Showing posts with label pre-young adult fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pre-young adult fiction. Show all posts

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This middle grade graphic novel is about a witch of color, with the curious and charming name of Moth Hush, of Founder's Bluff, Massachusetts, who is about to discover that her love of witchery isn't just a fad of hers! Eighth-grade bullies are what triggers her powers coming to the fore, and there's no looking back.

Yes, it's a bit trope-y that this takes place in Massachusetts. I'm a little tired of that, but I decided to let that slide since this novel had more going for it than your usual tedious trope 'Salem witches' rip-offs, which personally I find offensive on behalf of the innocent women who died because of blind religious hatred.

It turns out that Moth's home town has a history of witch-related activity, including a family of witch-hunters. Plus there is, as the blurb advises, a talking cat which some readers may find familiar (that was a joke - a little chortle in the cauldron!). There is also an enchanted diary, and a hidden realm - because you have to call these things a realm, right? Anything less simply will not do. But there is also conflict, a sort of tug-of-war between old and new, and Moth isn't the sort of person to back down and give up.

I liked the story and the art, although the character's noses seemed a bit weird, but I didn't worry about that. I enjoyed the story and the main character (I'm a complete softy for a strong female lead), and I commend it as a worthy read.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

Rating: WORTHY!

This is something of a Cinderella story and it was also another of those audiobooks I seem to have been listening to lately which gets off to a great start, falls flat in the middle, but picks up again towards the end, so overall I consider it a worthy listen, but it had an issue or two here and there along the way. It was read by Bianca Amato who did a good job.

Wilhelmina Silver has had an amazing childhood in Zimbabwe, despite losing her mother at an early age. Her father was still around and she was allowed to run wild, learning all she needed to from her daily adventures and from the extensive library her father had in their ranch. But when he dies unexpectedly and his nurse movies in on the family and starts taking over, Wil suddenly finds herself on the outs and is eventually and summarily packed-off alone to an English boarding school while her home is sold.

To Wil, the people in her school are as cold as the weather and her spirits as dampened as the climate. Wil runs away from school and lives on her own on the streets (and in a zoo!) for a while before finally returning to the school and finding a place there. The novel tells a good and interesting story when it finds its pace, but there are times when it rather drags and you're wanting something to happen which doesn't. I'm not a big fan of school bully and cruelty stories, so I disliked that part. It wasn't so bad, but it was a bit overdone and too black and white for my taste. I found it hard to believe that girls of breeding who attended this school would have been so relentlessly, uniformly, and openly cruel as depicted here. It didn't seem realistic to me.

The worst part about this story is that Wil is presented in the early chapters as fearless, feisty, and indomitable, but in England she seems completely the opposite. Yes, she has some grit and some inventiveness, but she seems like a different character from the one we'd been introduced to earlier, and while I get that being torn from a comfortable and happy home and dropped unkindly into a new life for which they're completely unprepared can knock the stuffing out of a person, it felt a bit like a betrayal of Wil that she was so consistently and so interminably presented as weak and lost. It felt wrong and inauthentic, and did the character a disservice.

That said, she took charge and bounced back and that's where the story improved for me, so while it has its faults, it's not too bad of a story for an age-appropriate audience.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Mouse With the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck

Rating: WORTHY!

Written in 2013 by an author who died almost exactly a year ago, this was a fun little audiobook which frankly dragged a bit for me towards the end, but given how short the book is and how much fun the first two-thirds of it was, I'm not about to mark it down for that, especially since it wasn't written for my age group!

This mouse not only has a question mark tail, he lacks a real name and is known as Mouse Minor for the most part - and he is minor - small for his age. It seemed so obvious that I don't see it as a spoiler to reveal that this mouse is royalty. He's sent to school but ends up getting in trouble over a caterpillars-in-lunch-boxes incident to which Mouse Minor neither confesses nor denies. He runs away instead and ends up on an adventure in which he's kidnapped by bats and eventually gets an audience with Queen Victoria herself who seems, I have to say, curiously unafraid of mice.

Richard Peck is an American and while he does for the most part get his 'Britishisms' right, there are times when he strays, but most Americans won't notice those, especially not children. Overall though, this was a fun romp and I commend it as a worthy listen, but I should warn you that this is an old style children's novel (Peck was in his late seventies when he wrote it) and so it contains some violent concepts which tend not to appear in children's books written by younger authors. These include a somewhat bloodthirsty discussion of the beheadings in the French revolution, which goes on a little bit too long, and also instances of Mouse Minor contemplating having his brains beaten to jelly by the school bullies - that sort of thing, so be mindful of that.

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynn Rae Perkins

Rating: WORTHY!

Read by Brittany Presley, this audiobook was entertaining. I came to it after having really enjoyed the author's Nuts to You story. This isn't really aimed at males, and certainly not at men of my age, but it's still enjoyable in its sweet innocence, and it's definitely a worthy contender for an age-appropriate audience, female or male. It read (or listened!) more like a vacation diary than an actual story which didn't sound as odd as it might have. There was no 'Dear Dairy' affectation in it, but it still had that sort of a vibe, like maybe the author was recounting events from her own childhood rather than making up the story from scratch.

It was about two sisters, Alix and "Jools" Treffrey, and their week's vacation at the beach with their parents. Told form Alix's PoV, it talks about the long trip there, and the even longer trip home caused by three flat tires in a row, but most of the story is filled by Alix and Jools games, adventures, fanciful scenarios they invent, and their discoveries at the beach. It's sweet, innocent, playful and easy listening, and I commend it as a worthy title.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole by Michelle Cuevas

Rating: WORTHY!

And for my 3,000th review on this website in less than six years, I can't think of anything (my own novels and children's series excluded!) better than to give this one the honor!

Read delightfully by Laura Ortiz, this audiobook was a blast. It was sly and humorous, intelligent, but endearingly simple, and fully entertaining. It reminded me a bit of the old Calvin and Hobbes cartoons where the characters have rather more maturity than they would seem to merit at first glance.

Set in the mid-seventies, when Stella Rodriguez was eleven and still very much feeling the loss of her father, she decided during a school holiday to visit NASA and offer a tape recording of her father's laughter that she has. She hopes it will be added to the recording of Earth sounds and images that was included on a gold analog disk that is now flying outbound from the solar system on Voyager 1, which is headed for a rendezvous with the Oort 'cloud' in about 300 years, and will then will spend the next thirty-thousand years transiting that body, which is believed to be a repository for embryonic comets.

The guard at NASA wouldn't let her in, but due to an emergency she manages to sneak inside; then exits quickly followed by what turns out to be a black hole which has become attached to her. She names it Larry. Of course. Why not?

Hiding out in her bedroom, Larry promptly begins consuming assorted objects, including the school's pet hamster, Stinky Stew, which Stella was supposed to be taking care of over the holiday. She doesn't miss Stew very much, but objects when Larry devours a picture of her father, and really loses it when it swallows her new pet puppy, so she launches herself into the hole and begins sailing the Black Hole Sea in an old iron bathtub in search of the dog, puppy star....

While I feel it lost a little momentum when she entered the black hole, the story in general was hilarious, fast-moving for the most part, and full of humorous asides and amusing events. I recommend this completely as a worthy read for any age, but particularly for young readers and listeners.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

Rating: WORTHY!

Despite my abhorrence of Newbery medal winners, I have read one or two by accident. This is another one, and while most have been awful, I'm forced to conclude that older Newbery winners are infinitely better than the more recent ones in that they're far less pompous and pretentious and therefore make for a better read.

This one, which won in 1950, was short - which helps when it's a Newbery - and educational. Set in the middle ages with a very small cast, it features young Robin, who is expected to become a knight like his dad, but who suffers some sort of debilitating disease which robs him of the use of his legs, and of which he only regains limited re-use over time.

Derailed from his life plan, and ending up at a monastery after scaring away his helper with his unappreciative behavior, Robin eventually finds strength in other pursuits such as reading, swimming, and wood carving, eventually moving on to build a harp.

The language in the book is period, but the wrong period. Most kids won't know the difference, however, and it has to be rendered intelligibly, let's face it! It's read amiably by Roger Rees, and the book is educational, so I consider it a worthy read despite being handicapped with the taint of a Newbery.

Summerlost by Ally Condie

Rating: WARTY!

This is a story of a summer where Cedar Lee grows up and processes long dormant feelings about the death of her father and her younger brother Ben in a car accident. Moving back to the small town of Iron Creek for the summer, Cedar finds work at a local renaissance faire where plays are put on. She works a concession stand and helps with wardrobe. Her new friend Leo made this possible, and as they grow in their friendship, they also share a common interest in local actor who died mysteriously after a hotel-room encounter with her former husband.

I haven't had good experiences with this author. Her Matched was so god-awful I couldn't finish it. It was so delusional that I renamed the author Ally Contrick. The story was "utterly ridiculous, nonsensical and profoundly stupid" (from my own review back in December of 2015). The main character in that book was so juvenile and shallow as to be a joke.

This story was a much better one, but let's face it, it would be truly hard to write one worse than Matched (which frankly ought to be matched, or rather torched, with some tinder and gasoline). The problem with this one was that the story really didn't move. Consequently, it became tedious and I quickly lost interest in it. I cannot commend it and I'm truly done with this author.

Friend or Fiction by Abby Cooper

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is an odd and lethargically moving story about young Jade whose father is in remission from cancer, and who is so lonely and at a loss in life that she invents a friend for herself through writing down all the pertinent details in her notebook, unfortunately not many details are pertinent to Jade, and she never seems to grasp the import of this. Consequently I grew a strong dislike of Jade the more I read of this and by eighty percent in, I could not stand to read any more of her and I quit the novel.

In writing in her precious notebook, Jade creates a best friend named Zoe, who is so close to her that the two can almost read each other's thoughts. They get along famously, and have the best times together; then Zoe appears in real life, moving into the house across the street, just like in Jade's original story. Jade discovers that whatever she writes in the book happens in her life with Zoe.

The biggest problem with this book for me is that it never went anywhere. Jade did the same kind of things every day even after Zoe showed up. She went through the same motions, and never seemed to grow; never seemed to change. It was Zoe who began to change, going beyond what Jade had written for her. And that was part of my problem with Jade. She was so annoyingly self-centered and focused on her own needs. I kept thinking, hoping, she would start to see the light, but she never did and by eighty percent it had grown super tiresome reading the same story over and over again.

Everything was about Jade and despite getting multiple signs that things were wrong with her relationship with, and control of Zoe, Jade was too dumb to figure it out. Zoe has only what things Jade has written - nothing more, nothing less, and even when Jade learns this she makes no effort whatsoever to set things right. Zoe herself never seems to think there’s anything wrong with this relationship. This held true way past the halfway point in the novel and by then this repetitive pattern was mind-numbingly tedious.

Perhaps the worst thing about Jade though was that she was so selfish that she never thought of using her magical writing ability to help her family. Her kid bother has some issue which is clear from the endless drawings he does of fighting a nameless 'bad guy'. The odd thing is that no one ever thinks this is odd, and Jade shows no interest in that or in helping him by adding something to her magical notebook to ease his concerns. Neither does she once think of helping her father, who admittedly is in remission from his cancer (presumably the 'bad guy' the boy is fighting in his pictures), but who is far from free and clear. It never even crosses Jade's mind that maybe she could fix this - she doesn't even experiment just to see. It's really deadening to read about someone whose mind simply doesn't function intelligently.

Another thing which bothered me is that Jade's English teacher, who commendably encourages Jade to write, actually read one of her stories about Zoe - and this was after Zoe had appeared in real life. Her comment was, "I think it’s so clever how you incorporated our new student into your story," but never once does she ask Jade if Jade had asked permission to write about Zoe. Not only was it really not clever incorporating a real living school friend in a fictional work, it was disturbing that the teacher never even offered so much as a cautionary note about incorporating classmates into your fiction without permission. It’s not like Jade was six years old. She was beginning the pathway to maturity and definitely needed some guidelines about what’s permissible and the importance of choosing the liberty not taken.

Jade is not a very proactive girl. She's very much passive, even when it comes to writing things that she thinks will help her relationship with Zoe. She came across as very shallow and not capable of standing up for herself, even when this really creepy guy at school steals her notebook and refuses to give it back to her for a whole weekend. She simply lets him have it, and never complains to anyone about it. He gives it back to her after the weekend, but she has to ask for it. Her passivity here was disturbing.

If this guy had been her best friend, that would be one thing - there would have been some level of implicit trust, and I could see then that she might let him get away with it, but she didn't even like this guy - in fact, she actively disliked him, yet she let him walk all over her. That's not the kind of girl I like to read about. I don't mind if a character starts out this way in a novel but I expect to see something happen - some change start taking place and when there is literally none in four-fifths of a novel a reader is highly justified in considering DNF-ing the book. I resented the fact that I had trusted the writer to make things happen and so kept reading. I will never get that wasted time back.

There were the usual technical issues with the kindle version of this novel caused by Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process which will, I guarantee you, mangle your book if it has any pretentions beyond being plain vanilla in format and layout. This was obviously another book aimed at the print market without a single thought given to the ebook version, and it showed.

Admittedly it was an ARC which hopefully will improve before publication, but this ebook had multiple issues. A common one is that text lines would randomly end before they reached the right side of the screen and then resume on the next line while other lines go the whole way across the screen as you would expect, and I'm not talking about naturally short single lines, I'm talking about lines in the middle of a paragraph ending prematurely like they have a hard carriage return in the line.

Additionally, there were random letter V's in the middle of the text. I ahve no idea what that was all about but it's typically what will happen when your print version has page headers (such as book title on one side and author name on the other for example). Kindle will put these right into the text, because Amazon doesn’t care. Never has, never will. Why the book would have a single letter 'V' as a header, I do not know, but this frequently appeared in the middle of the text on a line on its own, breaking up the flow of the test, such as:

needed a little more time. Maybe you couldn’t rush real happy feelings.
But maybe you couldn’t write them into happen
ing, either. ≈
"I’d like to make a toast,"

Don't ask me what that 'almost equal to' math symbol (the wavy equals sign) is doing there! That was a common occurrence, and I can only assume it’s a section marker where the author used ≈ instead of the more technically correct §. Authors use all kinds of things to denote a break in the text, but Kindle didn't respect this here and it rarely does, so instead of appearing on its own line in the center of the line as it ought, it appeared as you see it above along with the random bolding of that penultimate line!

If Kindle can screw up your ebook, trust me, they will. This process also mangled chapter headings. You cannot use drop caps and expect Kindle to know what to do with them. Amazon will mangle them with relish. So, for example, chapter three was titled 'More Than Zero', and it began with the word 'The' but the 'T' was a drop-cap, so this is what Kindle did to it:

More Than
He lunch-is-over bell rang. Still clutching my

Now that there is some seriously professional mangling. You have to hate literature to design a conversion process that will trash-up a chapter heading/beginning as badly as that. And no one does it better than the Amazon juggernaut. Again, DO NOT submit a novel to Amazon for conversion to ebook format unless it is pure plain vanilla text. Anything more than that, Amazon will destroy it because Amazon hates anything that looks individual or artistic. This is why they have their own format instead of using the standard format. It's because they want to control and homogenize everything, even how your novel looks. Barnes and Noble have their own issues, believe me, but at least they don’t predictably trash your writing. Yet Amazon rules. Go figure!

The Kindle conversion process also likes to randomly bold text as I mentioned, and even turn it red for reasons I cannot explain. The red text in this book appeared right before chapter one began. The random bolding appeared throughout the text as in the example above, where "ing, either. ≈" was bolded for no good reason.

Note that these are technical issues and nothing to do with the story itself, but I think a publisher and an author ought to take it upon themselves to give the ebook version a once-over to see if Amazon has ruined their novel, because Amazon does this routinely in my experience. This is one of several reasons why I personally will have no truck with Amazon publishing my work.

But judged on the story alone I cannot commend this as a worthy read. It was too slow and showed no sign of going anywhere by 80%, and that's when I decided I'd read mroe than enough to give this one a fair chance.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Red Dove by Sonia Antaki

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Not to be confused with The Red Dove by Gerry Hillier or The Red Dove by Derek Lambert, this Red Dove (illustrated by Andrew Bosley and subtitled "Listen to the Wind") tells the story of a young Lakota Sioux girl named Red Dove, who lives on a reservation in the Dakota Territory in the early 1890s. She is a child of a white Irish father and an American Indian mother. The blurb tells us that food is scarce, yet the opening few paragraphs detail a hunting trip during which the girl and her half-brother Walks Alone are looking at a whole posse of turkeys, one of which Red Dove brings down with an arrow even though women are not supposed to hunt so we're told.

One issue I had with this book was that it is supposed to be about a strong female of the Lakota Sioux, but if felt like an ordinary story, and there were no references anywhere to any other Sioux women except for the main character's mother. There have been scores of strong American Indian women, including tribal leaders, who lived around or before the time this story takes place, yet we hear of none of them. For example, the Battle of the Little Big Horn, where Custer led a bunch of the Seventh cavalry foolishly to their deaths, is mentioned in this story more than once, yet none of the female Lakota who fought in t hat battle get a mention, and there were at least three of them: Minnie Hollow Wood, Moving Robe Woman (a Hunkpapa Sioux who is credited in some accounts with dispatching Custer), or One Who Walks With the Stars (an Oglala Sioux woman). The leader known in the west as 'Crazy Horse' is mentioned, but his wife, Black Shawl, never gets a word. It's like, despite this novel being about a Sioux woman, Indian women are excluded from the story. It made no sense to me.

Note that Lakota women were not the only ones who fought in battles. There were other American Indian women of other tribes who also fought at Little Bighorn or elsewhere. These women were not shrinking violets. They were tough and self sufficient, and very strong. Names that come to mind are Buffalo Calf Road Woman, a Cheyenne woman whose rescue of her brother at the Battle of the Rosebud was instrumental in turning the tide in the Indian's favor. She also fought alongside her husband at Little Bighorn, and is credited with knocking Custer from his horse. Pretty Nose was a female Arapaho war chief who fought at Little Bighorn.

So anyway, there clearly was no scarcity of food if there are so many turkeys to be had, but these two kids are nevertheless sent off with strangers to a Catholic missionary school where they're treated brutally. Now I get that American Indians have been - and in far too many cases still are - treated appallingly, but the problem I had with this book is that it's relentless in its brutality, with no leavening whatsoever, and it's also unrealistic. It's unrealistic in that this girl was of an age which back then would have been considered 'ripe for the plucking' by the unscrupulous and brutal white men with whom she comes into contact, yet she is never once sexually assaulted or even threatened by it.

Naturally you don't want those horrific details in a middle-grade book, but to not even hint at what a precarious position a girl like her would have been in seemed inauthentic to me when other forms of violence against her were depicted without reserve. The fact is that (according to a 2010 Department of Justice study) over four out of five American Indian and Alaskan Native women have experienced violence, over half have experienced sexual violence and of those, almost all of them experienced it at the hands of a non-tribal member.

The truth is that Native Americans are more than twice as likely to experience sexual assault and rape than any other ethnic group in the United States, and this is today in our supposedly more enlightened times. To avoid this topic in a book set back when there were neither rules nor any sort of moral compass to enlighten and dissuade men from abusing American Indians is a grave failure to face the facts. It's disingenuous and the Sioux women deserve better. The author isn't native American, and while I don't consider that a disqualification by any means, I have to wonder if she perhaps she did not think this idea properly through.

The novel seemed to drag for me, made worse by the never-ending brutality, and while Red Dove is shown as escaping at one point from the Catholic school she fails to get very far before being captured. After that, she suffers the 'white savior' trope in which a white kid helps her out, so she's not really demonstrating "that her greatest power comes from within herself" as the blurb promises.

I think her agency is further diluted by the introduction of a ridiculous level of the supernatural. For me this cheapened Red Dove's story considerably, and made her look like she was mentally unstable. I think a novel without the supernatural, where the girl was shown to have delivered herself from evil as it were, but without need for spirits, and men, including her grandfather, telling her what to do, would have made for a much stronger story. The book also mentions conscription at one point in the narrative, but there was no such thing between the end of the civil war and the start of World War One in the USA to my knowledge.

This book was evidently designed as a print book with no thought given to the ebook version, so the use of drop caps, which I personally do not like, managed to screw-up the layout of the book after it went through Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process which will mangle your book if it's anything more ambitious than plain vanilla. On more than one occasion, the drop-cap was removed from the start of the first sentence in a chapter and deposited at the start of the second line, so at one point, for example, I read, “he sun sank low behind the hills, the air carried a chill, Tand the sky shimmered from gold to pink.” Here you can see that the 'T' that should gave begun the sentence is appended instead to another word that presumably started the next line in the print version. That line, beginning with ‘Tand’ was a half line below the rest of the text as well.

Many parts of the novel seemed like they had hard 'carriage returns' built into the text, so while some screens had the text run from one side to other as is normal, other screens had the text ending mid-screen and dropping to the next line. It made for a scrappy-looking book and both author and publisher need to take responsibility for checking these things. I personally refuse to publish with Amazon, but if you're going to do that, you need to watch them like a hawk because they will ruin your book's layout if they're not watched like a hawk, as this example proved handsomely in its ugliness.

So all these things together made for a very unsatisfying read for me, and shortly after the white savior came riding to the rescue, I gave up on it. That was around eighty percent, when Red Dove began having out of the body experiences. Sorry but this as not for me and while I wish the author all the best in her career, I cannot commend this as a worthy read.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Missing Barbegazi by HS Norup

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Helle Sidelmann Norup is Danish by birth and it shows in this work which would have been handled differently by am American author (assuming one had even thought to write this). The story is original, to begin with and not derived from some long line of stories rooted in a tired old fairy-tale, like so many US middle-grade authors do, but more than that, it's realistic and inventive, playful and fun, and tells an engaging and interesting story.

It's fiction, of course, but it would be so easy to believe something like this could happen or even has happened. Not being American, the author felt no compulsion whatsoever to set this in the USA, which an unfortunately large number of US authors seem to think is the only place in the world where anything worth writing about can take place. With an attitude like that pervading our literature, it was no surprise to me at all that we finally elected a president who is xenophobic and seems to think there's nowhere else on this planet other than the USA that merits any attention at all. Believe me, this book is a breath of fresh air in middle-grade writing.

Barbegazi are beings from the folklore of the French and the Swiss. The odd name comes from the French barbe-glacée, which literally means 'frozen beard'. Tessa - the main character in this story - grew up hearing of the barbegazi from her grandfather, who has recently died. Her grandmother isn't taking it well. Tessa feels that if she can locate a barbegazi, and prove - at least to herself and her grandmother - that her discredited grandfather wasn't deranged, it will help her grandmother to recover.

Well, guess what? She does find one! She finds a whole family of them and the family has a problem. Tessa is only too happy to help them out, but the problem is: barbegazi don't trust humans! Tessa will need to learn and grow, and take on her shoulders some adult values and traits. And she's equal to it!

She knows a lot about the barbegazi from her grandfather, but when she needs to know more, she reads the notes her grandfather left. Oh my - a girl who is shown to be intelligent by her actions, not from the fact that a lazy author simply told us she reads books! What a pleasant novelty! This is how you write a story about a smart young girl! You don't say she reads books, you show her studying a book to find answers! This author gets it. Far too many authors I've read do not.

I liked this story from the start, and though I'm far from middle-grade, it maintained my interest throughout. It was original, realistic, thoughtful, and fun. Tessa was shown authentically: not perfect, not a genius, not a dope, not cowardly, not super-powered, not squeamish or squeal-ish - just an ordinary girl who has a few things to prove not for herself, but to help others. This author nailed it completely, and I'm happy to commend this as a worthy read and a fun novel. It's one of the best I've read this year so far, middle-grade or otherwise!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Humiliations of Pipi McGee by Beth Vrabel

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I started out really liking this book, but it developed two major strikes against it. The first was that the ending really went downhill into complete unbelievability for me, so the last twenty percent or so was an unpleasant read. That wasn't the worst part though. The worst was that the main Character Penelope McGee, never ever seemed to learn!

I don't mind reading about a dumb female character if she turns herself around, or if she has some other qualities that come to light, but "Pipi" never changed. As the story went on, she proved herself to be actually worse than anyone she had a vendetta against, and on top of that she proved weak, unassertive, and just completely lackluster, willing to betray friends, family, anyone, to get what she wanted. She was not a nice person and had little thought for the consequences of the poor choices and decisions she persisted in making.

The basis story is that in her last year of middle school, she unilaterally decides she can wipe her slate clean and start high school with a fresh outlook. She determines, against the better advice of her friends to whom she pays little heed, that the only way to do this is to seek vengeance on everyone who wronged her, and try to wipe out her humiliations. She talks like this will be redemption, but she really doesn't act like any of it is. It felt like a real shame to me because some parts of the story were really good, and there was this one nose-piercing scene which mede me laugh out loud, but such meager leavening in a book that is otherwise sinking does far too little to improve matters.

On top of this, her story is presented against the backdrop of what has to be the worst middle school in the entire country. There is no discipline there, the teachers are all either bullies or idiots, and there is absolutely zero parental involvement whatsoever. It's not surprising then that there was open and unchecked bullying going on in this school, which the teachers never did a thing about.

One of the teachers openly bullied the girls, yet there never were any repercussions, for example with parents making complaints about her. The principal of the school was female and all this was going on under her watch, so what message does this send about female competency? It was a disgrace. It was so unrealistic as to be more of a caricature than anything that felt real.

Pipi herself was also a caricature in practice, because everything presented in this story was either stark black or it was glaring white. there was no subtlety here; no shades of gray. On top of that, Pipi had to be one of the most self-centered and ignorant characters I've ever encountered. It was pretty obvious that one of the main characters was gay and Pipi never figured this out at all. She was so self-focussed and self-obsessed that it never occurred to her that other people might be real people with feelings and secrets and problems and worries.

On a technical level, this book was not helped by submitting it to Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process. Personally I refuse to have any truck at all with Amazon for a variety of reasons, but one repeated problem I see with review books that come to me in Kindle format is that they have evidently been submitted to Amazon with far too many expectations for the end result, and the ebook comes back looking like a mess. If the publisher or author doesn't vet the resulting ebook for quality, the review ebook gets sent out to reviewers looking like a disaster.

I see this a lot with a variety of books. In this particular instance, there were page headers and page numbers blended into the body of the text. There was random bolding of text here and there, and all of the images at the start of the book were sliced, diced, and julienned. Kindle does this routinely. You cannot submit a book to Kindle for conversion unless it is the plainest of vanilla - nothing fancy, no images, no text boxes, no page headings or numberings, no tables, charts, or anything remotely fancy. Essentially it must be just plain vanilla text, otherwise Amazon will completely mangle it for you.

Here's an example. At one point I read the following:
Ricky glanced around, nodding at me, then sat (this part was bold. The text line ended here)
next to Tasha. (this was on the next line and was regular text)
Tasha even wore makeup today—something she rarely did—her lipstick and eyeliner a bright turquoise blue. When I asked her about it, she (this was the next couple of lines, all bolded)
said Eliza showed her how to do it. (this, the next line, was back to regular text).

On another page (evidently page 107!) I read this:
It’s just how I pictured Freya.” 1 07 Tasha grinned.
There were also random examples of a bold lower case letter 'f' appearing in the middle of the text like so:
"The dots disappeared.
I called Sarah over and over,"
I have no idea what that was all about.

So technical issues aside, I cannot commend this as a worthy read when it has such a limp and misguided main character who never seems to learn her lesson and yet for whom everything magically works out in the end? No. Sorry but no! That's way too much fiction for my taste!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods

Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook and while it might work for the intended audience which is younger than I am, it was too slow-moving for my taste, too religiously-oriented, and not well-written, so I can't commend it.

The story was about a biracial child coming into her own and while the approach that it seemed to want to take was commendable, the actual path it did take was less than advisable in my opinion, and the tale came off more as a lecture hitting on a list of bullet points the author had prepared than it did a real story.

It felt like a political campaign in many regards, and while no one in their right mind should countenance the execrable treatment of people of color in the past (and still ongoing in too many facets of life), a book like this is in danger of trying to swing the pendulum back too far and instead of settling it in an amicable middle, and risks running into its own racism by pushing it too aggressively in the other direction. I think this book managed to avoid that extreme, but everything in it seemed colored by race in a way that people of color have far too often experienced in everyday life, and this seemed to me to be the wrong way to go about redressing that imbalance.

If that had been the only problem I think I might have been inclined to let it slide, history being what it isn't, but there were several other issues, not least of which is the mistake too many writers make, and not just in children's books, of using the lazy substitution that a person who reads books equals a person who is smart, instead of actually doing the work to make them read as a smart character. While a person who reads books can be smart, such a person can instead be dumb, and a person who doesn't read much can be smart, so the two things are not equivalent. Just because Violet can recite things from books, such as which countries in Africa speak Swahili, does not mean she is smart. It just means she's a parrot. And an annoying one at that. More on Swahili anon.

As I mentioned the story moved very slowly and even though it was not a long story, I grew bored with it taking forever to get anywhere. I also found this use of juvenile names for grandparents to be obnoxious. This girl Violet is not four years old, yet her grandparents are 'Poppy' and 'Gam'. Given that her name was Violet and her sister's name was Daisy, having a grandfather referred to as Poppy was way the hell too much. Can we not have a children's book where the grandparents are called grandma and grandpa? Seriously? I don't doubt that there are kids who use idiotic names for their grandparents, but I sure don't have to read about them!

Later there was another grandparent in the story who insisted on being called Bibi, which on the face of it is just as bad, but it turns out that Bibi is the Swahili name for grandmother. Now you might be willing to grant that a bye, but I wasn't because what's up with that? Where did this Swahili come from out of the blue? It had never been mentioned before. It wasn't like we'd learned that Violet's father was a native born African from one of the nations there which boasts Swahili as its native tongue. So WTF?! Given what I'd already been through it with the asinine names for grandparents, adding Bibi to the mix, out of the blue was once again ill-advised. This is what I mean about poorly written.

If the kids names, Daisy and Violet, had been derived from Swahili, and the family had a historical connection with the language, that would be one thing, but Daisy is from an old English phrase meaning 'day's eye', and Violet is from the Latin word for violet, which is believe it or not, Viola. No connection here. And the author can't spell Ahmed. She gets the M and H the wrong way around! I don't know if that was intentional but it looked sloppy.

This is why it's important for authors to really think about what they're writing. Names are important. If the girls had been named Nyasi and Ua, for example, the Swahili words for grass and flower, or some similarly-derived name, then that would have given a lead directly to Bibi, but there was nothing, and for the author to pull this straight out of her ass, smelled of desperation and poor choices to put it politely. It sure didn't smell of violets and daisies. I can't commend lazy writing like that. I made it a little over halfway through this book before I gave up on it. I cannot commend it as a worthy read.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien

Rating: WARTY!

The title of this audiobook amused the heck out of me and since I've had some success with oddly-titled middle-grade books recently, I thought this might make for a great read - or rather listen. The reader's voice wasn't bad at all, although a bit mature-sounding for the character.

The book started out decently, but rapidly went downhill. It's set in a pseudo-Asian world which is obviously China versus Japan, in which Peasprout Chen is coming in from China (called Shin here) to attend the prestigious Pearl Academy in Japan, where skating is available all year due to the fact that pearl is made from this slippery pearlescent material upon which ice skates work, so everyone skates everywhere, year-round.

That made for some interesting world-building, but even that ultimately fell short, and when the bullying began on day one, it was irritating to me. I stuck with it because I was interested in this martial art of Wu Liu - martial arts on skates! That sounded cool, but the descriptions of it given here aren't very evocative, and the endless competition was boring and absurdly dangerous from the young girls' perspective. It was too much, and had nothing to do with martial arts. It was merely performing ridiculous stunts, so there was little joy to be had there.

Peasprout and her kid brother Cricket - who isn't interested in Wu Liu at all, but in architecture - begin settling in and competing in the various tests they're given. For an academy, there appears to be precious little teaching going on. Everything is wrapped around this series of contests instead, so the story devolved into a series of girls bitching at each other and then competing in bizarre stunts which had nothing to do with learning and practicing martial arts. It was boring.

It was at this point that I began to realize that I really didn't like Peasprout at all. She was shallow and completely insensitive to her kid brother's needs. She was so focused on rivalry between her and other kids that it was pathetic.

At one point she breaks this special shock-absorbing dragon design on one of her skates (which is nowhere to be seen on the idiotic book covers), causing her problems, but despite the fact that she observes other kids tossing their blades into the trash after using then only once, it never occurs to her to grab a pair of those and use them on her own skates to replace the broken blade.

At one point she injures her knee, but instead of taking care of it, she allows herself to be goaded into a show of one-upmanship with some of her rivals and ends up injuring her knee further. In short, Peasprout is a moron. I don't mind if a character starts out dumb and wises up, but when they grow progressively dumber, I'm outta there. I DNF'd this one and cannot commend it as a worthy read.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook aimed at middle graders which didn't appeal to me. It started out well enough, but the more I read, the more I realized the author really didn't have any idea what she was talking about, and the plot was so inconstant as to be irritating. The reader's voice was way too mature for the character, and it was in first person too, which made it sound worse.

Lightning Girl isn't a super hero, although it would be a great name for one. When Lucy Calahan is struck by lightning at age eight, something in her brain is changed, and she suddenly becomes a math whiz. To my knowledge, no one who has been struck by lightning has ever become an autistic savant.

Lightning strikes are second in line behind flooding as causes of death by natural catastrophe, resulting in something like a death per week on average in the US. Survivors, far from having increased mental agility are likely to have it reduced, and math skills impaired. Victims who survive are more likely to experience problems with hearing and vision, and the myelin which sheathes nerves can also be damaged, leading to death long after the strike.

But this is pure fiction, and Lucy miraculous has no adverse physical effects whatsoever except for this math brilliance, but the author seems to confuse autistic savant syndrome with OCD, so Lucy has a series of oddball behaviors - normal for OCD sufferers, but seemingly out of line with the cause of her math skills. It made little sense to me. The outcome is that people perceive her as odd and she cannot make friends. Moving to a new school gives her a chance to hide her math brilliance and try to appear 'normal'.

Her grandmother is called 'Nana' here. Do kids in these books never ever, ever, ever call their grandparents grandpa and grandma? I just started another audiobook where grandfather is Poppy. Seriously? I know there must be some kids who use baby-names for their grandparents, but not everyone does! I guess authors of children's books never got that memo, huh, and kids never grow out of childish habits?

But I digress! Nana fails her granddaughter miserably by not telling anyone at the school about her condition. This results in all kinds of grief for Lucy, which means to me that Nana is guilty of a form of child abuse. The truth is that this book may as well not have adults in it for as little role as they play. Teachers are shown as bullies or uncaring about their kids which is frankly insulting and abusive of teachers, and parents have very little involvement in their kids' lives, evidently, in this author's world.

Far from celebrating her granddaughter's abilities, Nana plays along with hiding them, which is entirely inappropriate. It's one thing to exploit and abuse a gifted child by selfishly promoting them, but it's equally abusive to force, or at least enable, them into pretending they're something they're not.

The book involves a dog, too, which was just sickly sentimental and annoying to me. The dog is doomed, but not one grown-up ever sits down with Lucy and takes the time to explain to her why things are the way they are, which irritated the hell out of me. These adults were morons and abusive to this child. It's at that point that I DNF'd it.

Lucy gets on this team of three doing a school project, and the one girl, named Windy - not Wendy, but Windy - is a blabbermouth, and the boy, Levi, is simply a jerk. The trio were unprepossessing at best and uninteresting and laughable at worst. The story just lost me, and I gave up on it. Consequently I can't commend it as a worthy read.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Hyacinth by Jacob Sager Weinstein

Rating: WARTY!

This audiobook, read decently by Jessica Almasy, was nonetheless not to my taste. I started in on it a bit unsure, grew to like it somewhat, and then got put off by the first person voice and the really annoying lisp these characters had who came into the story a bit later. Plus the story moved a bit too slowly for my taste.

Tapping heavily into clichés about the British, the book weaves a story about London's many underground 'rivers', which used to be above ground, but which have slowly been culverted and then covered over as London grew. They're more like rivulets than rivers, truth be told. The story premise is that these rivers are magical and dangerous if not treated carefully. Even one lone drop of water can cause havoc, which the main character learns when she gets annoyed with the fact that the water coming from the cold faucet is too cold and the water in the hot one is way too hot.

She apparently isn't smart enough to consider running them both into the sink and getting the temperature just right there, so she gets this tool from somewhere and tinkers with the plumbing until the incoming water is mixed. This of course creates a problem since the water was apparently separated for a good reason. I was driving when I was listening to this and missed a bit here and there during this sequence.

The result of her actions is that she has to tool around in the London sewerage system and recover an escaped magical drop of water. This is where the story became tedious for me and I lost interest. While your mileage may well differ, and I would hope it does, I can't commend it based on my experience, although I confess I found Jessica Almasy's accents amusing.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke

Rating: WARTY!

I think I'm done reading Cornelia Funke because my results with her tend to be dissatisfactory. This was like the final straw. It's not that I haven't liked anything by her, but the ratio of successes to failures has been very poor for me and I am not a good member of the sunk cost fallacy club!

This novel, aimed at middle-grade, is about this eleven-year-old kid in England who gets sent to boarding school because of a conflict between him and his new stepfather. Way to go, mom - show the kid how much you love him by kicking him out in favor of your new husband!

So he goes off to school and starts fitting in, but at one point he realizes he can see ghosts, and these are not passive ghosts, but ghosts who have been for several centuries now, hunting down his family line and killing them off. I guess they haven't been very successful in their quest, because they still haven't wiped out the line - and how hard could that have been?

The kid recruits a girl who also attends his school and she believes him when he talks about murderous ghosts. At her suggestion, the guy also recruits a knight who died in mysterious circumstances even more centuries ago, and is looking to redeem himself. A ghost sword can kill a ghost right? Well, not if the ghost had an onion skin under his tongue when he was hung, because then he gets to relive his life several times over.

This audiobook got off to a slow start, redeemed itself somewhat, but then went downhill big time, and became utterly boring. I couldn't finish it, and I cannot commend it as a worthy read.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi

Rating: WARTY!

I'd heard of this author from one source or another but never read anything by her that I can recall until I listened to this audiobook. I made it to slightly over halfway through before I DNF'd it because of the fact that it was by turns irritating and engaging. On the one hand there were parts that were inventive and amusing (it's similar in outlook to Robert Rodriguez's Sharkboy and Lavagirl, although more magical and less action-adventure).

My problem with it was that the two main characters were simply not likeable. Alice is dumb and petulant, and I was willing to put up with this if she started showing improvement, which she did, before having a major relapse. That was it for me. Oliver was completely obnoxious from the start and he never did grow on me. The story is set in a land where magic is used, and Alice of course is the one without magic. Yes, she was Alice Potter in Wonderland. Her father has disappeared and Oliver makes a deal with her to enter a different land where he knows her father is, but he cannot free him without Alice's help, so the two set off.

All rules of logic and normality are out the window in this land, and while that at times was intriguing, the more I heard of it, the more stupid it became. The real problem though, was that Oliver never once prepared Alice for what they faced. Even though he had been there before and knew exactly what to expect, he gave her, if anything at all, the bare minimum of information, and Alice was too dumb even to adhere to that. Oliver was just a jerk, period. For example, one of the few things he did warn Alice about was that she could not eat anything in this land, but he never brought any food along with them. Go figure.

He became a major irritant to me, and at one point Alice seemed to be wising-up to his major failings, but she never took him to task over his miserly dissemination of information and worse, she failed repeatedly to heed it, despite witnessing first-hand the consequences of ignoring it. She was stupid. Around the halfway mark I decided I could not stand to read any more about this couple, and that was that. I cannot commend it based on the fifty percent of it that I experienced.

The Mozart Girl by Barbara Nickel

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Set in 1763, this is a middle grade (not middle-grave as I initially typed! That's a whole different genre! LOL!) novel that I originally thought was based on a diary, but no such diary exists. In fact we have almost nothing of Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart (who was a contemporary of Jane Austen), that doesn't come to us via a third party. There is a notebook that was created by her father, and which contains compositions that she played, but the only reason that survives, I suspect, is that it also contains compositions that her kid brother, the renowned Wolfgang Amadè Mozart, added to the book of his own accord.

I was disappointed to discover that the diary entries are spurious. That removed this novel further into fiction, and that became a problem for me because other than the general outline of the story - a tour which actually did take place - this book is pretty much all fiction, and for me it was way over-done. I had thought the over-wrought tone of the novel was taking its complexion from the diary, but that's obviously not the case if there is no diary.

Additionally, some of the history is a bit off and the modern language seems inappropriate. Naturally you don't want a novel of this nature to sound archaic, but a little less modern slang would have improved the tone. It's also historically inaccurate. At one point, the author is talking about wax candles when in that era, tallow was the norm, and she mentions gelatin, when aspic was the norm back then.

She frequently refers to financial woes when in fact, the Mozarts did very well for themselves in this tour, at least until both children became ill and things slowed down quite a bit, but no such illness is mentioned for "Nannerl" (Marianne), only for "Wolferl" (Mozart). I have to say that though it is historically accurate, these endless '-erl' nicknames made me want to hurl. I shall refer to the sister as Marianne which was what she went by when pet names were not used.

The worst faux pas was getting the main character's birthday wrong! Marianne turned 12 on 30 July 1763 when the family was in the middle of a three year tour of Europe, but in this novel, she turns twelve before the tour begins, and the author has her birthday in June!

At each stop during the tour, the author has her taking second place to Wolfgang whereas in reality, she was, at least initially, the star performer, but clearly this changed as Mozart the younger began to flourish, and maybe that's what the author is trying to reflect here. I don't know. I was quite confused by this point!

Another faux pas the author makes is the discussion of money. She makes the father sounds like some sort of avaricious beggar. As I said, they did well for themselves on this tour earning substantial amounts, but the author always has them sounding impoverished. That's not as bad as this one section when they visited an important family - that of Baron Kerpen and his musically talented children - and the Mozart father says at one point: “How wonderful to have such a fine orchestra, all in one family...Do you ever play in public, for money?”

That would have been an unconscionable impertinence back then. It really stood-out like a sore thumb to me, and continued a process of turning me off this story even more than I already had been. If the novel had not been so short, and I was not already over halfway through it by then, I would have DNF'd right there. As it was I made it only to eighty percent before I could not stand to read any more when the author was making a fuss about Christmas, which back in Mozart's time, was not the big event it is today. Yes, it was celebrated, but the bigger event was Saint Nicholas's Day which was early in December.

I understand this is fiction, and little is known about Marianne, particularly how she thought and felt, and that some dramatic license is permissible in a novel like this, but the portrayal of her in this story felt wrong, inauthentic, and frankly, disrespectful of such a talented young woman. It may well have been that she had the same musical yearnings as her brother, and even the same skills, but we will never know because nothing of hers survives to compare with Mozart's own work.

What does seem likely is that her facility with music was what inspired such a passion for it in her kid brother. He watched as her father taught her to play. She was an accomplished musician, but that doesn't necessarily mean it was all she ever had on her mind as is implied here.

Rightly or wrongly - obviously wrongly by our modern expectations - there were different pressures and constraints on girls back then, and certain behaviors that now are considered restrictive and even abusive, were the norm and accepted as the way things are. Precious few people saw life differently. To present her in a modern light as though she had beliefs and lofty, but frustrated ambitions that she may well not have had is an imposition and is dangerous ground for writers to traverse with such abandon.

Perhaps Marianne was exactly as she was as depicted here, but we don't know, and it seems to me to be more likely that she simply enjoyed playing, and had no other ambition. It may well be that she chose to set aside music later in life in favor of other priorities, and had no grand plans, frustrated or otherwise, that she longed to pursue.

It may have been just the opposite. The fact is that we do not know. What we do know is that women had certain expectations both for themselves, and also that were set upon them by others, particularly their parents and husbands, and we do not know exactly where her own views lay, so to present her as this thwarted, frustrated genius felt like a grave imposition to me and one which is not supported by history.

It's true that there is much debate about her talent, not so much about her playing ability, which is a given, but about her compositional skills, but as I mentioned, of those we have nothing by which to judge. She composed music, that we do know, but none of it has survived. The only real 'evidence' we have of its quality is the complimentary comments of both her father and her brother, and while I'm sure these were genuine, we do not know if father was praising a talented daughter and brother was praising a fellow prodigy, or if both were simply bolstering a beloved daughter/sibling with great praise where average praise may have been more objectively appropriate. It’s a great shame that we do not know, but the fact remains that we do not.

Where this book did well was in highlighting her playing ability, but everything else is pure speculation and I felt it serves a woman like Marianne badly to puff her up for talent (in composition) that we know nothing of, while underserving the talent she had that we can certainly attest to, based on historical records. I cannot commend this as a worthy read therefore.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Carnival in a Fix by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre

Rating: WARTY!

This is the first Philip Reeve book I've read that I did not consider a worthy read. Note that its not aimed at me, but at a much younger audience, and for them it may well be good, but there were too many cliches and tropes here for my taste and even for a children's book I can't condone that kind of lazy writing.

Whether it would be discernible to its intended audience, I don't know, but it was blatantly obvious from he start what was going on here. Emily lives at an interplanetary unfair situated on a moon somewhere, and visited by aliens of all stripes (and dots and heliotrope!). On the day the story starts, she bids goodbye to her parental units - an odd couple - only to discover that a unfair inspector has arrived and is a nasty piece of work. She sets off to inform her guardians.

What's obvious is that this is no fun-fair inspector. He's an unfair inspector - some dude who is sabotaging the fair by use of little spiky spidery type critters while pretending to fail everything because of poor maintenance and so on. No one sees this, or even suspects it. This tells me that everyone at the fair, and in particular Emily, is really rather stupid. I do not appreciate stories about stupid people (unless the author is planning on taking it somewhere interesting) and especially not about stupid female characters.

My other problem with this was the aliens. Like far too many sci-fi stories, the aliens were caricatures. And yes, it's a kids book, but multiple eyes on stalks? If only sci-fi authors had paid attention during the evolution module in school they would come up with far more engaging aliens. Most of this is on McIntyre since she was the artist, but the author doubtlessly could have nixed these drawings had he wanted.

That wasn't the biggest problem though. That problem was Emily. She was purportedly alien (there's no word about where she came from or how she ended up there) but she looks exactly like a human - except for a tail tacked on to her. It would have been nice had Emily been shown as alien, so kids understand there are interesting stories to be told about people who are not like the reader.

So all told, I DNF'd this and cannot commend it as a worthy read.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre

Rating: WORTHY!

I came into this series rather ass-backwards, reading the second volume (Cakes in Space) first, then the third (Pugs of the Frozen North), and finally coming back to the first. I found the titles hilarious. It doesn't really matter where you start as it happens, since they're not really sequential or even about the same people. All three have been enjoyable although they're aimed at a much younger audience than I represent.

This one was about this little kid named Oliver, which is becoming a quite popular name choice in the USA over the last couple of years - unlike Sarah, which recently dropped out of the top 100 for the first time since records began.

As it happens, the art for this novel is by a Sarah - McIntyre. She's definitely not unpopular! Oliver has explorers for parents, and he's not happy endlessly wandering the world. To his relief, the parents have finally explored everything, and are moving back to their family home on the coast. Oliver is thrilled.

The thrill evaporates rapidly as his parents are more interested in the islands off the coast - which were not there when they were last at home, than they are in moving things into their house. Poor Oliver is doing this when he realizes that the inflatable dinghy his parents took is back on shore sans parents, and the islands have all disappeared, save for one of them.

It turns out that the islands are the Rambling Isles - rock people who wander the ocean trying to find items to put on their heads to make an impressive sea wig, with which to win the septennial competition among the Rambling Islands.

Befriending an albatross who lives on this one island - which Oliver names 'Cliff', and a short-sighted mermaid, Oliver sets off, transported by the island, to find his parents. The story is delightfully whimsical and inventive, playful and imaginative, and light hearted, with a pair of all-but mustache-twirling villains thrown in. But you might want to steer clear - not of the Sargasso Sea, but the Sarcastic Sea, where the seaweed will make salty remarks about you.

The author is best known for his Mortal Engines series, which I haven't read (yet!), although I enjoyed the movie (unlike most people it seems!). I loved this story, and want to read more of this series.