Author Archives: Jack L.

May 8, 2013

Artemis Fowl Graphic Novel Review

Posted by at 12:59 am in Reads | Permalink

Artemis_fowl_graphicnovel_130 Artemis Fowl Graphic Novel Review

A couple days after reading and reviewing Artemis Fowl, I was walking through the book store
when I saw a graphic novel version of that same book. “Preposterous!” I thought (with a British accent). “Downright farcical.The cheek! To turn Artemis Fowl into a comic. . . well!” OK, I didn’t think that at all; that was pretty much my Artemis Fowl impression. Terrible, I know.

As it happens, I’m actually a big fan of graphic novels. Artemis Fowl is a very
visual book, with lots of descriptions of the fairy world, Artemis’s enormous manor, and crazy fairy inventions tearing Artemis’s manor apart, so I couldn’t resist the urge to pick up the comic and see that world come to life.

I’m not sure if the graphic novel version quite lives up to the (admittedly high) standard of the book, but pretty much everything is there – all the characters, all the plot points, all the sweet action and gadgets and magic and mayhem. I had small quibbles with the way some characters were drawn, but that’s inevitable, I suppose. Personally, I pictured Foaly and Mulch much more like traditional Centaurs and Dwarves, and Artemis kind of like Malfoy from the Harry Potter movies . . . but again, that’s personal taste, and I shouldn’t complain about the art. In general, it was colorful, vibrant, creative, and well-executed.

— Jack, STACKS Writer

September 21, 2010

Trivia Answers: Artemis Fowl

Posted by at 5:48 am in Reads, Trivia | Permalink

Ink Splot 26

Heya guys! How did your decoding attempts go? Let’s see. . .

A-ha, yeeeesss. . . Artemis would be impressed.

How do fairies evade human eyes? (In other words, how do their “shields” work?) They vibrate too fast for human eyes to see.

What is a troll’s main weakness? Bright light.

What is a troll’s second weakness? A spot at the base of its skull.

What is the untranslatable fairy curse? “D’arvit!”

How does Mulch escape? He fakes a cave-in by killing a rabbit and putting the iris-cam on its eye.

What does the line of hieroglyphics that stretches across the bottom of each page say? (NO GOOGLING. No fun if you Google.) Very long, but here we go. . .

The prophecies of Ohm Phlegm Pot Cleaner to Frond Elven King. I am Ohm Phlegm Pot, Cleaner to the King. But I am much more than that for I see the future written in the phlegm. For centuries we pixies have read the phlegm but I am the best there has ever been. My visions are generally of little importance. I foretell outbreaks of troll pox or gas spasms among elderly dwarfs. But sometimes even a poor pot cleaner can see wondrous things. A vision came to me two moons ago when I was gazing deep into His Majesty’s own phlegm pot. I was heating the pot over a flame when the sign appeared. This vision was more vivid and detailed than any I had previously seen. Because of its importance I decided to write it down for posterity. And so I can say I told you so. I saw an age when the People have been driven underground by the Mud Men. This is what the phlegm told me. In this time one shall come among us. Fowl by name and foul by nature. A Mud Man unlike any other. He shall learn our secrets and use them against us. I see him now as plain as day. His face is pale, he has dark eyes and raven hair. Yet it must be a mistake for he seems a mere youth. Surely no Mud Boy could outwit the People. But now I see that the boy is not alone. He is aided by a formidable warrior scarred from a thousand battles. This Fowl shall hold the People to ransom for their most precious possession. Gold. And in spite of all our magic there is a chance that he will prevail. For he has discovered how to escape the Time Field. Unfortunately how the story ends, I cannot say. But there was more to see. There is another story to come. Someone will bring the People and Mud Men together. The worst of both races. This fairy’s goal is to grind all the creatures of the Earth beneath his boot. And who is this traitor? It is not clear. But he shall start a war unlike anything the People have ever seen. Those who were enemies shall be united against him. And for the first time there will be Mud Men below ground. I have one clue to his identity a riddle. Goblins shall rise and Haven shall fall; a villainous elf is behind it all. To find the one who so disappoints look ye to where the finger points. Instead of one face this elf has two. Both speak false and none speak true. While publicly he lends a helping hand his true aim is to seize command. I know. It’s not very plain is it? I don’t understand it either. But perhaps in the future all will become clear. Look for a power hungry elf who has a finger pointed at him during our tale. And so this is Ohm’s legacy. A warning that may save the World from total destruction. There’s not much to work with I know. The details are a bit sketchy. My advice to you is to consult the phlegm. It may be that you are sensitive. I have buried this prophecy with my phlegm pot. If you are not fortunate enough to work as a pot cleaner then there is usually a supply of phlegm every time you have a cold. Here endeth the first prophecies of Ohm. But because of the importance of my visions I shall repeat the prophecies once more.

Phew! That does it. Congrats again, Splotters!

— Jack, STACKS Staffer

June 30, 2010

Matthew Skelton: Story of Cirrus Flux

Posted by at 8:20 am in Authors, Reads | Permalink

Cirrus_flux_130 While reading Matthew Skelton's The Story of Cirrus Flux, I was struck by a funny thought – it's a good thing that there's only one James Patterson, isn't it? I mean, I love the Maximum Ride series as much as the next guy, but all of those books are so. . . what's the word. . . hyper. It's one big set piece or chase scene after another. You never get a chance to catch your breath.

Sometimes you want a book that's a little slower, one that takes its time and doesn't rush the set-up. As Alfred Hitchcock once said, "There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it." But you don't want it to get too slow. It should still have action, fun characters, and a big climax at the end as a payoff for all that buildup. If you're in that kind of mood, The Story of Cirrus Flux is for you. Because as fun as James Patterson is, sometimes you want a filet mignon instead of popcorn.

Set in 18th-century London, in the same kind of historical-magical-realism world that Philip Pullman brought to life in The Golden Compass, Cirrus Flux follows the main character, a young orphan named Cirrus, on a quest to keep a piece of powerful magic out of the hands of some greedy, creepy ne'er-do-wells. I can't honestly say that the story takes a twist or a turn that you haven't seen before, but I can assure you that you'll love the vibrant, familiar-but-exotic setting, the quick-witted characters, and the thoughtful writing. The scene where Cirrus first encounters a hot air balloon powered by a flaming bird, and struggles to describe what he's seeing – as though you or I were trying to describe a UFO – is worth the price of admission alone, and a testament to what a pleasure it is to read Matthew Skelton's writing. This is an old-school adventure of the highest caliber.

As luck would have it, I got to actually ask the author himself some of my burning questions!

Cirrus_flux Q: Where did you get the ideas for Cirrus Flux?

Matthew Skelton:
Cirrus Flux started in an unlikely place: a book on clouds. I discovered that the weather changed abruptly during the summer of 1783. All across Europe, the sun was barely visible and the moon, at night, shone blood red. This lasted for several months. No one could explain what was happening and some people feared that the end of the world was coming. I was hooked. My imagination took off…

Q: Which one of your characters is your favorite?

Matthew Skelton:
I admire Pandora the most, because she’s gutsy, generous, and kind-hearted. She’s also the real hero of the book. I’m more like Cirrus myself (somewhat timid and cautious). If I had a choice, though, I’d like to meet Mr Hardy and Alerion – and travel with them to the other side of the world.

Q: Is any part of the book based on real people or facts, or is the story all completely imagined?
Matthew Skelton:
Most of the gruesome parts of the book are based on fact. There really was a man like Mr Leechcraft, for example, who conducted experiments on children. The 'Hanging Boy' performance follows his instructions quite closely. Even Mr Sidereal’s chair is modeled on one used by the showman 'Merlin' during the eighteenth century. The eighteenth century was a difficult time to be a child. Infants were frequently abandoned at the Foundling Hospital because their parents were too poor to be able to care for them. Like Cirrus's father, they left heartbreaking tokens with their babies so that they might not be forgotten. So there is a lot of fact mixed up with the imaginary.

Q: Can you describe your research and writing process?

Matthew Skelton:
I spend most of my time with my head in the clouds. I'm a professional daydreamer. I keep asking myself, "What if? What if? What if…?" That's the fun part. Getting words down on paper is much more difficult. I'm never satisfied with what I do and I'm constantly fighting the temptation to rip up everything and start again.

SkybreakerQ: Do you have any tips for young writers?

Matthew Skelton:
Don't rip up everything and throw it away. The best things often happen by accident: such as Bottle Top's name and Pandora's use of the word 'moon-sail'. You never know what will happen next.

 Q: What was the last kids' book you really enjoyed?

Matthew Skelton:
The last book that really had me gasping and
laughing and waving my hands around in joy was Kenneth Oppel's
Skybreaker – the most fun I've had as a reader since I was twelve

OK, I'll have to check Skybreaker out! Have you read that one or The Story of Cirrus Flux? Let me know what you think!

— Jack, STACKS Staffer

April 21, 2010

Peter and the Starcatchers Book #4

Posted by at 8:28 am in Reads | Permalink

Peterandthestarcatchers_4 A distant island with magical properties. . .a mysterious, dangerous group of shadowy figures, called The Others. . .a story that spans space and time. . .no, I'm not talking about Lost, I'm talking about the new Peter and the Starcatchers book! Sheesh. . .

In case you're new to P&SC, like I was, it's a four-book series that serves as a prequel to the Peter Pan stories we all know from the Disney movie and Hook. Like the other three, Peter and the Sword of Mercy was co-authored by Ridley Pearson, by day a detective novelist, and Dave Barry, a hilarious writer I used to read all the time when I was 11 (no kidding). It's a good combination maybe Ridley handles some of the darker, scarier parts, of which there are plenty, and Dave takes care of the funny stuff, of which there's also a good amount.

The book opens way back in the 9th century with the creation of the "Sword of Mercy," which is a real thing
it's a partially broken sword, traditionally used in English coronation ceremonies. The tip is missing, supposedly from when an angel intervened to prevent Ogier the Dane from killing Charlemagne. In P&SM, the tip of the sword is the key to a huge cache of starstuff, the magical dust that allows Peter to fly, stay young, etc. Some bad guys are after it so they can steal the starstuff and do. . . bad things, I guess. I'm a big fan of these 39 Clues kinds of historical mysteries, so right off the bat I liked the book.

As always, I won't give away any more plot details, but the book is a real page-turner, and even at 500+ pages and 84 (!) chapters you won't need very long to finish it off. There's tons of adventure, laughs, chases, traps, fights, escapes. . . everything you'd ask for from a book. Check it out and let me know what you think in the Comments!

Jack, STACKS Writer

March 24, 2010

Alex Rider Book #8: Crocodile Tears

Posted by at 8:35 am in Reads | Permalink

Anthony-horowitz-crocodile-tearsPhew! I just finished Anthony Horowitz's Crocodile Tears, book 8 in the Alex Rider series, and I kinda feel like I need a minute to catch my breath. One of my favorite things in the world is a book that you literally just can't put down, no matter how inconvenient that might be. . . and after spending a couple days trying, only partially successfully, to navigate life with my head buried in Crocodile Tears, I can say with confidence that it fits that description to a T. (You try making and eating breakfast with one hand, without taking your eyes of the pages of a book! Try getting out your wallet, pulling out your subway card, and getting on a crowded train. Not easy.)

 Alex Rider has been around for a while, and it's a wildly popular series — #1 New York Times bestseller, big movie a few years ago — so I'll just give a quick recap of the premise. Alex is a 14 year-old British kid who comes from a family of spies. MI6, the British version of the CIA, recruits him for various James Bond-y missions around the world. Things blow up, Alex narrowly escapes horribly dangerous situations, a bad guy gets what's coming to him. It's nothing you haven't seen or read before, and Crocodile Tears is guilty of ripping off a bunch of spy novels for its plot, which involves a phony charity and the dangers of toying with genetic engineering. But really, who cares if it's all a little derivative? When you pick up an Alex Rider book, you want to get caught up in a dense and fast paced thriller; you want to read about sweet gadgets; you want to ride through a bunch of tense, action-packed chase scenes. Crocodile Tears delivers the goods. I don't know how Anthony Horowitz comes up with all these awesome set pieces (the first big one, involving a car and a lake, is absolutely terrifying), but you almost start to feel bad for Alex after all the scrapes his author puts him through.

Of course, the payoff is explosive (literally) and very satisfying. If you've got a couple days during which walking around only partially aware of your surroundings won't be a big issue, I highly recommend that you pick up Crocodile Tears. But be warned, once you start it, you won't want to put it down!

Have you read it? If so, what did you bump into? Let me know in the comments! If you like this author, you should also check out his other series The Gatekeepers.

Jack, STACKS Writer

February 24, 2010

The Mysterious Benedict Society Book #3

Posted by at 8:33 am in Reads | Permalink

Mysterious-bus_130 One of the cardinal rules of reviewing a book – or an album, or a film, or whatever – is that you’re supposed read it (or listen to it or watch it) for the first time with a completely open mind. You have to try to forget all your preconceived notions and read the book without any bias one way or the other.

This was my first experience with Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society series, but I can easily see why it is so popular. Well, I think it’s important for me to say, right off the bat, that I did not read The Prisoner’s Dilemma with an open mind. Why? Because of the title. Any book that references the actual Prisoner’s Dilemma – a classic thought problem from a very specialized branch of math called game theory – gets brownie points with me. (I literally judged this book by its cover, in other words.) The opening scene of the book has the four main characters (Sticky, a nervous genius with a photographic memory; Reynie, a boy given to brilliant flashes of insight but otherwise completely average; Kate, a freakishly fast and agile daredevil; and Constance, a telepathic four year-old who looks like a human fire hydrant) wrestling with that very same dilemma, and finding a new and slightly unorthodox solution that I won’t spoil for you.

Mysterious-bus In any case, I was inclined to like this book, and I’m happy to say that it lived up to my completely irrational and unrealistically high expectations. It’s filled with a large but manageable cast of quirky, lively characters; it’s written in a pleasingly erudite style, and is GREAT for vocabulary geeks like myself. Plus it’s got a really engaging plot that I was able to enjoy even though I haven’t read the first two books in the series. I won’t give too much away, but the members of the MBS are forced to use their unique talents to thwart a dastardly scheme. (If there’s one gripe I have with the MBS series as a whole, it’s that it seems pretty beholden to a classic kidlit trope: the gang of misifts, each with some special ability. The Maximum Ride series is the same way. Small gripe though.) It’s also a fairly long book, and will keep you occupied for a good week or so – always a plus, as far as I’m concerned.

I’m happy to report that I can heartily recommend The Prisoner’s Dilemma, especially if you like your writing a little more intellectual and your action a little more cerebral. Enjoy, Splotters!

Jack, STACKS Writer

January 20, 2010

Book Review: MAX (Maximum Ride #5)

Posted by at 12:24 pm in Reads | Permalink

MaxThe "About the Author" section at the end of MAX (for ages 12 and up) mentions that James Patterson has sold over 160 million books worldwide. So in other words, he's basically sold 2 books for every person in Germany. That's pretty ridiculous.(Read more about Patterson in this interview by the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.)

But by page 14 of MAX it's obvious why he's so popular: James Patterson is a really fun writer. See, the flock — that's Max (the narrator), plus 5 other kids and a talking dog, all of whom have wings and can fly (just go with me on this) — are doing this air show, when all of a sudden the dog gets shot. Max grabs the dog, who's named Total (like Toto), and begins inspecting him for wounds. And the entire time, Total is doing this hilarious "woe is me" speech: "I don't have many regrets. . . True, I thought about a career in the theater, once our adventures waned. I know it's just a crazy dream, but I always hoped for just one chance to play the Dane before I died." Ha! See, "the Dane" refers to Hamlet, which is widely accepted as one of the greatest roles ever written, but a Dane is also a kind of dog! Get it? (It turns out Total is completely OK and was drastically overreacting.)

OK, so maybe I'm kinda breaking my long-standing rules about 1) not giving away plot stuff and 2) not explaining jokes, which is the most surefire way to rob any joke of all of its funny. But in this case, I'm not so worried. And that's because MAX is filled with dozens of hilarious little jokes and references like that; Mr. Patterson drops one, gives you about 2 seconds to get it, and then jumps to the next one. Spoiling one for you isn't the end of the world. The other thing that helps assuage my guilt is that the plot of MAX is by far one of the most ridiculous things I've ever read in my entire life, and it's very clear from the outset that Mr. Patterson knows it. He barely seems to care about the plot, to be honest. I'm guessing that for him, this ludicrous story is just an excuse to write fun dialogue for these characters and narrate a book in Max's wry, witty, self-deprecating voice.

The title of the book is apt, because Max really is the star here. She's the leader of the flock, so she's the main character; but more important, the reader sees everything that happens in the book through her eyes. And as a traditional narrator, Max is terrible. She keeps going off on these asides and rants about things that tick her off, and half the time it seems like she almost forgets that she's supposed to be telling a story. But Mr. Patterson does a phenomenal job of making Max funny, believable, and likable, so her shortcomings as a storyteller just end up making the whole book funnier and livelier. (There's a brief chapter where the narration shifts from Max's point of view to a generic third-person POV, and it's the most boring chapter in the book by far.)

Now I should probably give at least some sort of overview of the plot, so here it is: Max and the flock have to defeat some bad guys. And I should probably talk about the book's healthy doses of romance, fast-paced action, and pro-environmentalism. . . but honestly, none of that stuff really made much of an impression on me. Not that it was poorly done — far from it. It's just that I had so much fun listening to Max go off on her snarky rants that the rest of the book seemed pretty bland in comparison. I highly, highly recommend that you pick this book up and enjoy a solid 300 pages inside Max's neurotic, sarcastic, hilarious world.

What do you think, guys? The Maximum Ride series – thumbs up or thumbs down? Let me know in the comments!

Jack, STACKS Writer

December 16, 2009

Diary of a Wimpy Kid #4: Dog Days

Diaryofawimpykid_4_130 Hey, Splotters! Been a while since my last post. . . didja miss me?

If any of you read my review of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid, you know I loved it. I thought it was hilarious. I’ve been keeping up with the series since then, and it hasn’t missed a beat so far. When my copy of #4 in the series – Dog Days - arrived in the mail, I was excited (and a little nervous) wondering how long can Mr. Kinney keep his hot streak going?

Here’s how I test how funny a book is: I take it onto the subway (or any public place where it would be weird to start laughing by yourself – people give you the evil eye like you wouldn’t believe). If I’m reading a book, and it can make me laugh despite knowing that everyone in the subway car is going to think I’m weird, then I know it’s funny. Dog Days passed that test about 30 seconds after I sat down. (I then had to endure 30 minutes of glares. Oh well.) It follows the same format as before: Greg Heffley, a ridiculously un-self-aware 8th-grader, narrates his life through a series of written and illustrated journal entries. This time, he covers his summer vacation, which he calls a “three-month guilt trip” because he likes to stay inside all day and play video games while everyone else is running around outside. (Hey, sounds like a perfectly good summer to me. . .) His parents aren’t huge fans of the idea, to no one’s surprise, and shenanigans ensue as Greg blunders and cringes through three months of enforced fun. It starts with Greg and his buddy Rowley running up a huge tab at the country club and gets better from there.

I’m going to follow my policy of not ruining any of the jokes for you, but some of the highlights include: Fregley; Li’l Cutie; “Hello, You’re Dead;” Champions Swim Meet; “Get a load a this!” Dog Days has my wholehearted recommendation. If you liked any of the previous entries in the series, you’ll love it. If you’ve never read any of those entries, you’ll love it. Heck, you’ll love it no matter what! Just. . . don’t read it on a subway.

Have you read Dog Days? How do you think it stacks up to the other Wimpy Kid books? Let me know in the comments!

Jack, STACKS Writer

BONUS WRITING PROMPT: In the book Frindle, Nick invents a new word for pen, and starts calling it a “frindle.” What everyday item would you rename, and what would you call it? Leave your answer in the Comments.


October 5, 2009

Writing Prompt: Almost. . .

Posted by at 8:12 am in Writing Prompt | Permalink

Writingprompt_almostI really like the question “What if?” I’ve always found it a
lot of fun to imagine what would have happened if one little thing had changed.
What if the plot to kill Hitler had worked? (World War II would have ended much
earlier. America would not have dropped the atomic bomb on Japan. There would
have been no Cold War.) What if the first photon torpedo had destroyed the
Death Star? (Luke never would have become a Jedi Knight, and the Rebellion
would ultimately have lost.) What if Transformers had not been made into a movie?
(My life would be terrible.)

Well, with that in mind, I’d like to propose a game. Take
the title of a book, then delete, move and/or change one letter, and give me the new plot. Example:

The Hanger Games

24 children are chosen to enter an arena
where they must duel each other with wooden coat hangers.

Hurry Potter
Harry Potter has to run really fast all the
time for no reason.

Bella moves to Forks, WA where she encounters a
group of sinister but really good-looking tie salespeople.

Give me your best/most ridiculous book titles and plots!

— Jack, STACKS Staffer