The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
Signet, 10th printing, 1988
Genre: Dark fantasy
Once upon a time–there was terror. And dragons and princes … evil wizards and dark dungeons … an enchanted castle and a terrible secret. With this enthralling masterpiece of magical evil and daring adventure, Stephen King takes you in his icy grip and leads you into the most shivery and irresistible kingdom of wickedness … THE EYES OF THE DRAGON.
Book Report: When I was in fourth grade and bored because everyone in my class was reading Island of the Blue Dolphins (god, how last year!) and nothing is duller than following along as people very slowly read something you’ve already read and enjoyed on your own, my mother handed me a copy of Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon, thus beginning a lifelong relationship. Now, many people who aren’t familiar with this particular novel might think it a bit much to hand a Stephen King novel off to a nine-year old (especially one who suffered from an intense fear of the dark and of closets), but TEotD is more a bedtime story than an experiment in terror like most of King’s other works. And it’s the one I most recommend to people who aren’t horror readers, but who do enjoy fantasy. Like I said, it’s more a bedtime story, albeit one of dark fantasy, a real fairy tale, more akin to The Princess Bride than to The Shining. Read the rest of this entry »
The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian: The Original Adventures of the Greatest Sword-and-Sorcery Hero of All Time! by Robert E. Howard
illustrated by Mark Schultz
materials originally published 1932-1976
DelRey, 1st edition, 2005
Genre: Fantasy, sword & sandals, short stories, adventure!
Jacket copy: “Between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities . . . there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars. . . . Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand . . . to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.”
Conan is one of the greatest fictional heroes ever created–a swordsman who cuts a swath across the lands of the Hyborian Age, facing powerful sorcerers, deadly creatures, and ruthless armies of thieves and reavers.
In a meteoric career that spanned a mere twelve years before his tragic suicide, Robert E. Howard single-handedly invented the genre that came to be called sword and sorcery. Collected in this volume, profusely illustrated by artist Mark Schultz, are Howard’s first thirteen Conan stories, appearing in their original versions–in some cases for the first time in more than seventy years–and in the order Howard wrote them. Along with classics of dark fantasy like “The Tower of the Elephant” and swashbuckling adventure like “Queen of the Black Coast,” The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian contains a wealth of material never before published in the United States, including the first submitted draft of Conan’s debut, “Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard’s synopses for “The Scarlet Citadel” and “Black Colossus,” and a map of Conan’s world drawn by the author himself.
Here are timeless tales featuring Conan the raw and dangerous youth, Conan the daring thief, Conan the swashbuckling pirate, and Conan the commander of armies. Here, too, is an unparalleled glimpse into the mind of a genius whose bold storytelling style has been imitated by many, yet equaled by none.
Book report: So, I dig Conan. I totally dig Conan, from the stories to the movies. (Basil Poledouris’ score for Conan the Barbarian is one of the greatest film scores of ALL TIME. I listen to it constantly. We played the “Anvil of Crom” at our wedding, in fact. That is how much I love Conan. And how much of a huge dork I am.) I love the idea of Conan, and that exotic, crazy world in which he lives. It’s totally awesome, and I want to go there–but just for a visit. Now, I’ve discussed Conan before, and the treatment REH’s creation suffered at the hands of MONSTERS in the decades following his death, so I probably don’t need to go into that again. Read the rest of this entry »
The Green Flash, and Other Tales of Horror, Suspense, and Fantasy by Joan Aiken
Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1971
Genre: Suspense, horror, fantasy, children’s lit, short stories
Jacket copy: A small self-contained child who dreams reality; the ghost of a love-struck bicycle-riding night watchman; a canary who bears an acute resemblance to the younger sister of Charles II; an old lady, hard of hearing, almost blind, but with a murderous sense of smell–these are just a few of the characters you’ll encounter in this spine-tingling, mind-boggling collection by Joan Aiken.
The impact of the tales is varied and ranges all the way from grisly horror through old-fashioned mystery to comic fantasy. It’s a book to curl up with and enjoy on a dark, rainy night, a book which continues to astound from the first page to the very last.
Book report: So, though it’s been a couple of years since I found out that Joan Aiken had written a whole mess of books in concordance with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (the Wolves Chronicles, they’re sometimes known as)–a shocking discovery for someone who’d read and re-read TWoWC like it was her job–I hadn’t read anything else by her til last winter’s Shivers for Christmas, which included a really excellent little story, “The Ferry.” I not sure why, but I don’t read short stories all that often, though I like them a great deal (especially TALES OF TERROR), but the title of The Green Flash was well-nigh irresistible. I mean, how evocative is that?
It is such an odd little collection of stories, ranging from the, well, grisly to the subtly disquieting, and from pathos to humor. And for the most part, they’re very, very good. I don’t think I disliked any of the stories, but I couldn’t say that I liked them all. Not because they were bad or uninteresting, but because of that lingering sense of disquiet (“Summer by the Sea” has taken me three readings to come to terms with, and it still makes me uncomfortable) they invoke. But that’s a good thing; I’d much rather puzzle over a story and how it made me feel than simply forget it. Read the rest of this entry »
Jane-Emily & Witches’ Children by Patricia Clapp
originally published 1969 and 1982
Harper, 7th printing, 2007
Genre: Horror, suspense, historical fiction
Jacket copy: Emily was a selfish, willful, hateful child who died before her thirteenth birthday. But that was a long time ago.
Jane is nine years old and an orphan when she and her young Aunt Louisa come to spend the summer at Jane’s grandmother’s house, a large, mysterious mansion in Massachusetts. Then one day . . . Jane stares into a reflecting ball in the garden—and the face that looks back at her is not her own.
Many years earlier, a child of rage and malevolence lived in this place. And she never left. Now Emily has dark plans for little Jane—a blood-chilling purpose that Louisa, just a girl herself, must battle with all her heart, soul, and spirit . . . or she will lose her innocent, helpless niece forever.
One of the most adored ghost stories of all time is available again after thirty years—to thrill and chill a new generation!
During the winter of 1692, when the young girls of Salem suddenly find themselves subject to fits of screaming and strange visions, some believe that they have seen the devil and are the victims of witches.
Book report: It’s funny: Though both I’m Deborah Sampson: A Soldier in the War of the Revolution and Witches’ Children were favorites of mine in elementary school, I don’t recall ever happening upon Jane-Emily in the Mililani Library. And don’t doubt me; I read Deborah Sampson (about a girl who dresses as a boy and FIGHTS IN THE REVOLUTION) probably seventy-odd times in second and third grade, and around that time Witches’ Children introduced me to the joys of both historical research and the occult shelf in the Children’s section. Actually, a decade or so later, when I was in The Crucible (Ann Putnam, Sr, whut whut!) and our director was going over historical notes with us, I brought up the cake Tituba makes of rye meal and the girls’ urine (my director–Stephen Clark–was nonplussed at that detail being in a children’s book). Yes, a good ten years later, I still vividly remembered that detail, and it was because the book was THAT good. But yeah, Jane-Emily? Never heard of it, so of course it went on my Shelf Discovery reading list, though there it only merited an Extra Credit mention. If Patricia Clapp wrote it, I was going to read it. Read the rest of this entry »
The Grounding of Group 6 by Julian F. Thompson
originally published 1983
Henry Holt & Co, 1st printing, 1997
Genre: Young adult, horror, black comedy
Synopsis & Review: The five members of Group 6 have little in common but an unfortunate parentage, something of which none of them are aware. Though they believe they’re intended to start a new schoolyear at a new boarding school called Coldbrook Country School, none of the members of Group 6 have any idea what’s in store for them. Coldbrook isn’t just a private school, it’s also a disposal facility, so to speak. For a fee, parents of difficult children—“lemons” in Coldbrook parlance—can have their difficult offspring removed from the face of the planet. They will be murdered and then the bodies disposed of in deep crevasses in the earth, where they’ll be no bother to anyone ever again.
But Group 6 is different. Coke and Sully, and Marigold, Sara, and Ludi—and their leader/TA, Nat– will be the last Group that Coldbrook tries to dispose of. Instead of Nat killing the Group, and then in turn being killed by Coldbrook’s inner circle of staff, Nat will confess to the Group Coldbrook’s and their parents’ intentions. Rather than wait quietly for death, the Group digs in to the remote wilderness beyond the school, camping for the autumn as Coldbrook’s staff frantically search for the missing lemons.
While in hiding, the Group slowly coheres, becoming friends, and in some cases lovers. They learn to work together, and to play to their strengths and improve on their weaknesses. By the time winter approaches, the Group formulates a plan to return to their rightful places, wherever those may be.
If I had been ten when I first read The Grounding of Group 6, or twelve, or even fourteen, then I would have eaten it up. It has all the elements of classic YA of its era: attractive young people (none are fat!) chock full o’ burgeoning sexuality, hateful and/or neglectful parents, a lack of adult supervision, roughing it in the wilderness, psychic powers, and very bizarre circumstances. I should still eat it up with a spoon, but unfortunately, it all falls apart at the end. Read the rest of this entry »
Christine by Stephen King
originally published 1983
Signet, 2nd printing, 1983
Synopsis & Review: If you’ve been even semi-sentient since the early Eighties (1983, to be exact), then you have an idea of what Christine is all about. After all, she’s become part of our vocabulary; when you think “ghost car”—as one so often does—Christine immediately springs to mind.
But for those existing in a cultural literacy vacuum, Christine involves a young man, a senior in high school, and his first love. Arnie Cunningham has one friend in this world, Dennis Guilder; no one else seems to look past his awkwardness or bad complexion, or intense intelligence to see the enormously funny, interesting person he is. So when he falls, he falls hard. And the object of his first affection is a 1958 Plymouth Fury, custom painted Autumn red and white. When we first meet Christine, she is a harridan, wretched and decrepit, rusting away malevolently on Roland LeBay’s front lawn, but Arnie loves her from the start. And it’s a rocky start. Once LeBay is paid, Arnie’s parents flip their collective lids, adamantly refusing to allow him to park Christine on their property, forcing Arnie to shelter her at a local garage, Darnell’s. This puts Arnie into close proximity with not only some local hoodlums, but also with Will Darnell, a man with ties to petty crime. Regardless, Arnie bull-headedly continues with his obsession, restoring Christine to her original splendor.
The school year begins with a bang as Arnie and Dennis incur the wrath of hoodlums, and they both meet Leigh Cabot, a lovely transfer student. To both the boys’ bemusement, Leigh shows an interest in Arnie, making Dennis reconsider his friend, whose complexion has cleared and is walking around with more confidence than ever before. The only fly in the ointment is Leigh’s unreasonable dislike of Christine, one which Dennis shares. The restoration project continues apace, but in an oddly haphazard fashion; Anie’s replaced the windshield, but only half of the grille, and some of the upholstery, and dents are gone with no sign of bodywork, but her tailpipe is still dragging. As far as anyone ever sees, all Arnie seems to do is minor work like lubing her—and sitting in the car listening to oldies on the radio. But when Dennis is laid up in the hospital with two broken legs in a football game, there’s no one around to notice what’s happening. That is, until everyone who crosses Arnie starts dying in gruesome car accidents. While Christine rejuvenates, Arnie changes, beginning to look and act older, crasser, and angrier. A lot like Roland LeBay, in fact, who loved Christine and nothing else. And who was always angry. And vengeful.
Riding in cars with boys/ghosts might be an apropos subtitle for Christine. Of course, it’s less about a girl who rides with boys as it is about the boys themselves, the boys and their friendships. Like many of King’s strongest works, Christine focuses on the young, and he captures their world beautifully. You find him at his descriptive best, with passages that might be clunky, or reliant upon obvious symbols, but damn it, they work, they’re true.
Dennis and Arnie are high school boys, embarking on their senior year at the book’s start, and preparing themselves for entry into the great, wide world beyond the insular, suburban, public school world they’ve known their whole lives. Their friendship is of long standing, from elementary school until now, and it is the destruction of that friendship, the destruction of all relationships, that makes Christine so distressing. We know it is the loss of the friendship and its death that are central to Dennis’ story from the prologue, where he explains Arnie and what he meant to him. Arnie is Dennis’ window out into something different; a BMOC, Dennis plays varsity football and has no trouble getting dates, but he retains his friendship with Arnie because of the magic that Arnie introduces him to, be it ant farms or chess—he makes Dennis a better person. And Dennis does his best to make things easier and better for Arnie, too.
But from the moment Arnie sees Christine, all of his relationships begin unraveling. Read the rest of this entry »