Book Reviews

The Milkman, by Ian Healy.

Caveat: I consider the author a buddy of mine. If I don't write a positive an honest review, I won't be able to live with myself...

As I was snorting and rolling my eyes throughout this book, it struck me that it's a lighter version of my own alien book in the works. One, Milkman's funnier; two, you could throw it at the author without denting his skull. My book digs into the depths of the human spirit; this book focuses on other, um, ass-pects of the human condition.

Irreverent and fast, this is the book dozens of wanna-be writers sat down with their friends at a bar and said, "Let's write a book explaining why aliens abduct cows, and why they anal probe everybody." And then they laughed like Beavis and Butthead.* But when they sat down to write it...they discovered comedy was just too hard.

But Ian pulls it off. As long as you have a very broad sense of humor, it'll do you just fine. I'm looking forward to more of his stuff. I want to see him give himself more than the 50K from NaNoWriMo, which is were he drafted Milkman, and give himself room to breathe. If there's any real flaw with Milkman, it's that every word has to be funny, and humor often needs a little room to stretch out, like a dog on its back, airing out its crotch and waiting for its belly to be scratched. Gimme more book!

Neil Gaiman Audio Collection.

A collection of short kids' stories, read by the author. (My favorite is "The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish.") An interview with the author, led by his daughter Maddy, is worth the price of admission.

Eglantine: Allie's Ghost Hunters, Case #1, by Catherine Jinks.

(By the author of Evil Genius.)

The story of a girl whose brother's room is haunted by a Victorian-era ghost named Eglantine. Will they put Eglantine's soul to rest? Did the psychic steal mum's jewelry? Will Allie ever be able to get her brother out of her room?

The secret heart of the story is "Girls, don't let your sensitive, creative nature be so stifled that you end up with anorexia or some other mental disorder," which the author manages to pull off without being preachy. I liked it, even though the plot threw me off a few times; I was expecting the narrator to be the mover and shaker of the book -- not just the observer and tilter of doofuses toward common sense. Written with a Jane-Austin sense of character, too -- loving the ridiculous, fearlessly poking fun, even at yourself.

Good audio performance by Melissa Chambers, although I had to spend a few seconds sorting through her Oz accent.

Seventh Tower: The Fall, by Garth Nix.

Garth Nix is a great worldmaker. Someday, I'll try to sit down and figure out what it is that he's doing so well, but not today.

Tal's world is one of darkness, lit only by Sunstones. After his father disappears, with the family's main Sunstone in tow, Tal tries to gain a new one to restore his family's fortunes. Nothing works -- so Tal ends up trying to steal a Sunstone from the top of one of the towers, above the cloudline, in sight of the sun itself. He falls, mysteriously blown into a completely different culture on the same world, almost as if he were in another world altogether. Both worlds? Interesting and believable. And the transitions between the two aren't confusing.

This is some of Garth Nix's earlier writing. The improved prose you see in the Keys to the Kingdom series hasn't developed yet, but you still find yourself immersed in the world and caring what happens to the characters. Plan to keep reading the series.

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, by Tamora Pierce.

Tamora Pierce's early works are quartets. I think I saw somewhere the reason she wrote like that was publishers didn't believe longer books for kids; each quartet was actually a single novel that had to be cut in pieces.

This book is Book 3 of the Song of the Lioness quartet, and it shows. The first two thirds of the book contain the plot; the last third is just setting up for the last book.

Ray and I listened to the audio version on the way to South Dakota last week; after a while, Ray had to stop listening, because she was too worried about the main character. She's only done that one other time, with a Goosebumps video. Normally, she doesn't care enough about the characters to worry about bad things happening to them -- or not enough that she has put stuff down -- but here, she did.

I have to note having Alanna as a knight is pretty believable. The author's constantly pointing out that Alanna's smaller and lighter than her opponents, and has Alanna work through her disadvantages over and over again. You never get to take for granted that things will work out the way Alanna plans. Alanna has a lot of cool toys that give her advantages, but that's believable, too -- she's favored of the Mother Goddess, and boy, will there be a price to pay for her gifts.

I have a soft spot for stories with stubborn characters. I like stubborn characters. I am a stubborn character.

*I also do this, on occaision. I'm more of a Butthead laugher, personally.