A Year of Books 2019: …And the Rest!

Sometimes you read a book that doesn’t “fit in” with the rest of what you read.

So, um, these are the books I read that didn’t “fit in” someplace else.

Yeah.

***

The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig

Whenever Miriam Black touches a person, she sees how they will die. As you’d expect, that can really scar a person. But this time, when she touches a man, she sees him killed by a person writing out a message in blood… to Miriam. Someone knows her ability and has begun to torture her over it. What happens next will be truly horrific…

So, I’m not much on horror or gore. Just not my thing. However, a number of years ago I read the first book in this series, Blackbirds. It was so engaging I couldn’t put it down; I immediately went out and purchased Mockingbird. And now I’ve finally read book three!

After finishing setting everything up in the first two books, Wendig can finally really dig into his world here. Miriam is so very broken, and this new threat is incredibly menacing.

Like I said, I’m not much on horror, but this is so well-written, I still recommend it!

Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett

It’s 2010, and Queen Elizabeth XXX reigns. The great Empire expands her reach, and superstition and alchemy control it all. Now, Sir Rupert Triumff has uncovered a plot to dethrone her majesty. He must face down the vile scum with wit and a strong sword!

Dan Abnett has written some great stuff. His Embedded has some of the best concepts, best-written hard sci-fi that I’ve encountered. I was looking forward to this one! One of the tags on the book is “Unforgivable puns.” A good friend of mine had read the book and told me it was hilarious.

And… it was good, I guess. It certainly wasn’t a dud, but maybe I’d built it up too much in my mind. The story is rip-roaring, and there are certainly a good number of jokes, but I guess I didn’t laugh a whole lot during it. I dunno. Like I said, it wasn’t bad by any means. I was just expecting more.

Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

The goat talks. He tells the farm boy he’s the chosen one. The dark lord wants to kill the farm boy. And the farm boy dies. The rest of the heroes figure they should probably carry his body around, though, since he is the chosen one.

If you find that set-up hilarious, you’ll probably enjoy this novel. I have to say, I didn’t, though. The premise sounds fantastic – there’s a reason I bought the book, after all. I love stories that take known quantities and twist them. However, here, it’s just a lot of crass humor and relatively predictable twists once you get past the farm boy actually dying.

Your mileage may vary, of course. A lot of people seemed to love this book. I sorta picture it as “If Dennis Leary and Adam Sandler from the 90’s wrote Shrek… you might get something like this.” So if that’s your cup of tea, check this one out, I guess.

Fight the Wind by Elias Carr

Society has fallen. A small group of teens has banded together for survival. They find a farm. If one of them can fix the wind turbine, they’d finally be able to have a home again. The leader says no, though. They need to keep moving. Will they be torn apart by this chance to finally find home?

Our library has routine book sales, and at one I found a series entitled “After the Dust Settled.” Each book was less than a hundred pages, and they had the entire set except one there. So I picked it up. Fifty cents a book? Not much of a risk. I was looking for something I could hand my older son, but I thought to preview the series first.

I’m glad I did. While the nature of what caused society to fall apart is never revealed, the protagonists end up fighting another group of teens and there’s a fairly brutal murder. It’s certainly nothing worse than Hunger Games, but the protagonists have no remorse or negative reaction to it. That causes me concern.

Story-wise… there really isn’t much of a story here. It feels like an episode in a larger narrative. It’s simply told. I wonder if this was written for fans of Hunger Games and the like who are simply poor readers?

I don’t have any answers, but I can tell you that though I could speed through the rest of the books in an afternoon, I have no interest in returning to this world.

Hear the Wolves by Victoria Scott

Sloan has been left behind. Most of her Alaskan town has gone the next town over to participate in the vote, and her father left her behind on purpose. Ever since mom left and Sloan lost her hearing in one ear because of a blizzard, she panics whenever she’s left alone. Dad thought this would be a good test.

He was wrong.

Now, the snow won’t stop coming, someone else left behind has been hurt, and the only chance he has of survival is Sloan taking him through the woods to the river and the nearest doctor. But the wolves are closing, and they are hungry.

This book reminds me of Hatchet in all the right ways. I felt the cold, the threat of the wolves, all of it. Sloan serves as a very identifiable protagonist. Her fear is real. The writing is taut.

However, I’m actually not sure that the entire town had to leave for a vote. I’m not entirely sure why they all left at all! The protagonist doesn’t explain to the reader why they left; she just says that they did. It’s assumed knowledge. There’s a few jumps like that which left me a bit frustrated.

However, once you start reading, it’s hard to stop. Check it out if you like young adult survival fiction.

Nil by Lynne Matson

You have 365 days on the island of Nil. And if you don’t make it off the island in that many days, you die. No one knows why it works that way. No one knows why only teens show up on the island from all over the world. They just know that it works that way, and they must work together to help each other escape. But when love complicates matters, it makes everything that much harder.

This was a fast teen read. The characters are likable, and I find their actions very realistic for teen castaways. I do like that there’s a subtle pro-life message embedded in the story, though most readers might not pick up on it. There are no answers as to why this island acts the way it does, though there is a sequel that I’m intrigued enough to pick up if I ever spot it.

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

Fiona comes to Alistair with a strange request: Write my biography. She’s twelve years old. Why does she need a biography? Because she’s seen the Riverman, who steals the souls of children. Soon she’s going to die. Should Alistair trust her? Is she insane, or is the world far, far scarier than anything Alistair ever imagined?

This story felt in all the right ways like John Bellairs (who wrote The House with a Clock in its Walls). It’s creepy, on the level of kids, but not talking down to them. The children are the stars, and the adults are not dunces, either. This is book one in a trilogy, and I’ll keep my eyes open for the rest of it!

Firefly Hollow by Alison McGhee and Christopher Denise

Cricket wants to play a baseball game. An actual baseball game, with the giants. Firefly wants to not just fly, but to touch the moon. When they befriend a little giant named Peter, it seems that maybe their dreams will come true. But even when adventures happen, dreams can be a long ways away…

This is a quiet, delightful book that made me think of Wind in the Willows without boring me to tears. If you’re looking for swashbuckling adventure that has you on the edge of your seat, this ain’t it. If you’re looking for a pleasant snuggly story, you’ve found it. The illustrations are whimsical and perfectly match the tone of the prose as well, a definite bonus.

Ada Lace, on the Case by Emily Calandrelli with Tamson Weston, illustrated by Renee Kurilla

Ada Lace does science. She’s a third grader with a love of research! But then her neighbor’s beloved dog is kidnapped, and Ada must solve the case! With a… friend… who is convinced an alien took the dog, Ada uses science and technology to find the dog… and trouble!

This past year my wife and I celebrate our “lace” anniversary. My Bride got me a bunch of books with “lace” in the title – this being one of them. It’s a cute kid’s book. I liked Ada’s attitude, but she reminded me a lot of the kid from Miracle on 34th Street – the only things real are things we can see and touch. Unfortunately, that worldview is carried as the “true” one, which discounts anything like souls or, you know, God.

That said, it’s a cute mystery.

Quantum Lace, Book One, by Bella St. John

Lady Bridgit Darnell dreams in 1895 England and meets a modern-day South Carolina man who tells her how to time travel. She thinks it’s a fancy dream, until other strange things begin happening…

So, this is another one of the “lace” books my wife got for me for our anniversary. She didn’t know anything about it except it was sci-fi and it had the word “lace” in the title.

It’s… interesting. Basically, it posits that we can time travel with the power of our minds. The back of the book insists that while the story is fiction, everything it teaches matches with science as we know it right now. I hate given negative reviews to independent authors, but… this is one of those times where I simply have to say, “Not for me, and I have no idea who I’d recommend it to.”

The Buttersmith’s Gold by Adam Glendon Sidwell

Everyone knows that vikings make the best blueberry muffins, but no one has known how… until now. Tjornborn, young member of the clan, lets slip the secret, and now destruction rains down on his little village. How can he ever redeem himself? Will they ever again be able to make their coveted blueberry muffins?

This book is a prequel of sorts to Evertaster, which delighted me so much last year. My Bride got me this one for Christmas!

This one doesn’t sing quite as much as Evertaster did, but it’s still quirky fun. Vikings that make blueberry muffins? How awesome is that? And how the vikings recover from disaster is equally fun. Look, go read Evertaster. It’s just so bonkers creative! But then read this one, because it’s fun, too!

Ruth A.D. By Lydia Eberhardt

Ruth lost her husband and father-in-law and then moved to another country and fell in love. Most retellings of the biblical story I’ve read focus on Ruth falling in love again. Eberhardt is very clever, though; she spends a full half of her novel introducing us to Ruth’s first husband, so when he dies, it’s not simply set-up for “the real story.” In fact, most of the biblical narrative is left to occur after the action of the novel. I loved this storytelling choice. Eberhardt also updates the setting to a more modern one, allowing the reader to identify with all the characters. Plot, character, setting, all are solid and worth your time.

Global Warning by Lydia Eberhardt

The PPA monitors planets capable of sustaining life. When a species threatens planetary extinction, the PPA steps in to restore the planet. But as the Captain pursues a routine mission, he starts asking some disturbing questions about their goals. Meanwhile, one of his science technicians begins speaking to one of the specimens rescued from the planet below. Now what?

This thin novel had been staring at me from my Amazon wish list for a while, but after meeting with Eberhardt again recently, I decided it was past time for me to actually buy the thing. So I did!

I enjoyed the story, though about a third of the way through I thought I saw the twist coming and started groaning. While I had indeed predicted the twist, I was pleased that it was revealed shortly after I figured it out. Rather than make the twist an “ah-ha!” moment, Eberhardt shows the results of that twist, using it to up the stakes. I love that choice!

Wings of Change, edited by Lyn Worthen

Dragons come in so many shapes and sizes, in cultures around the world. In this collection of twenty-three stories, dragons and young human adults come together as enemies and friends and learn and grow.

Look, I’m published in this anthology, but now that I’ve read it – holy cow! I’m honored I can be a part of such an awesome collection. If you like dragons or YA stories, you owe it to yourself to pick this thing up. There are so many good stories in here! I love that there’s a strong mix of cultures, too – from western dragons, to Incan, to Oriental, all sorts! Some stories have dragons as the point of view character, some have humans. There’s such a strong mix, and not a dud in the bunch. Seriously. Go check this thing out.

***

My Bride’s also a reader! She’s typed up some thoughts on some of the things she read. So, yeah. Check it out: 

Free Fall by David Wiesner

There are no words in this story. But that’s okay; some stories don’t need any. This picture book tells of the adventures a boy dreams of after falling asleep with his book of maps. And oh the imaginative places those maps take him!

The Three Pigs by David Wiesner

Everyone knows the story of the Three Little Pigs. They build their houses. The wolf huffs and puffs and blows them all down. Well, at least that’s how it starts. But this time the wolf blew perhaps a little too hard, and the first little pig was blown right out of the story. This is a wonderful little picture book, with fabulous drawings and plenty of meta-fiction fun.

Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg

This is another dream journey story filled with wonderful art. This time the boy’s bed takes him to the future, though it’s not the future he had envisioned. I found it to be a bit heavy handed with its “protect the environment” message – a little too on the nose. Worth a look for the drawings, however, especially if you like Van Allsburg’s distinctive style.

Time Jumpers: Stealing the Sword by Wendy Mass

This is a Branches book. If you have young children and don’t know Branches books, you should remedy that immediately. They are wonderful in that they have short chapters and lots of illustrations to help kids move from picture books to more advanced chapter books – help them visualize the story.

Anyway, a brother and sister buy an old suitcase at a flea market. Inside they find several….artifacts. And one of them suddenly whisks them back to…..Medieval England? From there you get a rough introduction to Merlin and Arthur, and the kids have to help him restore his sword. Oh, yeah, while being chased by another man who wants that suitcase full of artifacts.

My seven year-old enjoyed this well enough. He really loved the other Branches series we tackled this year, though. So keep scrolling.

Stuart’s Cape by Sara Pennypacker

This is a quick little imaginative read. Apparently there are more in the series, but this is the only one I read. Stuart is bored. But he has a cape. And a cape plus a little imagination can take you far. Pretty basic setup. I recall there being an underlying message about the importance of imagination and play and creative expression in general.

Dragon Masters Series by Tracy West (#1-13)

(1-8) 

(9-12) 

(13)

And this one. …”one.” This was seriously the bulk of my reading for so many months this year. (Having an infant around really cuts back on your free time and brain space.) My seven year-old looooooved these books. This is the other Branches series I mentioned earlier. Snappy little chapters with cliffhanger endings to propel you forward. Plenty of illustrations to help visualize the story. Distinct characters. Oh – and dragons.

Drake is an ordinary eight year-old boy, suddenly taken to King Roland’s castle to become a dragon master. Whatever that is. With the help of a dragon stone necklace he is able to make a connection with his dragon, Worm, and communicate with him. Together Drake, Worm, and the other dragon masters and their dragons go on all sorts of adventures. Generally doing good, using their dragons’ special abilities (turns out Worm can teleport!), and learning about other new dragons as they go. Over the course of 13 books you get a couple of story arcs: First just meeting all the other dragon masters and showcasing each dragon’s special abilities, then discovering more types of dragons and other dragon masters who are not at King Roland’s castle, then facing the evil wizard Maldred. (Yes, Maldred.)

More books are still being written for this series, and you can bet we’ll be reading them all.

***

Next week I’ll discuss the other things I read that aren’t novels, and there will be some more from my Bride!

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