break, they find Ms. Schwartz gone without explanation and a substitute, Mr. Smith, in her place. Mr. Smith begins to suck all the joy out of learning, and Susan hates the change of teachers. But then she finds out a secret that makes all her previous complaints about Mr. Smith seem insignificant–he’s actually an alien plotting to take a group of children back with him to space to study! Now she’s got to convince someone, anyone, of the truth before it’s too late.

Bruce Coville is a consistently excellent author that I just really enjoy reading. My Teacher Is an Alien is no exception. It captures the environment of a sixth grade classroom, the interpersonal dynamics, and the complications of trying to get adults to listen when you’re that age. And in the midst of that mundanity, you’re introduced to this suspenseful, incredible situation with aliens and force fields and missing teachers. It makes for a great mix. This volume is also kind of nostalgic to read, being written in the 1980’s; it’s kind of nice to look back to a world where you would actually have to bring a camera (using film!) to get evidence, and then wait overnight for it to be developed at the drugstore. There’s just a different atmosphere to stories set (and written) in that time period. I also enjoyed Susan and her friend Peter’s characters; they’re interesting individuals with well-developed characters. In general, the story’s just pretty engaging and fun–recommended.

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EXPIRED | Deal Alert: Classic Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book & Audiobook Humble Bundle

Humble Bundle is currently offering a selection of SF/Fantasy books in both e-book and audiobook formats that looks pretty interesting. Some of them are the same books; others are only offered in either book or audiobook format. Included are authors such as Bruce Coville, Tanith Lee, Tamora Pierce, Kenneth Oppel, Alfred Bester, and Robert Zelazny–as well as a really random-looking Jo Nesbø. Although I’m not much of an audiobook person myself (audio dramas are another thing entirely); however, there are some pretty great looking titles here if you do like audiobooks, including a few Tamora Pierce books and Oppel’s Starclimber. If you’re interested, you can find this bundle here.

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Operation Sherlock

operation sherlockAuthor: Bruce Coville

My rating: 4 of 5

The A. I. Gang, vol. 1

Wendy, Ray, Trip, Rachel, and Roger all find themselves dragged across the ocean to a new home on the island of Anza Bora–all because their parents are involved in some sort of super-secret artificial intelligence research project. Determined to make the best of a situation none of them are particularly happy about, the five children become friends and begin exploring what the island has to offer. But soon they discover that things just aren’t right. Bugs, explosions, and other unexplained events catch the gang’s attention–especially when they begin receiving threatening messages on their personal computers that ought to be un-hackable. There’s only one thing for it: they determine to put together their (considerable) intelligence and computer skills to create their own crime-solving A. I. in the interest of solving this mystery.

In terms of serialized middle-grade mysteries, Bruce Coville’s Operation Sherlock has to be pretty high on my list. While it follows the basic patterns you’ve seen in everything from The Mysterious Benedict Society to Nancy Drew and innumerable others, this particular book fails to get mired down in the way that many of this sort of book do. The plot manages to be typical of the style and yet fresh at the same time. The slightly cyberpunk setting adds a lot, being well-developed and yet not overly emphasized. I think the character creation is where Coville’s skills truly shine, though. He manages to craft a group of individuals who truly show developed, distinct characters without ever falling into stereotyped characters. I feel like his development of the gang is subtly done, and I really enjoyed the interactions between the kids. Nice dialogue as well, which helped the progression of the story a lot. I think for anyone who likes the genre, Operation Sherlock is a significantly above-average choice, and it’s sure to be a hit with anyone (like myself) who loves Bruce Coville’s writing in general. I’m looking forward to trying the second volume.

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Werewolves

Edited by Jane Yolen & Martin H. GreenbergWerewolves

My rating: 3.5 of 5

They’re mysterious creatures of the night, weaving their way into legend. They’re magic, the freedom to run wild, unchecked by human bonds. Perhaps they’re also a picture of deep, intrinsic fears . . . of finding you suddenly don’t know someone who was once close to you, or of realizing you don’t know yourself anymore. Whatever the case, werewolves are certainly excellent story-telling material, and the authors in this short-story collection have made the most of the draw of this mysterious creature.

Jane Yolen and Martin Greenberg have always had my respect for being able to pull together excellent short-story collections, and  Werewolves is no exception. Although I wasn’t familiar with many of the authors in this collection, I found the writing to be consistently interesting and enjoyable–particularly notable since some of these stories are the first published works of the authors. (Bonus points to Yolen and Greenberg for including a Charles de Lint story in the collection; he’s one of my absolute favorite urban fantasy authors, and his treatment of the werewolf theme is excellent.) And while I would generally prefer to read a collection with a bit more variety (like Dragons & Dreams, for instance), over a collection entirely focused on one creature, I found there to be a pleasant mix of stories in this volume. There’s everything from dystopian science fiction to historical fiction with a fantasy twist (actually, there’s a wide variety just within this sort of story) to more contemporary slice-of-life stories. I think I particularly enjoyed the takes on historical events with a focus on werewolves–somehow, the authors threw human prejudices against each other into a clearer light in these stories. I do think that Werewolves is an interesting collection of short stories, most recommended for those who enjoy (surprise) short stories and stories about werewolves–it’s probably a bit too much of a good thing if you’re not already interested in the theme, I’d say.

Featured Authors: Debra Doyle, J. D. Macdonald, Ru Emerson, Leigh Ann Hussey, Harry Turtledove, Mary K. Whittington, Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, Elizabeth Scarborough, Sherwood Smith, Bruce Coville, Marguerite W. Davol, Jane Yolen, Susan Shwartz, Anne E. Crompton, Esther M. Friesner, & Charles de Lint

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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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Jennifer Murdley’s Toad

Author: Bruce Coville

Illustrator: Gary A. Lippincott

Jennifer Murdley has been having a worse-than-usual day–as though being plain weren’t enough, her best friend spilled her secret, the whole school was teasing her, and then Sharra and her cronies started chasing her. Desperate to escape, Jennifer found herself on streets she didn’t recognize, winding up in the shop of S. Elives, seller of things magical. And, like so many others who find themselves in Mr. Elives’ shop, Jennifer finds herself leaving with an unexpected purchase–in her case, a toad. What she didn’t know at the time is that this toad talks (calls himself Bufo), has an attitude, and might be rather a challenge to handle. . . . He might even change Jennifer’s world.

Bruce Coville’s Magic Shop books are always a treat to read, and Jennifer Murdley’s Toad is no exception. This story is filled with wonder and a sense of the unexpected. It’s also a great study of the concept of true beauty–and a fantastic retelling of the classic Toads and Diamonds fairy tale. It was unexpected to find a Magic Shop book that was a retelling, but for this story it really worked well. The characters are fun, and the growth Jennifer goes through is inspiring. Plus, the story’s just good fun and a grand adventure. I think Jennifer Murdley’s Toad is an excellent fantasy, particularly for late elementary to middle-school readers, although even as an adult, I find it very enjoyable.

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Dragons & Dreams

Editors: Jane Yolen, Martin H. Greenberg, & Charles G. Waugh

Authors: Bruce Coville, Sharon Webb, Patricia A. McKillip, Patricia MacLachlan, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Jane Yolen, Charles de Lint, Diana Wynne Jones, Monica Hughes, & Diane Duane

Offered: One token to ride the New York subway system into realms unknown but strangely familiar. Also, one pass to see behind the scenes in the top-selling dreams of a young icon. Or perhaps you’d prefer a seat in the circle while Great-Grandfather Dragon tells the true story of St. George. Whatever you prefer, the offer is there–to dream and wonder.

Dragons & Dreams is a delightful collection of original short fictions by some of my favorite authors. What more need be said? The stories are wonderful and imaginative. Some of them tie in to other larger bodies of work, but all can be read individually with great enjoyment. I particularly love Yolen’s small novella retelling of St. George and the Dragon–it’s really a perfect rendition of the story. And it’s fun to see fantasy works by authors I typically associate with more “real life” genres–MacLachlan and Snyder in particular. Dragons & Dreams is a solid fantasy short story collection (every story is a gem), and I highly recommend reading it!

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