Saturday, July 16, 2011

Persy -- The Ratastrophe Catastrophe by David Lee Stone

Meet Dieck Wustapha, a simple young farm boy who likes to play his little flute but really isn't very good (he's really bad, actually). His life is charmingly simple until he has the bad luck to get possessed by dark magic. Now his flute playing is eerily wonderful, and he's become one of the most popular lads in his village, Little Irkesome. After charming everyone and everything in Little Irkesome, he grows bored and starts to travel around Illmoor, looking for something more exciting to do with his talents.

In Dullitch, the capital city, things are not going well. The entire city has been infested with rats, and no one can figure out how to get rid of them. Duke Modeset is at a loss. The chairman of the council (who used to be a wizard, but don't tell anyone), Tambor Forestall hires some mercenaries to get the job done.

Two mercenaries who respond are known as Groan Teethgrit (giant and bald) and Gordo Goldeaxe (one-eyed dwarf with an axe). Another person who hears about the ratastrophe catastrophe is Diek, and he figures he could charm all the rats easy-peasy with his flute.

Diek is the first to finish the task by leading all the rats to a jetty and drowning them all. But when he goes to collect the reward, he finds that Duke Modeset and Dullitch are, in fact, broke. Furious at being double-crossed, Diek steals all the children of Dullitch, and disappears into the mountains with them. Now it's up to Tambor, Groan, and Gordo to rescue them.

I didn't realize this was a Pied Piper retelling until Diek started charming all the rats. Yeah, I'm a little slow. But I'd actually been looking for a good Pied Piper retelling because that's one of my favorite fairytales and I've never read a good retelling of it. Until now.

While The Ratastrophe Catastrophe may not be a dark, edgy Pied Piper story (which I admit is what I'd been looking for), it's still one of the most amazing and fun fantasy books I've read in a long time. You don't realize Diek is actually a villain for a long time (unless of course you read the back of the book...), and the true heroes turn out to be an ex-wizard (wizardry was outlawed in Illmoor) and two mercenaries. But all the characters are connected in some way or another that makes it all come together in an amazing way, and all of them are incredibly awesome.

I'd recommend this book to just about anyone (it's one of those books where I don't care if you even like fantasy or one-eyed dwarves, you just have to read this), but especially fairytale and fantasy lovers, and maybe fans of Terry Pratchett. It's kind of like his books but for a younger audience.

There are currently five more books in the Illmoor Chronicles, the second book being The Yowler Foul-Up. I can't wait to get my hands on all of them. It looks like that's all there's going to be of Illmoor, but David Lee Stone also wrote a stand-alone novel entitled Davey Swag (he actually wrote this under the name of David Grimstone), which is hopefully just as awesome as Illmoor.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Arty -- When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

I'm... really at a loss. I have no idea how to summarize this book. So here's Amazon's summary:

Sixth-grader Miranda lives in 1978 New York City with her mother, and her life compass is Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. When she receives a series of enigmatic notes that claim to want to save her life, she comes to believe that they are from someone who knows the future. Miranda spends considerable time observing a raving vagrant who her mother calls the laughing man and trying to find the connection between the notes and her everyday life.

Yeah, Amazon can't do it any better than I can.

The book starts out in what you might call 'the present.' Miranda's mom has just won the chance to appear on The $20,000 Pyramid, a popular '70s-'80s game show. But this isn't an ordinary book - it's a letter to someone, the mysterious 'you' who had been leaving strange notes for Miranda to find. Notes that can seem to predict the future.

From there, the book devolves into flashback mode to show what has happened since Miranda's mom won.

Yeah, I was pretty confused too.

That's the big negative I found about When You Reach Me - the timing. For the first twenty or thirty pages or so, I had no idea what was happening in the past and what was happening in Miranda's present. Rebecca Stead switched back and forth between the times. (A second reading would probably be helpful.)

Then, once Miranda gets firmly into flashback mode, the real story starts.

On the surface, it's about Miranda, her mom, her mom's German boyfriend, Richard (who is awesome, by the way), her once best friend Sal who started ignoring her after getting punched, her new friends Annemarie and Colin, and her rivalry with Julia, the school snob. Oh, and the old crazy man who stands by the road kicking at cars and occasionally shaking his fist at the sky - the laughing man. But, with the notes, it becomes something of a treatise on time travel.

It's an insanely hard book to sum up. I won't try. To say too much would be to ruin the effect. In my humble opinion, it wasn't even that well-written. But about halfway through, it started getting really, really hard to put down. So I didn't. And the ending was... well. It's the kind of ending you love and hate in equal measure. It wasn't breathtakingly exciting or amazing, but... then, it was. I don't know why, but - I'm baring my soul here - I loved it.

I'll just say this. Marcus is great. And I love that crazy old guy.

This isn't much of a review, I know, but it's a kind of a book that has to speak for itself. I'm positive it's not a book for everyone. It's probably not a book for hardcore time travel fans. But... well, if you find it, give it a try. It may or may not surprise you.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Persy -- Wednesday Scrolls

Hey, guys, guess who's back! Me!

Yeah, anyway. You may have noticed how Arty has been doing all the reviews the past few weeks, and the reason for that is that I was out of the country and didn't have any time to read a book, much less write a review of it. I was in Ireland for two and half weeks. Yep, Ireland. Frolicking in the hills and eating jelly babies.

But that's all beside the point. I only managed to read two books over two weeks (lame, I know), and one of those was a manga, so it doesn't really count. The other was Faeries, an anthology edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh. When I first found this book for three dollars at a bookstore, I nearly had a heart attack because I never knew Isaac Asimov did fantasy, but he does. This obscure anthology contains eighteen stories about the fair folk, one of which written by Isaac Asimov himself. What better book to read while in Ireland?

So this Wednesday Scrolls is kind of a review, but it's on Wednesday and it's kind of about Ireland too, so it's a Wednesday Scrolls. I'll just be going over (very briefly, in some cases) each story in the anthology, and hopefully it won't be terribly long...

#1. How The Fairies Came to Ireland by Herminie Templeton. Once you get over the spelling (made out to sound like an Irish accent, and believe me, it does), it's a pretty cool little story about how the fairies ended up on Earth.

#2. The Manor of Roses by Thomas Burnett Swann. This one is incredibly long, and I'm not a great fan of long short stories (key word being short), but it's still interesting and well written.

#3. The Fairy Prince by H.C. Bailey. Didn't like this. It seems very pointless and disconnected.

#4. The Ugly Unicorn by Jessica Amanda Salmonson. This is definitely one of my favorites. It's about a beast called a Liu-mu, which is kind of like a very ugly unicorn, and a beautiful blind princess.

#5. The Brownie of the Black Haggs by James Hogg. Good story, but not amazing. Not incredibly memorable.

#6. The Dream of Akinosuké by Lafadio Hearn. Also fun, but very...odd.

#7. Elfinland by Johann Ludwig Tieck. Didn't like this one. Not sure how to say it, but it just isn't interesting.

#8. Darby O'Gill and the Good People by Herminie Templeton. Again, you have to get used to her way of spelling, but I don't like this one as much as her first story.

#9. No Man's Land by John Buchan. This one is also really long, so I mostly just wanted to get it over with. Main character's a bit of an idiot, and the whole story reads kind of like H.P. Lovecraft, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but...

#10. The Prism by Mary E. Wilkins. I liked this one in the beginning, but the ending is very disappointing.

#11. The Kith of the Elf-Folk by Lord Dunsany. Love this one. It's sweet and sad and beautiful all mixed into one.

#12. The Secret Place by Richard McKenna. This one is just weird. Not really sure what to say about it, except that I don't like the characters.

#13. The King of the Elves by Philip K. Dick. Yep, Philip K. Dick does fantasy too! And he does it well. While this wasn't one of my favorite stories, I still love Dick's writing style.

#14. Flying Pan by Robert F. Young. Love this one too. It was funny and cool, and just made me laugh and think, man, aren't fairies awesome...

#15. My Father, the Cat by Henry Slesar. The title made me excited, but the story was weird in a bad way and uninteresting.

#16. Kid Stuff by Isaac Asimov. Of course this one is good, it's Isaac Asimov!

#17. The Long Night of Waiting by Andre Norton. Good, but not my favorite. It felt a little cluttered, somehow.

#18. The Queen of Air and Darkness by Poul Anderson. It's good, but it's also...meh. It's a weird mix of science fiction and fantasy, and I don't think he quite pulls it off.

So there you go. Definitely worth reading for those few good stories, but feel free to skip over some of the more tedious ones. In that way, it's just like every other anthology out there: a few gems, some interesting rocks, and a lot of dirt.