Author: Jack Prelutsky
Illustrator: Jimmy Pickering
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Past the outer reaches of our solar system lie wonders the likes of which you could never imagine. But beware! Not all of those wonders are friendly, and some are downright deadly . . . planets that make you laugh yourself to death, giant demon birds, a beholder who waits in silence with one solitary, staring eye. Scary stuff.
The Swamps of Sleethe does something most unusual–it combines the dark cautionary tones of older fairy tales with the chilling horror of a good ghost story with an absurd Seussical element. All in a variety of verse forms. And manages to do it well! I actually quite enjoyed this strange collection of children’s poetry. It’s obviously tailored to appeal to a middle-grade audience, but I enjoyed it as an adult as well. Fair warning that basically all of these poems are describing strange ways to die on equally strange and impossible planets. It’s all pretty macabre, but as with Last Laughs, it’s in a darkly humorous sort of way that’s actually kind of appealing. (Or maybe I’m just a terrible person and they’re not really funny at all.) The last poem was kind of a sucker punch to the reader, but a timely one that made the whole volume all the more powerful and striking. Ooh, and the illustrations that accompany the poems are just fabulous–interesting color combinations and weird but fascinating designs that I really liked. I wouldn’t say that The Swamps of Sleethe is for everyone, but if you enjoy a bit more macabre sense of humor, this could be fun. Or if you’re a parent/teacher who’s having trouble getting a middle-grader to read poetry, this could be a good option to try; they might actually find it enjoyable!
Author: Rick Yancey
The 5th Wave, vol. 2
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Cassie and Ben have gotten their small group of survivors to temporary safety in an abandoned hotel, but they’re certain they can’t stay hidden there long. You can’t stay hidden anywhere long in a world that’s been taken over by hostile aliens inhabiting human bodies–aliens that have more tech than you can imagine and that hate the human race with an incomprehensible, unending spite. They send their best shot, Ringer, off to investigate a cave system–a potentially better hiding place, at least for a while–leaving the rest at the hotel to recover (Ben being pretty badly wounded) and hope against hope that Cassie’s alien boyfriend (long story) survived their escape and is coming to join them. But, as usual it seems, nothing goes as planned, leaving all of them in a desperate and continuing struggle for survival.
Honestly, while I generally enjoy Yancey’s writing, The Infinite Sea is a bit of a struggle for me to review. I mean, it was an exciting and engaging read, but I think I need to wait for the third volume to come out and then read all three volumes straight through together. As with The 5th Wave, the POV switches between various characters, making it a bit fragmented. Especially since the point of time also jumps back and forward a bit between characters. To complicate things even further, Yancey only rarely uses the name of the character in whose POV he’s writing, tending to use impersonal pronouns instead. Which I guess works with the whole dehumanizing theme he’s got going in the story–I really do appreciate the philosophical basis behind it–but it sure does make the reading more challenging. Also, there’s this whole Inception sort of mind games thing going on; plots within counterplots within even more evil alien counterplots. The characters don’t have a clue what’s really going on (and yes, some folks might have a good time figuring it out as they go along), but honestly the reader is often left struggling to comprehend. And (final complaint, I promise), I still find the whole Evan and Cassie thing to be a complete Twilight-type throw in that doesn’t really suit the rest of the plot . . . even though it is used to advance the plot in several instances. I still think Yancey should pick the Evan and Cassie story or the huge militarily-focused alien invasion story and stick with that one. But, in spite of all the above-listed complaints, I really did enjoy the story (even though it was sort of confusing at parts). I guess I’d just recommend approaching The Infinite Sea with caution, being prepared for a thrilling, mind-bending, intentionally fragmented piece of very dark science fiction.
Authors: J. Patrick Lewis & Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Jeffrey Stewart Timmins
Wander through Amen Creatures Corners, a final resting place for ill-fated creatures of all sorts. Read the epitaphs written there. What you’ll find on those stones is tragic, perhaps . . . but you have to admit, it’s ironic and somehow darkly funny as well.
So . . . Last Laughs is a unique collection, for sure. It is a set of poems describing the ironic ways in which a number of creatures came to their deaths–set in puns and other humorous forms. (It’s kind of like a dark Spoon River Anthology written for kids.) The poems are quite good–crafted by J. Patrick Lewis (Children’s Poet Laureate) and the beloved children’s author Jane Yolen. The poems are funny, that much must be admitted. And the art is fitting–slightly morbid, but in a humorous sort of way. I think Last Laughs is the sort of book that will have two very different reactions depending on the reader: some will appreciate the gallows humor and will love it while others will find it too morbid for words. Frankly, I’m not entirely sure where I fit between the two.
Author: Lish McBride
Never one to miss a chance to excel, Sam spends his days flipping burgers and manning the cash register with aplomb . . . or maybe something rather more like apathy, to be honest. That is, until his chance encounter with Douglas, a super-scary dude who accuses Sam of being a necromancer and demands that Sam join him as his apprentice. Weird much? Sam is for sure weirded out (read incredibly freaked out), especially when his friend Brooke’s severed head appears in a package on his doorstep–and starts talking to him. Worse, he’s given a week to join Douglas or the same undeadness is promised to start spreading to others he loves.
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer has got to be one of the scariest, weirdest, most amazing books I’ve read in quite a while. Lish McBride takes a theme that’s so classic it’s exhausted (normal kid not only has powers he never imagined, he’s the prophesied redemption of a people he never knew existed, or some such) and blows the doors off of it. Actually, I think she blows the minds of her readers while she’s at it. I love the character portrayals–they’re rich and sarcastic and funny. And the plot, while being stereotypical at its core, is freakishly scary, exciting, and done in a brilliantly unique fashion. I’m definitely looking forward to a sequel (there’d better be one)! I’d highly recommend Hold Me Closer, Necromancer to anyone who likes odd, scary, sarcastically funny, and impossibly fantastic young-adult stories–just beware of sex and language content.
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrators: Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, & Malcolm Jones III
The Sandman, vol. 1
Over his many unending years of life and influence, he has been called many things: Morpheus, Dream, the Sandman. When an unholy ceremony intended to summon and imprison his older sister Death, Dream finds himself drawn in instead. The items in which he has hidden his power taken from him, he sits in a glass prison for years upon years–so long that his original captors have all died. When Dream finally does manage to escape, he finds himself destitute in a world of chaos, much of his power scattered and in the hands of others. And so, he sets off on a quest to reclaim his powers and restore order to the realm of the night.
I have been a fan of Neil Gaiman ever since I first read Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book ages ago, but it’s only recently that I discovered his work in graphic novels by picking up The Books of Magic. I’ve heard really impressive reviews of The Sandman even before I started reading graphic novels; however, I must say that Preludes & Nocturnes wasn’t really what I expected. There was too much of a usual comic-book feel–the author himself even says in the afterword that he was trying to emulate various traditional comic styles–and honestly, there is altogether too much unnecessary violence and horror. I love Gaiman’s work for its overwhelming fantasy; he doesn’t need to stoop to cheap horror. However, the last chapter gave me hope for greater things from the future volumes of The Sandman, enough that I definitely intend to read on. I do appreciate the unexpected sparks of depth that show up scattered throughout, as well as the many allusions to mythology, literature, etc. . . . although the Justice League allusions just weird me out a bit. As for the art, well, if you’re used to a comic book style, it’s probably normal enough. Maybe even impressive. I haven’t read enough of them to know; I just know that the coloring and style are really strange to someone like me who usually reads manga. So yeah, overall, Preludes & Nocturnes is definitely not my favorite Gaiman work, but I’m holding on judging the story as a whole until I’ve read the other volumes.
Authors/Illustrators: Rob Reger, Brian Brooks, & Jessica Gruner
You think you’re bored? Well, Emily Strange is BORED! Fortunately, she has lots of experience with boredom and knows exactly what to do. Whether it’s distribute Strange Sauce at the school cafeteria and watch the grisly results, think up an unlucky (but perfect for a Dark Girl) number of alternative uses for a wire hanger, or create macabre mixed taxidermy, Emily’s sure to find something to relieve her boredom. The question is, is the rest of the world ready for what she dreams up? . . . I think not.
Chairman of the Bored was an interesting outtake on the Emily Strange books, in my opinion. It’s the first of a set of loosely-termed “graphic novels” featuring our favorite antisocial Dark Girl heroine(?). I say “loosely-termed” because there’s nothing like a dominating storyline at all. Rather, the entire volume is a collection of short comics, diagrams, poems, and mock-advertisements–all featuring Emily’s boredom and methods of mitigating such. While the collection was really random, I felt like it stuck with the spirit of the Emily Strange novels, and it did have some quite interesting content. Emily the Strange: Chairman of the Bored is a “graphic novel” that I would recommend for current fans of the other Emily Strange books–particularly if you’re bored.
Author: Neil Gaiman
Warning: Mature Audience
Have you ever imagined listening in as the twelve months sit around a bonfire telling stories? Or accidentally crashing a party being thrown by alien tourists? Maybe you’d like some instructions for what to do if you ever stumble into the middle of a fairy tale? This collection offers all of these and much more.
Fragile Things is an intriguing, provocative collection. It comprises a wide variety of short stories, poetry, and short writings of other sorts ranging from science fiction to dark fantasy, from horror to mystery, and all sorts of shades between. Some I found wondrous, some fascinating, some frankly offensive, but all thought provoking and worth my time. All are distinctly Neil Gaiman. It should be noted that this book contains adult content of several varieties–I would recommend this for a 21+ audience only.