Books by James Riordan

BLOOD RUNNER by James Riordan
Released: May 1, 2012

"This potentially inspiring tale staggers along under the weight of a worthy agenda. (afterword) (Historical fiction. 12-14)"
A general indictment of apartheid is thinly wrapped in a tale about a young Zulu marathoner who runs for his country in the Olympics. Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 2009

The first outing in the Christian-based supernatural-thriller series The Elijah Project features 16-year-old Zack, 13-year-old Piper and their six-year-old brother Elijah. Readers learn early on that Elijah possesses extraordinary healing powers and that his family has been moving frequently to keep him out of the clutches of a villain, dubbed Shadow Man, and his lackeys. But not enough is revealed about Elijah, his family or the Shadow Man to allow readers to truly get invested in the story. The plot consists mainly of the kids and their friends outsmarting and running away from the evildoers in an RV; in fact, they run and they run and they run until the story simply stops in an ending much too abrupt even for a book in a series. An overdose of mystery, the clipped ending and uneven writing undercut this title, but considering the high demand for kids' Christian fiction and the proportionally short supply, it's likely that The Elijah Project will find a devoted following nonetheless. (Thriller. 8-12)Read full book review >
THE SNIPER by James Riordan
Released: Jan. 1, 2009

The Battle of Stalingrad changed the course of World War II—but at the cost of one million lives, more than any other battle in history. Tania Belova is 16 when she leaves school, trains as a sniper and helps to defend the Soviet Union from the German invasion in 1942. Based closely on the true experiences of Tania Chernova, awarded the Red Star for bravery, this third-person narrative effectively tells Tania's gripping tale and offers perspectives on war in general. Riordan's writing is perfectly accessible for young readers and is also a model of excellent prose—spare, evocative language rooted in active verbs, concrete nouns and well-chosen modifiers. Tania's story moves along swiftly, as she performs her job well despite her misgivings about war and killing. There is a deep poignancy and a moral tone here, along with exciting action, heroism and anguish. The well-designed cover in black and red, complete with sniper and bullet holes, and the fast-paced tale of war ensure that this fine volume will appeal to many readers. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 10-13)Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 2008

Here Riordan recasts the Sinbad chapter in his Tales from the Arabian Nights (1983) for a younger audience, and Fowles adds comic notes with small, jewel-toned watercolor illustrations done in an appealingly childlike style. The language may not be as ornate or atmospheric as is customary in older versions, but even in the third-person, the melodrama remains: "One moment Sinbad's eyes were shining with joy. The next ... he froze in terror. Coiled about the diamonds were hundreds of squirming snakes big enough to swallow a caravan of camels." Closing with a historical note and a thumbnail version of the covering story of Shahrazad, this iteration of the itchy-footed merchant's misadventures captures the requisite sense of wonder, but John Yeoman's Seven Voyages of Sinbad, illustrated by Quentin Blake (1996), is still at least a match for child appeal. (glossary) (Picture book/folklore. 9-11) Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 1999

When Aje, the daughter of the river goddess Yemoya, leaves her underwater home to marry, what she misses most is the night. The sun shines all the time in her new home and hurts her eyes. Her husband sends couriers to Yemoya, with the request that they return with some night. Yemoya gladly packs a sack for them, warning the creatures not to peek inside. Of course, that's a temptation too big for the animals to resist; all the bats, owls, gnats, spiders, and darkness whoosh out of the bag. At first, the animals are scared, but they soon adjust to the darkness, as does Aje, who falls into a deep peaceful sleep. The next morning, she names the morning star, the rooster, and the early rising birds as symbols of dawn. Riordan's language is perfunctory, but Stow's pictures portray both the fluid blue of underwater life, and the parching hot yellows and oranges of the earth. This competent retelling, fully sourced, could be added to more extensive folklore collections. (Picture book/folklore. 5-8) Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 1999

A young bunny and a hungry fox stick to their traditional roles in this formulaic bunny-finds-trouble tale, imported from Britain. While his brothers and sisters, Misha, Sasha, Masha, and Natasha romp and play, Bunny Bobkin is busy learning to count. His counting, however, leads him into peril—into a den of foxes. The furry tales, gleaming eyes, and tawny toes spell danger for Bunny Bobkin, who stalls Mother Fox by distracting her into chanting a rabbit stew rhyme. A lapse in logic sends Mother Fox off for stew bones to flavor her broth—it doesn't seem to occur to her that Bunny Bobkin would flavor the concoction just as well—providing the rabbit with a chance to escape. Cartoonish line drawings capture action but not nuance in a tale that includes a warm fuzzy ending. (Picture book. 2-5) Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1998

A collector of tales from around the world, Riordan (The Snowmaiden, 1992, etc.) now turns to stories from North America's first people. The 20 stories of this beautiful book, each with a descriptive opening note and only a few pages long, are written in stately language eminently suited to reading aloud. They come from many Native American traditions, and include Pueblo, Apache, Blackfoot, Mohawk, and Salish tales. They deal with the origins of things as they are, with love, war, loss, and peace. It is richly illustrated, with full-page paintings as well as spot illustrations and accents from Foreman. Riordan includes a note on how the months and seasons are described by various tribes, a brief glossary and bibliography (most of the sources are older and scholarly); and a note on how he gathered versions of these stories by listening, carefully, over two decades. The tone is consistent, formal, and elegant. With a foreword by Shirley Little Dove Custalow McGowan of the Mattaponi. (glossary) (Folklore. 8-12) Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 1, 1995

Despite its title, the aging enfant terrible of America takes few hits from the friendly fire of this overly authorized biography. In order to secure Stone's cooperation, Riordan (coauthor, Break on Through, 1991, etc.) allowed the filmmaker to both see and edit his quotes. Perhaps it isn't just Stone-style paranoia, then, that gives the reader the feeling that this book isn't the full story. Riordan airs most of the negatives—Stone's compulsive womanizing, years of drug abuse, his fierce unpleasantness and hyperbole—but invariably excuses or diminishes them with an apologist's zeal. There is also a dÇjÖ vu quality to much of the material, a didn't-I-read-that-somewhere-in-a-magazine feeling. Riordan does do a credible job of illuminating Stone's directorial methods as well as his many driving paradoxes. Here is a bacchanalian ``wild man'' who, nonetheless, runs his sets with boot-camp precision, invariably bringing his films in on time and on budget. Stone may also regularly attack the establishment, yet his sensibilities haven't prevented him from working deep within the Hollywood studio system (and making a fortune). Riordan ties these contradictions to Stone's privileged but miserable upbringing and his military service in Vietnam. Certainly, Stone is convinced he has something important to say. And so, like Stanley Kramer in the '50s, he makes ``message films''—impassioned attempts to grapple with big issues. But Stone is far superior to Kramer in his visceral command of film language. As actress Joan Chen put it, ``Though he can be very strong, and you feel like he's hitting you over the head with what he wants to convey, he doesn't lose his sense of poetry.'' Long after the message is outdated, it will be this poetry that keeps Stone's films fresh and alive. Riordan's biography has few such saving graces. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 20, 1992

In the well-regarded ``International Folk Tale Series,'' a grand collection of 36 tales, the fascinating result of the long interaction between the self-reliant gypsies and their reluctant Russian neighbors, as collected by two Moscow researchers. In an excellent introduction, the translator explores the mysterious history of the people who call themselves Rom, perpetual outsiders whose probable origins were in India; in Russia, as elsewhere, some settled and others continued to roam while their traditions endured—including these stories, whose action vividly reveals the gypsies' close-knit society. The stories are splendid: heroic or romantic; tales of fools or of clever tricksters outwitting each other—or the devil; ghosts foiled by the power of the church or horrifyingly triumphant. The vibrant characters are sometimes wealthy but often poor; though Rom society is male-dominated, there are also clever, assertive women—and one who, threatened with rape, literally becomes stone. It's also a society that's often outside the law of the czars, with horse-stealing a normal activity yet with its own strict moral code, including hospitality and taking care of its own. These wonderfully varied stories are bursting with drama and humor, rich with lively characters and swift-moving, surprising events. As a collection of gypsy folklore, this seems to be unique; for readers or storytellers, it's a treasure trove. (Folklore. 6+) Read full book review >
GULLIVER'S TRAVELS by Jonathan Swift
Released: Oct. 10, 1992

Swift's account of Gulliver's captivity in Lilliput and Brobdingnag is considerably shortened and rephrased here, but Riordan expertly preserves the flavor of the original: upon reaching the temple where he is to stay, the intrepid traveler shamefacedly relieves himself before the tiny multitudes (though the more famous scene where he similarly puts out a palace fire is absent); later, he survives plenty of harrowing adventures, admiringly describing the societies in which he's stranded while taking subtle pokes (and not-so-subtle—``Englishmen are the nastiest race of odious little vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth,'' says the king of Brobdingnag) at his own, and at fashion and politics in general. Large or small, Gulliver cuts a heroic figure in Ambrus's pervasive, free-wheeling illustrations; other characters have exaggerated features and a comic air that lighten the satire and serves the narrative well. Swift's ax-grinding can be indigestible in large doses; like other abridged classics from this publisher and illustrator, a palatable, well-blended appetizer. (Fiction. 12-14) Read full book review >
THE SNOWMAIDEN by James Riordan
adapted by James Riordan, illustrated by Stephen Lambert
Released: May 15, 1992

In this traditional Russian tale, Snowmaiden is the daughter of Spring and Frost, who agree to put her in the care of a peasant couple. Longing to experience love, she begs Spring for the crown of lilies that will allow her to understand it; but when Snowmaiden's lover pleads that ``we cannot hide our love forever from the light of day,'' she lingers too long: The sun's morning rays melt her, as Frost had feared. Yet flowers grow in her place, and the last line suggests that she will return with the snow. Riordan's retelling is lyrical and dignified if a little stiff. Lambert depicts mannered, elongated figures in dark, generalized settings; the effect is decorative and appropriate to the story's tone, but distances the reader. For large folklore collections. (Folklore/Picture book. 6-10) Read full book review >
Released: June 13, 1991

Tortured visionary and bumbling drunk—two sides of ``The Lizard King'' that emerge from this lengthy but less-than-probing biography of the late rock star. Riordan (a Rolling Stone contributor) and Prochnicky (a self-professed veteran Morrison scholar) attempt to retrace Morrison's ``aural, visual, and psychological journey'' through ``a fun house mirror'' of Sixties-style metaphysics. They recount Morrison's repressive childhood under a Navy captain father, his youth as school misfit and troublemaker, his post-college life as a Venice beach-bum, and his subsequent descent into an acid- inspired ``spiritual netherworld.'' Morrison comes across as an insecure but creatively driven man prone to extreme mood swings, and an emotional manipulator who ``enjoyed dangling people from his own self-styled parapet.'' In some respects, he seems a hippie Oscar Wilde who strove for recognition as a serious poet only after establishing a notorious persona. But it is less the star and more the martyr that surfaces here, with gruesome accounts of Morrison being beaten by cops, lambasted by finicky critics, verbally abused by audiences, and incessantly drained by a neurotic girlfriend. Riordan and Prochnicky try to bolster the Morrison mythos by mentioning his love of Nietzsche, romantic attachment to shamanism, undying interest in film history, and gift for surrealist thinking that nurtured his work but abetted his ``failing to draw the line between art and life, business and pleasure, self-instruction and self-destruction.'' Unfortunately, they sidestep any fresh or bold interpretations of Morrison's mystique, resorting to redundant drugstore psychologisms and a disturbing zeal to discount any allegations of Morrison's thinly veiled homosexual side. Worse, the authors promise to delve into Morrison's subtle lyrics but opt instead for shallow and rushed summaries. Candid and articulate but essentially a star-struck reminiscence that fails to transcend the packaged legend. For more compact and worthy biographies of Morrison, see David Dalton's Mr. Mojo Risin' and Dylan Jones's Jim Morrison (p. 466). (Twenty-five b&w photographs—not seen.) Read full book review >
THUMBELINA by Hans Christian Andersen
Released: March 28, 1991

A smooth, fairly complete retelling, bland in comparison to fine old translations like Keigwin's, but more accessible; in a luxurious editon with carefully structured stylized art in which the creatures are an imaginative blend of realistic, satirical, and fantastic and the dreamlike settings are intriguingly tactile. (Picture book. 5-10) Read full book review >