A Few Quick Questions With…Brian VanDongen

This post is a team effort: the good people over at iREAD Book Tours provided the questions, Brian VanDongen provided the answers, I provided the . . . er, well, intro? I really want to read this book after reading this, hopefully you have the same reaction.

What made you write a book about play?
I feel that there is a “play deficit” in today’s society. For children, with the reduction of recess in schools in favor of more classroom time to focus on standardized testing and the increased “professionalization” of youth sports, free play is diminishing. As a recreation professional, I know the value that free play has on everyone’s life. I wrote this book to try to reframe the value of play and provide helpful stories and tips on how to live more playfully, and why living playfully will help people live a better life.
How did you get those stories about play for the book?
Fortunately, there are a lot of great organizations and initiatives for play across the country and around the globe. These organizations are very willing to share their stories and successes, because they want people to live more playfully, too!
Did you have a favorite story you came across during your research?
Wow, that’s a tough question. All the stories are great in their own right. I particularly enjoyed learning about an exhibit in the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry, where children used real tools to build things. I’m sure you’re thinking, “real tools for kids!? Wouldn’t someone get hurt?” Well, yes, but it may not be who you think!
Seems dangerous.
As I note in the book, in two chapters, there’s a difference between risky play and dangerous play. But through risky play, children learn how to assess and manage risk, a key adult, real-world skill.
Do you have a favorite place to play?
Being in New Jersey, it’s easy to find places to play. We have mountain ranges with beautiful trails (including part of the Appalachian Trail) and gorgeous beaches. You’re not far from a place to play. Of course, the world can be your playground if you look hard enough!

Read the book in question, Play to Live: Life Skills and Joy Through the Natural Talent to Play by Brian VanDongen.

My thanks to iREAD Book Tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

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BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Play To Live: Life Skills and Joy Through the Natural Talent to Play by Brian VanDongen

Today I’m pleased to welcome the Book Spotlight Tour for Play to Liveby Brian VanDongen. I think this book good — especially for parents of kids who are about a decade younger than my youngest, but I can’t fit in to my schedule (at least not quickly enough to help out with the tour). Still, I thought it was potentially useful and wanted to help spread the word about it. So we’ve got this here spotlight and then a little later this morning a A Few Quick Questions with the author. But first, check out the information about the book and the givewway — or just go buy it. Either way…

Book Details:

Book Title: Play to Live: Life Skills and Joy Through the Natural Talent to Play by Brian VanDongen
Publisher: BVDPlays
Category: Adult Non-Fiction
Release date: April 30, 2019
Format: Ebook/Paperback
Length: 119 pages
Content Rating: G

Book Blurb:

Play To Live: Life Skills and Joy Through The Natural Talent To Play by author Brian VanDongen takes you back to your childhood to remind you about what being a child is all about. Playing! We all have those fond childhood memories of growing up playing with our friends in social settings. Developing social skills and learning how to handle friendships and relationships.

What we didn’t realize at the time was that those skills we learned for the building blocks which lay the foundation for the rest of our lives. What are our children learning right now? How are they playing now and what part are we playing in how our children interact with the world around them.

For many children, their idea of play and playing now consists of talking to friends online and playing with electronic devices, staying safe indoors, and not venturing further than their own small safe world which we have created.

Inside Play To Live you’ll discover:

  • Understanding what it means to play.
  • Where play has gone and what has changed?
  • How playing inside the box promotes the simplicity of play.
  • Why risky play is not the same as dangerous play. Are we too overprotective?
  • That climbing up the slide is just as important as sliding down.
  • Getting muddy outside and rediscovering nature is imperative.
  • That play is serious business and so much more.

Inside Play To Live: Life Skills and Joy Through The Natural Talent To Play you’ll read about case studies and reports followed by tips, tricks, and information to help you. If you would like to rediscover what it means to play, then grab a copy of Play To Live right now!

Purchase Links for Play to Live:

Amazon ~ Apple Books
Add to Goodreads

About Brian VanDongen:

Brian VanDongen

Brian is a life-long “parks and rec kid.” Now, he is a parks and recreation professional.

Brian has created, designed, and implemented transformational recreational programming for thousands of residents. ​ Through his work as a park and recreation professional, Brian helps people play and find their natural talent to play.

He believes everyone has that talent, but it is sometimes hard to find, or even suppressed in today’s society. ​ Fortunately, play at its most basic level is easy, fun, healthy, and desirable. That playful talent just needs to be unleashed.

Brian has helped thousands of people find their natural talent to play and become happier and healthier people through the power of play.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram

GIVEAWAY:

Win a signed copy of Play to Live: Life Skills and Joy Through the Natural Talent to Play (1 winner / open to USA only)

(ends July 13, 2019)

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My thanks to iREAD Book Tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

How Not to Die by Michael Greger M.D. FACLM, Gene Stone: I Didn’t Want to Enjoy This Book . . .

How Not to DieHow Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease

by Michael Greger M.D. FACLM, Gene Stone


Unabridged Audiobook, 17 hrs., 9 min.
Macmillan Audio, 2015
Read: June 3 – 12, 2019

           Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.
                                        — Redd Foxx
           Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
                                        — Mark Twain

I hate, really hate — and frequently resist — talking about books like this here. But I spent so much time listening to this book, I felt I had to. I do not possess the time, knowledge, or resources to really dig into this book and its claims. I’m only commenting as someone who listened to the material once — I’m not a medical expert by any means. I’m just a guy whose doctor recommended this book and who is taking classes/guidance from a couple of dieticians who think a lot like Dr. Gregor (but have disagreed with some of his conclusions), and is trying to learn from it. At the same time, I ran into those lines I quoted above in High School and I don’t know if I’ll ever forget them — they’re good to keep in the back of your mind with ideas like this — errors are costly, and death is inevitable — you can delay it, but it’s coming.

I’ve seen this book described as veganism without the ideology. That’s not a bad way to put it. I’ve seen someone else say it’s a tool to help them do vegetarianism/veganism better and to understand it more. That’s probably not bad. Gregor and Stone describe their approach as “evidence-based nutrition” (but it’s not like there are a lot of people out there arguing against evidence, are there?). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Following the introduction wherein Gregor gives his personal background into the idea of nutrition and medicine — initially from his family’s experience and then what he learned in med school and after. He then lays out his complaints against the US medical industry’s lack of education/emphasis on nutrition and its use in treatment/prevention of disease. I’m all in on that idea — if we are what we eat, most Americans are processed junk with only trace amounts of plant elements in our make up.

From there the book is essentially divided into two sections — the first focuses on the Top 15 Causes of Death in the U.S. The authors go through each of the 15 (Heart Disease, various Cancers, Mental Health, High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, and so on). The chapter will begin by looking at how the disease operates and how diet/exercise can play a role in worsening the condition and then how diet/exercise can aid in the treatment — or at least alleviate the symptoms — of each.

In Part 2, Gregor turns to answer the inevitable question, “Well, what do you eat?” He has developed a “Daily Dozen” approach — eating X amount of things like berries, nuts, beans, cruciferous vegetables, spices, etc. He explains the origins of this Daily Dozen (there’s a handy app version of this that I’ve been using for a couple of months to help track/guide my eating, by the way). And then looks at each — what health benefits can be gained from a whole foods, plant-based diet by category, and also specifics. For example, he’ll tell you all the ways that X amount of goji berries can help you, or the ways that Y amount of kale, quinoa, or apples will give you a boost — and so on.

It’s a lot to take in, and will certainly provoke thoughts. He’s quick to point out when researchers that disagree with his conclusions seem to cherry pick their results/findings/studies — and the biases of the researchers/funding. But they doesn’t do as thorough a job of demonstrating his counter-examples are free from that. It seems simplistic pretty often to take this approach without a large grain or two of salt (just kidding…that much sodium would incur the wrath of the authors). They do stress frequently the need to make some of these diet changes in consultation with your doctors, and not to just run off and do it — but it’d be pretty easy to disregard the warning and go off on your own guide-less.

As far as an audiobook goes . . . there are pluses and minuses. Greger himself reads the book — making it of a piece with his videos, etc. — and you can easily understand why he was in demand as a public speaker. He’s got great delivery and his personality shines through the reading. I may be the only one who hears it this way, but if you ask me — he delivers 98% of these lines (both the factual lines, and the little bit of snark or playfulness included) just as Wil Wheaton would. His voice has a Wheaton-esque quality, too. Which works for me — it wouldn’t for everyone, I know. The downside is that it’s just too much to take in via audio — there’s just so much thrown at you that you can’t get it all on a listen. The audiobook is a great way to introduce yourself to this book, but you’re going to need the hard copy for reference.

Gregor and Stone make some powerful arguments, and have convinced me of a lot — but I’m clinging to a bit of skepticism. But it’s a good starting point for re-evaluating your personal diet and priorities when it comes to food. How Not to Die is entertaining, informative and potentially life-altering. Hard to ask for more from a book.

—–

4 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

Don’t Panic by Neil Gaiman, David K. Dickson and MJ Simpson: An Indispensable Guide to Douglas Adams and his Work

I’d intended to get this up and ready for Towel Day last week — but, obviously, I failed. Schemes once again, Gang aft a-gley. It’s pretty fitting, really that this is late.

Don't PanicDon’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Third Edition)

by Neil Gaiman; Additional Material by David K. Dickson & MJ Simpson
Series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy (related)

Hardcover, 207 pg.
Titan Books, 2003
Read: May 22 – 23, 2019

          
The idea in question bubbled into Douglas Adams’s mind quite spontaneously, in a field in Innsbruck. He later denied any personal memory of it having happened. But it’s the story he told, and, if there can be such a thing, it’s the beginning. If you have to take a flag reading THE STORY STARTS HERE and stick it into the story, then there is no other place to put it.

It was 1971, and the eighteen year-old Douglas Adams was hitch-hiking his way across Europe with a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europethat he had stolen (he hadn’t bothered ‘borrowing’ a copy of Europe on $5 a Day, he didn’t have that kind of money).

He was drunk. He was poverty-stricken. He was too poor to afford a room at a youth hostel (the entire story is told at length in his introduction to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts in England, and The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy in the US) and he wound up, at the end of a harrowing day, flat on his back in a field in Innsbruck, staring up at the stars. “Somebody,” he thought, “somebody really ought to write a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

He forgot about the idea shortly thereafter.

Five years later, while he was struggling to think of a legitimate reason for an alien to visit Earth, the phrase returned to him. The rest is history, and will be told in this book.

I distinctly remember purchasing the first edition of Don’t Panic from BookPeople of Moscow in the fall of 1991 — I remember being blown away by the idea that someone would write a book about Douglas Adams’ work. I had no idea who this Neil Gaiman fellow was, but I enjoyed his writing and loved the book he wrote — and read it several times. It was a long time (over 2 decades) before I thought of him as anything but “that guy who wrote the Hitchhiker’s book.” The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy had been a favorite of mine for years by that point, and getting to look behind the scenes of it was like catnip.

This is the third edition, and as is noted by Gaiman in the Forward, it “has been updated and expanded twice.” The completist in me would like to find a second edition to read the original 3 chapters added by David K. Dickson in 1993, but the important change was in 2002, when “MJ Simpson wrote chapters 27-30, and overhauled the entire text.” If you ask me, Gaiman’s name should be in the smaller print and Simpson’s should be the tall letters on the cover — but no publisher is that stupid, if you get the chance to claim that Neil Gaiman wrote a book, you run with it. Overhauled is a kind way of putting it — there’s little of the original book that I recognize (I’m going by memory only, not a side by side comparison). This is not a complaint, because Simpson’s version of the book is just as good as the original, it’s just not the original.

This is a little more than the story of The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy, but it’s certainly not a biography of Adams — maybe you could call it a professional biography. Or a biography of Adams the creator, which only touches upon the rest of his life as needed. Yes there are brief looks at his childhood, schooling, etc. But it primarily focuses on his writing, acting, producing and whatnot as the things that led to that revolutionary BBC Radio series and what happened afterward. Maybe you could think of it as the story of a man’s lifelong battle to meet a deadline and the lengths those around him would go to help him not miss it too much.

Once we get to the Radio series, it follows the The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy through each incarnation and expansion — talking about the problems getting it produced (in whatever medium we’re talking about — books, TV show, movie, stage show) and the content. Then the book discusses other Adams projects — Dirk Gently books, The Last Chance to See, his computer work, and other things like that.

It’s told with a lot of cheek, humor, and snark — some of the best footnotes and appendices ever. It’s not the work of a slavish fanboy (or team of them) — there are critical moments talking about problems with some of the books (some of the critiques are valid, others might be valid, but I demur). But it’s never not told with affection for the man or his work.

Don’t Panic is a must for die-hard fans — and can be read for a lot of pleasure by casual fans of the author or his work. I can almost promise that whatever your level of devotion to or appreciation of Adams/his work, it’ll increase after reading this. Any edition of this book should do — but this third edition is an achievement all to itself. Imagine someone being able to say, “I improved on Gaiman’s final draft.”

I loved it, I will return to this to read as well as to consult for future things I write about Adams, and recommend it without hesitation.

—–

5 Stars

Humor Reading Challenge 2019

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Robot, Take the Wheel by Jason Torchinsky

Today I’m pleased to welcome the Book Spotlight Tour for Robot, Take the Wheel by Jason Torchinsky. I jumped at the chance when asked if I’d participate in this because: 1. Content I didn’t have to work for at all; 2. It looks like a fun book that I’d like to help get eyeballs on; 3. How often to I get asked to do anything with a non-fiction book?; and 4. Check out the cover — that’s just awesome.

Read the post, enter the giveaway — or don’t wait for fortune to smile on you, go buy the thing!

Book Details:

Book Title: Robot, Take the Wheel: The Road to Autonomous Cars and the Lost Art of Driving by Jason Torchinsky
Publisher: Apollo Publishers
Category: Adult Non-Fiction
Release date: May 7, 2019
Format: Ebook/Hardcover
Length: 207 pages
Content Rating: PG (this book is accessible to everyone)

Book Blurb:

From the witty senior editor of Jalopnik, Gizmodo Media’s acclaimed website devoted to cars, technology, and more, comes a revealing, savvy, and humorous look at self-driving cars.

Self-driving cars sound fantastical and futuristic and yet they’ll soon be on every street in America. Whether it’s Tesla’s Autopilot, Google’s Waymo, Mercedes’s Distronic, or Uber’s 24,000 modified Volvos, companies across industries and throughout the world are developing autonomous cars. Even Apple, not to be outdone, is rumored to be creating its own technology too.

In Robot, Take the Wheel, Jason Torchinsky explores the state of the automotive industry. Through wit and wisdom, he explains why autonomous cars are being made and what the future of automated cars is. Torchinsky encourages us to consider autonomous cars as an entirely new machine, something beyond cars as we understand them today. He considers how we’ll get along with these robots that will take over our cars’ jobs, what they will look like, what sorts of jobs they may do, what we can expect of them, how they should act, ethically, how we can have fun with them, and how we can make sure there’s still a place for those of us who love to drive with manual or automatic transmission.

This unique and highly readable volume is brimming with industry insider information and destined to be a conversation starter. It’s a must-have for car lovers, technology geeks, and everyone who wants to know what’s on the road ahead.

Purchase Links for Robot, Take the Wheel:

Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Indiebound ~ Book Depository

About Jason Torchinsky:

Jason TorchinskyJASON TORCHINSKY is senior editor of Jalopnik, a website devoted to news and opinions about all things automotive. As a writer and artist, he is known for his articles, artworks, talks, and videos about cars, technology, and culture. He has raced cars, wrecked cars, and driven possibly one of the most dangerous cars ever made with the King of Cars on the Emmy-winning Jay Leno’s Garage. He lives in North Carolina.

Connect with the author: Twitter

GIVEAWAY:

Win a print copy of Robot, Take the Wheel (5 winners / open to USA only)
(ends May 31, 2019)

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Pub Day Repost: No Country for Old Gnomes by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne is a very foine booke that surpässes the original while showing full respect to the umlaut

I’ve tweaked and retweaked this to the point that I can’t read it any more. Hope it’s mostly coherent.

No Country for Old GnomesNo Country for Old Gnomes

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Series: The Tales of Pell, Book #2

eARC, 352 pg.
Del Rey, 2019
Read: March 9 – 12, 2019

As much as I loved 2018’s Kill the Farm Boy — and talked about it everywhere and repeatedly — I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to pick up the sequel. There’s no way it would be as good, the humor would be a little stale, and the whole approach wouldn’t seem as novel. Still, I knew curiosity would get the better of me — and it’d still have its moments. Also, I’m not at the point where I can live in a world with a Kevin Hearne book in print that I haven’t read.

I was so, so wrong. Having established their off-kilter world, strong voice, and approach to the stories of Pell, Dawson and Hearne have come back to play in it. The result is superior in every way that I can think of. I lost track of how many times I said to myself while reading something along the lines of, “how did they improve things this much?”

So this book happens in different corner of the kingdom than Farm Boy did. The Skylar is a choice piece of the land that is home to two diminutive races — halflings and gnomes. Gnomes want to live in their nice little homes, tinker with their little projects and inventions, and wear brightly colored cardigans (well, there was one gnome who wanted to wear a black cardigan, but let’s leave that aside for now). The halflings have found their government hijacked by criminals and those particular halflings are waging a war of sorts on the gnomes, driving them from their homes for unknown reasons. Driven by desperation, two of these displaced gnomes are part of our questing party here. A halfling — committed to (some may say obsessed with) the law that is being ignored by his people is another member of the party.

These three join themselves to an ovitaur named Agape — an ovitaur is like a faun, but is humanoid with sheep characteristics (feet, legs, ears, etc). She’s the last of a long family line serving as teh guardians of a rare treasure, and needs guidance. A gryphon, named Gerd, outcast from his people has been accompanying the halfling for some time, but is devoted to protecting Agape now. The last member of the party is a dwarf named Båggi Biins. Båggi is on his Meadschpringå — a time when young dwarves leave their homes to purge the violence from themselves so they can return to their homes to pursue an ascetic life of creativity. He joins the others certain that journeying with them, protecting them along their way will provide all the outlet required to use his violence in a noble cause.

Their quest? To go to the Great Library, where the founding documents of the gnomeric and halfling civilizations are located — which should prove invaluable to re-establish the peace and help the two societies get along. Agape should find resources to direct her in her guardianship, and hopefully provide Gerd with the proof that he broke no laws of the gryphons.

The fact that most people on Pell consider the Great Library to be a myth shouldn’t be taken as an argument against this quest. What better place than a possibly mythical library to provide the answers they seek?

While these characters are on their quest, working for peace — the king and his advisor are trying to solve the problems between the halflings and gnomes in a more direct approach. We also see (briefly in most cases) other characters from Farm Boy. We see just enough to know how things are going for them some months later — and on the whole, it’s just as you’d hoped/expected it to be for them. It is not essential to have read the previous volume to get 95% of this book. It’s safe to hand this one off to family, friends and coworkers who are wondering what you’re cackling about without making them do homework first.

Along the way, these characters meet a cult of cabbage worshipers, who have the ability to read prophecies in the vegetables; some very frightening mermaids (that look nothing like anything anyone expects); a very Tom Bombadil-esque character (and a few other Tolkien-inspired jokes). As in Farm Boy, the authors manage to use these ideas as sources of comedy and to propel the plot along in meaningful ways. Similarly, they use racial and personal characteristics of the characters to play with, play against and mock genre standards. But almost none of the characters are mere jokes, they’re well-developed characters that happen to be able to comedic. This is not an easy balance to achieve — and Hearne and Dawson are almost flawless on this front.

For example, gryphons are convinced that they perceive greater nuance and details in colors, sounds, tastes and the like and adjust their pronunciation of words via capital letters, umlauts and extra syllables. Gerd’s dialogue is littered with these. It starts off as a joke that just won’t stop, and instead of it getting tired or annoying (which I assumed it would), it becomes just part of the way that Gerd talks. His own particular dialect, that occasionally will strike you as amusing — maybe even just funny occasionally. I wouldn’t say it’s because the authors show restraint with it, employing it just when needed to keep it funny. Quite the reverse, they seemingly take the approach of drowning you in the joke, figuring that it’ll be funny often enough to justify it.

If you’re like me, you have a tendency to skip chapter titles. Doing so with The Tales of Pell would be a mistake. The titles are long, fitting, and insanely goofy. The only thing better are the chapter epigraphs I imagine the drafts going back and forth between the authors, each trying to top the other with the next chapter title/epigraph. And generally succeeding.

These books are noted (as I’ve focused on) for their comedy — as is right, because they are funny. But as anyone who’s read other works by Dawson and Hearne know, they’re about a lot more than comedy. The battle scenes are exciting. The emotional themes and reactions are genuine and unforced. And tragedy hits hard. It’s easy to forget in the middle of inspiring moments or humorous aftermaths of battle that these kind of novels involve death and other forms of loss — and when you do forget, you are open to getting your heart punched.

In case I haven’t made it clear here, Dawson and Hearne knocked it out of the park here. I thought Kill the Farm Boy was outstanding, and No Country for Old Gnomes surpassed it on every front. I don’t expect that the third volume of The Tales of Pell will continue this trend — but I’m more than open to being proven wrong next year. But for 2019? I’m just going to revel in the goodness — the laughs, the pathos, the excitement — brought by this adventure and the wonderful cast of characters. Get your hands on this one.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this, I really appreciate it.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

No Country for Old Gnomes by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne is a very foine booke that surpässes the original while showing full respect to the umlaut

I’ve tweaked and retweaked this to the point that I can’t read it any more. Hope it’s mostly coherent.

No Country for Old GnomesNo Country for Old Gnomes

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Series: The Tales of Pell, Book #2

eARC, 352 pg.
Del Rey, 2019

Read: March 9 – 12, 2019


As much as I loved 2018’s Kill the Farm Boy — and talked about it everywhere and repeatedly — I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to pick up the sequel. There’s no way it would be as good, the humor would be a little stale, and the whole approach wouldn’t seem as novel. Still, I knew curiosity would get the better of me — and it’d still have its moments. Also, I’m not at the point where I can live in a world with a Kevin Hearne book in print that I haven’t read.

I was so, so wrong. Having established their off-kilter world, strong voice, and approach to the stories of Pell, Dawson and Hearne have come back to play in it. The result is superior in every way that I can think of. I lost track of how many times I said to myself while reading something along the lines of, “how did they improve things this much?”

So this book happens in different corner of the kingdom than Farm Boy did. The Skylar is a choice piece of the land that is home to two diminutive races — halflings and gnomes. Gnomes want to live in their nice little homes, tinker with their little projects and inventions, and wear brightly colored cardigans (well, there was one gnome who wanted to wear a black cardigan, but let’s leave that aside for now). The halflings have found their government hijacked by criminals and those particular halflings are waging a war of sorts on the gnomes, driving them from their homes for unknown reasons. Driven by desperation, two of these displaced gnomes are part of our questing party here. A halfling — committed to (some may say obsessed with) the law that is being ignored by his people is another member of the party.

These three join themselves to an ovitaur named Agape — an ovitaur is like a faun, but is humanoid with sheep characteristics (feet, legs, ears, etc). She’s the last of a long family line serving as teh guardians of a rare treasure, and needs guidance. A gryphon, named Gerd, outcast from his people has been accompanying the halfling for some time, but is devoted to protecting Agape now. The last member of the party is a dwarf named Båggi Biins. Båggi is on his Meadschpringå — a time when young dwarves leave their homes to purge the violence from themselves so they can return to their homes to pursue an ascetic life of creativity. He joins the others certain that journeying with them, protecting them along their way will provide all the outlet required to use his violence in a noble cause.

Their quest? To go to the Great Library, where the founding documents of the gnomeric and halfling civilizations are located — which should prove invaluable to re-establish the peace and help the two societies get along. Agape should find resources to direct her in her guardianship, and hopefully provide Gerd with the proof that he broke no laws of the gryphons.

The fact that most people on Pell consider the Great Library to be a myth shouldn’t be taken as an argument against this quest. What better place than a possibly mythical library to provide the answers they seek?

While these characters are on their quest, working for peace — the king and his advisor are trying to solve the problems between the halflings and gnomes in a more direct approach. We also see (briefly in most cases) other characters from Farm Boy. We see just enough to know how things are going for them some months later — and on the whole, it’s just as you’d hoped/expected it to be for them. It is not essential to have read the previous volume to get 95% of this book. It’s safe to hand this one off to family, friends and coworkers who are wondering what you’re cackling about without making them do homework first.

Along the way, these characters meet a cult of cabbage worshipers, who have the ability to read prophecies in the vegetables; some very frightening mermaids (that look nothing like anything anyone expects); a very Tom Bombadil-esque character (and a few other Tolkien-inspired jokes). As in Farm Boy, the authors manage to use these ideas as sources of comedy and to propel the plot along in meaningful ways. Similarly, they use racial and personal characteristics of the characters to play with, play against and mock genre standards. But almost none of the characters are mere jokes, they’re well-developed characters that happen to be able to comedic. This is not an easy balance to achieve — and Hearne and Dawson are almost flawless on this front.

For example, gryphons are convinced that they perceive greater nuance and details in colors, sounds, tastes and the like and adjust their pronunciation of words via capital letters, umlauts and extra syllables. Gerd’s dialogue is littered with these. It starts off as a joke that just won’t stop, and instead of it getting tired or annoying (which I assumed it would), it becomes just part of the way that Gerd talks. His own particular dialect, that occasionally will strike you as amusing — maybe even just funny occasionally. I wouldn’t say it’s because the authors show restraint with it, employing it just when needed to keep it funny. Quite the reverse, they seemingly take the approach of drowning you in the joke, figuring that it’ll be funny often enough to justify it.

If you’re like me, you have a tendency to skip chapter titles. Doing so with The Tales of Pell would be a mistake. The titles are long, fitting, and insanely goofy. The only thing better are the chapter epigraphs I imagine the drafts going back and forth between the authors, each trying to top the other with the next chapter title/epigraph. And generally succeeding.

These books are noted (as I’ve focused on) for their comedy — as is right, because they are funny. But as anyone who’s read other works by Dawson and Hearne know, they’re about a lot more than comedy. The battle scenes are exciting. The emotional themes and reactions are genuine and unforced. And tragedy hits hard. It’s easy to forget in the middle of inspiring moments or humorous aftermaths of battle that these kind of novels involve death and other forms of loss — and when you do forget, you are open to getting your heart punched.

In case I haven’t made it clear here, Dawson and Hearne knocked it out of the park here. I thought Kill the Farm Boy was outstanding, and No Country for Old Gnomes surpassed it on every front. I don’t expect that the third volume of The Tales of Pell will continue this trend — but I’m more than open to being proven wrong next year. But for 2019? I’m just going to revel in the goodness — the laughs, the pathos, the excitement — brought by this adventure and the wonderful cast of characters. Get your hands on this one.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this, I really appreciate it.

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4 1/2 Stars