Bruce Arrington spent his childhood tromping through the woods and streams of Hood River Valley, Oregon. He currently teaches in the historic, small town of Paisley, Oregon. He lives there with his wife, Hope, three venturesome teens, and several spoiled pets.
on May 07, 2013 :
The author gave me a free copy of the book for a non-reciprocal review.
As this book was randomly assigned to me, it is fair to say that I do not represent the intended reader of Josh Anvil and the Cypress Door. Being a 28 year old, this story is not meant for me. With that said, this is a book that I would recommend to one of my younger cousins for instance. The story is full of imagination and adventure, it is well-written, and appropriate for young boys.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
on April 08, 2013 :
This middle school/young adult fantasy story revolves around Josh, a fourteen year old boy living in contemporary Louisiana. He hates school, likes telling stories and loves the swamp surrounding his home. He also likes taking chances, often endangering his life and others' lives throughout the book. His dyslexia makes him feel like a freak, influencing some of his decisions to rebel, especially at school.
In late summer, he gains special powers from aliens he encounters while canoeing in the swamp. He's then able to create any living thing, plant or animal, which he discovers after telling some fantastical stories. Giant spiders, flying dragons, beautiful girls, a living island in the sky that one can visit, even humans to help out at the family homestead--all appear after he describes them. And they don't go away. When a dragon-flying accident lands Josh in hospital, he discovers that he also has the power to heal others through touch, and the hospital staff use him to heal terminal patients. His powers leave him continually hungry--what he eats is described often-- and tired, but he enjoys making others better. As one can imagine, the school, community and news reporters find out about the "healer". He's hounded and even kidnapped, until his dragons save him.
Josh's best friend Troy is involved in most of the story, and much of the dialogue is between them. They feel like typical young teenagers, making light of things when they ought to be serious. The two boys use many references to movies--Avatar, Spiderman to name a couple--plus lots of cliches, but maybe this is how kids think and talk. It sometimes seems too sarcastic and clever, especially when their lives are in danger--which is often. Some of the sentences could be tightened up, needing contractions, and a synonym for "suddenly" would help during action descriptions--it's used too often.
Josh's highschool teachers are nicely described and all have fun, characterful names: Ms. Sreech for music, Ms. Pye for math, Mr. Hoop for basketball, and so on. Josh is even able to cure a couple of their minor ailments. The normal tensions and awkwardness between students and teachers is mixed with compassion and feels realistic. I also liked Ms. Screech's description of the Tree of Life, one of the few references to the rest of the world and other belief systems.
Josh's parents never seem heavy or overwhelming, though they're around after every mishap. A few times I questioned their lack of caution, letting their 14 year old son take chances I would call dangerous. But this book is written for teenagers, not adults, and they will enjoy Josh's freedom to do foolhardy things and face the consequences, even at the end of the book. Though the focus of the book is on the boys, there are some minor female characters, including sports-minded schoolmates. The girls often come across as a bit lecherous, lusting after Josh or just using him for personal gain. Perhaps a more modest, realistic teenaged girl should be introduced in sequels. That said, Josh's kid sister Candace is nicely portrayed.
This is a long book with plenty of imaginative action, often involving pet-like, flying dragons chasing bad guys, aliens, and other dragons. Plus there's plenty of ravenous eating for the weary creator/healer Josh. The fires raging around Baton Rouge only get worse as the story progresses, and everyone gets involved solving the crimes. Teenagers who like fun fantasy will enjoy this book, the first in a series.
(reviewed the day of purchase)
on March 21, 2013 :
Excellent fantasy for middle schoolers.
I really enjoyed this book and it kept me entertained for nearly a week. Of course, the fact that the main character gets fantastic, nearly limitless powers is a fun element and the way Josh chooses to use his powers makes me wonder what I would do differently if I had powers like that.
The StoryTellers Club, an amusingly formal organization similar to the Toastmasters where members dress up in suits to camp out in one of the kid's back yard for their story telling finale, provides a clever twist. One of Josh's powers is activated when he tells stories, causing trouble early on when he tells a story about ancient spiders that once lived in the local swamps only to have them come to life during his story.
But it isn't all fun and games. His parents support him and try to teach him to use his powers for unselfish ends by having him volunteer at the hospital, probably my favorite part of the book, though it probably wasn't a good way to keep him safe from public attention. His activities quickly catch the attention of the media and eventually the government. Besides that, it bothers me that Josh can create people who end up doting on him, cleaning house or acting as handyman caretaker for the family. After the first time, I expected his parents to tell him that was unacceptable; it's what I would have done, too close to creating indentured servants. Sure, they were happy servants, he built that into them when he made them, but I still think it was an abuse of power that his parents should have discouraged (and they definitely didn't).
Underlying the story, the city of Baton Rouge is on fire as serial arsonists targets buildings across the city and Josh's and his friend Troy's fathers are constantly called away to fight them. It's a mystery which I don't think is ever completely explained, although the culprits are identified. Perhaps in the next book. I don't think the mystery of the fires or the casual approach Josh and Troy took to figure out who was responsible is as much the focus of the book as the description implies. It supported some of the things going on, provided some element of danger, but failed to really drive the characters in any way until the very end, and even then it was kind of out of nowhere.
Overall, I liked the story, enjoyed the juvenile interplay between the characters, and loved Josh's quirky creations and good deeds. I think this book would be a good bet for someone in the range of 12-15 years old.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest, non-reciprocal review.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
on Sep. 02, 2012 :
Three CHEERS for Josh Anvil and the Cypress Door!
Bruce Arrington has written a splendid debut young adult novel. As I'm sure you all know, I am a huge fan of science fiction; whether it is YA, adult or even MG. This book did not disappoint and I am so glad I got the opportunity to review Josh Anvil! Full of magic, adventure and even a little mystery, this is a fun and charming book, with an outstanding main character. Quite a few things set this story apart from others in it's genre. First and foremost being Josh. His character is so well written and really brings a smile to your face. Most importantly, he is real and relatable for young adult readers. Having struggled with dyslexia his whole life, he has more than his share of teenage problems to deal with. When he is saved by an alien race and somehow gains powers, life gets even more complicated. I enjoyed the fact that although Josh becomes a superhero of sorts he is still a kind hearted, down to earth teen. His has a loving and supportive family that at times can get on his nerves. He learns lessons along the way and you get to see him grow as a character.
I enjoyed the originality of this book! Josh's power allows his stories to come to life--he can create anything living. He also has a healing touch. This is where the author's creativity really shines through. The circumstances that ensue due to Josh's power are entertaining and often comical. I loved the floating island that he creates for his dragons to live on!
Josh Anvil and the Cypress Door had a little of everything you want from a sci-fi adventure. The ending leaves you eager for the next big chapter in Josh's life. I definitely recommend this book for all the sci-fi lovers out there. Although, it is a book that could be enjoyed by anyone. Keep 'em coming Bruce!
(reviewed long after purchase)