Last Update 6/20/21

The Laughter of Ghouls by K.A. Opperman, Hippocampus, 2021, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-61498-328-6

I have never felt comfortable reviewing poetry because, first, it requires a different set of terms and standards than does prose, and second, because I think poetry is much more specifically personal than other prose. That said, I found this to be quite close to my tastes in terms of structure and execution. The subject matter is obviously somewhat unusual, dealing as it does with ghouls, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and other things that go bump (or make some other arcane noise) in the night. There is no free verse here - the poems are very strictly constructed and not experimental. Daniel Sauer has provided several quite nice illustrations that are sprinkled through the book. Even non-poetry enthusiasts might find this rewarding. 6/20/21

The Tribulations of a Chinaman in China by Jules Verne, 1879   

This is a rather unusual Verne novel about a rich Chinese merchant. After a sudden reversal in his fortunes, he decides to die. Rather than commit suicide, he decides to add spice to his death by hiring someone to murder him. His finances suddenly change for the better and he decides to live after all, but the hired killer has gone into hiding and is unaware of the change of plans. This eventually leads to a more rousing adventure with bandits, sea voyages, and surprise revelations, but the ending is a happy one for all concerned. I rather liked this one. 6/18/21

Dick Sand by Jules Verne, 1878  

The title character serves on a whaling ship that rescues five black men from a sinking ship. Although only fifteen, he is left in charge while the entire crew tries to kill a whale. They are wiped out instead, leaving him in charge, with an untrained crew. The ship’s cook, however, is a villain who sabotages the compass. This leads them to the African coast where they have a series of not very interesting adventures among the slave traders, both black and white. Relatively dull for Verne. 6/6/21

Michael Strogoff by Jules Verne, 1876  

The title character is a courier for Tsar Alexander II. There is a rebellion in progress and Strogoff is sent with a message to a local governor. He and some companions are eventually captured by the rebel Tartar forces. One of the prisoners asserts that Strogoff is a spy and he is blinded as a punishment, but it turns out a few chapters later that he was faking it and his eyes are fine. He and his romantic interest eventually escape and complete his mission. This was one of Verne’s better historical novels. 5/31/21

The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne, 1875  

This is technically a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, since a dying Captain Nemo makes an appearance toward the end to save the day. Five Union prisoners of war escape in a balloon, but a storm carries them to an unknown island. They are aware that there is a mysterious presence on the island, but have no idea what or who it could be. They find a floating message that leads to the rescue of another stranded traveler, who is a character from In Search of the Castaways. A ship full of pirates shows up to stir the plot considerably, and that’s when Nemo finally makes his presence known. A bit slow moving but still one of Verne’s best novels. 5/28/21

The Survivors of the Chancellor by Jules Verne, 1875 

Because, in part, of some illegal cargo, a fire starts on a ship conveying cotton and passengers. The ship eventually is trapped on a reef, but the waves finally put out the fire and the crew begins repairing the vessel. This requires jettisoning the entire cargo, alas. Before they can finish and put to sea, the ship begins to sink as water pours into its lower decks. Efforts to stop the leaks fail and they decide to build a raft and abandon ship. The raft breaks free, unfortunately, but the ship reaches a new equilibrium. Some of the survivors build a second raft, but they run out of provisions and resort to cannibalism before reaching the mainland. A much darker novel than most of Verne’s other work. 5/19/21

The Fur Country (1872) 

This is one of Verne’s more entertaining non-fantastic adventures. A party of men have been sent north of the Arctic Circle to build a fort. They make good progress until an earthquake changes their circumstances and they find themselves on a very large block of ice floating out to sea. They have some minor adventures and solve some apparently mysteries about the physical world. The characters are pretty shallow but sufficiently differentiated to support the story. 4/12/21

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne, 1872

I don't think I ever actually read this before. Phileas Fogg accepts a bet that he can travel around the world in the stipulated time, thanks to the construction of a railway across India. If everything had gone well, he could have accomplished this easily enough, but there would not have been much story. He has various adventures, the chief of which involves the rescue of a young woman who is to be ritually burned alive in India. She accompanies Fogg and his valet, Passepartout, for the rest of the journey, which includes missed connections and other delays and dangers. Famously he believes he lost the bet by one day, but forgot that he crossed the international date line and therefore has won. This was fun and one of his best books. 3/16/21

Zorro and the Jaguar Warriors by Jerome Preisler, Forge, 1998

This new adventure of Zorro, the Robin Hood of old California, gives him a new villain to battle. Searching for two missing men, Zorro finds a mission that appears to be innocent but which is actually the headquarters of a mysterious and evil cult. Naturally they are no match for him, his whip, and his sword in the long run, although several adventures take place before we reach that point. The plot is entertaining but it felt oddly flat at times and the ending, of course, comes as no surprise at all. 2/19/21

The Child of the Cavern by Jules Verne, 1877

Also known as The Underground City and Black Diamonds. A mining community has fallen onto hard times when the coal mine is worked out, but years later an engineer decides that there is a new and undiscovered vein. The story is complicated by odd events suggesting that the mine is haunted. A young girl is found living in the mine - her origin is never explained - but she is not responsible. It is actually a former mine worker who has lost his mine and is behind all of the ghostly events. Kind of dull. 1/23/21

A Floating City by Jules Verne, 1871

The title refers to a very large steamboat crossing the Atlantic. It runs into a cyclone, among other difficulties. The passengers include a man convinced the ship has fatal flaws that will inevitably lead to disaster, the three members of a romantic triangle, which eventually leads to a fatal duel, and other eccentric characters. It is a mildly entertaining but unmemorable adventure story. 1/19/21

The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in South Africa by Jules Verne, 1872

The six people mentioned in the title travel together to South Africa to conduct a scientific experiment. After some minor adventures, their plans are disrupted by the outbreak of the Crimean War, which means that the two factions are technically at war with one another. As you might expect, this complicates matters considerably. Not Verne at his best, but it's not a very long novel and there are parts of it that are wryly humorous. 1/13/21