Author: Elizabeth Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5
She knew she shouldn’t approach the derelict old house. Everyone knew it was abandoned–probably haunted too. But Blake Callaghan’s curiosity is just too much, so she scales the wall and wanders through the overgrown, unkempt garden towards the house. You can imagine her surprise when she encounters an old man in the garden; so very old he is. He introduces himself as Mr. Donn and begins to tell Blake stories, wondrous stories of the Sidhe, of changelings, and of the Dullahan. Stories of the brevity of life and the certainty of death that change Blake somehow in the hearing of them.
House of the Dead is an incredible novella/short story collection that I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys fantasy or mythology. It pulls from old Celtic legends, but presents the tales in a fresh, insightful way, uniting the individual stories within Blake’s story and making them part of a greater whole. I first discovered the author through her Merlin fanfics, writing under the pseudonym Emachinescat; they are wonderful, and I fell in love with the author’s writing then. This novella displays the same brilliance, but perhaps even more finely crafted. There is both a richness of imagery and a sparseness of dialogue in this book that is unusual, I think, and I found it oddly moving. There were several times when the stories moved me to the point of chills, and by the end of the novella, I was crying. The perspective on life and death offered here is truly powerful, echoing the Doctor’s idea that “we’re all stories, in the end” and the desire to really live life to the fullest, to write a good story with your life. As I said, highly recommended.
Author: Neil Gaiman
The Sandman, vol. 4
My rating: 4 of 5
WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE
Destiny of the Endless has gathered his siblings together, setting the wheels of fate in motion and sending his brother Dream on a quest to Hell to right an old wrong. But when Morpheus arrives, he finds an empty Hell in which Lucifer declares that he quits and hands Morpheus the key to Hell. And so, the dead return. The demons wander unrestrained. And Dream is left with an unwelcome burden . . . one that many others would gladly relieve him of, whether it would be wise to permit them to or not.
Season of Mists wasn’t my favorite of the Sandman volumes so far (I have an extreme fondness for Dream Country); however, it was certainly intriguing and presented itself as a complete and united tale more than some of the volumes of this graphic novel have. There’s definitely some wonky theology, but it was fascinating to see the juxtaposition of different pantheons and philosophies all vying for Dream’s favor and interacting together in the Dreaming. And Dream’s reactions to all of them most certainly gained him several extra coolness points in my books. It was nice to see some resolution of the Dream/Nada story as well. And ooh, getting to see more development of the Dreaming was very neat; I loved the artistic renderings of that. All in all, Season of Mists was a solid addition to Dream’s story, and it seems to leave us set up for some interesting occurrences in the next volume, which I am looking forward to reading.
On a completely random side note, the creator biographies in this volume are absolute rubbish but well worth reading–utterly random and silly, but very funny.
Covers and Design by Dave McKean/Illustrated by Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Matt Wagner, Dick Giordano, George Pratt, & P. Craig Russell/Lettered by Todd Klein/Colored by Steve Oliff & Daniel Vozzo
Author: Lloyd Alexander
The Prydain Chronicles, vol. 1
Taran dreams of a life of heroism, convinced his real life in tiny Caer Dallben is anything but. While daring swordfights spark his imagination, he finds himself Assistant Pigkeeper to an oracular pig who, while quite nice in her own way, has never done anything exciting. Or at least, not until one fateful day when all the creatures in Caer Dallben started acting terrified and ran away . . . a day when the Horned King rode. Chasing after the pig, Hen Wen, into the forest, Taran soon finds himself dragged into an adventure as big as he could have ever hoped . . . only, heroics in truth seem a lot more like hard work, sacrifice, exhaustion, hunger, and conviction than like anything he ever expected. On the course of his journey, Taran meets numerous people who show him what true valor looks like: Prince Gwydion, the lovely Eilonwy, the creature Gurgi, travelling bard (and notorious liar) Fflewddur Fflam, to name a few. In the end, Taran’s whole view of life will change . . . and you never know, he might develop a touch of heroism himself.
I love Lloyd Alexander’s writing, and his Prydain books in particular. There’s just something about his matter-of-fact, pragmatic, yet somehow satirical voice that’s both captivating and extremely funny. His plot is exciting, but I must say, it’s the people that stand out, and the things they learn (which are almost always things we need to learn ourselves as well). Gwydion is a true hero–by which I mean he’s a servant who puts others before himself. Gurgi, with all of his crunchings and munchings is quite the enigma, someone you could easily feel sorry for but who’s actually braver and more loyal than most anyone when it comes down to it. And the princess Eilonwy . . . Alexander’s female leads are always impressive and a treat to read, and Eilonwy’s no exception. I admire her strength of character, and I think her metaphorical way of speaking adds both humor and depth to the story. Poor Fflewddur . . . you’d think he’s mostly there for comic effect, but then there are moments when he truly surprises you. It’s a delight to see the characters growing throughout their journey. I LOVE The Book of Three and would highly recommend it to anyone upper elementary to adult.
Author: David Almond
Illustrator: Dave McKean
The gods have mostly finished creating a beautiful world full of all sorts of interesting things, but they got bored and lazy before they finished, and now they’re lazing about napping and dining. Meanwhile, the world is left with areas that are simply . . . empty. Living in this world are three children–Harry, Sue, and Little Ben–who take the time to really look at these holes in reality and to imagine what ought to belong there. But they go further than dreaming–they create their dreams out of sticks and clay and will them into life. It’s all wonderful and exciting until Harry and Sue dream up something terrifying . . . something that might be to terrible to be undone.
Well. Mouse Bird Snake Wolf is an imaginative illustrated short story, I must admit. To give it its due, it is creative, bright, cohesive, and has an interesting twist at the end. But . . . I don’t know. I’ve tried reading a few of David Almond’s books, and they never quite resonate with me–I think because there’s a lot of unusual philosophies woven deeply into them so that it’s hard for me to take them at face value. For that very reason, I don’t think I would give this book to children to read, even though it’s pretty clearly marketed as a children’s book; I posit that it is definitely an adult book with adult implications. I’ll let you read it for yourself and form your own opinions regarding that. As for the art, well, being a Neil Gaiman fan, it’s sort of a given that I also greatly enjoy Dave McKean’s work. I think his pictures suit this story nicely, in a weird sort of way. The colors, textures, contrasts, and shapes are probably my favorite part of this book . . . but I think most people would find the pictures to be the weirdest and most disturbing part. Sooo . . . if you’re interested in an unusual, philosophically challenging, and creepily-illustrated short story, you might find Mouse Bird Snake Wolf worth checking out. Frankly, I probably won’t read it again, for what it’s worth.
CoMix Wave Films
Written & Directed by Makoto Shinkai/Produced by Noritaka Kawaguchi & Makoto Shinkai/Music by Tenmon
Ever since her father’s death, Asuna has lived alone with her mother and her adorable kitty, Mimi. Her mother, a nurse, works a great deal, and Asuna loves to spend her alone time in the nearby hills (at her secret hideout), tuning in to mysterious broadcasts on her amateur radio receiver.On her way to her hideout one day after school, she finds herself attacked by a bear-like monster–but one that is clearly no monster known on this earth! Just when it looks like she’ll never make it, Asuna is rescued (rather abruptly and shockingly) by a boy a bit older than herself (who reminds me of Howl more than I can express!). There’s something special between the boy Shun and Asuna, a feeling of a destined meeting–enough so that she is struck very strongly by his death the very next day. . . . Enough to join with her substitute teacher Mr. Morisaki and pursue Shun into the underworld in hopes of bringing him back from the dead.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices is the first Makoto Shinkai movie I’ve seen that isn’t slice of life. As such, it has a unique feel for one of his stories–while still being distinctly his. (Although, as my brother has noted, in many ways it feels like a dark Miyazaki.) The characters are rich and deep–and they express quite evocatively the longing born in each of us when someone we love dies. The plot is strange and ethereal; it works very well for the ideas Shinkai is trying to express. And fortunately for his viewers, he takes steps to keep it from becoming too utterly dark and hopeless (like including an absolutely kawaii kitty)–because ultimately this is a story of hope and forward motion, not despair. The art and music are classic Shinkai in the best sense possible–stunningly beautiful throughout. I particularly enjoyed the “northern lights” display that painted the night sky in the underworld; it was gorgeous! The predominance of Aztec designs, philosophies, names, etc. was extremely interesting, providing a unique flavor to the story that was strange but that I liked. I think that for a mature individual who wants a beautiful, thought-provoking, and deep, yet richly enjoyable movie, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a great choice.
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Hayley has lived with her quiet, absent granddad and her strict demanding grandmother for as long as she can remember, isolated in their demanding, silent, structured home and never meeting others her own age. So when she is sent to her aunt’s home in the middle of a family reunion with cousins everywhere, she is–needless to say–just a bit overwhelmed. Still, she pulls herself together and quickly endears herself in the hearts of the family members she has just met. And just when she thinks she’s going to be okay with staying at her aunt’s, the cousins pull out “the game”–a “game” that is dangerous and earnest and just possibly deadly if she’s not careful . . . but that is exhilaratingly fun as well.
Diana Wynne Jones–need I say more? I love all of her novels, and The Game is no exception. This is a brilliant, quick little story . . . almost more of a concept study than a story. Or rather, it is a complete and wonderful story, but one that is based on and explains certain concepts and basically limits itself to those concepts. I know, that makes no sense–read the book, and you’ll understand. Essentially, Jones takes a collection of characters from classical Greek mythology, mixes in the idea that stories create a world of their own, connected to but separate from our own, and sticks all of that into a fairly modern world. It’s kind of mindblowing, but in a good way, an imagination-expanding way. I really loved The Game and would definitely recommend it, especially to lovers of classical mythology and those who appreciate the power of Story.
Author: Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson & the Olympians, volume 1
For most of his life, Percy Jackson has struggled with the challenges of an absent father, dyslexia, ADHD, and just generally struggling with school–to the extent that he’s never completed more than one year at the same school. Little could he have known that most of these problems–and the sudden rash of monster attacks he’s been experiencing–are due to the fact that his dad’s a god . . . one of the same Greek gods that he’s been studying in class, no less. In any case, Percy and his best friend Grover flee to Camp Half-Blood, a safe haven for those associated with the Olympians, and manage to evade the monsters pursuing them . . . only to get saddled (along with their new friend Annabeth) with an insane quest and dumped back into the world at large, monsters included.
I admit, I’ve been avoiding Riordan’s work for a while now, simply because it’s been too ridiculously popular and mainstream. I only reluctantly picked up The Lightning Thief after reading a few positive review from other bloggers recently. I was actually surprised at how good it was; it’s no Harry Potter for sure, but still, it’s a good story. The characters, world, and plotline are all reasonably well developed, to the point that’s fitting for a middle-grades story–although personally I’d like to see more development. I found the story a bit slow at the start (although there’s actually a good bit of action), but I got into the story a lot more once the threesome had set out on their quest. So yeah, I think my general impression of The Lightning Thief is that it’s a reasonably good middle-school fantasy with some nice exposure to classical mythology (probably one of the biggest points in its favor). I’ll probably read the following volumes, but I’m not rushing out to find them right away.