If Mom said it once, she said it a thousand times:
“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
True that. But when it comes to books, we all do it, huh? (C’mon now. ‘Fess up. It’s just between us, okay?)
Well. Have you ever finished reading a book and wondered how in the heck did that cover wind up on that book?
I have. So I’m gonna save you a lot of time. After reading these three novels based on their covers, I’m letting you know which books deliver and which don’t.
Here We Go!
Swooping into the library at warp speed the other day, three titles caught my eye. Cool covers all:
- Kit’s Wilderness, by David Almond (Hodder Children’s Books, 1999)
- Dark Data: Control, Alt, Delete, by Douglas J. Wood (Plum Bay Publishing, 2019)
- Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country, by Pam Houston (W.W. Norton & Company, 2019).
Here’s my take on these three novels and whether or not they deliver what their covers seemed to offer:
By Simon P. Clark. Published in the UK in 2014 as Eren, published by St. Martin’s Griffin in October 2015 in the US.
Twelve year-old Oliver “Oli” has been whisked out of his London home by his mum and driven to the countryside. The duo arrives on the doorstep of Oli’s uncle and aunt. They reside in a very old house formerly owned by Oli’s grandmother.
It’s all rather mysterious. In fact, the whole family is kind of mysterious. Especially Oli’s Dad, who got left behind in London because he works for the government and… something?
Then there’s the forest behind the house. Dark. Green. Creepy. Home to legends. Dreams. Creepy things that presumably go bump in the night.
Enter neighbors Em and her Japanese friend, Takeu. Also Mrs. Barson of the Coxborough Local History Society. She knows “a thing or two of the older stories.”
Did I mention creepy?
Who is Eren?
Then there’s Eren. He lives in the attic. Sort of. He’s a creature who lives on stories like most people live on food. Early on, Eren seems to be a bat. But on page 134 he stops Oli with an “outstretched arm.”
Eren also has an annoying habit of referring to Oli as “poppet,” “speckle” or “Little spud.”
Like that’s not patronizing or anything.
Comes Up Short
Geared for middle graders, this story tries really, really hard to be clever and original. To blur the lines between reality and fantasty. It comes up short. Wobbly. Like trying to read a map through the bottom of a Coke bottle.
The main theme of Tell the Story to Its End (if there is one) is Inkheart-esque: Stories are unending. The lifeblood of humanity.
Too bad so much of this story gets lost in the forest.
By Pam Houston. WW. Norton & Company, 2019
Deep Creek was disappointing, especially since it began with such promise.
Again, I grabbed this book on the basis of its title and cover art. I mean, who can resist that amazing photo of an Irish wolfhound poised mid-creek, contemplating the high country of Colorado?
A Promising Start
Drenched in feral beauty and lyrical prose, Deep Creek starts out as a deliciously eloquent, insightful midlife autobiography. It chronicles the author’s life and her outdoor adventures as a fifty-something single woman living on a 120-acre ranch in the middle of Nowheresville, Colorado. At 9,000 feet elevation.
A series of linked essays, Deep Creek is divided into five parts: Getting Out, Digging In, Diary of a Fire, Elsewhere, and Deep Creek.
Diary of a Fire, in which Houston chronicles a 110,000-acre wildfire that threatens her century-old barn and ranch, is probably her strongest section. You can almost smell the smoke.
Her strongest chapter is probably Kindness. It starts on page 227 and recalls lessons learned from her childhood caregiver, Martha Washington. (Houston’s neglectful, abusive parents were both train wrecks.)
Stutters and Sputters
Early on, I was zipping through pages like a starving man at an all-you-can eat Chinese buffet. I gobbled up Houston’s insightful outdoor observations with an industrial strength spoon. But the strong, vibrant narrative stutters and sputters when the author starts taking pot shots at political foes.
Houston lost me around page 77. There she lurches into Ode to Climate Change. Or The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling! Run For Your Lives!
Sadly, the text never regains its equilibrium. Pity, that. Especially with such beautiful cover art.
3.0 (bein’ generous here)
By Douglas J. Wood. Plum Bay Publishing, 2019
Dark Data lives up to its cover.
The story focuses on the economic fall-out of an all-out cyber war and financial terrorism.
Think bad. Very, very bad.
Basic Plot & Characters
Using an army of highly skilled computer hackers, a Russian oligarch launches a coordinated attack designed to cripple financial markets, collapse entire economies, and unleash societal chaos unseen since The War of the Worlds. Only this time the villains aren’t space aliens. They’re cyber terrorists.
The vast cast of characters includes:
- An Algerian arms dealer
- Axios reporters
- A Chinese computer scientist
- A zillion shadowy “black hat” computer programmers
- A greedy Russian zillionaire
- A huge network of spiders, cookies, algorithms and bots.
It’s 1984. On steroids.
Chapters include geographic headings. Otherwise we’d lose track of where we are.
Chapters themselves are short and taut, especially as the story gallops to its uncertain end. Wood’s pacing is also pitch-perfect, building intensity to its nail-biting climax.
A Gripping Cautionary Tale
This cautionary tale will have you on the edge of your seat until the final page. Just realize that you, as a reader, are being manipulated as deftly and expertly as are some of the other characters in this gripping story. (Either intentionally or otherwise, the plot includes biases and prejudices toward certain people groups as well as a startling misapprehension of basic Christian doctrine.)
Anyway, Dark Data may make you think twice before you log into your computer or post a status update. You may also want to read up on the Selfish Ledger. Just sayin’.
What’s the last book you chose for its cover?