Grimes & Rowe Read a Book: Ocean at the End of the Lane

https://i1.wp.com/thebooksmugglers.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/17026_413852478709121_1163712783_n.jpgTitle: Ocean at the End of the Lane
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Series: N/A
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: June 18, 2013
Genre: Adult Literary
Pages: 181
Source: Bought on Amazon
Buy the Book: Ocean at the End of the Lane

Synopsis: Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Laneis told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark. (Via Goodreads)

Brian: Shaunta has been raving about Neil Gaiman since the day I met her, so it’s been a lot of fun this last year trying out this author’s work in all the different genres he writes in. I read Coraline, which I loved; read The Graveyard Book, which was a haunting tale; and now there’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, his first book for adults in eight years. I would still put Coraline as my favorite, but Ocean at the End of the Lane is a whole different kind of fantasy novel, one that has moments of both beauty and wretched horror. It’s very short for a novel, at not even 200 pages, and while I really wanted to read the whole thing in one sitting, I was only able to read a few pages a night these last couple weeks. It was fun, getting to enter Gaiman’s weird, imaginative head every night before going to bed.

Shaunta: I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane in two sittings. It’s got this hauntingly familiar, almost nostalgic tone to it that is so pleasing.  I remember when I was a kid my mom had these huge half-barrels in the backyard planted with these gorgeous geranium bushes. They were like geranium jungles, and i would build little fairy houses in them–truly believing that little creatures lived in them when I wasn’t looking. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is all about that way that little kids have of absolute faith and belief. The absolute fear the main character felt, the awe, the joy–it all came through so clear.

Brian: Gaiman has been an inspiration to me lately because he’s one of the few authors I know who writes in various genres, for various audiences, and he does all so well; best of all, his readers flock to whatever he does. And while he’s so beloved by so many people, I love that his writing is so simple and easy to read. Even if you read his books in one sitting or just take a few short sips every night, it’s easy to get lost in his world. Ocean at the End of the Lane was an interesting read because at times it felt like I was reading a novel geared toward children, or maybe teenagers, with the way it’s written, and the way some of the events play out, but then there are the macabre scenes sprinkled throughout that take your breath away. I enjoyed Ursula a lot, the strange being that comes into the narrator’s life as a worm through his foot (!). That’s what I love about Gaiman; he’s not afraid to throw in crazy plot developments that somehow, miraculously, works. I enjoyed the character of Lettie, as well as the creepy scene of the discovery of the car. And the whole idea of the ocean, as that pond, will stick with me for a long time. I still have yet to read American Gods, his behemoth of a novel I have on my shelf, but I hope to start it soon. There’s lots more Gaiman I need to be reading!

Shaunta: Despite having a male protagonist, this book was all about the ladies. Ursula, Lettie, her mother, her grandmother–it was their story, told through the eyes of a little boy.  It was fascinating to me that all of these incredible female characters went about their business, while the little boy forgot. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is just good storytelling. Neil Gaiman never fails on that front. It’s a small book–like a sip of something delicious–packed with an intense amount of story. the hardback might give you sticker shock, but look for it at your local library if you have to. You don’t want to miss this one.

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Book Review: The Lost Princess of Oz

425px-Cover_~_The_Lost_Princess_of_OzTitle: The Lost Princess of Oz
Written by: L. Frank Baum
Series: Book 11 in the Oz series
Publisher: Reilly & Britton
Publish Date: 1917
Genre: Middle Grade Classic!
Pages: 312
Source: Borrowed from Library
Buy the Book: The Lost Princess of Oz

Synopsis: Princess Ozma is missing! When Dorothy awakens one morning to discover that the beloved ruler of the Land of Oz has disappeared, all of the Emerald City’s most celebrated citizens join in the search for the lost princess.

But Ozma isn’t all that’s gone missing. The magical treasures of Oz have disappeared, too, including the Magic Picture, the Wizard’s black bag, and even Glinda’s Great Book of Records. With no clues to guide them, Ozma’s friends separate into four search parties and spread out across their vast country in a desperate quest for their absent ruler.

Deep in the Winkle Country, Dorothy’s search party is soon Joined by Cayke the Cookie Cook, who has lost a magic gold dishpan, and the amazing Frogman, a man-sized frog who walks on his hind legs. Together with these new allies, Ozma’s friends learn that their valued possessions aren’t missing but have been stolen by a mysterious villain. If their new foe is powerful enough to steal Princess Ozma and all of their magical treasures, how will they defeat him with no magic of their own? (Via Amazon)

Brian’s Review: Since reading The Patchwork Girl of Oz, I’ve been complaining that many of these later sequels are subpar to the magic and wonder of the original The Wizard of Oz (released in 1900) and Ozma of Oz, still the best of the sequels. I was particularly disappointed by The Scarecrow of Oz  and Rinki-Tink of Oz, both which felt like non-Oz books, with some generic Oz elements thrown in during the last few chapters. With only four books left to go in Baum’s series, I was worried there wouldn’t be any bright light as I reach the end this December. Was there going to be a late surprise? YES!

The Lost Princess of Oz is grand entertainment, a rousing adventure all the way through, and it does everything right where so many of the other sequels have gone wrong. What works here? One, a simple story. The last two sequels were so damn complicated sometimes I’d start skimming. In this one, Ozma gets kidnapped, and her friends have to find her. That’s it. And it makes for a fun journey. Two, we actually get to spend the book with the characters we adore! Unlike Rinki-Tink in Oz, which introduces us to new characters for 250 pages and then throws Dorothy and Ozma in the last couple characters, The Lost Princess of Oz gives us Glinda and Dorothy and the Scarecrow and many others from the early books, from the get-go! Baum does spend too much time in the middle portion with the amazing Frogman character, but even he is one of the more charming new characters of these later sequels. Three, there’s a strong and at times spooky villain, Ugu, the Shoemaker. Not only are the illustrations of this old, vindictive man rather eerie, but he is easily the most memorable villain Baum has created since the Nome King. What happens to him, and where he ends up in the end, is also unexpected, and surprisingly beautiful. And four, this adventure, unlike some of the others, feels fresh, with lots of innovative ideas along the way, one of my favorites being a wall of ghost girl soldiers who pretend to have the power to keep the core characters away from Ugu’s lair.

As we head into October, the fourteen-month Oz books project, something I’ve wanted to take on for years, is winding down, with only three books left to go. After Baum died, the books continued by John R. Neill, but I wanted to focus solely on the works Baum had his stamp on. As I get nearer to the end, I’m very interested to see if there’s any sense of finality in Glinda of Oz, Baum’s final book, but I’m not done yet! I’m excited to see if the Tin Woodman gets his own story in book 12, and not be tossed off to the side for the majority of the pages like the Scarecrow did in book 9. Not every sequel has been a success, but I’m so happy to see the amount of fun Baum seems to had on The Lost Princess of Oz, easily the best sequel of the series since The Emerald City of Oz. If you’re not going book by book like I am, and just simply want to read a fun later sequel, give The Lost Princess of Oz a try. It’s a great read!

Book Review: Rainbow Road

Rainbow RoadTitle: Rainbow Road
Written by: Alex Sanchez
Series: Rainbow Trilogy
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publish Date: October 4, 2005
Genre: Gay YA Contemporary
Pages: 256
Source: Bought at Indie Bookstore
Buy the Book: Rainbow Road

Synopsis: Jason Carrillo came out to his basketball team senior year and lost his university scholarship. Now, with graduation behind him and summer ending, he’s asked to speak at the opening of a gay and lesbian high school across the country. But after spending years in the closet and losing his scholarship dream, what message can he offer?

Kyle Meeks is getting ready to go to Princeton in the fall and trying to see as much as possible of his boyfriend Jason before they have to separate. When Jason tells him about his speaking invitation, Kyle jumps at the chance to drive across country with him. Yet he can’t help worrying: Will their romance survive two weeks crammed together in a car?

Nelson Glassman is happy his best friend Kyle has found love with Jason. Now he’s looking for his own true love — and hopes he might find his soul mate during the road trip. But will being the “third wheel” in a trio ruin his friendships with Kyle and Jason?

During an eye-opening postgraduation summer road trip, each of the three very different boys also embarks on a personal journey across a landscape of love, sexuality, homophobia, and above all, friendship. (Via Amazon)

Brian’s Review: Yes, it’s over, and I am sad. Rainbow Road concludes my favorite trilogy of the year, in the installment that may be the best of them all. Alex Sanchez could have done the same old-same old with this third book, but instead he made the wise choice and did something a little different, in a scenario that puts Jason, Kyle, and Nelson in a car together for two weeks, keeping them connected for the book’s entirety as they come to terms with their futures.

Shaunta walked up to me at our local indie bookstore Grassroots Books with all three of the Rainbow installments in her hands and told me to buy them, don’t think about it, don’t read the synopses, just get them. And I did. I’m so, so happy I did. These three books have given me more pleasure in 2013 than any other reads, and I’m so thrilled Alex Sanchez wrote three of them. The knowledge you have of the characters from the first two books really plays into the magic of their journey in Book 3. Shaunta and I read Rainbow Boys for our Book of the Month in March, and while Shaunta simply liked it, I went nuts for it. Obviously, as a gay man, the book spoke to me, and it was the kind of story, like David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, that I wish I could have read back when I was in high school and college. Rainbow Boys is all about first love and coming out, while its sequel Rainbow High, picks up right where Rainbow Boys ends. In a sense, Rainbow Boys and Rainbow High are pretty much the same book, with more development in the second book about Kyle and Jason’s blossoming relationship, and Nelson’s infatuation with a boy who is HIV-positive.

Rainbow Road is something different, though. When Rainbow High ended at the senior prom, I assumed the third and final book would pick up at the prom, then go through to graduation, and maybe a little after. Instead, Rainbow Road flashed forward three months, to August. The boys have graduated from high school, and college life is mere weeks away (at least for two of them). Kyle is about to leave, and isn’t sure if his relationship with Jason is going to last long-distance, and Nelson still isn’t sure what he wants to do. Will the three friends ever spend any more quality time together?

A fantastic opportunity presents itself when a high school in Los Angeles asks for Jason, an athlete who publicly came out senior year, to fly across the country and give a speech to its students. Instead of fly, however, Jason and Kyle decide to head to L.A. by car, and they ask Nelson to come along for the road trip. In the first two books, there were very few scenes that ever go all three of the main characters together, but in Rainbow Road, they’re together almost the entire time, and it makes for some great dialogue, funny scenarios, and memorable moments. They meet a transgendered man, escape homophobic rednecks, watch in awe at the love shared between two men who have been together for twenty years. Rainbow Road offers a great journey for the reader, as we get one last opportunity to spend time with three characters we’ve come to know and love. And in the end, all three characters are left at a place where, as we hoped, all their dreams just may come true.

I’ve been raving about these books for the last six months, and now having finally come to the end of this story, I just have two questions. One: how do I get readers, both gay and straight, to give these books a try? And two: would Alex Sanchez ever consider writing another sequel, where we get to see where Kyle, Jason, and Nelson are 10 years after the events of Rainbow Road? I would love to catch up with these characters a decade later, to see how they’re doing. But even if Sanchez never writes another word on these characters, I am grateful for this beautiful story, which started with a closeted jock walking into a gay and lesbian youth meeting, and ended with the same young man telling a large audience of gay students the story of how he came out, stood up to his father, fell in love, and stayed in love. Don’t miss these three wonderful novels. They’re my favorite books I’ve read all year.

Movie Review: Blue Jasmine

blue-jasmine-poster01Title: Blue Jasmine
Directed by: Woody Allen
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Release Date: August 23rd
Rated: PG-13

Synopsis: A life crisis causes a vapid and narcissistic socialite to head to San Francisco, where she tries to reconnect with her sister. (Via IMDB)

Brian’s Review: It’s well known that Woody Allen, one of my five favorite film directors, has been hit-or-miss during the last fifteen years, with only three true stand-outs—Match Point, Vicky Christina Barcelona, and Midnight in Paris (not to mention The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, a goofy guilty pleasure of mine). When he’s good, he’s great, but when he’s bad, he can be very bad. Movies like Anything Else and Scoop are downright embarrassing, with last year’s To Rome With Love adding another clunker to his resume. But what continues to appeal to me about Allen, besides the fact that he’s made five of my favorite movies ever (Annie Hall, Interiors, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors), is that in a nearly fifty year career in writing and directing films, he continues to crank out a movie a year, and continues to try new things. Blue Jasmine is a marvelous success, one of his best movies in a long, long time, due in no small part to a tour-de-force, Oscar-worthy performance by Cate Blanchett.

Allen is known for his New York films, but he broke out of that mold in 2005 with Match Point, and ever since he has surprised us with his choice of locale. In Blue Jasmine, Allen travels to San Francisco for the first time, and tells a story of a rich housewife named Jasmine (Blanchett) who loses everything when her husband (Alec Baldwin) goes to jail for fraud. She moves from New York to SF to live with her adopted sister (a radiant Sally Hawkins) and try to put her life back together. Unfortunately, she become increasingly unstable and struggles both with jobs and her social life. The movie is fresh in its writing and construction—Allen cuts back and forth in time to show where Jasmine has been and how she’s dealing with the mess of her life now—but the joy in Blue Jasmine is getting the opportunity to watch Blanchett sink her teeth into a role like she hasn’t done in years. She won the Oscar for The Aviator nine years ago, and this film gives her a solid shot at a second win. She’s Allen’s most original, daring creation since Penelope Cruz’s firecracker in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. She doesn’t get one or two meaty scenes sprinkled throughout the run-time. Blanchett gets the opportunity to soar with manic energy in scene after scene after scene, and she embraces the challenge.

Blue Jasmine isn’t all just Blanchett, however, but is chockfull of terrific supporting performances, from Hawkins and Baldwin, and also from a hilarious Bobby Cannavale and an earnest Peter Sarsgaard, not to mention two surprisingly deft performances from the comics Andrew Dice Clay and Louis C.K. Allen employs his typical style by having many of the shots go on and on, allowing the actors to really live in the scene, and in the moment. It’s something I’ve always loved about his movies, and I’m thrilled all these years later that he’s never lost sight of his storytelling technique. Of course it doesn’t matter how long he lets the take run if we don’t care what’s happening on screen, but in Blue Jasmine, he’s crafted one of his more fascinating stories of recent years, the kind that makes you laugh all the way through, and then leaves you pondering what you found so damn funny at the very end. Blue Jasmine doesn’t have the magical fascination of Midnight in Paris, but it offers his best contemporary story since Match Point, and easily one of the best movies of the year.

Grimes and Rowe Watch a Movie: The Spectacular Now

https://i1.wp.com/d1oi7t5trwfj5d.cloudfront.net/64/48/7d7609eb4b84a896d21a86e660e9/the-spectacular-now-soundtrack-cover.jpegTitle: The Spectacular Now
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Release Date: August 2, 2013 (Limited)
Rated: R

Synopsis: A hard-partying high school senior’s philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical “nice girl.” (Via IMDB)

Brian: Ever since the rave reviews of The Spectacular Now came out of Sundance, I’ve been waiting with great anticipation. Shaunta and I’s favorite movie of last year was The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and we’re always on the look-out for fresh, contemporary dramas about teenage life. We both loved The Way, Way Back, which came out in July, and we’re both hoping to check out Kings of Summer when it comes to video. But as much as I loved The Way, Way Back, I had even more invested interest in The Spectacular Now. I had a feeling this one was going to have the same kind of dramatic power and comedic timing of Perks. In the end, The Spectacular Now has a lot of great things going from it, most of all two towering, charismatic performances by its two leads, but there was enough to bug me in the movie to keep it from being one of the year’s best.

Shaunta: I was a teenager in the 1980s. That means that I compare movies like The Spectacular Now to movies like The Breakfast Club and Dirty Dancing. Maybe not fair, but it is what it is. I didn’t hate The Spectacular Now, I just wasn’t blown away by it. I always look forward to this kind of movie–the kind that had a major impact on my life when I was younger.  There were some scenes in this movie that were really incredible. The director captured the awkwardness of first sex perfectly and then managed to transfer the awkwardness to the audience, in a good way. But overall, I wanted more.

Brian: Shailene Woodley is on a high right now, following her beautiful breakthrough performance in The Descendents, and with Divergent and The Fault In Our Stars coming in 2014. She’s marvelous in this movie as Amy, so natural to the point that you forget you’re watching someone acting. Miles Teller, in the lead role of Sutter, is equally good. I enjoyed him in the Footloose remake and some other movies, but this film provided his first meaty role, and he runs with it. I loved so many of the quieter scenes, especially a long walk the two share together along a beach, and their first sex scene, which has the perfect mix of desire and total awkwardness. Another thing The Spectacular Now does, which I don’t think I’ve ever noticed in a film before, is not give the main characters make-up of any kind. Every since scene you see all the blemishes, all the pores, of Woodley and Teller, and it gives the movie a tremendous realism.

Shaunta: I agree that showing the characters without a lot of make-up was brilliant. They were like regular kids, and that was refreshing and really cool. What this film lacked though, was consequences. It’s basically about a boy who makes these choices about living only in the now. That basically involves a LOT of drinking–even drinking in bars while in high school, tons of drunk driving. There are nearly no consequences. Even when there is one big one near the end that makes you gasp out loud, it’s not really one. The movie made his-and-her flasks for high school students seem like a cute idea and then didn’t go at all into what it’s really like to be that drunk all the time at 18.  That bugged me.  I enjoyed the movie, though, overall, even if I think that it could have been a little deeper.

Brian: What keeps The Spectacular Now from being one of my favorites of the year is a few misguided choices made toward the end of the movie, as well as a questionable character trait that never gets a proper pay-off. Shaunta and I were talking a lot after the movie about its lack of pay-offs. Sutter has a best friend who pops up for a couple scenes, but nothing really happens with him. The film devotes a lot of time to Sutter’s girlfriend, played by the luminous Brie Larson, but her story fizzles out toward the end and doesn’t seem to have earned all its running time. The most glaring one is that Sutter drinks. All the time. In almost every scene of the movie. Then he gets Amy to drink. All the time. He loses his mind in one scene toward the end, and has a crying scene with his mom (and even chills out in a bar where no one dares ask a boy who obviously looks underage for his ID), but his alcohol addiction never gets any real pay-off; he never gets into any real trouble over his actions. I thought this element of the movie was a missed opportunity. I also thought the film spent too much time in the storyline about his drunk of a father, which is something we’ve seen many times before. And I didn’t find the ending satisfying. It seemed too rush, not giving Sutter enough time to really come to terms with his inner demons and his desire to see Amy again. Overall, there’s a lot good here, though, and I do give it a recommendation, based on the first half, and the terrific performances from its two leads. I can’t wait to see what the screenwriters do for The Fault In Our Stars!

Grimes and Rowe Read a Book: Thirteen Reasons Why

https://i2.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/411MJMpTseL.jpgTitle:  Thirteen Reasons Why
Written by: Jay Asher
Series: N/A
Publisher: Razorbill
Publish Date: October 18. 2007
Genre: YA Contemporary
Pages: 288
Source: Borrowed from Library
Buy the Book: Thirteen Reasons Why

Synopsis: Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.

Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers. (Via Amazon)

Brian: Shaunta and I both had the great pleasure in meeting Jay Asher at writing conferences in the last month, Shaunta at RWA, and me at SCBWI. He’s warm, funny, super approachable. He told me the fascinating backstory of how his book got to the shelves, and how it’s grown in popularity over the last six years. I know he gave Shaunta a lot of great advice for the first years of being an author, too, and I know how much this conversation meant to her. So after we both got the opportunity to meet him, we knew exactly what to make our August book. Thirteen Reasons Why! And I’m glad we did, because now I finally got to see what all the fuss was about. Jay Asher is a remarkable writer, telling this haunting story in a way that makes you want to savor all of Hannah’s stories but at the same time makes you want to flip through the pages as fast as you can.

Shaunta: Thirteen Reasons Why had been on my radar, and my bookshelf, for a while. I have a quirk that makes sad books difficult for me. I knew that this one was about teen suicide, so I hesitated. I’m really glad I read it though. It’s a great story told in a way that makes it  completely compelling. I couldn’t stop reading. I loved that it was Hanna’s story told through the eyes of a boy who loved her. The idea of the story of a suicide told through the perspective of the one person who might have really been able to make a difference was a great one. It made the story that much more intense. The reader might not be able to identify directly to Hannah, but Clay is like an everyman.

Brian: I loved putting myself in Clay’s shoes throughout the book, wondering what I would do in such a unique and eerie situation as this one, someone from beyond the grave giving me a walk-through toward an unthinkable discovery. In the first 50 pages I struggled a little bit with the idea that if a girl was knowingly going to kill herself, would she go to all this effort and means to plan the kind of journey she would never be able to experience herself. But once I looked past this reservation, and came on board, I sped through the book in just two days. I loved that the book never glorifies nor ridicules Hannah’s decision. I also liked that Clay didn’t judge her for her actions. Thirteen Reasons Why is the kind of moving story that keeps you thinking about it days and weeks after you’ve finished it, and that’s the kind of power this book puts over its readers that keeps them coming back. It was a pleasure to meet Jay in person, and now I can call myself a fan. I can’t wait to see what he brings out next!

Shaunta: Meeting Jay was absolutely the highlight of my summer. Thirteen Reasons Why wasn’t an easy read. It was sad and heart wrenching as well as a compelling page-turner. It’s easy to see why readers have made this one a bestseller.  The pacing of the story, the intertwining of the two storylines–Hannah’s story and Clay’s experience of hearing it–made this book incredible. I love long, epic stories–but sometimes a book that just tells the story of one night has just as massive an impact.

Book Review: Rinkitink in Oz

coverTitle: Rinkitink in Oz
Written by: L. Frank Baum
Series: Book 10 in the Oz series
Publisher: Reilly & Britton
Publish Date: 1916
Genre: Middle Grade Classic!
Pages: 318
Source: Received as a Child
Buy the Book: Rinkitink in Oz

Synopsis: Meet Rinkitink–a kindhearted king who’s as fat and jolly as old Saint Nick himself! When the jovial monarch sails for a visit to the island kingdom of Pingaree, he and his talking goat, Bilbil, are welcomed with open arms. Before long, Rinkitink’s lighthearted ways and merry songs endear him to the king and queen of Pingaree, as well as to their son, Prince Inga.

But when the peaceful isle is invaded by fierce warriors, everyone from the rulers to the smallest child is taken off in chains. Only Prince Inga, Rinkitink, and Bilbil escape the conquerors. And so the three friends set out–aided by the magical Pearls of Pingaree–to rescue the prince’s people.

Their perilous quest takes them across the vast Nonestic Ocean to the terrible islands of Regos and Coregos to the dark underground domains of the Nome King. Victories are followed by setbacks, which are in turn followed by strokes of good fortune. Just when it seems our friends have met their match in the clever Nome King, Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz arrive to lend a hand.  (Via Goodreads)

Brian’s Review: Reading the Oz books has become more like homework assignments than sources of pleasure readings lately, and the tenth installment in Baum’s 14-book series is no different. But it’s like getting through the last three seasons of Smallville: it may be difficult, but the end is near. Rinkitink of Oz has sat on my shelf for twenty years. It was the last Oz book I ever got as a child. In fact, I still remember the exact bookstore in Roseville, California, I bought it at in the summer of 1993. I don’t know why in the world I would have bought the tenth book and not the ninth — I owned books #1 to #8, and #10, but for some weird reason decided to not buy #9, or any of the last four books in the series for that matter. So I’ve looked at that strange Rinkitink cover for twenty years, only to finally take the book off the shelf this weekend and try to force myself through 300 pages of a weird, not especially involving fantasy story that has next to nothing to do with anything Oz. Dorothy pops in during Chapter 20, and proceeds to make a cameo in the denoument. But by the time she gets there, it’s too little, too late.

Of course, if you look at Wikipedia, you discover the reason why this installment in the series doesn’t feel so much like an Oz book. No one from the books appears until the final 50 pages. Why? Because this wasn’t even written as an Oz story. Rinkitink in Oz had been written ten years prior, as a totally separate fantasy book. After the success of the Oz books, Baum tried to write stand-alone books completely unrelated to Oz, and he would be turned down by publishers time and time again. It got to the point where he had to take an unremarkable story like this one, and put in some Oz elements just to get it published. Now, let me make it clear: I don’t mind reading an Oz book that has few of the characters from previous books, or one that even takes mostly outside of the land of Oz. But I’m only going to warm up to a book like this if it compels me, if it pulls me into the narrative, and so much of Rinkitink of Oz just fell flat on the page to me. I’ve struggled a lot with the last couple books, but I’m still hopeful one of the few remaining sequels will impress me. The next one, The Lost Princess of Oz, sounds promising, with a plot that incorporates Dorothy and Glinda from the get-go. Come on, Lyman. Give me a late-minute surprise here.