Friday, September 27, 2013

Review: The Listeners by Harrison Demchick

Title: The Listeners
Author: Harrison Demchick
Publication Date: December 17, 2012
Target Age Group: Adult
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Book Jacket Blurb:

It's a bit long to put the entire blurb here, so here's the beginning and end of it:

Before the plague, and the quarantine, fourteen-year-old Daniel Raymond had only heard of the Listeners. They were a gang, maybe even a cult, or at least that's what his best friend Katie's police officer father had said. They were criminals, thieves, monsters - deadly men clearly identifiable by the removal of their right ears.

That's what Daniel had heard. But he didn't know.


Daniel's mother went out for toilet paper. She never came back. He hasn't heard from Katie since the phones went dead. And with his real family gone and surrogate family unreachable, Daniel, scared and alone, has nothing except the walls of his apartment, the window shattered, the poisonous air seeping in.

That's when the Listeners arrive. Derek, the one-eared man with the big, soulful eyes, promises protection, and hope, and the choice not to sit alone and wait to die in some horrific way. He offers a brotherhood under the watch of their leader, the prophet Adam. He offers a place in the world to come.

My Review:

This book is called a literary horror novel, which is interesting in light of a recent post I put up regarding plot-based vs. character-based novels, or genre vs. literary novels. This book seems to work well on both sides of the fence. You get to know Daniel, his personality and his world, but then there's movement in this novel as well. Daniel travels down literal roads, moving from the instability of his own apartment into the care of the Listeners and then out into this apocalyptic world that Harrison Demchick has created, but Daniel also travels down a road in his head toward a grim understanding of himself and how he fits in this new world and the consequences of the choices he makes throughout the novel. This balance is brilliantly executed in this novel.

I love how the plague and the walking-dead-like people it's left in its wake is simply the vehicle in which to place Daniel, his family and friends, this group of people known as the Listeners, and the police in this lawless microcosm. It's very reminiscent of Stephen King's Under the Dome, which is another book I enjoyed that explores these same themes.

If I have to say anything negative about the book, it would have to be the places where the novel strays from Daniel's point of view. Harrison Demchick doesn't spend nearly enough time letting us get to know the other characters for us to have a vested interest in them. This fact ALMOST caused me to rate this a 3 or a 3.5 out of 5, but because the writing is so well done and the rest of the book is so well executed - even the appearance of these other characters reminds me of a Pulp Fiction kind of plot where characters have intertwined stories - that I feel more comfortable rating it a 4 out of 5.

If you're looking for a horror novel that is less horrifying because of the traditional horrors of a plague and walking dead (which this book does have as its backdrop) but more horrifying because of the experiences of a teenage boy trying to survive in a lawless, dangerous environment where nothing is quite as it seems and the truth of his situation is elusive and truly horrifying when finally known, then this is the perfect book for you.

Review: Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Title: Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
Target Age Group: 8 - 12 yrs
My Rating: 4 out of 5

Book Jacket Blurb:

Since I have a BEA advanced reader copy, there is none on my copy. However, here's one I found on Amazon, which was taken from School Library Journal:

Flora, obsessed with superhero comics, immediately recognizes and gives her wholehearted support to a squirrel that, after a near-fatal brush with a vacuum cleaner, develops the ability to fly and type poetry. The 10-year-old hides her new friend from the certain disapproval of her self-absorbed, romance-writer mother, but it is on the woman's typewriter that Ulysses pours out his creations.

My Review:

First of all, I loved this book overall. It's a book about the very serious topic of divorce and how it affects both children and their parents, but told in a whimsical, heartfelt manner.

One of the things I love most about the book is how it mixes those very serious issues of divorce with the fantastical story of a squirrel that Flora names Ulysses who finds himself suddenly coming to terms with super powers bestowed upon him after being sucked into a vacuum cleaner.

The squirrel superhero element is cute, and I would say the most heartfelt parts of the book revolve around him. Ulysses has strange superpowers - he can fly, lift heavy objects, and is able to understand English and write poetry on Flora's mother's old typewriter.

Ulysses allows the main character, Flora, to do something she hasn't been able to do on her own throughout the divorce process: hope.

I love the quirkiness of all the characters in the book. They're all very distinct and endearing. The book's style is a little disjointed, however. Transitions between sections and character's POVs are not very clean. There are also insertions of comic book pages which tell parts of the story, which takes some getting used to, but the illustrations (they're rough ones in the copy I have) look very fun and they involve the adventures of Ulysses the squirrel. They also seem appropriate due to Flora's love of comic books and her belief that Ulysses is a superhero and destined for great things.

Overall, great book that I would highly recommend to your middle grader.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Welcome to the Other Side

Greetings, and welcome to George's Backlogged Book Reviews. The purpose of this is threefold:

1) To hopefully turn people on to some really amazing books

2) To give back in those cases where authors have been extremely generous to me

3) To stress the point that good writers should also be good readers

Hopefully I'll accomplish all three things, but especially the third. Through posting my own book reviews I hope I inspire other writers to read and review as well. As the master himself, Stephen King, says: "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write."

So what's on deck? Well, I'm glad you asked. See, I've attended Book Expo America for the last 2 years, so I have acquired a number of books over those two visits. Those books will be the main ones I'll focus on for these book reviews, initially. Unfortunately I kinda dropped the ball getting to last year's in a timely fashion, so I'll start with the ones I got from this year and work my way back. Hopefully I'll get to all of them eventually.

The first reviews to come will be for the following books:

Indelible by Dawn Metcalf
Perfection by J. L. Spelbring
The Listeners by Harrison Demchick
Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Stay tuned for those reviews.