Monthly Archives: September 2008

Tuesday Thingers: Banned Books Week


For this week’s Tuesday Thingers, I’ve copied the list of the most-challenged books of the 1990s straight from the ALA website. I’ve highlighted the ones I’ve read. Highlight what you’ve read, and italicize what you have in your LT library.

1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
2. Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain Continue reading

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Series Challenge: “White Night” by Jim Butcher

The ninth Harry Dresden novel is the series riches and most densely plotted to date–and the first in the series I can’t recommend to someone coming to the series cold.

Not that this is a bad thing.  It’s a great thing for readers of the Dresden Files.  While Jim Butcher does deliver payoffs and resolutions in his previous eight books, here in “White Night” he steps that up a notch, bringing back old friends and enemies to Harry Dresden’s world all while building on several key plotlines from the last several novels as the war between the various supernatural factions begins to reach a boiling point and Harry Dresden is, once again, at the center of it all.

If you’re coming into this cold, you’ll be thorougly confused.  If you’ve read the previous eight books, you’re probably going to eat this up with a spoon, eagerly turning the pages, waiting for the next development to hit. 

Murphy calls Harry in on a case that may or may not have supernatural undercurrents.  Harry discovers a message that only he could find and begins to look into a series of similar deaths.   Finding the same message, hidden in the same way, Harry suspects a serial killer is on the loose in the supernatural community.  The problem: the number one suspect is his half-brother Thomas. 

Harry is convinced Thomas isn’t the killer, but the evidence is pretty damning.  Harry begins to pull at the threads and uncovers someone or something targeting women of a Wiccan order.  They’ve already asked for help from Harry’s first love, Elaine, who is now a private eye in Los Angeles who investigates the supernatural.  

All of this we find in the first hundred or so pages and that’s just when it gets interesting.  Butcher weaves together a complex, fascinating story with Harry firmly at the center, trying to find the pieces of the puzzle and prove the innocence of his half-brother.   In the midst of al this, we learn about the politics of the current battle between the Red Court and the White Council and how Harry fits into a plan to possibly tip the balance.  Along the way, we meet old enemies and have call backs to the first novel in the series.   

About the only thing I found frustrating about this novel is that in the last book, Harry determined a secret group was plotting within the power ranks of the White Council.  And while this development is brought up, we never get any movement toward discovering who or what is behind this and what their agenda is.   I realize that Butcher may be setting up some things for future installments, but a revelation this big seems a bit difficult to only pay lip service to in the story.

But that’s the only detraction I can find in this superb entry in the Dresden series.  Butcher keeps getting better and better, continuing to keep the Dresden Files as one of the must reads on my bookshelf.

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“Bunnicula” by Deborah & James Howe

Growing up, this was one of several novels adapted for television in ABC’s “Weekend Special.” (For those of you who aren’t old enough to recall, this was a half-hour anthology series that adapted popular young adult novels for television in the hopes of getting kids interested in reading. Think “Reading Rainbow” for the tween set.)If you’ve seen the special (here’s some of it from YouTube), you know the special borrowed the basic concept of the story but added some other bits in an attempt to make it more “exciting” for the television viewing audience, including having Bunnicula’s eyes glow when he was in full vampire mode and giving him the ability to fly. Whether or not this is a good thing, I’m not sure, though I can see why the writers or execs felt the need to punch up the story a bit.

Re-reading this now, years later (or more accurately, listening to the superbly read audio adapation of this story), I was struck again by how great, fascinating and intriguing the premise is for the first three quarters of the story, only to be let down by a hasty ending and an almost too neat resolution to the whole thing.

One night at the movies, the Monroe family find a mysterious cardboard box with a rabbit inside. The family brings the rabbit home and decide to adopt him, naming him Bunnicula since Dracula was playing when they found him. The family’s other pets, Harold the dog (the narrator for this story) and Chester the cat, welcome the new addition to the family.

Then, mysterious things begin to happen. Vegetables begin to show up, drained and wait. Bunnicula sleeps all day and is only heard to be moving about at night. All of this sets off Chester’s suspicions that the rabbit is actually some kind of vampire bunny. Chester takes it upon himself to rid the family of the rabbit before Bunnicula moves on from vegetables.

So far, so good, right?

However, it’s in the final chapter or two that things begin to fall apart. Once Chester is caught trying to destroy Bunnicula by the family, things rapidly spiral toward a conclusion. The sense of mystery built up in the early chapters fizzles and the story gives us a rapidly constructed conclusion. I recall being disappointed by it when I read it the first time many years ago and being just as disappointed with it upon reading now

 

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“The Downhill Lie” by Carl Hiassen

Carl Hiassen is a very funny guy. If you don’t believe me, just check out any of his abusrdly funny novels.Turning his eye to the non-fiction realm, Hiassen looks at his taking up the game of golf again after a 32-year break. Hiassen’s look at how the game can grow into an obsession is wonderfully witty, wryly observed and self-deprecating. The great part is that Hiassen doesn’t take himself too seriously, allowing the reader to experience the highs and lows of trying to play the game of golf.


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“The Best Game Ever” by Mark Bowden

The 1958 NFL championship game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts is one of those games that sports legends are built around. Billed as “the best game ever,” it was the moment when a multitude of factors came together to give birth to the most popular sport in the world, the NFL.Unfortunately, footage of the game is lost to the ravages of time.

That only makes Mark Bowden’s account of the game more compelling and extraordinary. Bowden interviews players who played in the game, coaches and staffs as well as looking at the unique series of factors that led to the crossroads in history. Bowden puts you in the action, making you feel like you’re there, watching the game unfold or even playing the game. The story of the strategy, the hopes, the dreams and the game itself will keep you turning the pages. Even if you’re not a football fan, you’ll find something intriguing about this account of events

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Series Challenge: “Proven Guilty” by Jim Butcher

The eighth novel in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files centers around scary things happening at a horror covention–and no, I don’t just mean the con-funk from devotees who don’t bathe for several days.

Harry is pulled into an investigation of strange monsters attacking people around town, all of it centering at the local horror convention. The setting allows Butcher to lovingly poke fun at fan conventions but also to pay homage to them.

Before you know it, Harry’s on the track of greater conspiracies and the situation is a lot more deadly and dangerous than it would at first appear. Or to put it another way–just another day in the life of Harry Dresden.

After the previous installment of the Dresden Files proved a bit of a disappoinment (it felt stretched a bit for a larger page count), Jim Butcher returns to form with the longest Dresden Files novels so far and the most densely packed and plotted. But, as always, he keeps the novel and its allusions accessible to new readers while rewarding long time fans of this superbly done series. Add to it Harry’s growing suspicions about the war between various supernatural forces, some hints about the past and some shocking implications for the future of the series and you’ve got one of the best novels in what I consider to be the best currently running fantasy series on the market today.

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“The Gargoyle” by Andrew Davidson

The unnamed narrator of Andrew Davidson’s debut novel “The Gargoyle” may be beautiful to the world but internally, his life is a mess.  Raised as an orphan by his two meth-addicted cousins and then in foster care, he’s now a adult cinema story whose life is built upon looks and apperances rather than any real depth.  He’s addicted to drugs, drinks too much and all of this leads to him to a horrific car accident in which he is horribly burned over most of his body, even going so far as to burn and render virtually useless his primary source of fame and income.

Miraculously surving the incident, the narrator is put through a brutal hell of surgeries with his only motivation to get well enough to leave the hospital so he can take his own life.  His life is ruined by the accident in more ways than one.  But then, a mysterious woman comes into his life, claiming the two have shared a love that spans history and trasncends time.  At first, the narrator can’t believe something can or would exist or that anyone could love him in his burned state.  But as the story progresses, he learns the true meaning of love from Marianne Engel’s standing over him to her sharing their story from history.

Sure, it sounds like kind of a strange idea and very similar to another book I read recently, “Somewhere in Time” but it all works in this debut novel from Andrew Davidson.  The narrator is dark and cynical to begin the story, but as we see him mellow under the guidance of Marriane and others in his life, we see him go from a shallow man to a human being with inner beauty that shines beyond his physical body.  We see him slowly gain a soul, thus making the ending of the story all the more heartbreaking.

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