Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis, Jared Goldsmith

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were MadeTimmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

by Stephan Pastis, Jared Goldsmith
Series: Timmy Failure, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs. and 44 min.
Recorded Books, 2013
Read: June 14, 2017


A couple of my kids have been reading this series since #1, and since one of my favorite comic strip writers wrote it, I always intended to read it. Then I stumbled upon Steve Usery’s podcast interview with him, and I really wanted to. But haven’t gotten around to it yet. I stumbled on to the audiobook last week and figured it’d be worth a shot — especially with his appearance in town this last weekend. If I can make it amusing enough to bother reading, I’ll tell you the story tonight of how my son and I didn’t make it. But on to the book.

Timmy fancies himself a fantastic detective with a polar bear sidekick (named Total), he believes he’s on the verge of becoming a multimillionaire with offices throughout the world. In reality, he’s a lousy detective who can’t solve even the easiest of cases, like “Who stole my Halloween candy?” when the victim’s brother is literally surrounded by the evidence. You almost get the feeling you’re headed for an Inspector Gadget-style conclusion to the mysteries, where things are solved accidentally, in spite of the detective. Nope — Timmy cannot solve anything. He considers cases closed, but he’s so far from the truth (and so near personal vendettas) that it’s laughable. Which is the point, thankfully.

There’s a level to all of this that’s really sad — Timmy’s the child of a single mom (we don’t know why, at least in this book), struggling to make ends meet, and Timmy’s created this world in which he’s thiiiiiis close to providing financial security for her. She’s at the end of her rope with him, but finds ways to indulge and support his delusions and dreams (and get some actual completed homework from him). She dates a creep for a while, but thankfully, the fact that he and Timmy don’t mesh too well dooms that.

Obviously, the big drawback to the audiobook format is that I don’t get to see the drawings that accompany the text — and that probably detracted a lot. Thankfully, Goldsmith did a great job — the voice was a little annoying, but I’m sure that was intentional. I don’t think I could listen to more than one of these at a time, but that’s probably just me.

A cute story, best suited for younger readers, with enough grin-inducing lines to keep adults reading (and/or listening). I’ll be back for more.

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3 Stars

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls

by Patrick Ness

Paperback, 225 pg.
Candlewick Press, 2013

Read: June 1, 2017


I hadn’t even heard of this book until a couple of weeks ago, when it was recommended to me by a loyal reader. And I wasn’t given a lot of details, just a strong recommendation and something about it being “about grief.” I could’ve used the warning that it was a YA book, but otherwise, that’s all I needed to know (and the YA wouldn’t have been a deal breaker or maker — I just would’ve liked to know what I was grabbing). I’m not going to say much more than that, really. It’s about grief, there’s some magic, and it’s one of the most effective novels I’ve read this year.

There’s been so much said about this book by others — I’m almost afraid to say much, I don’t want to ruin anyone’s discovery.

You’ve got a 13 year-old boy, Conor, whose mother is undergoing cancer treatment — and it’s not going well. His grandmother (not at all the stereotypical grandmother-type, as Conor is very well aware), comes to stay with them with every new round of treatment, and Conor hates it. His father and his new wife have started a new life in the US. All of this has left Conor isolated, emotionally all alone — except at school, where he’s bullied (when not alone). Somehow in his despair, Conor summons a monster, a monster older than Western Civilization, who visits the boy to help him.

He helps him via stories — I love this — not escapism, but through the lessons from stories — and not in a “You see, Timmy . . . ” kind of moralizing — just from understanding how people work through the stories.

After reading page 15, I jotted down in my notes, “Aw, man! This is going to make me cry by the end, isn’t it?” I didn’t, for the record, but I came close (and possibly, if I hadn’t been sitting in a room with my daughter and her guitar teacher working on something, I might have.

The prose is easy and engaging — there’s a strong sense of play to the language. There’s some wonderfully subtle humor throughout, keeping this from being hopelessly depressing. The prose is deceptively breezy, it’d be very easy to read this without catching everything that Ness is doing. But mostly, what the book gives is emotion — there’s a raw emotion on display here — and if it doesn’t get to you, well, I just don’t know what’s wrong with you.

The magic, the monster and the protagonist remind me so much of Paul Cornell’s Chalk (which is probably backwards, Chalk should be informed by this — oops). Eh, either way — this is cut from the same cloth.

That’s a bit more than I intended to say, but I’m okay with that. I’m not convinced that this is really all that well-written, technically speaking. But it packs such an emotional wallop, it grabs you, reaches down your throat and seizes your heart and does whatever it wants to with it — so who cares how technically well it’s written? (and, yeah, I do think the two don’t necessarily go together). A couple of weeks from now, I may not look back on this as fondly — but tonight, in the afterglow? Loved this.

Love, grief, hope, loss, anger, fear, monsters and the power of stories. Give this one a shot. Maybe bring a Kleenex, you never know . . .

—–

4 1/2 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

The Hammer of Thor (Audiobook) by Rick Riordan, Kieran Culkin

The Hammer of ThorThe Hammer of Thor

by Rick Riordan, Kieran Culkin (Narrator)
Series: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs., 34 mins..
Listening Library, 2016
Read: May 10 – 12, 2016


Thor’s hammer is missing, so not only can he not stream Netflix (I’d forgotten that was a thing in this series) on it, he can’t intimidate the giants into not invading. You can guess which bothers him more. The Valkrie Samira and her pal Magnus have to go find it before things get out of hand.

I didn’t like this one as much as the first book in this series — but I didn’t dislike it. It’s still the same outline that Riordan is following with these books — there’s a quest; the hero and his friends have to go find the whatever to stall doomsday a little longer; to get the X the group has to beat a series of mini-challenges and then they’ll have a shot at the X. Since this is a book 2, they’ll get X, but many other things will go wrong, forcing the series into another book. For the most part, the minor challenges worked better for me than I expected.

I enjoyed Magnus’ friends — Samira in particular; although I’m pretty torn about the new character added to Magnus’ group: Alex Fierro — a child of Loki. I understand what Riordan was trying to do with this character, but I’m not sure he succeeded. I’m not convinced that Alex was a person, and not just a conglomeration of traits. But I have hope. Alex’s presence, I thought, ended up short-changing some of the other characters when it came to action and involvement in the plot, which I wasn’t crazy about.

I really enjoy seeing different authors’ take on the same mythological characters. Comparing/contrasting Kevin Hearne’s and Riordan’s Thors and Lokis would make for a very entertaining piece (I think Riordan’s Thor is more comical, but his Loki just might be more sadistic), and I will admit I got distracted a couple of times listening to this by thinking about the differences.

The best part of this was seeing how the problems Magnus, etc. are dealing with intersect some of what Percy, Annabeth and Apollo are going through in Riordan’s other series, and the strong hint that we’ll see some sort of cross-over soon. We’d understood that the Egyptian gods were threatening the earth about the same time that the Problems with Camps Jupiter and Half-Blood start up, but this was a much more explicit description. I like thinking that the various pantheons are having troubles at the same time, and that Earth could be doom in any number of ways simultaneously.

I bought this in hardcover the week it came out (last October, I think), but haven’t been able to find/make the time to read it. When I saw it as available on my library’s audiobook site, I figured I’d jump — just to get that TBR pile a little smaller. I hadn’t listened to Riordan on audio before, and was curious ow it translated. I was surprised to hear Kieran Culkin’s name (and voice) at the beginning of this — he didn’t strike me as the kind of actor who’d do audiobooks. I’m glad that he did, though. I really enjoyed his work throughout the novel — the narration, the characters — he just nailed it. That’s how Magnus Chase should sound.

It was entertaining enough to keep going, and I trust that Riordan knows what he’s doing, I’m just not convinced that he did all he could to make this book as good as it could be.

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3 Stars

The High King (Audiobook) by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton

The High KingThe High King

by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton (Narrator)
Series: Chronicles of Prydain, #5
Unabridged Audiobook, 7 hrs, 24 min.
Listening Library, 2005

Read: March 29 – 30, 2017


Arawn-Death-Lord has managed to get his hands on Dyrnwyn, Gwydion’s sword, which has emboldened him to move his forces to launch an all-out assault on the Kingdom of Prydain. Gwydion and his allies move quickly to assemble the forces necessary to stand against him — basically, it’s an Armageddon-type situation, and all hands are needed.

Taran is sent to the Free Commots, where he spent so much time recently to gather their support — and he does so, almost without trying to, becomes the leader of the assembled forces (such as they are) of the rather libertarian people. Before you know it, Taran’s leading his band into battle at the side of Gwydion and the other warleaders. It’s a stretch to believe, but at this point, you go with it. The forces marshaled against the High King are strong enough to make this an uphill battle, but when treason rears its ugly head and the forces of Prydain are divided against themselves, it really seems that all hope is lost. Eventually, Gwydion and his forces head off on a last-ditch effort to stop the Death Lord, while Taran, his companions, allies, followers and Glew take on a vital, but smaller task that will allow Gwydion’s hail Mary to work.

And frankly, that whole treason storyline bugs me — not just because it’s evil, but because it’s futile, stupid, and pointless. I think this was Alexander’s biggest error in the series. It serves no real purpose but to stack the odds against the armies of Prydain.

Finally, we get final battles — The Death Lord and his forces are defeated (spoiler, children’s fantasy written in the 60’s features good guys winning); the future of Prydain is settled; other Tolkien-esque things take place as is fitting in the conclusion to a fantasy series (actually, Tolkien was probably following the same older rules and tropes as Alexander, but we now associate them with Tolkien, not his predecessors).

Taran finally grows up into what Alexander’s been holdig out for him all along — it takes the whole novel, but it happens. Gwydion is probably the least interesting he’s ever been here, which is a shame. Eilonwy? Oh, Eilonwy — she’s just so perfect (as a character, probably annoying in real life — still, someone you want in your corner). I loved everything about her in this book. I wish Gurgi had a little more to do, and that Glew had far, far less. Fflewddur Fflam remains the unsung hero of this series — the sacrifices he makes, the efforts he makes, his wisdom, etc., are all overshadowed by his comedic use. What he goes through moved me more this time through than any of the deaths. As an aside, the first time I saw a picture of Lloyd Alexander, I shouted — Fflewddur! I don’t know if it was intentional, or if I just had a strange imagination, but he looks exactly like a Fflam.

Oh, and there are many, many deaths — mostly nameless soldiers on both sides, but there are quite a few named people, too. Some get great heroic moments, others are just named in a list of the fallen. I remember the first time I read this book being very upset by just one of them — it was quite possibly the first time in my young life that anyone other than a dog, an ailing elderly person or a villain had died in a book I read. I still get sad when I read that particular one, but it doesn’t get to me as much.

James Langton’s performance here is consistent with what he’s done for the last few books. If you liked him before, you’ll like him now. If not . . .

I remember liking this more than I did, even just a few years ago when I read this with my kids. Still, a great way to wrap up this series — Alexander ties up everything that needs tiring up, he rewards all the surviving characters in a fitting way and sends our heroes off on new adventures. There’s still a bit of fun, a little adventure, and character growth throughout, with all things ending up just where they need to satisfy readers. It’s really easy for adult-me to see where kid-me fell in love with the genre thanks to this series. Still, a fitting conclusion to this series — which I still recommend for young and old (primarily the young).

—–

4 Stars

Black Fall by D. J. Bodden

Honestly? I really wasn’t that interested in this book — Bodden followed me on Twitter, and I followed back — I saw that he had a link to NetGalley for this book, so I clicked and checked it out. It seemed like a perfectly nice book and one that probably had an interesting take on teenaged vampires, but I really wasn’t in the mood for that, so I closed the window. Or so I remember it. The next day, I got an email saying that I’d been approved for the book. Not wanting my NetGalley percentage to take a hit, I threw it on to the Kindle and made room on the schedule. So, let the fact that I wasn’t all that interested in this book in the first place put a certain spin on what I’m going to say here.

Black FallBlack Fall

by D. J. Bodden
Series: The Black Year, #1

eARC, 294 pg.
2015

Read: April 12 – 13, 2017


Jonas Black is a typical sixteen year-old, with a very driven girlfriend (who’s pretty much mapped out the next few years of their lives), a decent home life, a couple of invested parents, and so on in NYC. Which makes him not that typical, I guess — but he’s the kind of kid people think of as “typical.” When we meet him, however, he’s reeling from the unexpected death of his father, and his mother doesn’t seem to be acting all that normal at the funeral.

Not long after that, strange things start happening to Jonas — he blacks out unexpectedly, his mother’s behavior gets even stranger, lastly he and his mother are attacked at home, and rescued by someone unlikely (leading to 2 very large men escorting him to school). He’s able to pin his mother down and she explains to him that she’s a vampire, as was his father — and he is, too. There was a problem with my download and so the conversation where his mother describes the experiment that made him into the vampire he is (born, not made) and whatnot. Thankfully, I don’t want to get into details anyway, because I’d probably get it wrong. I really appreciate that Jonas isn’t a Chosen One kind of character — more of an Engineered One. But even at that, I don’t think anyone planned on him tackling things that he did at this stage of his life (I’m semi-prepared to be proven wrong in future books).

So, while juggling school and his girlfriend, Jonas is basically enrolled in a self-defense course for vampires (there’s more to it than that, but . . . ) where he meets some other vampires and a reticent werewolf. He befriends/is befriended by a vampire, Eve, about the same age — but who knows what she’s doing — and wants to get to know the werewolf, Kieran. While I’m largely on the fence about the older vampires Jonas meets — I really like Eve. Kieran and the other werewolves are cool — and not just because I prefer lycanthropes to vamps. Before long the three of them — and a small army of others — find themselves in the middle of an effort to put a stop to a demon’s schemes.

Bodden’s vampires are pretty interesting — I like some of the tweaks he makes to the standard profile. Ditto for his werewolves. His entire supernatural taxonomy and how it relates to the world is pretty well-realized and elaborate. I was pretty impressed by it, and am curious about it as well. I’m not saying they’re drastically different (vampires don’t glow or anything), but Bodden’s vamps aren’t the same as Hunters’s, Butcher’s, Briggs’, etc.

A word of warning: There’s. Just. So. Much. Exposition. I get it, really — Jonas needed to be introduced to this world, and acclimatized really soon for his own safety. Which was mighty convenient, because it helped the reader learn about The Black Year’s take on vampires, werewolves, lichs (is that the proper plural form? lichen doesn’t seem right), specters, hunters, etc. On the whole, Bodden did a decent job blending character moments and infodumps, merging what we need to learn with keeping things moving. Still, it frequently felt like this was a guide to the supernatural world more than a novel — he might as well have named a couple of characters Ryan and Esposito.

I was engaged enough to keep going, but at a certain point, I’d just about given up hope of really enjoying the book, and just put my head down to plow though and get it over with so I could move on. I was surprised a little later to find out that I was invested in the fate of these characters, and was really getting a kick out of Bodden’s work. I can’t point to what it was that got me there, but it probably had something to do with Kieran. I do want to stress that it was after the 50% mark, so stick with it if your experience is like mine. By the time I was finished, I was ready for book #2 (…and probably 3….and most likely 4).

I will not say that this is the best thing since sliced bread, but it’s a fresh take on many UF staples from a YA point-of-view, with compelling characters, a well-built world, and a solid plot (especially when it gets around to moving).

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the author via NetGalley in exchange for this post — I appreciate the read.

—–

3.5 Stars

Taran Wanderer (Audiobook) by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton

Taran WandererTaran Wanderer

by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton (Narrator)
Series: Chronicles of Prydain, #4
Unabridged Audiobook, 6 hrs, 22 min.
Listening Library, 2005

Read: March 28, 2017


The one question that’s plagued Taran all his life is just who is he? Who is his family? Is there any chance at all that his family is some sort of nobility? This last question has taken on a new level of importance to him as he has realized that he’s in love with a princess and can’t do anything about it without that nobility.

Dallben can’t answer the question for him — but he allows Taran leave to go try to find the answer himself. I’ve never understood just how Taran can pull this off — there’s practically no birth records in Prydain (I can’t imagine), it’s not like he can get blood tests done — and he doesn’t really interview anyone, just meanders around.

Still, he visits various corners of the kingdom — visiting friends old and new, dipping his toe in all sorts of trades and vocations. He renders aid, and gets aid. Fflewddur Fflam shows up and spends a good portion of the novel traveling with him (Gurgi remains a constant companion). There’s a confrontation with a wizard, a regional armed conflict to try to settle, a mercenary band to deal with — as well as other woes.

He learns a lot, he matures a lot, and maybe even gets a dose of wisdom. It’s not your traditional fantasy novel by any sense, but it’s a good one.

As for the audiobook? Everything I’ve said about the other books in the series — Alexander’s introduction and Langton’s performance — holds true for this one.

The most emotionally rich of the books, the most thoughtful — particularly for those of the target age. Good, good stuff.

—–

4 Stars

The Castle of Llyr (Audiobook) by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton

The Castle of LlyrThe Castle of Llyr

by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton (Narrator)
Series: Chronicles of Prydain, #3
Unabridged Audiobook, 4 hrs, 36 min.
Listening Library, 2004

Read: March 20, 2017


Taran is tasked with escorting Princess Eilonwy to the Isle of Mona, where she’ll be taken in by distant relatives — the king and queen, who will help her learn how to be a proper young lady (an idea she finds ridiculous). They sail there on a ship “captained” by the island’s Prince Rhun.

Once they reach the island, Taran runs into Fflewddur Fflam, who’s enjoying barding again — even if the castle’s steward, Magg, has an intense dislike of his music. Shortly after that, Taran discovers there’s a threat to Eilonwy in the castle and tries to save her from it without letting her know she’s in danger. That goes poorly and he joins the rescue effort instead (also led by Rhun — or at least Rhun thinks so).

The companions also meet the world’s littlest giant (why does that sound like it belongs more in The Phantom Tollbooth than here?) and a mountain cat that we’ll get to spend a lot of time with. There’s a lot of links to the first book as well as the last book in the series here.

The introduction by Alexander was great — I wish I could hear more of his own takes on the books. Langton was solid. Again, I think he could talk a little faster — but that’s minor. His Prince Rhun’s “Hullo”s are just what I’ve heard in my head all these decades.

This is probably the most entertaining of the lot — there’s some really good comedy here. Taran grows up a lot more here than he does in other books, I think, which adds something more than just entertainment to this book. It’s possible that this is the one in the series I read the most as a kid. The story isn’t as rich as I remember, but factoring in the growth in characters and the entertainment factor, the experience as a whole was pretty satisfying — and I’ll take that.

—–

3.5 Stars