Friday, July 26, 2013

Throwdown 2.0 Update: Reading Report #2: Wallowing in Bone

We're nearing the end of week 2, and Team Everyone Else is making a move. I'm still in the lead (as of now, anyway), but the gap is narrowing. We've started to see some cards and emails come in (you can see photos on our Facebook page), and I'm grateful for that, but we need more. Because it's a bunch of people on the team, it's very easy to back-burner your own reading and assume that everyone else will pick up the slack. It's one of the reasons I wanted a good, fast start, and that I want to keep it close. Ideally, they will never be sure who is winning at any given time. But they still need encouragement, and actual, physical evidence that people inside and outside the community are engaged and paying attention and rooting for them to take down the Dastardly Librarian Lady is important, so please take a minute to send some encouraging words to Team Everyone Else (mail: Team Everyone Else c/o Runge Public Library, PO Box 37, Runge, TX 78151; email:; or leave a message on our Facebook page), and encourage your friends to do the same.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's move on to what I've been reading. As per usual, I'm all over the place, but there are some mighty fine reads to be found on this list.

The Ocean At the End Of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

A man returns to his childhood home. Feeling out of place because nothing is familiar, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the lane and a pond, which was once called an ocean. Gradually, he remembers a time when monsters were real, people were more than they appeared to be, and joy and wonder were balanced by terror and sacrifice.

I'm a huge Neil Gaiman fan, and have particularly enjoyed his books (like Coraline and The Graveyard Book) for younger readers. The Ocean At the End Of the Lane is not a juvenile book, but it has a similar feel to it. It's funny and dreamy and scary and painful and, despite some decidedly odd goings-on, very recognizable and real.

Criminal Enterprise by Owen Laukkanen

Laukkanen's first novel, The Professionals, featured a slick, fast-moving plot and believable characters (both cops and cons). I was looking forward to spending some more time with Windemere and Stevens and seeing how Laukkanen was going to bring them back together.

Criminal Enterprise is another slam-bang action thriller, and I still like Windemere and Stevens, but the plot strained credulity. There were far too many coincidences and casual connections to the events in the previous book and Stevens (as much as I like him) really felt shoe-horned in. It's compulsively readable, particularly as things get out of control towards the end, but as much as I like them, if Windemere is slapped down by The Man just so the criminal can keep up the spree and she can be proven right yet again or Stevens promises his wife he's done with danger while in the process of doing something dangerous, I'm going to pinch their little heads right off.

Gustav Gloom and the Nightmare Vault by Adam-Troy Castro

Book two starts up a few weeks after the events of the first book. Fernie What and her family are visiting Gustav regularly, introducing him to real food and getting him more comfortable with human company. After an abrupt warning to avoid the ice-cream man, Fernie and her sister are, in fact, attacked by an ice-cream man, who turns out to be a Shadow Eater sent to find the Nightmare Vault. Fernie & her sister split up and Fernie leads the Shadow Eater to Gustav's house to get some answers. What follows is a fast-paced chase as Fernie and Gustav try to figure out what a Nightmare Vault is, where it might be located, and how to keep it out of the hands of the Shadow Eater and his boss, Lord Obsidian. Along the way we learn a great deal more about Gustav, why he's alone, and why he cannot leave the grounds of the house, as well as more about the origins of Lord Obsidian.

Plotwise, this is much the same as book one: Fernie and Gustav on the run through a weird and wonderful house, trying to escape the bad guy, an evil henchman of the Ultimate Big Bad. While this might seem repetitive, the setting of Gustav's strange Shadow House really helps by allowing all manner of scene changes, and the tidbits of Gustav's life that we're given along the way help, too. The best thing about these books, though, is the characters. We really like Fernie and Gustav (and the various shadows and Fernie's family), and when Bad Things happen, we really care about how it might affect them.

Bone: the Quest For the Spark 01 by Tom Sniegoski, illustrated by Jeff Smith

Bone: the Quest For the Spark 02 by Tom Sniegoski, illustrated by Jeff Smith

Bone: the Quest For the Spark 03 by Tom Sniegoski, illustrated by Jeff Smith

Tom Elm is the son of a turnip farmer, and expects to be a turnip farmer himself one day. Things don't quite work out that way. Soon Tom has met Lorimar, a nature spirit, explorer Percival Bone and his niece (Abbey) and nephew (Barclay), a former Veni Yan priest, and two stupid, stupid rat creatures and set out on a quest to save the Valley from the Nacht.

Quest for the Spark is a novel with illustrations, not a graphic novel like the Bone books, and it's meant for younger readers. It shares some characters with the Bone books, as well as an adventurous spirit and a sense of humor. The Bones are pretty secondary here, though, and it would have been great to see Fone, Phoney, and Smiley Bone again (we do get brief glimpses of Gran'Ma Ben and Thorn). The plot itself is pretty familiar: young Chosen One with no idea what's going on must fight a terrible evil (that's really only the forerunner of a truly terrible evil) against terrible odds. But it's still a fun adventure with lots of action and lots of humor.

Bone 01: Out From Boneville by Jeff Smith

Bone 02: The Great Cow Race by Jeff Smith

Bone 03: Eyes of the Storm by Jeff Smith

Bone 04: The Dragonslayer by Jeff Smith

Bone 05: Rock Jaw, Master of the Eastern Border by Jeff Smith

Bone 06: Old Man's Cave by Jeff Smith

Bone 07: Ghost Circles by Jeff Smith

Bone 08: Treasure Hunters by Jeff Smith

Bone 09: Crown of Horns by Jeff Smith

What can I say about the Bone series? I came to it late, but I fell for it hard. The story of a hidden valley, a long-lost princess, a terrible darkness and three cousins who end up in the middle of it all is wonderful. The characters are wonderful (I defy you not to fall for Fone Bone and his mad crush on Thorn, or roll your eyes at the greed and deceit of Phoney, or laugh at the antics of Gran'Ma Ben, two stupid, stupid rat creatures, or the smart-assiest dragon I've ever run across.). The art is wonderful — detailed and expressive. There's nothing I don't like about this series, except for the fact that it ended, and it even did that well. Everyone from elementary school on up will find something to love about Bone.

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