The Black Cauldron (Audiobook) by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton

The Black CauldronThe Black Cauldron

by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton (Narrator)
Series: Chronicles of Prydain, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 5 hrs, 28 min.
Listening Library, 2004

Read: March 15 – 16, 2017


Of the five books in the Chronicles, this is probably my least favorite installment, still I enjoyed reliving it with this audio. Why Disney chose this one to make a movie out of, I’ll never know (and have never seen).

Prince Gwydion has called a council at Cair Dalben — bringing warriors, royalty and others from across the land to discuss something of urgency. Taran is included as well, thanks to the Prince’s experience in the previous book. One of the attendees, Prince Ellidyr, is a young, proud twit who might as well have been named William Zabka — if he doesn’t remind you of the quintessential 80’s movie antagonist, you’re not reading him right. He and Taran clash immediately, and are predictably assigned to work together.

We also meet the son of Taliesin, the chief bard, Adaon. Adaon is one of those characters that comes out of nowhere, every character loves and so do the readers. He’s wise, kind, and probably a decent fighter. Taran is possibly more taken with him as friend and role model than he was with Gwydion — partially because he’s not a prince, and so is more approachable; but also is just that kind of guy. Thankfully, Taran and he are also assigned to work together so it’s not all about the jousting with Ellidyr.

There were other characters introduced — several actually, but those two are the ones to focus on now. I’m not going to tell you anything about Gwystyl and Kaw, because I’ll not do them justice. But you’ll enjoy both. Gurgi was Gurgi, and Eilonwy was perfect — seriously just perfect. I always liked the character, but maybe never as much as I am this time through the series.

I got distracted by talking about the characters, the purpose of the council is to go hunting for the Black Cauldron, the source of the Cauldron Born warriors of Arawn. These are basically zombies with swords, doing anything their master calls for — and were the source of a good deal of apprehension when I was a kid, and now just seem like a great foe. Their numbers are swelling, making Dalben and Gwydion certain that something bad is on the horizon — now seems like a good time to raid the Dark Lord’s domain and destroy the Cauldon. Which may not derail the plans in motion, but will at least make them easier for the good guys to survive.

So after the Council, the heroes head out. As soon as they launch their strike, they discover that someone has beaten them to it — the Cauldron is gone and they’ve got to regroup before hunting it down. Things go bad there, the companions are separated from each other and on the run from those the Cauldron has already produced.

Taran, Ellidyr, Adaon, Gurgi and Fflewddurr get a lead on the Cauldron and decide to follow it up immediately rather than let their foes get it while they’re off looking for Gwydion. This takes them to the swamps of Morva — one of my favorite places in the series — and to the hut of Orddu, Orwen, & Orgoch. They will chill younger readers and entertain readers of all ages. From there peril, betrayal, redemption, grief and more ensue as the companions try to destroy the titular MacGuffin.

The Lloyd Alexander introduction to this one was better than the previous — I’m such a geek that listening to little bits of Alexander was one of the highlights of my day. I don’t think I have anything to say about Langton’s performance here that I didn’t say last time. It was good, nothing spectacular, though. He kept me engaged, even if he paced it slower than I’d like. Whoever transferred this from audiotape to digital format had an odd approach to dead space between tapes/tape sides — there are times that I feared the file had stopped unexpectedly, either from a corruption in the file or a glitch in the app, and just as I’d grab my phone to check the Langton’s voice would start again.

A needed part of the story, if only for Taran’s growth, and for what it sets up in books to come. It was never my favorite growing up, still isn’t now, but it was still an entertaining few hours.

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3 Stars

The Book of Three (Audiobook) by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton

The Book of ThreeThe Book of Three

by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton (Narrator)
Series: Chronicles of Prydain, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 4 hrs, 56 min.
Listening Library, 2004
Read: March 6 – 9, 2017


I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned once or twice before here that The Chronicles of Prydain were the books that got me into fantasy. The Chronicles of Narnia made me a fan of Narnia, but really didn’t carry over to anything outside of Narnia (at least until I got older and tried Mere Christianity). But Prydain got me appreciating the tropes, conventions and characters that’d get me into Brooks, Weis & Hickman, Eddings, etc., etc. Listening to the audiobooks seemed like a nice way to revisit the series.

Taran, the Assistant Pig Keeper to Hen Wen (an oracular pig), dreams of glory to be found with a sword on the battlefield. His charge is frightened by something and escapes from her pen — Taran chases after her, leaving the only part of Prydain he’s ever known behind in the process. This hunt for the pig takes him to the far reaches of Prydain, where he encounters the son of the High King, Gwydion; Princess Eilonwy — about his age, and a fantastic foil and friend for Taran; Fflewddurr Fflam, an unofficial bard; Gurgi — some sort of simple-minded Sasquatch-like being; and others. Taran also encounters the forces of evil — the Horned King; Archen the enchantress; and other minions of the Dark Lord Arawn.

The themes of true nobility, heroism and what it means to be a man are prevalent (and Alexander maybe gets a little didactic here) — nothing I object to, just it seems a little thick by contemporary standards. Taran learns (for the first time) that there’s as much honor to be found in doing your everyday work well as there is on the battlefield. It probably feels a little old-fashioned to many, but there’s value here. Taran begins to mature here, but it takes (as I recall) all but the last 30 pages of the fifth book for it all to come together for him.

There’s a little audio recording of Alexander before the book kicks off as an introduction — that was pretty cool. Langton’s narration was okay — the narration was okay, maybe a little slow. His interpretation of Taran and Gwydion didn’t do much for me (and actually made me realize how clunkily Alexander wrote their dialogue), but they slowly grew on me. I really couldn’t find anything to like about Gurgi (one of my favorite characters ever). But I really liked everything else — his Eilonwy and Fflewddurr were perfect and a lot of fun. He deserves kudos for his Hen Wen alone, really.

This isn’t the greatest writing you’ll encounter — for the age group or genre. But it’s effective, there’s so much to appreciate here (and not just for nostalgia’s sake). I remain a big fan of the series, and do appreciate the audiobook.

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4 Stars

Pipeliner by Shawn Hartje

PipelinerPipeliner

by Shawn Hartje

Kindle Edition, 248 pg.
Helen Springs Press, 2016

Read: March 14 – 15, 2016

I just don’t know what to say about this one. It’s a coming-of-age story about a young man in the 1990’s growing up in (what I believe is) a fictionalized Idaho Falls, Idaho. It’s arguable how much Jason Krabb actually comes of age here — you could make a pretty decent case that he regresses throughout the book.

Jason’s main goal in life is to become a rock star in Portland, OR or Seattle, WA — along the way, he’d like to have a girlfriend and party a lot. He spends a lot of time and energy becoming pretty mediocre at guitar, and hangs out with a poser who’s new to town and a couple of older friends who are more interested in scholastic success and their futures (a concept Jason can’t really wrap his brain around). He’s got an older brother studying at Princeton and dating a nursing student, a very successful mother and a less-successful father who’s browbeat by the other constantly.

The writing is uninspired and dull, there’s no life to it at all — just a dry recitation of what’s going on. To be fair, there’s a bit of flair displayed when he writes little Lake Wobegone-inspired descriptions of things from Jason’s mother’s perspective, but I never saw the point of those, they didn’t seem to add anything. The sex scenes are perfunctory and clumsy (fitting for a seventeen year-old’s initial fumblings, I guess), at least those involving Jason. The one with Jason’s parents was just . . . odd and unnecessary. There were a couple of anachronisms that bugged me, but by and large, his history is good — he captures the feeling of the time, while maybe overplaying the pre-dawn of the Internet as we know it a little bit.

Were I an LDS youth of that era, I might be offended at the depiction of both the straight-laced LDS and the backsliders. If I were someone who spent time with a lot of LDS at the time depicted in the book, I might say it was pretty accurate. Either way, it’s going to be divisive.

There’s nothing new here — stylistically, narratively, or in terms of character. It’s all cliché, it’s not original, there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before — and likely better. It’s not bad, but it’s not worth your time and effort. While reading it, I spent a lot of time annoyed by the book — but there’s nothing to rant about here. At Hartje tried to do something, but like Jason, did the bare minimum and it shows (not unlike what I did here).

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post — sorry Mr. Hartje.

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2 1/2 Stars

Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer, Douglas Holgate

Wires and Nerve, Volume 1Wires and Nerve, Volume 1

by Marissa Meyer, Douglas Holgate (Art)
Series: Wires and Nerve, #1

Hardcover, 238 pg.
Feiwel & Friends, 2017

Read: March 1, 2017


So, in the months following Winter, life has progressed as one would expect — Cinder has strengthened her position on the Moon, Scarlet’s returned to the farm with Ze’ev Kesley, and Cress and the Captain are touring Earth. One of the loose strings that Meyer left hanging was the fate of the Lunar military troops all over Earth. They’re still out there, causing trouble.

Cinder can’t send any troops down — in the aftermath of a failed invasion, the optics alone would be bad. But . . . she can send a single operative, and Iko nominates herself for that. She spends weeks taking out pack after pack, helping local authorities take them into custody.

But they’re not just going to roll over, there are some that are preparing to strike back against Iko — and Cinder.

Throw in a love story, an examination of Iko’s true nature, and some nice catch-up with our old friends, and you’ve got yourself a fun story. It’s fun, but it’s light. If it were prose instead of a graphic novel, it might take 40 pages to tell this story. Which doesn’t make it bad, just slight.

The art was . . . oh, I don’t know — cartoonish? Not in a bad way, but I see why some people I know weren’t impressed. Once I got used to it (after about 30-40 pages), I even kind of liked it.

Basically, I’m saying that the book was okay — I enjoyed it, but man, I wanted more. At the same time, I think it delivered everything that Meyer and Holgate were looking for, so I can’t complain. Fans of the series may enjoy it, but it’s not a must read. People who haven’t read the books had best avoid it — but should probably go back and read the novels.

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3 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

A Few Quick Questions With…Ben Jackson

A couple of weeks ago, I posted some thoughts about The Day My Fart Followed Me To Hockey. Today, one of the authors, Ben Jackson stops by to answer a few questions. Short and sweet so he can get back to putting out the books . . .

You work with a co-author and an illustrator — what the process like?
My co-author is my wife, Sam. Working with her has been easy, we don’t argue about much. We have been in a long-distance relationship for several years, so communication is pretty good!
Your Author page shows quite a range in subject matter for your books — relationship books, survival guides, humor, kids books. How do you decide what you’re going to tackle next? And — how do you get to the point that you say, “A Personification of Flatulence, yup, that’s my main character.”
Well, the Day My Fart Followed Me Home Series just happened! We were looking for a fun way to get kids to learn important lessons, and kids love farts!
How are parents reacting to The Fart books? I imagine that kids who read these like him (it?), but parents might have widely divergent reactions.
So far, I don’t think we have had one bad reaction by any parents. We had a school say it wasn’t suitable, but 99% of parents love the books and think they’re hilarious.
What was the biggest surprise about the writing of The Day My Fart Followed Me To Hockey itself? Either, “I can’t believe X is so easy!” or “If I had known Y was going to be so hard, I’d have skipped this and watched more TV”.
The biggest surprise was just how popular the book has become. When we first wrote The Day My Fart Followed Me Home, we never thought that the kids’ books would be so popular. Working with the illustrator Danko to get things done on schedule is probably the hardest part, and Danko is amazing with tight deadlines, so it isn’t really that hard.
What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that?”
Lol I wish I had written 50 Shades of Grey!! That book and movie just exploded.
What’s coming up for the team of Ben Jackson and Sam Lawrence?
We are about to release The Day My Fart Followed Me To Soccer, and a book about a caterpillar that can do anything it sets its mind to. Stay tuned!
Thanks for your time — and the book!

Chameleon by Zoe Kalo

ChameleonChameleon

by Zoe Kalo

Kindle Edition
Zoe Kalo, 2017

Read: January 27 – 28, 2016


Paloma is a few months shy of turning 18, graduating high school, and moving on with her life when people at her old school have had enough — she’s expelled from school and home. Her mother and step-father deposit her in a convent school with a mix of the privileged and orphans. Isolated, rejected, and defiant, Paloma determines that she’ll endure the experience no matter what it takes.

At that time however, she hadn’t considered the types of nuns she’ll meet, the kind of peers she has — and the very real possibility that she’ll meet a ghost (and maybe more than one). The nuns are a mix of judgmental and prejudiced against her; and welcoming and encouraging Her peers are largely a different assortment — some seem to be conscientious and studious, spiritual and compassionate, or spiteful and catty; most turn out to be everything they seem not to be. Paloma quickly (and despite herself becomes part of a group and finds that to be both a comfort and a source of distress. The ghost seems to be . . . well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

Paloma’s life up to this point hasn’t been that easy — there are some dark things in her past, and your idea of what some of those are is constantly evolving and you understand her better and she reveals more about herself. As you learn about her, she learns about her friends and “friends.” There’s more going on at the convent than many would guess, and many of those things will be exposed in one way or another before the reader finishes Chameleon.

My wife and kids have been watching a lot of Chopped lately, so you’ll have to forgive me for this metaphor: but Chameleon does a good job of using all the ingredients in the basket — paranormal elements (or are they?); complex female characters; even more complex relationships between them; a handful of mysteries; complicated family dynamics; and so on — combines them in some interesting ways, but the end result is a little undercooked. Yeah, it’s a stretch, but as I’ve thought about this book the last few days, that’s what kept coming to mind — if Kalo had given this another revision or two to smooth out some of the rough spots, better develop a few scenes, characters and relationships, this could’ve been much better. It’s a good, enjoyable book — but it’s not as good as it could have been.

I’m not sure what the point of setting the story in 1973 was — other than it being safely on the other side of PCs, the Internet, etc., I guess. It doesn’t hurt or help the story — I just think that for a setting as specific as that, there should be a clear advantage.

It’s a touch melodramatic for me with characters that need a little more time in the oven — but it did what it set out to do. Chameleon tells the story of this group of girls in a way that keeps you guessing, on your toes and turning pages. I anticipate the target audience will respond to things I didn’t here, but even for those of us a couple of decades past that target, this is an enjoyable read.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for this post — thanks Ms. Kalo.

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3 Stars

The Day My Fart Followed Me To Hockey by Sam Lawrence & Ben Jackson, Danko Herrera

The Day My Fart Followed Me To HockeyThe Day My Fart Followed Me To Hockey

by Sam Lawrence & Ben Jackson, Danko Herrera (Illustrator)
Series: Little Fart, #2

PDF, 27 pg.
Indie Publishing Group, 2016

Read: January 21, 2016


Timmy’s a pretty big hockey fan and it’s the day of his first hockey tryouts. Nerves are getting to him — he rejects some good advice, pushes his friend, Little Fart, away (which is pretty understandable — I mean, who wants their fart that close to them during a tryout?). Sadly, his nerves start to cancel out his ability — and his fun.

Thankfully, Little Fart is a better friend to Timmy than Timmy was to him — but can he save the day?

Timmy’s a pretty standard little kid character — someone easily identifiable, and maybe moderately annoying to parents who read it but someone that a child will imprint on.

Little Fart is cute, loyal, supportive and fun — the ideal not-so-Imaginary Friend. Just the kind of character you hope will linger around. (sorry, I just had to…)

Herrea’s illustrations are adorable — not a word I use frequently, I know — they grab your eye and hold your attention, doing a pretty good job of telling the story by themselves. Just what a kid would want to go with the words they’re reading — or to keep their attention while being read to.

The story is pretty basic — the lesson is tried and true, but cleverly and charmingly delivered. Just what a younger reader is going to want. Rather, the lesson and the way it’ll get into a kid’s head is just what a parent is going to want, the humor and art is what the young reader will want. I enjoyed it — and my kids are too old for this. A sure thing, for parents and kids alike.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the authors in exchange for this post — I appreciate it.

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3 Stars