Resurrection Men

Resurrection MenT.K. Welsh’s last book, The Unresolved, was one of my favorites of 2006, and Resurrection Men doesn’t disappoint. In the 1830’s, an Italian boy witnesses his parents being murdered, and is then sold as a cabin boy on a ship. A bad fall from the rigging means he’s no longer useful so he’s thrown overboard. Miraculously, he makes it to shore and is found by an old man who nurses him back to health, only to sell him to a couple of “resurrection men” whose job is to procure corpses for doctors to autopsy. He makes his way to London, where he plunges into the worst of the underbelly of society — beggars, prostitutes, thieves and murderers. After many trials and tribulations, the boy’s decency and courage help him rise above the life he’s been forced to live.
Of course, the inevitable comparison to Dickens’ Oliver Twist comes to mind, but Resurrection Men is far more than that. Welsh makes the horrific living conditions, especially those for children, come alive here. Welsh doesn’t rely on innuendo, but lays it all out, from the dens of beggar children to the trade in child prostitution, so the reader comes to know that living in London in the 1830’s was anything but idyllic. Reading this, I was reminded of a book I read years ago called The Anti-Society by Kellow Chesney which described the lives of the poor during the reign of Queen Victoria. Most history books recount the glorious reign of the Queen and ignore the harsh reality lived by her poorest subjects. Welsh succeeds to bringing that reality to vivid life. If you want to read more on this topic, adults can try The Great Stink by Clare Clark or Victorian London by Liza Picard, while younger readers will enjoy The Whispering Road by Livi Michael.

Harry Potter 7


I haven’t finished the whole book, but I did, like Adrienne, read the end first. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t finished yet, but may I just say…

Rock on, Mrs. Weasley, rock on!

Updated 7/30/07

I finished the book this weekend and I have to say it was simply magnificent. I honestly can’t remember the last time I went back and re-read parts of a book just because they were so incredible. The Battle of Hogwarts got me as choked up and emotional as the Battle of Helms Deep in Lord of the Rings. The cohesiveness of the story, from The Sorcerer’s Stone to The Deathly Hallows, is really amazing. What I kept thinking as I read was that Rowling has succeeded in taking the bones of folktales, adding flesh and blood, and telling an epic tale. The theme of choices and their consequences runs through all seven books like a red thread, culminating with Harry’s final and most important choice — to live for himself or die for others. Christian mythologists should have some fun with this one.

I know there are people out there with quibbles, and I had a few of my own, but so what? As pompous as this sounds, I believe we have witnessed the creation of a masterpiece of children’s literature.

The Big Read Comes to Rochester

A few years ago, the NEA did a survey on the reading habits of Americans, which concluded that literary reading has declined rapidly in the past few decades. In response to that survey, the NEA developed the Big Read grants program which provides funding and programming materials for communities that will implement a regional reading program using selected titles.

Rochester and Monroe County are the recipients of two of these grants. The first, driven by Writers & Books, is scheduled for October-November 2007 and will feature The Maltese Falcon. The second, driven by the Monroe County Library System, is scheduled for the Spring of 2008 and will feature Fahrenheit 451.

I’m very excited about these two events because they both will provide an opportunity for those of us who love to read to share our passion. I will be facilitating some book discussions for The Maltese Falcon at the Central Library, and will be directing the Fahrenheit 451 event, so I hope my readers in Rochester will join in.

The Hound of Rowan


Hound of rowanI wrote a few weeks ago about The Next Harry Potter and whined a little about wanting to read a book that made me feel the way I felt the first time I read HP & the Sorcerer’s Stone. While Henry Neff’s Hound of Rowan isn’t exactly that, it sure comes close.

During an annual museum trip with his Dad, Max McDaniels discovers he has potential. But his “potential” is not your normal everyday kid potential. Nope. Max’s potential is magical, and a chance encounter with a golden threaded tapestry in the museum opens up a whole new world for the boy. Max eventually ends up at Rowan, an exclusive school for other Potentials, but not after being attacked by an odd little woman with hard, sparkly eyes. Once at school, Max discovers a number of pronounced talents — he can Amplify like nobody’s business (picture Superman’s quick trip around the Earth to turn back time when Lois dies on that highway in Superman: the Movie) and bears an odd similarity to Cuchulain, the Hound of Ulster from Irish mythology. As expected, a darkness is rising, and Max and his roommate David appear to be the duo that will save the world. Despite their efforts, however, the Darkness (in this case, Astaroth) does rise again, opening the door for more adventures.

The Hound of Rowan is awash in mythology, both modern and ancient, and Neff pays tribute to Those Who Have Gone Before. There are plenty of similarities to Harry Potter — the impetuous boy destined to save the world, the magic school, odd creatures, the village sweet shop — but there is a welcome and refreshing blending of imagery from other sources as varied as The Dark is Rising, Half Magic, The Mabinogion, Star Trek, Tron, and even Bedknobs and Broomsticks! I was particularly taken with the “Courses” students are required to master that use a concept similar to Star Trek: the next generation holodeck mashed up with the psychedelic bing-bing of Tron. The courses run “scenarios” that teach the students things like strategy and agility. And of course, the obligatory school sports game — not Quidditch but Euclidean Soccer — played remarkably like the soccer game on the Island of Naboomboo in Bedknobs & Broomsticks.

The copy I read was an advanced reading copy, and as expected there were a few things that needed to be fixed. I hope the final version provides a better characterization of David, Max’s roommate, as well as the backstory for Ronin (think Sirius Black). On the whole, however, Hound of Rowan is a total and complete romp, well worth your time, and highly recommended for grades 4 and up.

The Titan’s Curse

Titan’s CurseI’ve been a Percy Jackson fan since reading the first chapter of The Lightning Thief last summer, and Rick Riordan doesn’t disappoint with his latest. For those of you not familiar with Riordan’s series, Perseus “Percy” Jackson is a Son of Poseidon, a “hero” among men, who discovered his heritage in The Lightning Thief. In that story, its sequel Sea of Monsters, and now The Titan’s Curse, the gods of Olympus are alive and well, and living above Manhattan. Percy and other half bloods gather each summer at Camp Half Blood, where they learn how to be heroes. In The Lightning Thief, we discovered a traitor among the campers, Luke, whose mission in life is to restore the Titans to power. Remember your Greek mythology now — the Titans gave birth to the gods, who then destroyed their parents and claimed power over all the world. But Titans cannot die, they can only be rent into tiny shreds, which apparently can be out back together. And if the granddaddy of all titans gets put back together, it will be Really, Really Bad.

In Titan’s Curse, Percy heads off on a quest to rescue pal Annabeth, Daughter of Athena, who disappears during a mission in which we meet Artemis and her hunters. After regrouping at Camp Half Blood, Percy sneaks off on a quest to save Artemis and Annabeth with two of the hunters, satyr Grover, and Thalia, Daughter of Zeus. Monsters galore pursue them, from the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum to Hoover Dam to San Francisco, where they eventually find Annabeth and Artemis, who has been tricked into holding up the world for the titan Atlas. As expected, our heroes triumph and the world is saved once more.

As I wrote about the first two in this series, there are remarkable similarities to Harry Potter, but despite that this is one rip-roaring good story. The monsters and creatures are fabulous — the winged statues from Hoover Dam that break free and transport the heroes to San Francisco made me envision two big Oscars flying through the sky — and the characterizations of the gods are wonderful — who could resist an Apollo who spouts bad haiku and talks like a Surfer Dude? I pictured Jeff Spicoli every time. Riordan does a masterful job blending Greek mythology with the 21st century, and has created a core of entertaining characters who should keep the world safe for years to come. Highly recommended for grades 5 and up.