Archive for library

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2010 by Jessica Lada

–Originally posted at blogcritics.org


Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy is filled with gripping plot hooks, inventive and compelling characters, and intriguing conflicts.  The main characters, Stephanie and Skulduggery, make a captivating and often hilarious team.  I was itching for a sequel long before I got to the end of the book.


In modern-day Ireland, Stephanie Edgley’s uncle Gordon has just died.  At the reading of the will, twelve-year-old Stephanie is surprised to inherit nearly the entire estate.  She’s even more surprised to meet a witty detective named Skulduggery Pleasant, who also happens to be a sorcerer and a skeleton.  After surviving a few attempts on her life, Stephanie joins Skulduggery in a quest to solve her uncle’s murder.

Each character has such a unique voice and personality that attribution isn’t even necessary during dialog exchanges.  Stephanie and Skulduggery have a quick and witty rapport and complimenting personalities.  Even uncle Gordon, who is dead from the very first line of the book, has a unique personality.  Through only third party recollections and the words of his last will and testament, Gordon is the coolest uncle ever.

The only flaw I encountered in the novel was the climax of the story.  Stephanie drives the action through the entire story but when we get to the climax, she turns passive and winds up getting rescued.  The protagonist of a story should never be a bystander during the climax, but at that point I was so hooked by the story I didn’t care.  A swat team led by Bruce Willis and Wesley Snipes could have busted through the wall and I probably would have bought it.  Landy answered the story question and wrapped up the current plotline nicely, but left plenty of enticing potential for future stories.  I’m not going to get tired of these characters anytime soon.

Skulduggery Pleasant is a book for anyone who has ever walked through the winding, twisting house of a relative and imagined hidden passages tucked around the corners.  Landy seamlessly weaves magic into the modern world to create a setting and tone that’s a little bit like the Dresden Files for kids.   So far there are four books available in the series, the fifth is slated for September 2010, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there was a movie soon.

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2010 by Jessica Lada

–originally posted at Blogcritics.org

Despite a twelve-year-old protagonist and utilization of many fairy tales, The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly should not be mistaken as a children’s novel.  It’s sort of a coming of age story, but from the angle of an adult looking back at lost innocence rather than the angle of a child looking forward to gained independence and strength.

Set in England at the beginning of World War II, the twelve year old protagonist David has just lost his mother.  His father soon remarries and gives David a half-brother.  David sees these new additions as interlopers and he turns to the stories on his shelves for solace.  The books whisper to him and he occasionally blacks out.  Eventually, he retreats into the world of the stories and his imagination.  For much of the book it isn’t clear whether these happenings are real or imagined.

It’s strange to read about a hero who is so internalized.  David’s path is often dictated by those around him rather than his own actions, and he more often stifles his thoughts than expresses them.  The book can’t quite decide what kind of a book it wants to be—whether it is an internal, psychological, literary sort of novel; or whether it is an action-filled, myth-bending, children’s fantasy novel.  In the end it’s both and neither.   Perhaps Connolly did too good of a job conveying David’s confusion about his state of mind and passed that confusion onto the readers.

Many parts of this novel are brilliant.  The twist of the communist dwarves was unexpected and amusing, but I wish it had integrated better into the story as a whole.  As it was, the tone stood out from the rest of the book.  It was a Tom Bombadil sort of interlude—entertaining, but not absolutely necessary–with tinges of Terry Pratchett’s Nac Mac Feegle and Monty Python’s repressed Dennis.  Connolly did a nice job of putting new twists on old fairy tales and lore.  The more liberties he took with the legends, the more successful he was.  The thing that disappointed me most was that the father’s profession didn’t tie into the rest of the story at all.  But maybe it’s just my interest in that part of history shining through.

The Book of Lost Things wasn’t what I expected when I picked it up, but I enjoyed the surprises.  It breaks the rule that the main character of a novel dictates the age of the readers, and rightfully so.  Anyone who enjoyed the films “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Brothers Grimm” would enjoy this book.  If Connolly can make fairy tales this creepy, I can’t wait to read some of his thrillers.  But I have to say, I’ll never look at Red Riding Hood the same way again.

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on March 2, 2010 by Jessica Lada

Brandon Sanderson goes beyond the horn-rimmed glasses into the heart of evil and shows of his storytelling chops while he’s at it.

Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson is a new twist on the young adult fantasy genre. Instead of integrating magical elements into a modern story world, the book is written to inform us that our modern world (and even our history) is an illusion that librarians WANT us to believe. It’s written as a first-person autobiographical account, supposedly disguised as a fictional novel by Brandon Sanderson so that the librarians don’t notice and ban it from the shelves. At first I thought the gimmick was cheesy, but it definitely grew on me. The first-person writer bit is risky and could have flopped badly, but Sanderson nails it with his voice, characters, and setting.

According to Alcatraz Smedry, the Librarians want to rewrite history and the world according to their own design. So nearly everything we know in the “Hushlands” has been manufactured by them. Alcatraz, thirteen-year-old hero and self proclaimed not-very-good person, has lived in a series of foster homes. He has a Talent (with a capital T) for breaking things, so he doesn’t stay in one place for very long. When it comes time to claim his inheritance, the librarians beat it to him. Now, along with Grandpa Smedry, cousins Sing and Quentin, and a snarky teenage she-knight, Alcatraz must break into the Librarian’ stronghold: the downtown library. Alcatraz has to master his occulator lenses (each set does a different magic-ish thing) on the fly and rescue his inheritance from the evil Librarians.

At first, Sanderson’s writing seems sporadic and random—like it was written by a thirteen year old boy. But his technique is a little bit of genius, and as a fellow writer I had to pause to admire it. He’ll finish off a chapter with a massive cliffhanger and then completely stop the story to talk about how bad it is for a writer to leave his readers hanging like that. But he does it anyway, because he isn’t a very good writer. Yeah right. Just like Alcatraz isn’t a very good person. He’s only the hero of the story, after all, and Sanderson is just the author of a completely enthralling novel. The random things eventually click and the frayed edges come together to complete the tapestry.

In addition to the Alcatraz series, Sanderson also has the Mistborn trilogy (described on his website as “a hybrid fantasy, heist story, kung fu epic”), several standalone books, and he has also been chosen to finish Robert Jordan’s series The Wheel of Time (after Jordan’s death in 2007).

If the Weasley clan is your favorite part of the Harry Potter series, you need to pick up Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. Its dominant asset is humor, but Sanderson never shortchange the conflict, action, or tension. Three books are already out, and there are two more in the works. By the looks of it, Sanderson’s imagination isn’t going to run out of quirky ideas anytime soon.

–originally published on blogcritics.org