“Wyrd” Progress Update XI

Today was a good day, as I not only got some writing done, but resurrected the manuscript that had been put on hold since late last November.  But today’s session has reawakened the need to keep writing this novel that’s turning into a lot of fun, reminding of why I originally wanted to write it.  Managed to get a part completed and started a new chapter.  So here’s to more progress with Wyrd .  And now for a writing sample of today’s work (a long piece, as it’s been a while):

In the other chair sat a great hulk of a man.  He was at least as tall as Vortigern, if not more so, but was wider than two of the king’s put together.  Artorus could tell that while this man was a heavy brute with large amount of fat on him, there was also a lot of muscle.  He was a strong man who would be hard to defeat in fight, especially if he had an ax.  His hair was a dark blond, long and scraggily, reaching past his shoulders.  His face was heavy and jowly, but at the same time menacing.  Beneath his left eye he bore a deep groove of a scar.  His eyes were dark, almost black, fixing Vortimer with what seemed an angry stare.  This was the Saxon king, Hengist, and he didn’t want company.

WORDS: 1934


“The Swamps of Sleethe” by Jack Prelutsky and Jimmy Pickering (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2009)

Swamps of Sleethestarstarstar

Jack Prelutsky has written ten anthologies of poetry and over forty “kid-friendly.” Long considered the “unofficial poet laureate of schoolkids”; in 2006 he was officially named the nation’s first Children’s Poet Laureate.  In this collection, which Prelutsky attributes to his love of Star Trek, he takes you on a wild ride around an imaginary universe, showing you what the many different planets could be like.  While essentially all of them seem to have some creature or some attribute that will kill you – begging the question of why anyone would ever want to visit outer space – he nevertheless reveals to the young reader the wide variety of alien life that could be out there.  Richly and colorfully illustrated by Jimmy Pickering, it’s a great book to read to kids, with Prelutsky’s large vocabulary and heavy dose of multi-syllable words, which will have parents reaching for the dictionary to give exact definitions.  But with the bizarre and colorful aliens, kids will be thoroughly entertained, along with a game where some planet’s names are anagrams to be solved (answers are in the back of the book).  The Swamps of Sleethe is a fun book to teach kids lots of new words and perhaps to start them on the first step to an obsession with science fiction.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on April 5th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Sacramento Book Review.

“Heroes of the Valley” by Jonathan Stroud (Hyperion, 2009)

Heroes of the Valleystarstarstarstar

Jonathan Stroud, author of the bestselling Bartimaeus Trilogy, returns with Heroes of the Valley, a wonderful original tale that deserves to be in the annals of the Icelandic Sagas alongside Leif and Erik.  A young adult book that anyone of any age can enjoy for the action, the setting, and the tension between its strong characters.

Halli Sveinsson is a teenager who feels he was born in the wrong time.  He dreams of the past when the great heroes lived – Svein, Arne, Hakon —  and fought the dreaded trows to keep them out of the valley, protecting the villages and people within.  Now their cairns are all that remain, protective burial mounds that keep the trows away and serve as a reminder that no one should pass their boundary.   The people of the valley no longer have any weapons; all disputes are solved by the Council.  Halli’s mother and father, Astrid and Arnkel, serve as lawgiver and arbiter of the house.

But Halli finds life in the valley extremely boring, which is why he is a very mischievous child.  When the Hakons from the other side of the valley come to visit for the annual fair, there is competitive tension between the houses.  An argument breaks out between Hord, the arbiter of Hakon’s House, and Brodir, Arnkel’s brother, which turns into a fight that leaves Brodir dead.  Halli witnesses it all and vows revenge on the Hakons.  This begins a series of events that will change the entire dynamic of the valley that has been quiet and calm for so long.  Then there is the pretty Aud, daughter to the arbiter of Arne’s House, who Halli befriends and becomes close to.  Halli will need all the allies he can find to keep the honor of his house’s name and maintain the memory of the great warrior, Svein.

Heroes of the Valley is a healthy mixture of adventure and history, with some strong lessons on what it means to be good to your word, respectful of your elders to a degree, and that sometimes you need to challenge the status quo.  It is a book about the importance of family, but also that one should encourage the independent spirit of any person, be they boy or girl.  Jonathan Stroud has delivered another impressive novel that goes beyond just a good story; a book that will be welcomed on anyone’s shelf.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on March 31st 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Tales of Beedle the Bard” by J. K. Rowling (Scholastic, 2008)

Tales of Beedle the Bardstarstarstarstar

In this original collection, J. K. Rowling explores the mythology and fable world of Harry Potter.  So imagine all the great stories you read and were read to you as a kid, of fairy tales and heroes, with lessons to teach you, only add characters who are wizards and witches and warlocks who have real magic!  The five short tales in this collection are stories to treasure and enjoy over and over, lacking only in their short length.  Fortunately, Albus Dumbledore provides his own commentary to each story, as well as Rowling explaining some terms and concepts for Muggles.

In “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot” there is a magical cauldron that has a silver foot and hops around curing everyone of their illness and problems, only it’s new owner doesn’t care about anyone and has no intention of helping others, until the “Hopping Pot” has something to say about it.  In “The Fountain of Fortune” three witches and a knight travel up a hill to find the fabled fountain and cure their problems, but they must make sacrifices along the way, and in so doing discover true things about themselves.  “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” is a tale about a wizard who has always hidden his emotions from others and has never known love; through the Dark Arts he has trapped his heart away in a cage, only to finally discover love one day.  In “Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump” an ignorant king and a charlatan use a witch and her powers for their own pride and fame, only to have the whole “show” backfire on them.  In the last tale, “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” three wizards find Death waiting for them and are each granted a wish to avoid death for now, but ultimately what they choose for a wish will determine how soon they will be meeting Death for the last time.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a wonderful collection of tales that make it a perfect holiday gift for anyone, regardless of how familiar they are with the Harry Potter world. Plus, with each purchase of the book, all sales are donated to The Children’s High Level Group, a charity co-created by J. K. Rowling benefiting impoverished children.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on December 6th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman and Michael McKean (Harpercollins, 2008)

Graveyard Bookstarstarstarstar

It seems inevitable in some ways that Neil Gaiman would one day write a book about a graveyard; and furthermore would make it a children’s book; and even furthermore write a wonderful tale about growing up, learning from your mistakes, and appreciating life to it’s fullest.  Welcome to The Graveyard Book.

Nobody Owens is doomed to begin with.  After his family is tragically killed by a determined and terrifying murderer who is now after him to finish the job, Bod finds himself in a graveyard adopted by some very strange ghosts and a father figure, Silas, who is neither dead nor alive, but somewhere in between.  His growing up and education is not one filled with arithmetic and grammar, but abilities of the dead like Fading and Dreamwalking.

It is no surprise that the book Gaiman was destined to write – and has spent many years working on and putting the pieces slowly together – features some of the strongest characters he has ever written.  First off there is Bod Owens, a wonderful young boy you can’t help falling in love with as you grow up with him and experience his many adventures.  Silas, the strong, paternal caretaker who is shrouded in mystery as to his origins and what it means being one of the “Honor Guard.”  Miss Lupescu, an Eastern European lady who looks after Bod for a summer, teaching him, and forcing him to eat her unusual foods.  It is a relationship that begins with hate, but ends in love and respect.  Liza Hempstock, a witch buried in potter’s field, shunned by most in the graveyard, but becoming an unusual acquaintance for Bod.  Scarlett, a living girl who considers Bod an imaginary friend at first, and then something more later.  There is even an appearance from the Lady on the Grey for the Danse Macabre.

At the end of The Graveyard Book, the reader is moved to sadness, as all things must come to end.  Gaiman has said that many readers told him they cried at the end, which is no surprise when we feel a little part of Bod in all of us.  It is the innocent, adventurous spirit within that hearkens back to stories like Peter Pan and The  Jungle Book, which Gaiman references in his acknowledgments.  The Graveyard Book doesn’t end with a bang or a whimper, but with a moving expression of hope: “But between now and then, there was Life; and Bod walked into it with his heart and his eyes wide open.”

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on November 9th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The Dangerous Alphabet” by Neil Gaiman and Gris Grimly (Harpercollins, 2008)

The Dangerous Alphabetstarstarstar

A is for the author and artist of this book, Neil Gaiman and Gris Grimly. B is for the beautiful artwork on the pages that make you smile.  C is for the creative design of The Dangerous Alphabet, which is impressive and astonishing.  D is for the descriptive writing of Neil Gaiman, which keeps you turning every page.  E is for the exiting story about the two children and their gazelle.  F is for the funny things that happen in this book that make you laugh.  G is for Gris Grimly who has done artwork for thirteen books, including this one.  H is for the happy ending that almost wasn’t.  I is for the impressive ways the children keep getting away.  J is for the jumping cute gazelle who also gets away.  K is for the kiss that’s in the middle of this book.  L is for the big letters on each page that Gaiman uses to tell the story.  M is for the monsters, the scary monsters that are everywhere in The Dangerous AlphabetN is for the narrow escapes, as the children slip through the monsters’ fingers.  O is for ordinary, which this story is not by any means.  P is for the pretty gazelle again, because she’s so cute.  Q is for the quandary that the children find themselves in in this story.  R is for racing, as the children race across the pages, from beginning to end.  S is for the silly but fun way this story and review are told.  T is for the terrible things that the monsters do and almost do.  U is for the unbelievable way the children must go to make it to the end.  V is for the vim of the characters in this book; they are defiant and unstoppable.  W is for wary, which you must be when reading The Dangerous AlphabetX marks the spot near the end.  Y is for your yell of joy when the children and the gazelle get away.  Z is for the ZZZs everyone needs after this great adventure is finally over.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on May 28th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Once Upon a Time in the North” by Philip Pullman (Knopf Books For Young Readers, 2008)

Once Upon a Time in the Northstarstarstarstar

It’s been some time since Philip Pullman has published anything set in the world of His Dark Materials; the last offering was a very short story called Lyra’s Oxford. In Once Upon a Time in the North, Pullman returns with an original tale about Lee Scoresby the aeronaut, weighing in at just under a hundred pages – and while fans would wish for three times as much, it’s certainly much better than nothing.

In a poker game in his native Texas, twenty-four year old Lee Scoresby has just won his very own hot air balloon and half an instruction manual. His first voyage takes him across the world to the Arctic waters where he lands at Novy Odense. Looking for a place to stay and a way to make some money, Scoresby is immediately embroiled in the complex politics of the town. Mayoral candidate Ivan Poliakov hopes to take care of the “bear problem,” supported by the shady Larsen Manganese group. Taking no one’s side, but not wanting the town to be exploited, Lee soon befriends a polar bear by the name of Iorek Byrnison – whom he mistakenly calls York – and finds himself in a fierce gun battle involving a hired killer with a familiar face on the other side.

Once Upon a Time in the North is a great adventure tale with – at first glance – an entertaining and straightforward story. But in Pullman’s usual style, there is a deeper and more complex subplot that is not fully explained or resolved here. So fans can hope that there is more to tell in the world of His Dark Materials. And if that were not enough, Pullman also created a special board game for the book, which is included as an insert to the inside back cover.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on April 11th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.