Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
by Alan Bradley
Recommended Ages: 12+

+++ REVIEW IN PROGRESS +++

Sunday, June 28, 2015

119. Hymn of Hunger and Thirst for the Sacrament

I felt every line of this hymn since, due to complications of geography, scheduling and communion fellowship I haven't been able to take the Lord's body and blood since April.

O Bread of those who falter
And Cup of those who thirst,
Whose promise does not alter,
Whose death hell's prison burst:
Behold, O Christ, a famished soul
Whose broken heart yearns to be whole!
Behold a vile defaulter
Whose sin is of the worst!

Sin in my flesh is rooted
And sets my will to rout;
The world, with sin polluted,
Besets me all about;
The devil plays his cunning role,
And long affliction takes its toll;
My vigor is diluted,
My faith disturbed by doubt.

Too long the world's vain chatter
Of false and fleeting joys
Has drowned the words that matter
With loud, distracting noise!
Would that reciting prayers and psalms
Alone were proof against these qualms!
Would that one word might scatter
The devil's thousand ploys!

But once from heaven's palace
You, Son of God, came down
And in blest bread and chalice
Forgiving grace made known:
Your body sacrificed, Your blood
Are made a life-restoring food,
That sin nor Satan's malice
No more may seize Your own.

To me, Redeemer, hasten
This medicine to give;
My sinful members chasten,
My chastened soul forgive!
May Your atonement fill me up
As often as on You I sup,
Till death-rimed eyes I fasten
On You in whom I live!

EDIT: Here's the only hymn tune I know of that fits this meter, the Norwegian folk tune HVOR DET BLIR GODT Å LANDE.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library
by Chris Grabenstein
Recommended Ages: 12+

When Luigi L. Lemoncello was twelve years old, the public library of his hometown of Alexandriaville, Ohio was his escape from a crowded home. Twelve years ago, that library was torn down to make way for a parking structure. Now a world-famous game designer, he has spared no expense to convert an old bank building into a high-tech library so that another generation of twelve-year-olds can learn, dream, and have fun with good books.

The day before the library is to open, Mr. Lemoncello invites twelve local twelve-year-olds, winners of an extra-credit essay contest, to be the first to use his amazing new library. Not only do they get to spend a night locked in with interactive holograms, key-carded Dewey Decimal sections, video games and memorabilia, but they also have a chance to win the grand prize of being his company's spokesman in a series of nationwide advertisements. All they have to do is escape from the library without (a) going out the front door, (b) setting off any alarms or (c) mistreating each other or library materials. Each kid gets a chance to opt out of the game, call a friend, consult an expert and risk everything on an extreme challenge.

Among the youngsters competing for the prize is Kyle Keeley, a game enthusiast who tends to do things like split a $500 gift card with his parents and two brothers. Kyle assembles a team of kids whose different strengths work well together to solve the puzzles that will lead them to the library's secret exit.

Heading the other team, meanwhile, is Charles Chiltington, a rich kid with an unhealthy drive to succeed and win. Charles gathers a team of loners and backstabbers, of whom he is the foremost. While he is willing to do anything to win, he clearly doesn't get what the library is for. Compared to Kyle, who is constantly adding to the list of books he has to read, Charles never catches Mr. Lemoncello's constant, whimsical references to classic children's books. In the end, the question is whether being "in it to win it" matters more than being open to all the ways a library can be informative and fun.

This book is a gift to children who love reading books and adults who once were such children. Not only does it contain a bonus puzzle that the author invites readers to solve on their own, but it also features rebuses, riddles, book trivia, and a veritable bibliography of other books every child should read sometime. Simply catching all the clever book references is a puzzle-challenge groups of bright kids might enjoy working on either together or as a contest. And as for the games, this book describes both real games that many of us fondly remember as well as fictional games that somebody should seriously invent. A character in this book compares Mr. Lemoncello to Willy Wonka, and the comparison holds up. It's a lot like that kind of adventure, only with high tech gizmos instead of magic, puzzles instead of moral sermons, and a less tooth-rotting alternative to a candy factory to light up children's imagination.

This is the first book I have read by Chris Grabenstein. I am amazed at the number of titles he has authored, including The Explorers' Gate, The Island of Dr. Libris and an upcoming sequel to this book, Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics. He has also co-authored many books with James Patterson, including the Daniel X, House of Robots, I Funny, Middle School and Treasure Hunters series. Other series he has written on his own include the John Ceepak books (Tilt-a-Whirl and seven more), the Christopher Miller Holiday Thrillers (Slay Ride and Hell for the Holidays), the Haunted Mysteries quartet and the Riley Mack/Ocean's Eleven books.

Fortunately, the Milk

Fortunately, the Milk
by Neil Gaiman
illustrated by Skottie Young
Recommended Ages: 8+

I was browsing the young readers' section at Barnes and Noble when a young lady who was stocking the shelves told me to look at this book. "It's absolutely hilarious," she said. And so it is. A thin, quickly read book in Neil Gaiman's most lighthearted register, it features the story a dad tells his two kids to explain why it took him so long to fetch a bottle of milk from the corner store.

The father's story involves time travel, an alien invasion, a pirate ship, a stegosaurus piloting a hot air balloon, a volcano god and his worshipers, a herd of brightly colored ponies, bloodthirsty wumpires (sic) and more. At each crucial turn of events, the fate of the milk and the children's waiting breakfast cereal proves more and more significant until the existence of the universe itself depends on it. And when, finally, the children doubt their dad's tale, he produces undeniable proof: "Here's the milk!"

Skottie Young's illustrations take up at least as much room as Neil Gaiman's words, and they are just as important to the enjoyment of a story that begs, with puppy-dog eyes, to be read out loud by an adult to one or more children. Neil Gaiman is such an important author of graphic novels that he probably needs no introduction, other than to mention that his children's picture books include Crazy Hair and the Chu's Day trilogy. I have read many of his novels, but I am still looking forward to reading some of them, such as Odd and the Frost Giants and the sequels to InterWorld, co-authored by Michael Reaves. And of course, I have yet to be inducted into the world of Sandman.

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes
by Jonathan Auxier
Recommended Ages: 10+

This triumphantly weird, whimsical story takes place in a world where certain children are brave, resourceful, clever and wise and most adults are pitiful, silly, and easily duped into serving as slaves of a fiendish villain. It is a world full of such possibilities as winged zebras, talking fish, curses, transfigurations, disappearing islands and clockwork weaponry. It features a war between apes and ravens, an endless desert littered with shipwrecks, an island where all the seas in the world meet, and a blind boy whose keen senses of hearing, smell and touch make him the greatest thief in the world.

The boy's name is Peter Nimble. As a baby he was found floating in a basket on the seashore, along with a raven that had apparently pecked his eyes out. He was raised by a family of cats, and later learned to pick pockets and nick vegetables from market stalls. He spent the better part of his childhood committing burglaries for a cruel master named Mr. Seamus, until one night he stole a precious box of enchanted eyeballs that transported him on a magical adventure.

Joined by an absurd but loyal knight who, for reasons too complex to go into here, has been transformed into a part-horse, part-kitten creature, Peter receives his marching orders from a strange old professor who dwells on the Troublesome Lake, so named because all the hopeless messages in bottles thrown into all the world's seas eventually drift upon its shores. The professor sends Peter and Sir Tode off to solve a riddle in a bottle and, perhaps, save whoever sent it.

As a bonus, the riddle leads them into a dangerous conflict between thieves and birds, and then to a kingdom ruled by a vile usurper who has brainwashed all his adult subjects and enslaved all the children. Between a night watch staffed with man-eating apes, a mine guarded by ferocious sea monsters and a system of cogs and springs that controls everything else, King Incarnadine seems to have an unshakable hold on power. But there's no reckoning on a boy whose fingers are as good as his name, especially once he learns his true identity and destiny.

This is a delightfully quirky, funny, adventurous adventure that places a touching emphasis on friendship, loyalty, courage and the resiliency of children. It should appeal to all readers who are ready for the secret that kids are better than grown-ups, and anyone who likes fairy-tale endings that don't come too easily. A lot of complications are packed into its plot, but at bottom it is a simple, direct, satisfying escape route from hum-drum to fun. It could also boost the spirits of disabled children. If their vision is impaired - and even if it isn't - they may especially enjoy Michael Page's audio-book preformance, which brings the voices of Sir Tode and the apes most vividly to life. A sequel, Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, is scheduled for release in 2016.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

118. Disaster Hymn

I saved writing this "disaster relief" hymn until well after the conclusion of a disaster-relief-hymnwriting contest that I didn't care to compete in. I haven't read any of the submissions to it either, just to be safe from unconscious plagiarism. It's not that I'm uninterested in competition or in what other hymn writers did, it's just that I was too interested in the subject to let someone's, or rather some committee's, criteria get in the way of my judgment. Behold, this is how I would write a "disaster relief" hymn without any reference to how someone else would do it.

O Lord, our Dwelling Place
From age to age, give ear:
When trouble hides Your loving face
And fills our hearts with fear,
Assure us that with sheltering grace
You listen even here.

When famine sears the land
Or wind and flood destroy,
Remind us Your creating hand
Provides each need and joy;
Then at the season You have planned,
Your messengers employ.

Restore the broken wall;
Raise up the fallen home.
Relieve the pain and want of all
On whom these days have come.
Into safe harbors, Savior, call
Those who in peril roam.

Our hearts may take it ill
When we come to the test;
Forgive us, and the thought instill:
In this, too, we are blest.
We do not understand Your will,
But know that it is best.

For Christ was poor from birth
And had no place to rest,
Though foxes had their den of earth
And birds their nightly nest;
His flesh, of heaven-spanning worth,
Strait in the tomb was pressed.

But now He lives again
And nevermore can die.
His death encompasses all men;
His rising splits the sky.
He will destroy destruction when
He raises us on high.

In You, Lord, and Your Son
No force on earth can harm
The people You unite as one
And shelter with Your arm.
Help us recall what He has done
In times of sore alarm.

Creation quakes and groans
For Jesus to appear;
Each war the church's vigil hones
To see His day draw near.
Till then build us as living stones
To be Your dwelling here.

So build us, Lord, that when
Men's earthly dwellings fall,
We may relieve our fellow men
And mend the broken wall.
Make us the messengers You send
To show Your love to all.

EDIT: Here's an original tune I wrote for this hymn. I titled it DWELLING PLACE.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Left on the Layout Room Floor

I actually shot and captioned at least two dozen photos this week that did not make it into the newspaper, although there were three solid pages of photos from the Stover (Mo.) Fair, many of them taken by yours truly. Because I posted all the good ones on my newspaper's Facebook album, I won't repost them here. So that just leaves this shot that didn't make the cut:

Linna Haupt, left, Lily Ellis, Anna Reeves and Tanna Bellis sit together for lunch the last day of summer school, Thursday, June 18 at Morgan County R-I school in Stover.