Book Review: Alistair Grim’s Odditorium

It was the title and the cover that caught my eye in the library as I was searching for a read-aloud for my son. Alistair Grim’s Odditorium, eh? Well, I am thankful I grabbed the book by Gregory Funaro, as it was quite a fast-paced magical adventure that is apparently becoming a series of books (and my son and I always love series even if we hate waiting for the next book to be published in the series we love).

The hero of the story is one Grubb (no first name, no last name, only Grubb with an extra “b”, as he explains) who was once an orphan and then a chimney sweep for a mean stepfather and who now finds himself caught up in the adventure of a lifetime as he finds himself in the Odditorium, a mysterious house with all sorts of secrets. And of course, there is Alistair Grim himself – an inventor, tinkerer and sorcerer whose use of “odditoria” is at the heart of the story that Grubb finds himself in.

I won’t give the story away, but it has its fair share of wonderful twists and intriguing characters, including some villains who are after the same sources of magic as Alistair Grim. As a read-aloud novel, Alistair Grim’s Odditorium succeeds in a fun way, and now my son and I wait for the second book to see where the oddness takes us and Grubb. It comes out in January.

Peace (in the strange),

Slice of Life: That Confounded Bridge

I love the small village in which I live. It’s part of a larger, small city, but our village has a real small-town feel to it. One of its central features is an old bridge that stretches out over the main river, connecting one neighborhood and conservation area to the main road (such as it is).

But, alas, our Hotel Bridge is closed down to even pedestrian traffic. It’s age and lack of maintenance has been an issue for the Hotel Bridge for years, and now there are worries of safety. I can remember being able to drive my car over it, and I biked over it more times than I can count. When my boys were little and sitting in the plastic child’s back seat of my bike — little legs sticking out and little fingers poking me in the back — I would often stop on the bridge, and we would gaze down at the water, searching for fish and turtles.

(photo by Nathan Holth and Rick McOmber)

There is now an effort to save the Hotel Bridge, and last night, we gathered in a community meeting to hear from an Iowa firm called Workin’ Bridges, which seeks to save and restore old bridges. The cost for our bridge runs from $1.6 million to more than $500,000 — depending on the use for the bridge. It’s a lot of money that our city does not have right now, but I am heartened by the energy of the village and the public-private partnerships that we have in our area.

It’s so interesting to think of how a bridge holds the historical fabric of a community together. This one certainly does. Not just mine, as a dad on a bike, but also, the ghosts of a hotel that once sat on one side of the river, and the mill buildings upriver in viewshot, and the dam downriver, where teenagers still swim. The bridge is a visual fixture and anchor to the community. Saving it is saving more than a structure; it’s saving a part of who we are here, here in our village, for generations to come, and who we were. I hope we can find a way to do it.

Leeds Hotel Bridge (Northampton, Massachusetts)

Peace (across the span),