Summer Reading: John Connolly’s Samuel Johnson Series

Welcome to Summer Reading 2017! This year we’re taking advantage of the long summer days to read our way through some of our favorite series for children and young people. 

Books written by Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett rank high in various lists of mine, including Comfort Reads, Series to Recommend to Just About Everyone, and Books That In General Make Me Feel Better About Being a Human. Humor is subjective, however, and I’ve found that when I run across a book blurbed as “the next Douglas Adams!” or “in the spirit of Terry Pratchett!” it usually ends up in the “meh” category, provoking maybe the occasional smirk but that’s about it. John Connolly’s Samuel Johnson series is the exception.

I knew things were looking good on the very first page where we have both (1) footnotes (I ADORE FOOTNOTES IN FICTION IT’S A SICKNESS HELP ME) and (2) entertaining chapter titles (e.g., In Which We Delve Deeper into the Bowels of Hell, Which Is One of Those Chapter Headings That Make Parents Worry About the Kind of Books Their Children Are Reading). We soon meet 11-year-old Samuel and his very important dachshund, Boswell, and Samuel soon learns that his neighbors (with an accidental assist from CERN’s Large Hadron Collider) have opened The Gates of Hell. After that it’s up to Samuel, Boswell, Samuel’s friends Tom and Maria, and unlikely ally Nurd the Demonic Scourge of Five Deities (including Erics’, the Demon of Bad Punctuation) to save the world.

For me, Connolly’s Samuel Johnson series hits the sweet spot, reminding me (in the best ways) of Hitchhiker’s Guide and Discworld without feeling derivative, while at the same time telling a story about friendships, unexpected and otherwise. I know humor is subjective, but this one is definitely worth trying—and if you aren’t immediately sucked in by the footnotes and chapter headings, you can at least use it as an excuse to revisit the masters and spend some time with Arthur Dent and Rincewind. (Bonus recommendation: John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things, a “fairy tale for adults” about a boy who finds himself in a fantasy world and must search for the way home, is also excellent and I highly recommend it for YA readers and up. Please be aware, however, that it contains some very dark elements, and I would not hand it to a middle-grade reader, even though the publisher is trying to market it to that age group by putting a preview chapter in with The Gates.)


In Which We Learn That Even If You’re Super-Bored You’re Better Off Not Messing Around With Old Books Written In Languages You Don’t Recognize But Still Understand Somehow, Especially If You Happen To Live At 666 Crowley Road. 


In Which We Learn That Even After You’ve Defeated A Demon Wearing The Appearance Of Your Ex-Neighbor Mrs. Abernathy It May Still Return to Seek Revenge By Plunging You Down Into The Dark Realm Of Hades


In Which We Learn That Even After It Seems Like The Bad Guys Have Been Defeated And Everything Is Going Well You Should Still Avoid Demonic Toy-Shops That Open Just In Time For Christmas