Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams

Tad Williams returns to the world of Osten Ard after 20+ years in The Heart of What Was Lost. In part, this short novel serves as a reintroduction of Osten Ard in advance of the forthcoming trilogy: The Last King of Osten Ard. But more than a simple reintroduction, I found The Heart of What Was Lost to be a very meta coda to the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series – a response coming 20 years later, in part admitting the shortcomings of the previous series and state of epic fantasy fiction of the times, a message of leadership and the future for today, and what I suspect is a tease of changes to come in The Last King of Osten Ard.

The Heart of What Was Lost is set in the aftermath of the events that end the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, and feature dueling perspectives of a human army pursuing the remnant forces of the Norns with intent to eradicate them and that of the Norns themselves. One of the strongest aspects of the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series was its portrayal of the horrors of war, rather than the traditional glorification often seen in fantasy (or at least fantasy of the 1980s and 1990s). This is the core of The Heart of What Was Lost as the army of the Northmen seeks genocide in vengeance to the horrors the Norns brought upon people and the world. This is balanced by the perspective of the Norns fleeing, only thinking of the survival of their race and doing everything they can to achieve that survival.

The Heart of What Was Lost is the story of two leaders of their people, how they fight to survive, and ultimately, the sacrifices they will make. One leader serves as the heart of their people, the other people have lost their heart and are seemingly directionless in their efforts to survive. Both are forced to look at the traditions of the past and confront what the future can be. Are the traditions and actions of the past going to bring about a future they can be proud of?

While it’s not the focus, the weight and responsibility of leadership is on full display. True leadership is not an act of the selfishness, but one of sacrifice. Leadership is about the people and the future, it doesn’t relish in the past, and it makes the hard choice. In The Heart of What Was Lost, the balance of life, death and survival brings focus and immediacy to it all. Can the leaders do what is needed?

A third perspective is brought in, not only as a balance, but to give those of us who aren’t leaders something we can directly relate to. An everyman, a plain soldier far from home. This third point of view isn’t a portrayal of grand sacrifice or such, but this is basic survival. In the survival rivalries of the past and home are discarded as unimportant, basic friendship is the mean to survival, and continuing when death arrives. Of course there’s plenty of ‘war sucks’ to all this, but the way things end is tear-jerking tragedy. The journeys of The Heart of What Was Lost feel like interwoven Greek Tragedies, but none more than that of our every soldier. And the tragic end, is also the challenge that Williams sets for us all. For the sacrifice of leadership is not enough. The every person must step as well, and it isn’t easy. For the sake of the future, you may be asked to cut off the head of the reanimated corpse of your only friend. Over dramatic? When I look at the world around me today, I think not (but I sure wish it was).

For all of the powerful ideas on display in The Heart of What Was, I must admit that it took me time to really get into the book, even though it’s a relatively short novel. I think that this is in part due to it being over 10 years since I read the books in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, so while I don’t think it’s needed to be familiar with those books, a lack of familiarity may make it a bit more difficult to connect with the story initially. Though I also believe that bleak, dark, horrors of war basis was also a barrier for me as it’s just not the sort of story I gravitate toward right now. However, as indicated by my thoughts above, perseverance is rewarded.

At the top I mentioned some of the meta feeling I got from The Heart of What Was Lost. Yes, much of this is routed in a message of fighting for the future that resonates with me right now. But it’s more – let’s be honest, some of the world and society in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn feels dated in the context of the epic fantasy being written today. So, how does one deal with that dated feeling that is so obvious in a sequel? Most obvious is that The Heart of What Was Lost is man’s story – men are everywhere, with only a couple of token women. It’s striking and it was one of the barriers to me getting into the story. But in the end, Williams acknowledges this shortcoming, and further mocks the concept of ‘women and children’ not standing up for themselves. My hope is that this is his way of clearing the page for changes to come in the forthcoming trilogy.

In short, after a slow start, I very much enjoyed The Heart of What Was Lost. In spite of a few shortcomings, it resonates deeply with what I see in the world around me. It encourages and shows of view of hope, hope that we’ll need to fight for.

Books/Series of Osten Ard:

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn (my review of the trilogy*)

The Dragonbone Chair (my review*, Amazon)          
Stone of Farewell (my review*, Amazon)
To Green Angel Tower Part 1 (my review*, Amazon)
To Green Angel Tower Part 2 (my review*, Amazon)

The Heart of What Was Lost (Amazon)

The Last King of Osten Ard (Forthcoming Trilogy)

The Witchwood Crown (Amazon, coming June 2017)
Empire of Grass (forthcoming)
The Navigator’s Children (forthcoming)

*These reviews were written near the beginning of this blogging adventure, and I like to believe that I’ve gotten a lot better through the years. So, enjoy these ‘early years’ reviews.

An Aside for Some Personal Indulgence

Feel free to ignore the following as it’s more about me than The Heart of What Was Lost….

The Heart of What Was Lost brought about another reaction in me that I feel like writing about, even though I suspect it matters to very few. It brought back a passion for reviewing. It’s no secret that I review far less these days than I once did, and the vast majority of the few reviews I do put up are ‘Mini-Reviews’ that say little more than ‘I liked this book, you should read it’. It’s rare for me to really dive in, fully review a book, and explore my response to it.

Reality is that this is likely more of a one-off than a trend. Life keeps landing punch after punch these days, meaning I don’t have the time or emotional capacity for much deep reviewing. And the backlog of reviews I still plan to write shows that even the short, basic reviews will come at a rather slow pace. But, it was nice to be reminded that I do have ideas that I want to share, that I feel I can add to the conversation about a book beyond ‘read it, it was good’. And that is another reason why I really enjoyed The Heart of What Was Lost.

I could go on about ‘The Heart of What Was Lost in Reviewing’, but that level of wankery really isn’t necessary J

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Mini-Review: Long Black Curl by Alex Bledsoe

Long Black Curl by Alex Bledsoe is the third Tufa book which is a ‘series’ of interconnected novels that all really stand on their own with independent stories. Of course the reader familiar with the other books in the series will experience things at a deeper level.

Anyway, as evident from my reviews of other Tufa books, I really, really enjoy them, and Long Black Curl is no exception to this trend. It always surprises me that I don’t read more Mythic Fiction – books that loosely fall into category of Mythic Fiction seem to connect with me at a deeper level, bringing me a much more holistic and satisfied reading experience. Not merely entertaining or escapist and not really the sort of book that makes me feel like I’m a better person for having read it, but books that truly connect, books that awaken deeper awareness of myself.

Bledsoe’s Tufa books are about an exiled faerie clan who settled in the Appalachian Mountains long before humans came along. These stories tell how the Tufa people interact with the modern world around them and show how they are connected to their land and their music at deeper levels than the people around them. While set within the modern world, they bring the reader back in time, reminding us of the deeper connections to nature and the land around us. For the Tufa, music is the vehicle that this connection is founded within.

Long Black Curl is specifically about two exiled Tufa who have lost their ability to sing. These exiled exiles are cursed in a fundamentally horrific form of suffering for their people, further complicated by their means of surviving in the modern world – both work in the music industry. This forms the back bone for a story of revenge, loss, and redemption. A large part of the success of this story works because of duality of the modern world and the ‘other’, timeless world of the Tufa, and it’s an approach that I am especially fond of.

I love the Tufa books because they really embody Mythic Fiction in a way few books achieve. The emotions invoked are full of mystery, darkness, fear, love, and a whole host of other primal emotions for us all. While I believe that it’s the connection to nature that leads me to back to Mythic Fiction, the vehicle of music to form this connection is fully realized in these books. This is a very tough balance to achieve as it’s quite easy to nerd out on the music without ever creating the deep emotional connection that is really necessary1. Charles de Lint is another author I who can achieve this balance and I rank him and Bledsoe at the top of a short list of authors who do.

Long Black Curl is another wonderful addition to the collection of Tufa novels by Bledsoe and another reminder of how much I enjoy these books.

The Tufa Novels

The Hum and the Shiver: My Review, Amazon
Wisp of a Thing: My Review, Amazon
Long Black Curl: Amazon
Chapel of Ease: Amazon
Gather Her Round: Amazon (Forthcoming)

1For an example of a Mythic Fiction book where the bridge of music between the modern world and something other never quite works out an fails to achieve the emotional connection needed, see The Crow of Connemara by Stephen Leigh (I’ll eventually get to writing a full review for it).

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Mini-Review: The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu

The Tao books by Wesley Chu are the perfect spy thrillers for a generation where science fiction is mainstream and dominates pop culture. They are action-packed, full of intrigue, both political and personal, witty, funny, and wrap it all up in alien possession. And of course who could be a more perfect choice for a heroic spy than an overweight, single, gamer in a dead end job?

The Deaths of Tao is the second book of the series, which is in part a trilogy, though it has expanded with a ‘coda’ novella and now a new series set in the world. The Lives of Tao began the series (my review) with a bang and The Deaths of Tao follows up a typical middle book does. Things go dark, it gets bad, really bad. Lack of hope bad. And in the end…well a tiny bit of hope gets thrown in just as a huge and unexpected curveball is thrown in to the mix. And Chu makes this all work without losing the witty, slightly irreverent voice that somehow makes a spy-thriller about alien-possessed people who secretly control the world something that isn’t just believable (in a fiction sense), but is a lot fun to read.

Go forth and read. And believe. And have fun.

Tao Series

The Lives of Tao: My Review, Amazon
The Deaths of Tao: Amazon
The Rebirths of Tao: Amazon
The Days of Tao: Amazon

Io Series

The Rise of Io: Amazon

Monday, November 28, 2016

Kids’ Reviews: Septimus Heap, Ivy and Bean and More!

It’s been a while since I’ve provided an update on my Kids’ Review series, so here we are. For an introduction to this series, information isavailable in this post which provides a good bit of context.

Hebop turned 9 last month and continues with an, at times, voracious love of reading. We are slowly letting him read through the Harry Potter books and he just finished up The Goblet of Fire in a fury last weekend that saw him reading for hours at time (this is a kid who never stops moving, so to see him so still is shocking). He has since started the Percy Jackson books next – he gave them a shot a year or more ago but wasn’t terribly interested and just not quite ready. I think he’s matured enough now that it may be different this time around. We still read aloud with Hebop at times, but he’s mostly solo now, which was quite impressive give the size of The Goblet of Fire. Hebop can have a short attention span at times as he jumps around from the likes of Goosebumps to Spirit Animals to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. For his birthday he got some fiction and nonfiction soccer books and it’ll be interesting to see when he gives those a try and what he thinks.

Arty turned 6 earlier this month and is thick in the transition from shorter books to chapter stories. She recently left behind Magic Treehouse books – she still can get scared/anxious with some books, and the later Magic Treehouse books can be surprising tense at times with a fair amount of implied death and destruction. So we’ve started in on Critter Club and Ivy & Bean books. She’s enjoying both – especially Ivy & Bean. The love of Ivy & Bean has introduced quite a few conversations about good choices and following rules. We’ve now read a couple of the Critter Club books and the first three of Ivy and Bean. Both series are working great for Arty. A month or two ago, we read Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone with her – she loved it, but also has nightmares about Voldemort (tales of later books from Hebop are no help here). She watched the movie, but we’ve backtracked and will wait another year before doing more to give time for the nightmares to go away.

As a family we’ve been reading aloud the Septimus Heap books. So far we’ve read the first two (Magyk and Flyte) in the series (the kids’ will get the full series for Christmas). I think it’s probably safe to call them Harry Potter knock-offs, but they are a lot fun and both kids enjoy them. I find it surprising that Arty doesn’t seem to be bothered by the more tense and serious parts of these books when she was by Harry Potter, but that’s how it works sometimes. So, I can easily recommend these books – as always, check to see how they match up with your own positions on age-appropriateness. I often use Common Sense Media as an initial tool to help with that.

Septimus Heap by Angie Sage
Book 1: Magyk    Amazon

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
Book 1: The Lightning Thief    Amazon

Goosebumps by R.L. Stine
Book 1: Night of the Living Dummy    Amazon

Spirit Animals
Book 1: Wild Born by Brandon Mull    Amazon

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Book 1: Diary of a Wimpy Kid    Amazon

Critter Club by Callie Barkley
Book 1: Amy and the Missing Puppy    Amazon

Ivy & Bean by Annie Barrows
Book 1: Ivy & Bean    Amazon

The Magic Treehouse by Mary Pope Osborne
Book 1: Dinosaurs Before Dark    Amazon

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Mini-Review: Willful Child: Wrath of Betty by Steven Erikson

If anything, in the two years since I wrote that review, my thoughts on Willful Child have only grown stronger. I think it is a superb satire of far more than just Star Trek, but read the review for that. I’ve come to realize that while the humor of that book is certainly coarse and inappropriate, that plenty of people ‘get it’ and therefore see what Erikson is doing in the book. All this adds up to me being very happy to read the sequel.

Unfortunately, I was largely unimpressed. Of course, I enjoyed a lot of what Erikson was doing with the book and how he plays with both time travel and parallel-dimension issues. I particularly found the gender-swap / parallel world parts to be well done and timely given so much of what’s going on. And of course, it’s hard for someone like myself to not be immensely amused by the comic-con sequence. Really, Wrath of Betty is worth reading for those two parts regardless of my overall disappointment.

Where does my disappointment come from? It’s all in the timing. Wrath of Betty continues the satirical directions from Willful Child, with a strong focus on the consumerism and rampant capitalism of the Western world. And this is unfortunately where it misses. Often the most effective satire works because it feels particularly timely to what’s going on in the culture it targets. Generally consumerism and capitalism are perfect elements for satire to target, but at least for me, it misses the elephant in the room for a satirical book published in 2016. I am speaking of the big issues we all see too much of right now – from Brexit to the US election and the idiot who will remain nameless, and war and refugees, etc. etc. A satire focused so much on consumerism simply doesn’t stick with me right now – it feels off topic, especially since reality is so primed for good satire (though admittedly, Brexit and the US election are often plenty satirical without any help at all).  

I do think that the focus on consumerism and capitalism in Wrath of Betty is likely to be more timeless and therefore would have more staying power than the satire I wanted to read. But, it remains that I simply couldn’t enjoy things as much as I wanted to. Yes, I realize that due to just how it works writing a novel, that Wrath of Betty was largely written well before reality jumped the shark, but that intellectual knowledge doesn’t really help my reaction to the book.

So, while I think Wrath of Betty is a worthy follow-up to Willful Child, it didn’t work well for me. However, it may well work for you.

Willful Child: Amazon, My Review
Willful Child: Wrath of Betty: Amazon

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mini-Review: Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

I live in the West and I have a soft-spot for the ‘weird west’, at least when it’s done well. So, I was intrigued by Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen – it sounded like something different … something weird and west in all of the best ways. Not only was I not disappointed, but it far exceeded my expectations.

In my mind I have so many good things to say about this book, but I love this elevator pitch from the author herself:

It’s Lonesome Dove meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a biracial, genderqueer heroine.


Honestly, I’d throw in a comparison to Preacher as well, not for anything specific, but these two just feel like they get each other. Note: that Bowen quote is from The Big Idea:Lila Bowen, which absolutely worth a full read if you’re wondering about this book.

It’s the voice of Nettie Lonesome that stands out perhaps most of all. She’s caustically witty, sarcastically ignorant, and delightfully direct. Reminiscent of the strong voice of Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, to throw yet another comparison into this review.

Nettie’s journey of self-discovery and struggle with her identity brings the depth to Wake of Vultures, but what I want to emphasize is the wonderful, weird fun of the book. It’s a menagerie of fantastical beasts in the scrub-lands of the West, mixing mythologies with a dark, cynical tinge wrapped in just enough humor. It’s a perfect setting for some monster hunting fun: vampire bordellos, sirens at the bar, chupacabra roaming the range, harpies circling above, werewolves on a warpath, and a band of monster hunting rangers on the prowl.

Wake of Vultures is a fun read full of weird, even horrific, adventures in a re-imagined West. I thoroughly enjoyed it and enthusiastically recommend it. Also…it’s only the beginning of The Shadow series, with a sequel, Conspiracy of Ravens, coming in October, 2016, and more books planned for the future.

The Shadow Series:

Wake of Vultures: Amazon
Conspiracy of Ravens: Amazon

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Review: The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley

The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley is the final volume in the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy. In my review of the first book, The Emperor’s Blades, I dig into how I felt uninspired because it was about a fight for the status quo, there was no progress, nothing new had been added. Yes, I enjoyed the book because Staveley is an excellent story teller, the book was exciting, and so well paced that I always needed to know what would happen next. Ultimately, that was enough to encourage me to read the sequel.

In my review of The Providence of Fire, I got excited. The Emperor’s Blades was a set-up, and big things happened in book 2. Huge I tell you. There are progressive ideas – thoughts of moving things forward. And it was so well wrapped together, that it was simply impossible to tell who was bad and who was good. Where was it all going to go? There were so many possibilities.

Of course, I had my hopes and ideas of where it was going. They were some really good ideas. They built on the ambiguity of book 2, explored some the more interesting (to me) concepts developed in The Providence of Fire. I was certain Staveley was with me in this, that he was going to pluck these ideas right out of my head, run with them, and then turn them around a few times to put some real sting into it.

But….Staveley wasn’t with me, he had ideas all his own. Yes, they are good ideas – there’s excitement, the stakes are upped even further, more complications added, and some really great fighting and sacrifice, and an unexpected character (Gwenna) leaps up and steals the whole show.

But…I wanted to see my ideas. And so I was disappointed. Much of what excited me about The Providence of Fire was abandoned in The Last Mortal Bond – the empire was not on a progressive path of improvement. In the end…we just got the status quo again. And that pissed me off – I’m just tired of epic fantasy that leaves us with the status quo. Where the people aren’t better off and there isn’t really hope that things have changed a bit. Just a bunch of big battles, lots of death, young leaders learn valuable lessons, the meaning of life is love, blah, blah, blah, and…the same old shit goes on into the future.

I had other ideas too – damn good ones. Of how the gods interacted with humanity and the immortal ‘elves’. I was looking forward to the ambiguity of good and evil, only to have a standard Big Bad fixated on as the story moves forward in more or less predictable ways.  

So, overall, I am fairly disappointed with how The Last Mortal Bond wraps things up. Yes, it was fun, and Staveley is just so excellent with the pacing, action, and tension that it really is almost impossible to stop reading his books. I know that it’s my own expectations that lead to my disappointment, and not (necessarily) what Staveley actually did with the book – because it’s not bad, not bad at all. It’s just that I saw so much potential in The Providence of Fire and where things could be taken, and it was crushing to see The Last Mortal Bond take the path that pretty much everyone else before has taken.

Final verdict: Good series, fun writing, exactly what fans of traditional epic fantasy crave…safe. But damn, it could have been great.

Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne

The Emperor’s Blades: My Review, Amazon
The Providence of Fire: My Review, Amazon
The Last Mortal Bond: Amazon

Set in the Same World As Emperor’s Blades

Skullsworn (forthcoming): Amazon

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Mini-Review: Los Nefilim by T. Frohock

In Los Nefilim, T. Frohock imagines a world where angels, demons, and their human hybrids (nefilim) live and act mostly unnoticed in the world. The focus is on Barcelona in the 1930s and Diago, a unique nefilim with both angel and demon blood. Diago’s family is threatened as angels and demons battle for the future of the world in the face of oncoming war.

Magical battle, torture, betrayal. Yes these things occur and are important. But the soul of the book is in love and relationships. A son and his estranged father, the son a father of a son he does not know, lovers, friends. Add time and betrayal. The sum is greater than the parts where the past must be addressed to accept the present, to know oneself and finally submit to the love all around. To fight without quarter for the ones that are loved. This is Los Nefilim, historic context with consequences for all of humanity, but played out at a personal level.

The foundation of this powerful story is a poetic prose, dark and moody, yet infused with color and music as it embodies hope, love and loyalty. Yes, there is a lot of conflict in that last statement, as is appropriate in a story full of internal and external conflict. It’s the grounded, devoted love that keeps it all together.

As you have probably guessed by now, I really enjoyed Los Nefilim. It’s beautiful, moving, filled with suspense. It kept me up at night because I could not put it down. I want to read more of Diago, Miquel, Rafael, Guillermo, and others. It’s historic urban fantasy, not quite alternative history, and it’s a powerful portrayal of love and family.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that the main family unit at the heart of Los Nefilim is two male partners. The relationship is genuine, heartfelt and simply lovely. I await the day when focus on a same-sex couple is not noteworthy and commonplace, but we aren’t there yet, and it’s books like Los Nefilim that will get us there.

A few logistical notes: Los Nefilim is in reality a print collection of 3 novellas that were initially published electronically: In Midnight’s Silence, Without Light or Guide, and The Second Death. The reality is that the three independent novellas seamlessly work as a traditionally structured novel. Read it as a serial, collection, or single work – it doesn’t matter. But I certainly recommend that you read it.

Los Nefilim: Amazon
In Midnight’s Silence: Amazon
Without Light or Guide: Amazon
The Second Death: Amazon

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Mini-Review: Broken by Susan Jane Bigelow

A woman is so broken by life, not only has she adopted the name Broken, but she is incapable of escape – because there is essentially nothing she can do to die. She picks a fight, she heals before death. She tries to commit suicide – it won’t take, she heals after the attempt. The healing is pain. The pain is the only part of life she ‘enjoys’. Folks…this is the backstory, this is where it begins. And of course, Broken is a superhero and there was a time when she could fly.

Broken by Susan Jane Bigelow is extraordinary in its portrayal of superheroes, or extrahumans, as they are called in Bigelow’s books. Everyone loves a label, so let’s call this post-superhero literature. This is the maturation of superheroes in popular culture, and it was originally published in 2011 (and now republished by The Book Smugglers Publishing), so a few years before the current height of superheroes in pop culture had been reached.

It’s a few decades into a dystopic future where the US was on the losing side of a global war. Extrahumans, each with a superpower or two, have become a tool of the government, both hated and loved, but hated more and more. A new government has taken over, much more authoritarian, and full of parallels to groups like the Nazis, or even to the troubling groups in visible in today’s politics. A baby is born – prescient extrahumans have seen a future where things get better, seemingly infinitely better. They have also seen a future where he makes it much, much worse. It falls to a young teen, an unregistered extrahuman who sees countless possible futures when he looks others in the eyes – even his own eyes in the mirror, where he has seen his own death too many times. He finds Broken and together they try.

As positive as I am above, I must admit that dystopic books are not something I read often – it’s just not my thing. I imagine it’s a result of just where I am in life, how hard it is, and how damned stressed out and depressed I am much of the time. I simply cannot enjoy books where that sort of world dominates, where all too real situations dominate, where hope tastes of ashes. I suppose that’s why I like my SFF extra fantastic, where things are unreal and metaphoric as opposed to a version of reality that’s all too real. Call me a dreamer or escapist. So, generally, I avoid the whole dystopian thing.

Given these preferences of my reading, it’s hard for me to say that I enjoyed reading Broken. It’s hard, bad things happen, and hope is scarce, though always present in the background. It’s just not my thing. However, I can see the brilliance of the concept and the success of the execution. Broken is an incredible novel, both timeless and perfectly timed to the now. While I would probably argue that dystopic SFF is becoming overdone to the point of dulling its impact, the genre is primed for the concept of post-superhero fiction. And there’s much more to be said than I get into here. It’s done so well that I just might read the other books of the Extrahuman Union series, knowing that they aren’t my thing. Because as good as Broken is, I’m very curious to see what comes next.

The Extrahuman Union Series

Broken: Amazon
Sky Ranger: Amazon
The Spark: Amazon (forthcoming)
Extrahumans: Amazon (forthcoming)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Kids Review: HiLo by Judd Winick

As my son, Hebop, has become more of an independent reader, he’s become more interested in the books I receive for review. Arguably, it started with Star Wars and seeing Star Wars book covers that really got him paying attention, but I think that he really began to understand that some of these books are perfect for him with HiLo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick.

It was fall of 2014 when Hebop was looking over my shoulder as I opened a few books that had come in the mail. One of these was an advanced copy of a graphic novel: HiLo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth. He immediately grabbed it and started to look, with me looking over his shoulder. ‘Dad, can have this book?’. I looked at my wife, we both shrugged, and said yes. He runs off to his room to read. He spent at least the next 2 hours reading, right up until bedtime. He repeatedly requested that either my wife or I (or both) read with him – him reading to us. And he finished the book. I believe this was his first true graphic novel.

‘Dad, I need more books like this.’

In short, it’s a charming story of friendship where a boy (D.J.) befriends a mysterious boy/robot he names HiLo who crashes to earth. The boy, his best friend Gina, and HiLo then save the world. It’s nice because the main characters are both gender and racially diverse, and in spite of the superhero sort of feel, it’s a story of friendship.

Hebop read HiLo over and over again (at least 6 times) for the next week or two. He told all of his friends and brought the book to share. Later, when I got the finished copy, I never even saw it as it went straight to his room. The advance copy was given to his best friend, who quickly had similar love for the book (his mom has thanked us repeatedly for passing on a book that he was so excited about). For the end of the year book exchange, we had to buy a copy of HiLo to include – no other book would do.

A couple of months ago, I got HiLo Book 2: Saving the Whole Wide World in the mail. We excitedly gave Hebop the book, and he excitedly read the whole wide book that night. Then he read it again a few times. By now, graphic novels aren’t new anymore and we have a number around the house, so the excitement wasn’t as enthusiastic as before, though that’s not to say that he wasn’t extremely excited to get book 2. Though we were both (happily) frustrated with the cliff-hanger ending that left us wanting book 3 now.

So, HiLo is a hit in my house. It’s a ‘superhero’ graphic novel that I have no issues sharing with an 8 year old (or 7 year old as when he first saw it). And I am happy to highly recommend it.


HiLo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth: Amazon

HiLo Book 2: Saving the Whole Wide World: Amazon


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