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review 2019-10-16 18:27
The Invasion, Animorphs #1 by K.A. Applegate
The Invasion - Katherine Applegate

Katherine Applegate is writing some amazing books for middle grade these days (looking at you 'Wishtree'), but my generation will always fondly remembers her as 'K.A. Applegate' (a loose pseudonym used with her husband Michael Grant). As the author of the Animorphs series Applegate injected a paranoid vision of a secret alien takeover into the brains of future millennials everywhere. This was a phenomenon of the late '90s' almost the equal of 'Goosebumps', even having a TV-series on Nickelodeon. I picked up the whole 54+ book set recently at a flea market and can't wait to dive back in.


Each installment of the series is told in first person by one of the main characters. They can't tell us their last names, if they ever do its a fake, because if their names got out they would be hunted down and killed. Or worse. They could even be kids in your own town or school! Ooooo. It was great stuff.


On the way home from the mall one day Jake joins up with his friend Marco and Tobias, who's stuck around him since being rescued from bullies, as well as his cousin Rachel and her friend Cassie, who Jake has a crush on. Together they take a shortcut home through a permanent construction site. There they witness the crash of a spaceship and encounter an alien, Elfangor, an Andalite, who warns them of the sinister Yeerks. They are slug-like aliens who crawl into people's bodies and possess them by taking over their brains. These Yeerks will soon come down and kill him and destroy all evidence of his ship to keep their existence secret.


Jake is our first pov for the series and sets the tone. He's an athletic kid, big and popular enough to defend himself and others from school bullies. He's disappointed he didn't make the basketball team like his big brother Tom had before moving on to high school. He's probably around 12 or 13, same as his friends. It's important that Applegate makes clear Jake's fear when he faces danger and his reluctance to accept the awful truth of what he and his friends are facing.


The five are asked to take on special powers to enable them to resist the Yeerk invasion and possibly gather evidence so the authorities will believe what's happening. Many humans have been possessed by the Yeerks already and an Andalite army is at least a year away.


They do it, with some reluctance on the part of Marco. The power gives the five kids the ability to transform, or morph, into animals. The rules are they must 'acquire' the DNA of that animal through physical contact, and that they can't stay in a 'morph' for longer than two hours or it becomes permanent. There is much more Elfangor would like to tell them, but there was no time. The kids witness nightmares walking and discover that some people they know well are in fact 'Controllers': possessed by a Yeerk.


For such a short novel a lot of characterization is covered in the form of the five Animorphs - a term coined by Marco by the end of the book - and their relationships with each other. The basic rules of engagement with the Yeerks are established, the real horrors of the situation are made clear, and certain moral gray areas are already being discussed by the group. A few cultural references aside, the book holds up with only a few minor continuity and/or story problems that I don't remember ever being addressed.




Next: 'The Visitor'

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review 2019-10-13 19:05
Medallion Status by John Hodgman
Medallion Status - John Hodgman

John Hodgman, I didn't even want to read this book. I knew I'd like it, but there's so much else out there. Unfortunately you were to hand when I couldn't find the other book I was reading. I couldn't stop.


What did I think? It was brilliant, as always, and while 'Medallion Status' was less internally consistent than 'Vacationland' this offered more laugh-out-loud pleasures.


The book is a series of memories and essays that span over almost a ten year period, as far as I could tell. The common theme is that it was during the years that Hodgman was more actively working in television and spending a lot of time in airports. He wrestled with the choice of his career and spending time with family and, spoiler, family wins, but only because television stopped calling.


I relish any excuse to laugh and so should you, so go ahead and get this book.

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review 2019-10-09 19:58
The Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman
The Remaking - Clay McLeod Chapman

'The Remaking' is a self-aware horror novel about an urban legend with supernatural inertia. The story of how Ella Louise and her daughter Jessica were labeled witches and burned in a small southern town in the 1920s is told again and again, a cult movie, a 90s remake, eventually a podcast comes knocking....


The story is inviting enough, but the air went out of the novel when I realized a hundred pages in that the back-cover copy was the entire novel. The novel isn't about the vindication of Amber and/or a quest to get to the heart of the curse of Jessica, the little witch girl. You follow each stage and it doesn't matter, because you know what's going to happen. I know old 40s movie trailers used to show the whole film in 30 seconds, and audiences were fine with that, but I thought we were past all that. This isn't like 'Moby-Dick' or something, where we all know the ending but the brick of a novel is still worth reading. I feel like in the last five years or so there is no effort made in making trailers that invite you in. They just say it all. Which is disappointing, because this isn't Moby-Dick, or even a decent horror film.


This knowing exactly where the story was going as I plodded through it was a little frustrating and took a lot of the appreciation out of the occasionally well-crafted atmosphere generated by the book. Even if I didn't know where the story was going, I don't know if the novel would have held up, as each section had trouble standing on its own. We didn't spend enough time with anybody but the understandably anxious and, later, damaged Amber for any real horror to creep in.


I read it through to the end to see if the author would pull a last-minute victory of an ending, but it was some vague, pseudo-feminist babble. I don't think an author can have characters rattling around and doing nothing for hundreds of pages and then pretend at the end it was all part of some sort of grand scheme. It's too bad, I loved the horror film references and would have liked some contemporary commentary on the genre.

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review 2018-07-23 21:25
A bad movie, a nail in the coffin of John Bellairs
The House With a Clock in Its Walls - John Bellairs

I felt compelled to reread this after seeing the godawful trailer for the new film. I ended up reading it aloud to my husband over the course of a few nights. The book is still wonderful. I've linked to book reviews for the Lewis Barnavelt Trilogy at the bottom.

I thought I was over getting nerdrage at bad book to film translations, but those trailers made me see red. 'A House with a Clock in It's Walls' is a meandering book about a lonely, scared boy finding a place for himself in his new family after his parent's death, and, above all, learning about true courage and friendship.

Tonally, aesthetically, and factually this movie has missed the mark. I know its only a trailer, but trailers these days seem to show the whole damn film. The casting is terrible. Lewis is some Hollywood kid instead of the weepy (his parents are DEAD, remember?), overweight bookish loner. Jack Black is all crazy googly-eyed as Uncle Jonathan. Mrs. Zimmerman instead of being the "wrinkliest" woman Lewis has ever seen, all smile lines, is played by Cate Blanchett with a silver wig. What a missed opportunity to bring back some great actress with a meaty role for an elderly woman.

Aesthetically, some effort seems to have been made to put it in early postwar America, but the CGI effects are plastered over everything and used for cheap laughs - complimented by bad dialogue.

Tonally, this was a book filled with gentle humor balanced with atmospheric dread and real scares. How can there be any balance in this movie?

John Bellairs books are in danger of going out of print - 'Figure in the Shadows' and 'The Letter, the Witch, and The Ring' are already gone. The book and the movie are so different that no kid who liked the movie is going to enjoy the book, creating NO demand for those sequels, and any kid with the sense to hate the movie is going to avoid the book thinking they share some similarities. More bad news: when this movie fails some asinine executive is going to think kids don't like fantasy or scary movies, when they only don't like bullshit.

The Lewis Barnavelt Trilogy:

'The House with a Clock in It's Walls'

'The Figure in the Shadows'

he Letter, The Witch, and The Ring'

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video 2018-07-19 05:03
The House with a Clock in Its Walls - John Bellairs

I am furious and sad. This trailer shows me a goofy, CGI-riddled mess. I was so excited when I heard about this movie, John Bellairs' books are starting to go out of print and I was hoping this would encourage kids to read them again. No kid who likes the movie is going to like the book. Period. The book was about Lewis learning a valuable lesson about who real friends are and facing fears, the book had positive adult role-models. A film could have been made that was funny, atmospheric and spooky that would honor Bellairs gothic inspirations and the Edward Gorey illustrations.


This is more than being upset about book vs. movie translation. This is, to borrow my husband's phrase, a book turned into a Universal Studios ride.

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