My Favourite Books: Boy’s Life by Robert R. McCammon

Boy's Life by Robert R. McCammon

Fantasy Fiction Book Review

Title: Boy’s Life
Author: Robert R. McCammon
Publisher: Pocket Books
Released: 1992
Pages: 608
ISBN-10: 0671743058
ISBN-13: 978-0671743055
Stars: 5.0

Recently, I have been asked more than once, “What are some of your favourite books of all time?” This got me thinking because it’s not always an easy question to answer if you read a lot, but the one that always springs to mind first is Boy’s Life by Robert R. McCammon.

Back in 1991, I was seeing a psychotherapist, and she recommended the book to me for sheer pleasure reading as I was reading a lot of psychological and self-help books at the time. I bought it right away and read it, and she was right! It’s one of the most beautifully written, magical, and compelling stories I have ever read. I really want to read it again soon, as soon as I can find the time!

Robert R. McCammon, who now simply goes by Robert McCammon and recently wrote The Queen of Bedlam and Speaks The Nightbird, is from Birmingham, Alabama and is known for his horror writings, but that’s not the only genre Mr. McCammon writes in. Boy’s Life won the honour of Literary Guild Book Clubs Selection, Winner of the 1991 Bram Stoker Award and Winner of the 1992 World Fantasy Award.

From the back cover of the original edition:

Robert R. McCammon captivated millions of readers with his storytelling power in such bestsellers as Mine, Swan Song and Stinger. Now he has created this tour de force: BOY’S LIFE, a masterpiece of magic and mystery, of the splendors of growing up in a small town, and the wonders beyond. Narrated by one of the most engaging young voices in modern fiction, BOY’S LIFE takes us back to our own childhoods, when bicycles were enchanted steeds and anything was possible…

Zephyr, Alabama, has been an idyllic home for eleven-year-old Cory Mackenson…a place where monsters swim in the belly of the river and friends are forever. Then, on a cold spring morning in 1964, as Cory accompanies his father on his milk route, they see a car plunge into a lake some say is bottomless. A desperate rescue attempt brings Cory’s father face-to-face with a vision that will haunt him: a murdered man, naked and beaten, handcuffed to the steering wheel, a copper wire knotted around his neck. As Cory struggles to understand the forces of good and evil at work in his hometown, from an ancient woman called the Lady who conjures snakes and hears the voices of the dead to a violent clan of moonshiners, he realizes that not only his life but his father’s sanity may hang in the balance…”

Reviews for Boy’s Life:

“Incredibly moving – boyhood as it should have been, recollected in genuine and generous detail…Boy’s Life is just really gorgeous. It’s McCammon’s The Prince of Tides…incredibly moving.” – Peter Straub

“This superbly told tale combines the sensibilities of Mark Twain, Flannery O’Connor, and Steven Spielberg…a solid coming-of-age story and a fine mystery…Devour this beautiful book.” – New York Newsday

“A wonderful story of powerful emotions, marvelous images, and inventive narrative…Filled with enough adventure, joy, discovery, and heartache for a dozen boys’ lifetimes.” – Houston Chronicle

“McCammon captures the joys and fears of late childhood with sure strokes, ably conveying his love for the time, the place…The novel works exceedingly well.” – San Francisco Chronicle

“Boy’s Life is a wonderful book. It recaptures the magic of being a child in a world of possibilities and promise. It is about being born with ‘with whirlwinds, forest fires and comets inside us.’ And it reminds us of a magical time before the magic was ‘churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out.’ Boy’s Life is for the boys – and girls – in all of us.” – Atlanta Journal-Constitution

If you are interested in reading more from Robert McCammon, I would also recommend Gone South and Speaks The Nightbird.

The Adventures of Butterbean and the King by L. Michael Hellums

The Adventures of Butterbean and the King by L. Michael HellumsBook Review
Title: The Adventures of Butterbean and the King
Author:  L. Michael Hellums
Illustrator: Malachy McKinney
Publisher: Xlibris
Released: 2007
Pages: 106
ISBN-13: 978-1425772338
ISBN-10: 1425772331
Stars:  2.5

Children’s author L. Michael Hellums has created two immensely likeable lead characters in his book, The Adventures of Butterbean and the King. Best friends, Rufus Jingles, also known as Butterbean because of his large girth and obvious passion for food, and King Tissell, so named for his beer bottle cap hat, which he wears wherever he goes, are ants from South Texas. Their “story begins in an ant mound far, far away…two miles west of Crown, Texas.” Butterbean and the King, who were never cut out to be worker ants, decide to spend their summer investigating the world outside their ant mound.

So begins the adventure, as they set out for Crown, Texas “to find out what King Tissell is actually the king of.” Along the way, they make friends with the likes of Dottie the dragonfly, Pepito the pill bug and Mundo the mythological Mexican wish beetle, whose “sole purpose in life is to grant one last wish to terminally ill insects.” Butterbean and the King also encounter enemies along the way, in the form of poisonous plants (fortunately King paid attention to the dangerous-plant book in Mrs. Delmont’s class!), ant lions, a Southwestern zebra scorpion called Socrates the Sorcerer and a couple of fierce horny toads called Gizmo and Otis who would like nothing better than to make a meal of them.

Upon discovering the disappearance of Butterbean and The King, Queen Vida enlists General George, Lieutenant Harrisant and Major Rudolf to send out a search party of army ants to find the missing juveniles before the predators of South Texas get to them first.

“The fireflies split up with the separate parties, lighting the way to the battle royal where the forces of good and evil collided to occupy the same position at the same time. It was a small stampede of the queen’s army tromping through the mud and rain to tackle a couple of monsters they hoped they would never have to meet. Fortunately for Butterbean and the King it was the soldiers of Queen Vida’s army with the most heart, the bravest of all her forces.”

Will Queen Vida’s army save Butterbean and the King? Will they make it to Crown, Texas and find out what King Tissell is really the king of? Will Mundo’s gift of a magic matchstick save the ants from unknown danger? These questions and more are answered in The Adventures of Butterbean and the King.

Hellums’ story, which is suitable for children ages 8-12, is engaging and delightful but seriously hampered by the lack of a professional editor as his numerous spelling (i.e. queen’s “thrown” instead of “throne” and sunshine “shown” instead of “shone”), grammar and sentence structure errors make for a largely distracting read and not one that could be easily read aloud as a bedtime story.

Malachy McKinney’s illustrations are wonderful but would have been far more effective if they had been printed in color. I understand how expensive self-publishing can be, but in order to be a successful self-published author, one must ensure he puts forth his very best effort and doesn’t take detrimental shortcuts that could lead to the downfall of the book’s success. That being said, Hellums’ story, once edited by a professional, should be good enough to attract a publisher and earn him a 3.5 star rating from me.

The Adventures of Butterbean and the King continue in volume two, entitled “The Tale of the Crown Jewels.” Discover more about Mikey’s world and author L. Michael Hellums at and view the book’s trailer on YouTube here:

Conceit by Mary Novik

Conceit by Mary Novik

Historical Fiction Book Review

Title: Conceit
Author: Mary Novik
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Released: 2007
Pages: 416
ISBN-10: 038566205X
ISBN-13: 978-0385662055
Stars: 4.0

Vancouver author Mary Novik’s debut novel, Conceit (awarded a Globe and Mail Best Book stamp of approval), is an ambitious, elegant and visceral story of the life and loves of Margaret More Donne, a.k.a. Pegge, daughter of the famous 17th-century poet, John Donne (whom I first heard about in Van Morrison’s song, “Rave On, John Donne”). It is also the tale of the great love affair between Ann More – a descendant of Sir Thomas More – and John Donne, who, after her death, became an Anglican priest and the Dean of St. Paul’s Church in London.

I read a few chapters before I became thoroughly engaged by Novik’s own poetic prose (I must confess that I’m not enamoured by the sport of angling nor of fish in general, although Pegge’s recipe for cooked pike made me pause) as well as by the thoughts and feelings of the rebellious young Pegge. Set largely in the London of Elizabeth I, Novik weaves her descriptive, subtly erotic tale using the first-person voices of several characters, including Pegge, her dead mother Ann and John Donne himself.

It wasn’t until part three, “Death’s Duel,” that I was truly hooked on the story and wanted to know if Pegge ever got to consummate her love for Izaak Walton, although (up until that point) I couldn’t understand why she was so attracted to him. Because Novik switches the voices of the main characters and time periods without warning from chapter to chapter, you can get confused about where you’re at if you put the book down for too long. However, this impressive piece of literature is well worth the effort, and by the end, we discover that the Pegge we thought we knew; who was quite possibly going mad as a result of her obsession with her late father; was someone who was, in fact, incredibly clever and full of guile.

One of my favourite passages came in the very last paragraph of the book:

Come, William, I see Venus rising like a pink nipple on the plump horizon. Shall we make that clock of yours run faster? Let us bed down together in this new dawn and weave a silken tent of arms. Such feats are not reserved for extraordinary lovers, and my love for you has grown over the years to marvellous proportions. Let us die together in the act of love, so death cannot divorce us. When our grave is broken open, our souls shall take flight together, assuming limbs of flesh, and lips, ears, loins, and brows. But first let us speed darkening time and savour this long night of love.

Did you sigh when you read that? I did, and if you love historical fiction (I’m envisioning the movie version!), this captivating book will make you sigh deeply too. Just in case you have forgotten, Mary Novik’s Conceit will remind you of the soul-expanding sensation that is true passion.

Discover Mary’s inspiration for Conceit here:

Queen Vernita’s Visitors by Dawn Menge, illustrated by Bobbi Switzer

Queen Vernita's VisitorsBook Review
Title: Queen Vernita’s Visitors
Author:  Dawn Menge
Publisher: Outskirts Press
Released: 2008
Pages: 36
ISBN-13: 978-1598007145
ISBN-10: 1598007149
Stars:  3.5

The ultimate test for a children’s book is the response given to it by children and when I read Queen Vernita’s Visitors by Dawn Menge, beautifully and brightly illustrated by Bobbi Switzer, to my six year old niece and nephew, they loved it and I loved it too!

Dawn Menge’s wonderful soft cover book is part of an educational series for children and the premise of Queen Vernita’s Visitors is unique and enchanting. Vernita is the Queen of a “majestic world called Oceaneer.” She has spent a whole year alone in her castle and decides that she really misses her friends. Queen Vernita decides to send out invitations to 12 friends to invite them to spend one month of the year with her.

Dawn Menge teaches children about the months of the year and how many days are in them as well as the days of the week and the changing seasons. She also inspires her readers to think of interesting activities and fun ways to spend time with friends. The story sparked the imaginations of my niece and nephew and they both agreed that August’s illustration and its’ list of activities was their very favorite. Ethan liked it because it has frogs in the picture and Erika loved that Queen Vernita and her friend Hannah went camping and slept under the stars and most importantly, that they made a campfire and cooked S’mores! They also both agreed that they could never eat as much turkey as the Queen and her friend Nicole ate in November or they would be sick!

Queen Vernita’s Visitors is a well written story that is delightful to read to children, chock full of rich colors, enjoyable illustrations that make you smile and ideas to spark not only the imagination of children, but of adults too. It’s a winner!

You can purchase Queen Vernita’s Visitors for US $12.95 at and But first, be sure to check out Dawn Menge’s trailer for the book here: