Monday, March 17, 2008

My Reading Week, Part 2: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and Alexander Botts

A continuation of last week's reads . . .

3. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson - an ARC I picked up off of the "FREE BOOKS" cart I happened across at the library, one day. What a lucky find! A young adult fantasy, set to be released tomorrow (3/18/08), On the Edge, etc. is Book 1 in a series called The Wingfeather Saga. The cover adds the following: "Adventure, Peril, Lost Jewels And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree." Also, from the cover blurb, on the back:

Once, in a cottage above the cliffs on the Dark Sea of Darkness, there lived three children and their trusty dog Nugget. Janner Igiby, his brother Tink, and their crippled sister, Leeli, are gifted children as all children are, loved well by a noble mother and ex-pirate grandfather. But they will need all their gifts and all that love to survive the evil pursuit of the venomous Fangs of Dang, who have crossed the Dark Sea to rule the land with malice. The Fangs seek the Igibys, who hold the secret to the lost legend and jewels of good King Wingfeather of the Shining Isle of Anniera.

Andrew Peterson spins a riveting tale of the Igibys' extraordinary journey. Full of characters rich in heart, smarts, and courage, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness presents a world of wonder and a tale children of all ages will cherish.

I'm going to skip the last bit, but they go on to say the book can be read aloud and discussed with families. Meaning, it's very family-friendly. There's some violence; the Fangs are very, very bad and think nothing of beating up on small children. I'm not sure I'd read it to a young, sensitive child or hand it to one who is prone to nightmares. But, On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness has a nice, straightforward good-versus-evil storyline. It's a bit predictable and yet it's so fun that the predictability didn't bother me. On the Edge, etc. is loaded with puns, contains a nicely rounded set of characters, is adventurous and sometimes quite funny. I loved the characters and will look forward to a second tale. My ARC cover is different than the cover shown -- the dragons are larger and it has an edge that looks like old, brown leather.

Since this book is an ARC, I wouldn't feel right quoting from it, but I have to tell you about the opening. The book begins with a history of the conquered land in which the story takes place and how the very first inhabitant woke up, stretched and said, "Well, here we are." Those first words were passed down for so long and through so many retellings that the land itself became known as Aerwiar. I read that paragraph aloud to everyone who came near me and they all chuckled.

Rating: Loads of fun and adventure, not a perfect tale -- a little simplistic and predictable -- but really quite a lovely story of hope, about being the captives in an occupied land and having the courage to do what one must do. I hope the book will be widely read and I will definitely watch for the second in the series. Big thumbs up.

And, last but not least (in fact, quite the opposite of "least") . . .

4. The Fabulous Saga of Alexander Botts and the Earthworm Tractor by William Hazlett Upson - Copyright 2001, the University of Vermont Bailey/Howe Library; short stories originally printed in the Saturday Evening Post, beginning in the 1920's and continuing for decades. This printing: Voyageur Press.

This is my kind of book. I think sometimes readers get stuck in heavier literature from decades past and forget that in every time period there have been folks with a great sense of humor. The Alexander Botts stories are a perfect example of fun, light storytelling written and published in another time period. Okay, well, there's a little cross-over for me (the author lived till the 70's and kept on chugging out Botts stories till he died -- which really puts a damper on the writing), but I'd never heard of Botts prior to spotting the book cover.

Author Upson "turned his work experience with the Holt Caterpillar Company into a second career" by writing the saga of happy-go-lucky tractor salesman Alexander Botts. The stories are printed in chronological order and written as a series of letters and telegrams between Botts and his boss, Henderson. In the first story, "I'm a Natural-Born Salesman," Botts writes to offer his services as a traveling salesman to The Farmer's Friend Tractor Company of Earthworm City, Illinois (later renamed Earthworm Tractor Company).

Botts is immediately hired, but as a service mechanic. When the salesman he is supposed to work with is sidelined by an appendicitis, Botts takes it upon himself to demonstrate the tractor on his own and chaos ensues. But, then Botts saves the day and is given the job as salesman. A similar pattern continues in each story: Botts must do a demonstration, something terrible happens, he sleeps on it or merely ponders for a time and comes up with a brilliant idea, then succeeds at his sale. There are evil salesmen from companies with inferior tractors, difficult customers, troublesome employees, tricky situations. Botts can be a bit of a bumbler, but he's definitely a natural-born salesman and he always comes through in the end. Some might dislike that repetition of theme; I loved it, simply because I felt I could enjoy each story even more knowing that everything was going to turn out okay.

Here's an excerpt from Botts' first report to his boss (in the form of a letter), explaining the customer's pressing need for Botts to go through with the tractor demonstration and how Botts began to operate the Earthworm:

NOTE: I will explain that I was sorry that Mr. Johnson had been unable to wait until afternoon, as I had intended to use the morning in practicing up on driving the machine. It is true, as I said in my letter, that I became familiar with Earthworm tractors when I was a member of a motorized artillery outfit in France, but as my job in the artillery was that of cook, and as I had never before sat in the seat of one of these tractors, I was not as familiar with the details of driving as I might have wished. However, I was pleased to see that the tractor seemed to have a clutch and gear shift like the automobiles I have often driven, and a pair of handle bars for steering very much like those of a tricycle I had operated in my early boyhood.

--from "I'm a Natural-Born Salesman"

And, of course, you know I had to love a book in which the word "wahoo" appears:

"We have shipped to Smedleytown one ten ton Earthworm Tractor equipped with the new Wahoo Improved High-power Double-Rotary Snowplow."

--from "The Old Home Town"

More quotes (obviously, this was a many-Post-it book):

When all the plaster fell off the ceiling of Mike Zippke's dining room, and Mrs. Zippke stuck her head out of the window yelling murder, Jim was right on the job to point out that, after all, this is wartime, and think how much better off she was than people overseas that might have a bomb knock the whole house down. As the lady could think of no adequate reply to this, she shut up.

A little later George Miller's slightly senile Great Uncle Otto, desiring to take a quiet smoke in the sunshine, stepped absent-mindedly out the side door, dropped five feet, and landed in a heap on the pavement. As I was right on the job, however, I was able to pick the old gentleman up, dust him off, and boost him back into the house
before he knew what had happened. I then silenced his incipient complaints by handing him an excellent fifteen-cent cigar which I had just purchased for only twenty-six cents.

--from "Keep Moving, Captain Botts!"

Coming on top of everything else, it is the final grain of salt that causes the solution to reach a point of supersaturation, so that the camel is precipitated to the bottom of the test tube.

--from "Botts Gets a New Job"

We all know to what heights of eloquence a salesman can rise when he is hampered neither by facts nor information. And the eloquence is doubly convincing when the prospective purchaser is equally ignorant. Having sized up Mr. Bunker and Mr. Griggs in this keenly analytical manner, I was now ready to make a definite proposition.

--from "Botts and the Fire Bug"

Can you tell I loved this book? Well, I did. Fortunately for me, when I located this book and the second collection, Alexander Botts Rides Again, I was so taken by the combination of adorable titles, covers and the excerpts I read in the store that I thrust both of them into my husband's hands and encouraged him strongly to immediately purchase both, thus avoiding the pain of having to say that I'd bought two more books in March, myself. He bought them, since he forked over the cash. I know, it's pitiful but I'm sticking to that excuse 100%.

Rating: If you don't mind predictability and love a series of light-hearted, clean, funny, extremely family-friendly, old-fashioned tales with a hero who is truly a good guy, rush right out and get this book. Thumbs waaaaay up. I was so thrilled with it that I'm eager to see what else Voyageur Press has published.

In other news:

--The layout feature at this blog has resumed functioning. However, I've been so busy trying to get these reviews finished that my sidebar is still hopelessly outdated. I'll work on updating between loads of laundry, tonight. I can hear you all breathing a sigh of relief. "We'll be able to see what Bookfool is reading, again!" Well, true; it's important.

--The cat has now visited Tennessee, her 5th state. Also, we saw the eldest in his new apartment and the cat spent the night, there, this weekend. Don't ask me why the cat won primary placement in this paragraph. It's meaningless, honest. But, seriously, isn't it interesting that our cat has traveled farther than some humans do in their lifetime?

--On the way home from Memphis, we took a side trip to Oxford, MS, and briefly stopped to photograph the place we call the Bathtub Ranch. I think this may be one of my favorite places on the planet:

Hope to be back to blog-hopping, tomorrow! Happy Reading!

Bookfool, currently with blurred vision and in need of an early evening


  1. Bathtub ranch!!! That's brilliant. Glad you're back. Wonderful reviews, as always.

  2. Thanks, Andi.

    Look at you! Another new photo! You have the bestest hair and eyes. :)

  3. Oh, Bookfool, you always include so much in your posts that by the time I get to the end I can't remember all the scathingly brilliant things I was going to say.

    I remember - you're library has a FREE Books cart?!

  4. Oh my...this is weird. So I thought I was the only one who had ever seen a bathtub ranch. There's one on the way to Texas too! Megan had always told me about it when we started going out because she's had family there for awhile. Well now, every time I go to see her I see it and it looks just like your picture! Just tons of bathtubs. How funny :)

    And another weird thing, Becky just happened to review that YA book with the really long title today too and your review has convinced me that it just has to go on the list. It's one for me I'm afraid.

    You do realize that your cat has nearly been to as many states as me now? ;) I don't get out much...

  5. How cool! I love the picture. I'm also very glad you're back.

  6. Booklogged,

    That's okay. I know you have loads of scathingly brilliant remarks to make, even if you forget them. :)

    My library occasionally sets out a cart full of ARCs that anyone can grab at no cost. I've been fortunate enough to happen across a cart-full 3 times, now. They were almost gone, the last time, and there was a man loading his second bag, across from me. So, I grabbed at random and then chose to flee. LOL Not a bad start with the YA book!

  7. Chris,

    How cool that you pass a bathtub ranch, too!!! I told my husband that I'm pretty sure I could spend a couple of hours just taking photos at the one we pass outside Oxford. Imagine the fun, posing people inside tubs (reading, or whatever), zooming in on funky handles and rusty bits. Someday, I'll squeeze in a couple of hours of bathtub photography. LOL

    Becky reviewed On the Edge, etc., too? I'll have to go find her; I never added her to my sidebar, although I love her reviews. It's definitely a Chris book, though, IMHO.

    I didn't know my cat had traveled to almost as many states as you have, no, but I know people who've never left their home state. You're still young. I'm sure you'll be better-traveled than my cat, in no time. :)

    Hey Nikki!

    Thanks and thanks!! I'm glad to be back, too!!

  8. What is it with the bathtubs? Just out to pasture, or do they ever get back to work? I've never heard of or seen such a thing! But I'll remember the locations so if I'm ever near there I can go see it for myself!

  9. Jeane,

    I don't know whether those old tubs are ever recovered and used, again, or they just go to the Bathtub Ranch to die, but I love the form of those older bathtubs and their hardware. If you're ever in the area, let me know. It's easy to miss. We whipped right past the Bathtub Ranch about a half-dozen times before we finally figured out exactly where it was located and were able to pull over for photos. :)

  10. AHH! SO glad you are back!!!

    Love the bathtub ranch. So...different. Yet somehow cool.

    That first book, the darkness of dark or whatever, looks pretty good. I'll have to look into that one.

    The cat I used to have went to 3 or 4 states I think. NC, SC, Tennesee and Virginia. Well traveled animals!

  11. Thanks, Heather. :)

    Yeah, Bathtub Ranches: the height of coolness. Okay, maybe not, but they're interesting, yes? LOL

    The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. I think you might like it. It's a bit simplistic and heavy on puns, but it's fun.

    Funny that you have a well-traveled cat, too! I need to collect maps for the cat. She seems a little disinterested -- I mentioned it to her and she just glared. But, you know. Cats. Who gets 'em?

  12. Thanks, dahling! And I'm a pro at the nose-and-up shot!

  13. I can see that. LOL

  14. Peterson's book does sound interesting, but your description of Upson's book caught my attention even more so. It sounds like a delightful read.

    Look at all those bathtubs! I can see why you'd like it there. :-)

    Have a great rest of the week, Nancy.

  15. Wendy,

    Both books were enjoyable, but Alexander Botts was so fun I couldn't bear to put it down till I finished. It's a total upper.

    LOL! Love those tubs. :)

    Thanks. Right back at ya, Wendy!

  16. They do great work Bookfool! We took ours to him in '98 and consider him the tub whisperer. ;D

  17. Maggie,

    That's a tub fix-it place? Cool! The tub whisperer! LOL I love it!

  18. Yes! We have a claw foot in our old timey bathroom and he resurfaces, reglazes, refurbishes,re-enamels (whatever the process is called) tubs and sinks.

  19. Both these books sound great!!! Your cat is indeed well travelled and may I just say that if I ever have the chance to go to Bathtub Ranch I certianly will jump at the chance!!!

  20. The bath-tub ranch : is that a place where bath-tubs go to rest in peace or to be given a new lease of life ? ;)
    Alexander Botts looks like great fun !

  21. The books sound like a ton of fun! And the bathtub ranch is really funky. *grin*

  22. Great reviews!

    Lucky you that picked up free books!


  23. Maggie,

    Very neato burrito! Thanks for informing me. Sometime I'm going to meet you there and take photos of you reading in one of those tubs. :)


    She's been a Road Trip Cat, but, I have to say the feline is obviously very happy to be home! Everyone should visit a bathtub ranch, just for kicks. LOL


    I think it's a little bit of both, based on what Maggie's said.

    Alexander Botts is loads of fun. I'm trying to figure out how to squeeze that one onto the good shelves. It'll be a reread, eventually -- great clean reading. I appreciate a book that's just pure fun.


    Yep and yep. LOL Fun books, funky tubs. :)


    I think I've lucked out quite a bit on the free book front. Now, I just need to find the time to read everything. :)

  24. That's awesome that your cat has traveled so much (yes out of that whole post I was drawn to the cat paragraph). It's traveled more than my husband had before he got his job at 22 yrs old. I'm putting Peterson's book on my TBR list and will have to share your post with my mom who loves young adult ficton. I'm glad you found that book!

  25. Andrea,

    LOL! We traveled to England and Scotland with a young fellow my husband worked with (on business), a few years back. He'd never been out of the state, prior to that trip overseas. Boy, did we ever wake the travel bug in that guy. I'd say he was in his late 20's, at the time.

    I hope your mother likes the Peterson book!! I love YA books. I've had to read a lot more "light" reading material since I began having insomnia trouble and YA books are really a lifesaver.


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