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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Re-Issued: Piers Anthony, John Bellairs, Sidney Rosen, Tom Lalicki on E-Reads

SC Poe's Indie E-Book Sampler, #4

Today, Poe focuses on the work of a single e-publisher.

E-Reads describes itself as "the oldest independent e-book publisher in the field." They re-issue out-of-print fiction and non-fiction, sharing Poe's special affection for sci fi, fantasy, bios, and mysteries. (For those who prefer the feel of a book in print, they offer most of their titles in paperback, too.)

So far, their list features about two dozen YA and MG-level titles, which E-Reads lumps together as "young adult." (Hint to E-Reads' marketing department: more finely-tuned categories like Middle Grade mysteries, and books for boys might help readers find the books.)

Poe the Pedant could wish for more rigorous final proofing; as you will see in the Houdini sample, mechanical formatting and spell-check programs are not completely reliable. It's also a pity that some of the original covers and artwork evidently can't be re-issued. (And Poe would like to see a credit for the evocative interior drawings in Face in the Frost.)

Overall, E-Reads is rated I for If you're a parent, teacher, librarian, or other seeker of vintage classics, bookmark the E-Reads web site and keep track of their continued offerings.

Now for some specifics:

The Cluster Series

By Piers Anthony
Originally published Avon, 1977; revised and reissued by E-Reads, 2008
Poe thinks this is classic sci-fi suitable for YA

First sentence: "We have ascertained that this person is an alien creature occupying a human body," the Minister of Alien Spheres said formally.

Piers Anthony being Piers Anthony, there's little call for Poe to review the sample itself. All that's needed is to announce that all five Cluster titles are available without waiting for inter-library loans or combing the spidery Web for costly, shopworn copies. Spread the word!

Rated Q for Queued to re-read at leisure.

The Curse of the Blue Figurine
(The Johnny Dixon Series)

By John Bellairs
1983; E-Reads reissue July, 2011
Poe thinks this is MG vintage mystery

First sentence: It was a cold winter evening in January. The year was 1951.

This enduring series is new to Poe, who missed it entirely the many times it was issued (by Bantam Skylark, Puffin, and Dial, among other presses). The eight books have gothic titles like The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt and The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull. Set during the Korean War, the books would have felt like historicals, even for readers of the first edition. The two titles Poe sampled felt less edgy and gothic than, say, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, whose publishing history overlaps Bellairs'. But mystery fans always want more mysteries, of every variety, so Poe rejoices to see these re-issued.

If you're an MG mystery fan, you should certainly give these a try.

The Face in the Frost

By John Bellairs
1969; E-Reads re-issue 1999
Poe thinks this is classic fantasy suitable for YA

First sentence: Several centuries (or so) ago, in a country whose name doesn't matter, there was a tall, skinny, straggly-bearded old wizard named Prospero, and not the one you are thinking of, either.

Unfortunately, that opening is preceded by a Prologue which begins, "Prospero and Roger Bacon, the two main characters in a story that seems crammed with wizards, were wizards," and drones on from there with a lengthy explanation of the geopolitical world of this fantasy. Back in the infancy of the fantasy genre, when readers ravened for the next Lord of the Rings, this Prologue would have been tolerated. Today, Poe thinks it doesn't belong in the sample, but only in the full version.

And Poe does wish the sample were structured to more quickly snag and hold attention, because this title is a fantasy classic that deserves to be much better known.

If you like Gandalf, you are likely to enjoy Prospero and Bacon.

Galileo and the Magic Numbers

By Sidney Rosen
Little, Brown & Co., 1958; E-Reads reissue July, 2010
Poe thinks this is MG fictionalized bio

First sentence: Galileo lay on his back, hands under his head, and stared up at the crack that zigzagged across the ceiling.

Houdini: The Ultimate Spellbinder

By Tom Lalicki
Holiday House, 2000 (as Spellbinder); E-Reads reissue September, 2011
Poe thinks this is MG/YA biography

First sentence: In 1876, when Mayer Samuel Weiss sailed to seek his fortune in the New World, his hopes for the future must have been mingled with sad, ness [sic] and regret.

So far, E-Reads has issued two biographies for young readers, in contrasting styles.

In Galileo, Rosen introduces some complicated history (such as the art patronage system) and themes (speaking truth to power) by fleshing out what we know of Galileo's boyhood. Galileo might strike a young reader as a bit of a Fauntleroy, pre-maturely patient with his cranky mother's fears about money. But anybody who chooses this book probably already knows the MC's destined for greatness and will tolerate such preternatural goodness.

Lalicki, whose life of Houdini is written in a workmanlike, reference-book style, is the author of the two Houdini & Nate historical whodunits for FSG.

Both bios were well-reviewed when first published. Good job, E-Reads, for keeping them accessible. Note to librarians: It looks like the publisher is open to suggestions for other books to re-issue.

Both books rated I for If you stock a library or have kids who like/need quality biographies, keep your focus on E-Reads for these and future offerings.

Poe's Rating System:

  • S for snapped up (Poe has already purchased the full)
  • Q for queued (the book is on Poe's to-be-read-someday list)
  • U for underwhelming (Poe will always explain the reason)
  • I for If/then (not Poe's cuppa, but perhaps it's yours)
  • R for rejected (Poe will always explain the reason)
  • E for editorially challenged (Poe will not mince words)

Caveat Emptor Internexi: Poe's reviews are intended to provide a springboard for further browsing. Genre and age classifications are Poe's guesses based on short samples, and may or may not accord with the classifications suggested by authors, publishers, or anybody else. The buyer is always responsible for deciding whether the book as a whole is appropriate for the intended reader's age, interests, and reading level.

Poe's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of other members of this blog.

If you'd like SC Poe to sample your ebook on this blog, please follow submission guidelines.


  1. Poe, I look forward to all your reviews. It's really the best approach to writing a review I've ever seen - fun and quick to read, super informative, helps me make decisions about what to read.

    So when are you going to become a reviewer of print books too? Or at least attract some imitators? (Though hard to imagine who could match your style...)

  2. Ah, but Poe does not review. Poe samples.

    There's a monstrous big difference. To sample, to dip, to browse, to riffle the e-pages, to merely suggest that one reader *might* like this and another reader *might* like that, to shine a bit of light into a corner so a friend can glimpse a title or an intriguing cover--this is all Poe feels capable of doing.

    And why only digits? Because when it comes to book shopping, Poe has always preferred the rummage, the jumble, the swap, the treasure hunt. The ebook marketplace, right now, feels like that.

    Poe will continue to specialize, only sampling, and only digital. But Poe returns the challenge: there are several educators and experts on this very Blogue who might sample (or review) other varieties of readables.