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Archive for the ‘Gordon Korman’ Category

39unstopSOUNDTRACK: SLOAN-“Get Out” (2014).

Sloan_CommonwealthSloan has a new album coming out next week.  It is currently streaming on Picthfork.  The album is like a small version of the Kiss solo albums (except that there is only one album) or like Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma (because it’s a double album and one side is kinda crazy). Each member of the band has written the songs for a side.  The imagery for the disc is a deck of playing card, and each member gets a suit:  Diamond (Jay Ferguson); Heart (Chris Murphy);  Shamrock (Patrick Pentland); Spade (Andrew Scott).  Even though I am a big fan of Sloan, I have honestly never been able to tell their vocalists apart. True, they do sound distinctive, but I can’t keep them straight at all.  So this album should help with that (and maybe see if there is one composer I like better–I don’t think so).

I chose this song primarily because it seemed to tie in well with this book and also because it a rocking song that last for less than 2 minutes.

The guitar comes rocking right at the start.  The verses are short and the bridge , a simple “Get out, you can get out” propels the song along nicely.  There’s a loud squalling guitar solos.  And a cool chorus with backing vocals.  And after two verses, two bridges and two choruses, the song ends.  A great soundtrack for an escape.

I’m looking forward to the release (although I won’t be getting the deluxe edition, sorry guys).

[READ: September 4, 2014] Flashpoint

In all of my time reading the 39 Clues, this is the first time I actually caught up to the series–I read this book almost in the week that it came out.  So if I was actually playing online with the clues, I may have been able to win whatever it is the online competition is.  Actually it’s quite rare that I read anything soon after it has come out, so that was fun in itself as well.

Okay, so this series has concluded with major 39 dude Gordon Korman taking over the reins.  And that made me happy, because he knows that the family working as a team is what is so important to the series.  And he got them working together again–even if it was because Amy was days away from death by the side effects of the serum.

As the story starts out (yes, I am still bitter about what happened at the end of Book Three–and I must report that that was not redeemed in any way, so yes, I am mad at the series for the senselessness of what happened to a favorite character of mine), Dan is being held prisoner by Galt Pierce.  (I love how nutty the Patriotist party is portrayed, and how easily susceptible people are to the platitudes Rutherford Pierce offers).  He and his sister Cara are trying to extract information from Dan.  Dan is given a truth serum and reveals some information, but then he takes a sleeping potion to knock himself out.

When he awakens, Galt threatens him, but Cara tells Galt to back off.  And then, unless Dan is mistaken, and he may be, she seems to help him escape from the plane that they are currently waiting in.  At the same time, Jonah Wizard’s plane is nearby (through some clever tracking by Pony), and they are able to rescue Dan.  Then they are off to Phenom Penh to find the final ingredient–the venom form a Tonle Sap snake.  Which means a trip through the amazingness that is Angkor Wat (more…)

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medusaSOUNDTRACK: PETER BJORN & JOHN-“I Wish I Was a Spy” (2012).

awesome4Yo Gabba Gabba has always been a source of interesting music–very cool bands devote time and music to this, frankly bizarre kids show.

This song from Peter Bjorn and John is fantastic.  While the lyrics are kid friendly, there’s no reason that this song need be played only for kids.

The song opens with a good vibrato “spy” guitar lick and vocal breaths.  The unusual percussion really shows how much this song sounds like a PB&J song even if it is of a very specific genre.  When the vocals come in (sounding very PB&J), the lyrics simply state that he wishes he was a spy, and then he gives some great examples of what he would do as a spy.

But the big surprise comes from the chorus which s bright and bouncy and talks about how we can all pretend we are all agents.

The Yo Gabba Gabba version ends at 2 minutes, but the extended version has more instrumental surf/spy guitar work.  It’s kind of an extraneous coda, but the sound they capture is really cool, so it’s fun to get the extra minute of guitar work.

[READ: May 6, 2014] The Medusa Plot

When I finished Vespers Rising, I said I would pace myself because the Cahills vs. Vespers series was six book which would conclude in March 2013.  Clearly I paced myself too slowly because here it is May 2014, Cahils vs. vespers is long done, and they are on the next series already.

But hey, I’m not playing the online game so there’s no time constraints for me.

Also, Clark started reading the original series so I wanted to keep a little ahead of him.  It seemed like a good time to start this middle series.

And man, once I started reading I was immediately brought back into the exciting world of Dan and Amy Cahill.  I had forgotten about the short story in Vespers Rising (about the ring that Amy now has) and about the Vespers in general.  But that didn’t matter, because it was quickly set up that the Vespers (led by the unknown V-1) in particular are bad and they will stop at nothing to achieve their goal (which we don’t know yet).

It has been two years since the end of the 39 Clues.  As the book opens, several members of the disparate Cahill family clan are kidnapped: Fiske Cahill, Reagan Holt, Natalie Kabra (who, with her brother is now poor since their evil mother disowned them for not being evil enough), Alistair Oh (no!) and Ted Starling (his brother Ned escaped), Phoenix Wizard (Jonah’s little cousin) and, gasp, Nellie Gomez!  They are taken to an undisclosed location, given jumpsuits and left in a small cell with nothing to do and minimal food on a regular basis. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TEGAN AND SARA-“Alligator” on CDC Kids’ Mamma Yamma (2010).

Tegan and Sara take a slightly different approach than the other artists on Mamma Yamma.  Rather than creating a new song, they took their hit “Alligator” and made new words for it (much like many artists have done on Sesame Street).

The melody is exactly the same (which is good, as it’s a really catchy song). But rather than being about a failed relationship, it’s about alligators.

Old lyrics: Run around on me, I’d sooner die without

New lyrics: Run around a tree, skip and jump about

It’s a cute version and the band sounds very good.

I really enjoy these introductions to interesting musicians on kids shows.  I wonder if kids actually like seeing grown up musicians like this.

You can watch it here:

[READ: April 20, 2012] Vespers Rising

I finished The 39 Clues series last year. Or so I thought!  After completing books 1-10, I found out that they were planning a whole new series.  And they began with this transitional book, which they called #11 and which was co-written by four of the prominent authors.

Vespers Rising is actually four short stories that trace the history of the Cahill family and their feud with the Vesper family.  The Vespers were not a part of the first series at all.  In the first series, the 39 Clues were a kind of Amazing Race for Cahill family members.  (I’ll get to some details about the family in a moment).  It was a kind of private race for the prize–which was a life-enhancing serum.  But this book introduces a new villain to the story and explains that the villain has been there all along, just lurking.

Rick Riordan wrote the first story in this book takes us back to the beginning.  In 1507, off the coast of Ireland, Gideon Cahill invented this serum.  He was and alchemist, seeking an antidote for the Black Death which was ravaging Europe.  He was working for Lord Damien Vesper, a man bent on power.  Vesper wasn’t interested in helping people with the Black Death–he had no real value for life–however, he was interested in the results that Gideon might discover. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEST COAST-Crazy for You (2010).

I really enjoyed the Best Coast concert that was downloadable from NPR.  I liked it enough for me to rethink my initial skepticism about this album.  But I have to say that I fall into a minority in that I really don’t like this album all that much.  In concert, the band is loud and raucous–the songs are poppy but they have a kind of growly edge and a punk veneer, and singer Bethany Cosentino has a sneer to her cutesy lyrics that gives them a nice edge.

But all of that is missing from the album.  In fact, to me this album sounds like a long-lost relic of girl groups from the 60s.  And, blasphemy as it may be, I just do not like girl groups from the 60s.  I hate the tinny sound and I hate the “my life sucks without a boy” sentiment that most of those songs project.  (I love a good love song, I hate an insecure love song).  And, for the first few songs at least, this album conveys both of those things. 

Nevertheless, there’s a lot I appreciate about this record.  I like that it’s lo-fi.  I like that it’s just the two of them making all this music.  I even like many of the lyrics (the lyrics that Cosentino describes as “about weed and my cat and being lazy a lot”).  I also like that the songs are super catchy and super short ( no songs are over 3 minutes and that most are only about 2 minutes long). 

So even if I don’t love the record sonically, I can appreciate the simplicity and ease of singing along that the album presents.  And there are a few songs on the disc that I do like.  I especially like “When I’m with You” (the bonus song) for being a stupid pop song but somehow transcending the stupidity. 

As for the lyrics.  They are little more than teen girl diary entries, except when they turn into college girl diary entries (and then they turn funny rather than sad).  From a lyrical standpoint I am much more in tune with “Goodbye” (“I lost my job, I miss my mom, I wish my cat could talk.  Everytime you leave the house, everything falls apart”) than with “Boyfriend” (“There’s nothing worse than sitting all alone at home.  And waiting waiting waiting waiting by the phone.  I hope that he’s at home.  Waiting by his phone”).

I guess, overall, there’s just something about California pop music that I don’t like as much as my East Coast bands.  [NYHC rules!].

[READ: September 14, 2011] The Emperor’s Code

Gordon Korman is back helming the series which is set in China. Now, I have seen pictures and movies of things in China, but the real scale of things has never come across to me until reading this book.  Which is kind of sad for me, but it’s really cool for the book.  I knew that the Great Wall of China was huge, but I never knew that it could stretch from Boston to San Diego with extra room at the end.  I never appreciated the kind of training the Shaolin monks undergo (the description of the statue of  Bodhidharma as being well over 750 steps up and taking over an hour to climb really sunk in for me just how big this place is!).  In short, while I know that parts of the story disregard history, the historical parts are fascinating and informative!

Dan and Amy’s first stop is the Forbidden City, where they sign up for a tour.  Dan sneaks out of the tour to enter an area where they think a clue is.  Much like with Pee Wee Herman looking for the basement of the Alamo, Dan Cahill looks for the attic of the Forbidden City.  And he finds it.  And then he is caught by guards.  But this little preview of Dan and Amy working separately doesn’t quite prepare us for the massive change in the series that Korman is preparing for us.  

Dan and Amy start talking about what the clues means and the fact that they are Madrigals–are they (and their whole family line) really killers?  This leads to much tension which ends with Amy wondering aloud if maybe their parents weren’t good people at all.  Dan and Amy fight and Dan storms off.  And through a series of scary events, he ends up in the clutches of Jonah Wizard (whom we have not seen for a long time).

And thus, for the bulk of the book, Dan is on his own.  Amy, Nellie and Saladin work hard to try to find Dan and maybe even a Clue.  Meanwhile, Dan is with Jonah, thinking that Jonah’s father is trying to contact Amy.  Dan is still pretty angry so he doesn’t really care what Amy is up to (and he believes she is not trying to find him).  But Amy is freaking out thinking of her 11-year-old brother in the most populous, hugest country all alone.  But he’s not alone, he’s got Jonah Wizard, yo.  And for much of the book, Dan lives the high life.  He hangs out with Jonah, plays video games, lives a first class lifestyle and even gets to be backstage to see what it’s like to have tens of thousands of fans screaming at you.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKPUGWASH-Giddy (2009).

I found this CD through a connection to The Divine Comedy (Neil Hannon plays on a few of their tracks).  Pugwash (what a crazy name–it comes from a series of children’s books (and a TV show) called Captain Pugwash) is an Irish band with four CDs (and this collection).  And man, it’s hard to find their stuff over here (although their website has a wonderful collection of videos and such).

Giddy is a collection of songs from all of their albums.  Their first album is represented by two songs here “The Finer Things in Life” and “Two Wrongs.”  These two songs sound, with no disrespect intended, like great Oasis ballads.  Say what you will about Oasis’ originality, they wrote some great songs, and these two sound like the best Oasis songs you’ve never heard.

Their other three albums sound far less like Oasis and far more like XTC.  In fact, the XTC comparisons are well-founded as Andy Partridge eventually co-wrote a song with them and eventually signed them to Partridge’s Ape House records (which is how this collection was released in the U.S.).

The XTC comparison is unavoidable on a few tracks.  The opening of “Song for You” (the “when we die” part) sounds like an uncanny XTC outtake, but when the chorus kicks in it sounds nothing like them and moves into more of the gorgeous orchestral pop that overflows on this disc.  And the Partridge co-written “My Genius” is also a wonderful near-XTC outtake, clever, witty, and perfect.

And the song “It’s Nice to Be Nice” is just a wonderful cheery pop ditty.  It sounds retro and charming; if the simple lyrics (and gorgeous harmonies) don’t bring a smile to your face you must be made of stone.

Although the album is primarily orchestral pop, there’s a wonderful array of styles on here.  “Anyone Who Asks” has chipper keyboard bits in the verses, but the chorus is a wonderful mix of dark minor chords.  And then, the absolutely bizarrely wonderful “Monorail” sounds like a fantastic Beck song (with lyrics that are as decidedly unusual as anything Beck himself might write).   It even opens and closes with wonderful circa 1920s banjo.

Despite the obvious nod to XTC, Pugwash does something that XTC doesn’t.  XTC is a very mannered band.  They always seemed very rigid and formal (and were wonderful because of it).  Pugwash uses XTC as a springboard, but Thomas Walsh seems like a guy who likes to let loose with unchecked silliness, so he can move past the strictures of XTC (and sound like Beck!)

And the packaging is just wonderful. The carnivalesque appearance of the cardboard case is enhanced by not just a cardboard sleeve but also by a second cardboard half-sleeve that you slide on top.  Depending on which way you slide it on, it creates a different set of pictures.  It’s a little thing but it’s a nice nod to the fun of non-digital products.

This is certainly one of my favorite albums this year (even if it came out last year).

[READ: September 21, 2010] One False Note

I enjoyed the first book of the series so much, I couldn’t wait to get to Book Two.  In particular, I was interested to see if Gordon Korman’s writing style would differ much from Rick Riordan’s.  As I said last time, I hadn’t read Riordan before, (although I have read a few by Korman) and while I wasn’t expecting them to write in the same manner, I wondered if they would try to keep the style the same (or if it would be really obvious that they were different writers).

I have to say that I didn’t notice the difference between the two.  Korman’s seems a bit faster paced (but he had no exposition to deal with), and it’s possible that he made things seems a bit more scary/dangerous than Riordan, but not much.

The question I have with the series is three-part: Is the basic plot given to each new writer–like the writer is told what the 39 Clues are–or, possibility two, are they told very specifically, the clue is this and it is here and the writer has to figure out how to get the kids there, or possibility number three, they are free to do whatever they want.

Either way, this is an exciting series, and I’m looking forward to Book Three.

So in Book Two, Amy and Dan continue their adventure.  This time, they go to Saltzburg and Venice.  The Saltzburg trip leads them to the Mozart house.  There’s a wonderful sorta subplot about Mozart’s sister, Nannerl (real name Maria Anna), who was also a great pianist and harpsichordist, oftentimes getting top billing when they played together.  I’s never heard of her, and didn’t know of her talent, and that’s the point of the subplot–how Nannerl had to put her musical skills to the side because she was a woman.   This works nicely with the pairing of Dan and Amy and how they are both good at different things and are both very useful on the quest. (more…)

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On July 25, I reached 90,000 hits.
It took me seven months to get from 60,000 (Dec 25, 2009) to 90,000.
It took me nine months to get my first 30,000 hits.

There are some obvious contributing factors to this improvement (not the least of which is links from referrers that make absolutely no sense whatsoever (and which are pretty clearly spam, but hey, numbers are numbers, right?)  But the most obvious is the huge outcry at the failure of Scholastic to continue publishing the Ulysses Moore series.

If you Google “Ulysses Moore” I am the first post (after the official Scholastic site, Amazon, and fantasticfiction).  I have received so many comments from people who are frustrated that the can’t finish the series. It is amazing that so many voices are ignored.  As you can see, this series has garnered me 4020 views.

At 60,000 views I posted some theories as to why I thought these posts were so successful.  Since very little has changed (mostly just a little shuffle of the top ten), I won’t bother repeating that.  But, there is one post (see the bottom, hee hee) which has absolutely skyrocketed in just a few short months.

1. 4020 views posted April 25, 2009 [was #1 at 60,000: 1663 views]
Pierdomenico Baccalario–Ulysses Moore series Books 1-4
SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-Vitalogy (more…)

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Thursday I went to BEA–Book Expo America.  I wasn’t all that thrilled to go this year as last year was kind of a drag (and publishers were stingy).  But this year I had a very good time.

By the time I got there it was already 11.  But I was thrilled to see that at that moment Mo Willems (we own all of his books, and my kids are huge fans of Pigeon and Elephant & Piggie) was signing posters for his new book.  He signed a poster for Clark (only one per person, sorry Tabitha).  And then over the course of the day I managed to lose the poster (sorry Clark). (more…)

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