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

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.


Friday, January 11, 2019

Pugs of the Frozen North by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre


Rating: WORTHY!

The Chinese claim that this is the year of the pig (kick-off February 5th, 2019), but I hereby declare it the year of the pug! It's only a vowel away!

How could I, of all people, not want to pick this up and read it with a title like that? I couldn't resist it, and I was rewarded by an inventive and amusing middle-grade story which I have to say bears some resemblance at one point to the Homeric Odyssey Book 9, wherein Odysseus, having been blown about by the wind for over a week, finally makes it to an island. He discovers that the locals feed on the Lotus (which is often taken to be a flower, but more likely referenced the fruit of a tree). This bears a soporific fruit causing them to abandon all aspiration and industry, and from which he must rescue his men.

So in this novel, having become shipwrecked and abandoned, accidentally or otherwise by the crew, cabin boy Shen finds himself alone with sixty-six pugs, all of whom are shivering. Fortunately, the ship was carrying a cargo of small, woolly sweaters, with which Shen outfits each of the pugs, before embarking on an excursion to explore and find help. He comes across a small native village where he meets a girl named Sika, who curiously is in need of dogs to pull her sled in the local sled race to the top of the world, the winner of which has any wish granted.

The two embark upon the race pulled by the pugs and have several adventures, including meeting a large kraken, and being lured into the Yeti Noodle shack where they become prisoners. This is the Lotus-Eater phase. Yes, the noodles are dreamily good - they're made from special snow, so why wouldn't they be? But the imprisonment is to do the chore of washing dishes to pay for the noodles they ate! Of course they escape.

And after another adventure or two they meet the wish-granter. I thought this was great fun. They completely snowed me with it, and I'm going to see if I can get my icy hands on some of the other books Reeve and collaborator McIntyre have created together.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook that didn't start out well. It was first person which is typically not a good idea, but I would have been willing to put up with that had the story engaged me. It did not. It clearly had no intention of entering into an engagement, and was evidently just leading me on! Again, it wasn't aimed at me, but I've read many middle-grade stories that entertained. My current print book is one aimed at young middle grade and it's completely engaging.

The problem with this book was the complete disconnect between events and the main character's relation of them. Willow Chance (yes, that's her name) is returning from some sort of school trip when she sees a police car in her drive. It transpires that her parents have expired. You would think there would be some sort of an emotional reaction, but if you're expecting one from Willow, you're barking up the wrong tree. She barely reacts.

Instead, she starts rambling mindlessly and tediously about her life history. I had to DNF this book at about ten percent in due to projectile vomiting. Yes, I was vomiting actual projectiles in the form of uncouth language. Robin Miles's reading of the novel didn't help. It wasn't appallingly bad, but it did nothing to contribute to easing the discomfort, either. I cannot commend this based on my experience of the opening few chapters.


Friday, January 4, 2019

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins


Rating: WARTY!

This was sitting on the library shelves and it was by the author of The Hunger Games, which I loved and favorably reviewed, so it seemed like it might make for an interesting read. If I had known it was part of 'The Underland Chronicles' I would never have picked it up. I make it a policy never to read anything with the word 'chronicles' (or 'cycle' or 'saga') associated with it, but once again the idiot publishers failed to put a warning on the cover that this was part of a series, much less a chronic one! Personally I think they ought to have a warning affixed similar to that one attached to packs of cigarettes, worded o the effect that it was written by an unimaginative, or washed-up, or outright lazy author who can't do original work anymore, but that's just me.

I began listening to it before I knew any of this. It was poorly read by Paul Boehmer and the story was poorly written for my taste, so I quickly gave up on it. It was too young for me. According to Wikipedia, the story begins thus: "Eleven-year-old Gregor is left home alone in his family's New York City apartment to watch his sisters and grandmother. When Gregor's baby sister Boots falls through an old air duct grate in the building's basement, he dives in after her. The two fall miles below into the Underland: a subterranean world home to humans with near-translucent skin; giant sentient bats, rodents, and insects; and an escalating conflict between the human city of Regalia and the rats' King Gorger."

So maybe this will appeal to a younger audience, but based on my admittedly limited experience, I cannot commend it.


Kim by Rudyard Kipling


Rating: WARTY!

I've enjoyed several of this author's works, but I could not get with him on this one. I positively reviewed The Elephant's Child in February 2018, and his Just So Stories in December of 2014, and I even enjoyed the Jungle Book stories related to Mowgli, which admittedly I did as research for a novel, but nevertheless! This one was boring, I'm sorry to report.

Set in the late nineteenth century, this story has a great plot to begin with: Kim is Kimball O'Hara, an orphan whose Irish father and mother are both dead. He continues to live in poverty as did his parents, and earns a living (if you can call it that) from begging and running errands on the streets of Lahore, which nowadays is a major city in Pakistan in the Punjab pradesh. Kipling's story was set before the partition. Kim is so much a part of the local culture that he is routinely mistaken for a native. He sometimes does jobs for Mahbub Ali, who is a Pashtun horse dealer, but who also works for the British secret service.

Kim attaches himself to a Tibetan lama and begins traveling with him as the lama seeks to free himself from the never-ending wheel of life and achieve enlightenment, For some reason this necessitates a quest to find a certain body of water, but Kim is separated from the lama and sent to school when it's discovered that he is a British subject. Somehow this impoverished lama-beggar funds his education, and after he is done with school, he rejoins the lama on a trip, the lama still traveling, Kim now spying for the British government.

I never made it that far though, because the story bored the salwar off me. I cannot commend it as a worthy read.


Love Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles


Rating: WARTY!

Read obnoxiously by Judith Ivey, this book was a fail from the off.

This audiobook sounded like fun from the blurb: Ruby Lavender and Miss End User License Agreement, aka Miss Eula, rescue chickens which are destined for the slaughterhouse in Halleluia, Mississippi. We're informed that they (Ruby and Eula, not the chickens) live in a house painted pink, although I fail to see how that makes them special, and they "operate their own personal secret-letter post office." Ruby is depressed by Miss Eula's impeding visit to Hawaii to see her grand-baby.

I never made it that far because the entire first quarter or so of this novel was obsessively and endlessly going on about chickens laying eggs and it was read in such an awful, nausea-inducing southern voice that I honestly couldn't stand to listen to it - not the voice nor the tediously harping story, so I ditched it and felt great relief at doing so. Obviously it's not aimed at me, but I cannot commend it based on what I suffered through. I would definitely not want a child to have to relive this!


Lumberjanes Unicron Power by Mariko Tamaki


Rating: WORTHY!

My sometimes stretched love affair with Mariko Tamaki remains intact after this audiobook version of what was initially purely a graphic novel.

Despite this being aimed at a much younger age group than ever I can claim membership of, it was highly amusing, very cute, entertaining, and told a good solid story. It turns out that unicorns aren't what you thought they were. They never were what I thought they were, not after reading (and positively reviewing) Rampant by Diana Peterfreund back in 2013, but here they're altogether different again.

Lumberjanes are a topic over which I evidently have mixed feelings. I love the idea of them, but the graphic novel (Lumberjanes Vol 2 by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke Allen, Maarta Laiho) I picked up and negatively reviewed back in 2016 did not impress me at all. I found it boring and DNF'd it, so perhaps it's testimony to Mariko Tamaki's writing skills that I enjoyed this one so much. One small problem I had with that earlier work was that I could not understand how the title came about. These girls are not the female equivalent of Lumberjacks, not even remotely, so the name is misleading in many regards, but it is amusing.

The title just refers to a series of girl-centric comics, and is set in a summer camp (Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types if you must know). In process of enjoying a field trip, the girls encounter the unicorns and also get stuck on a cloud mountain later. The camp hands out badges, rather like the scouts do, but other than that, nothing much seems to happen except when the girls end up in trouble in one way or another from their own various activities, not all of which are camp sanctioned.

FYI, the Lumberjanes are:

  • Jo, a transgender girl who tends to be a leader and who has the most badges
  • April who is the princess of puns and who takes notes. She's very strong despite her apparently small frame.
  • Molly is an archer of Katniss skills, and is a great puzzle-solver. She wears a pet raccoon named Bubbles as a hat and is right behind Jo in number of badges earned.
  • Mal looks like some rebel girl, but isn't actually like that. She's a great maker of plans.
  • Ripley is young and fearless
On the camp staff are Rosie, the camp master, and Jen, who is the leader of Roanoke cabin, which is the lumberjane's cabin

I enjoyed this listen very much and I commend it as a great introduction to the lumberjanes even though it's not the first story in line.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Nancy Drew Girl Detective #13 Doggone Town by Stefan Petrucha, Sarah Kinney, Sho Murase, Carlos Jose Guzman


Rating: WARTY!

I can only give pretty much the same review for this one that I did for the previous volume out of three I read recently. I never read any of the original Nancy Drews (and I'm starting to be glad about that!) although in July of 2017, I did positively review a book which told the interesting story of how the Nancy Drew books came about.

My only experience of her prior to these graphic novels was via two widely disparate movies, one an old one, and one a much more recent version which actually wasn't too bad. None of the three graphic novels were particularly interesting to me, although younger readers might enjoy them. This particular one was nothing to write home about. The color by Guzman, the art by Murase, and the writing by Petrucha and Kinney were all workman-like and nothing special, and the story was unsurprisingly predictable.

Nancy Sue and the absurdly-named Ned Nickerson, who sounds like a character out of the Monty Python sketch 'Election Night Special' are out and about when they encounter an apparently lost dog. They drive out to a remote village and return it to its owner only to discover the entire village is deserted except for the owner, who is absurdly mean. Of course, she did it! Boring.

These books never explain why it is that Nancy doesn't simply call the police. You'd think the writer would at least offer a token explanation for why she cannot, but no - that's too much to ask for. And what? And entire village goes missing and no one notices? Not the police, not relatives, not delivery people? No one?


Nancy Drew Girl Detective #11 Monkey Wrench Blues by Stefan Petrucha, Sarah Kinney, Sho Murase, Carlos Jose Guzman


Rating: WARTY!

This was one of three Nancy Drew graphic novels which I decided to take a look at, having never read any of the original Nancy Drews and having seen her in only two widely disparate movies. None were particularly interesting to me, although younger readers might enjoy them. This particular one was nothing to write home about. The color by Guzman, the art by Murase, and the writing by Petrucha and Kinney were all workman-like and nothing special, and the story was quite predictable.

Nancy and her mechanic, Bess, drive a car in a race of supposedly environmentally-friendly vehicles. Naturally someone is trying to run Nancy off the road and naturally Mary Drew (or is it Nancy-Sue?) escapes scot-free and solves the 'puzzle'. Boring. Can't commend this one.


Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi


Rating: WARTY!

I negatively reviewed The Gilded Wolves by this same author in early November 2018 after starting out really liking that one. It was badly let down by the ending. I didn't have to wait that long in this audiobook by the same author, but aimed at a middle-grade rather than an adult, audience to have the same feelign engendered fortunately.

The story is about an irresponsible young girl whose mother works for a museum of Indian artefacts. The girl, Aru Shah, stops time by giving in to a bitchy dare from a rival schoolgirl, and then has to fix it. The plot idea isn't a bad one, but the execution sucked. Once the story started bringing in huffy pets (supposedly Indian gods in animal form), it lost all hope of retaining my affection. I'm so tired of cutesy animals in these stories, especially ones which exhibit a 'tude. I DNF'd this after about a quarter of it, and I can safely say I'm done with this author now.


Spellbound by Blake Charlton


Rating: WARTY!

There's not much to say about this that I didn't cover in the negative review of volume one of this trilogy. In volume two we abandoned Nicodemus altogether at least as far as I read, which was not very far because, despite a really quite engaging beginning, it rapidly descended into one of those love-hate romances which I despise.

It's set ten tears after the first volume, which struck me as very strange, and Nicodemus, the boy wizard who lived from the first volume, was barely mentioned, much less actually appeared in the part I read. After a great start, the story began obsessing on this healer woman named Francesca DeVega, who had interested me to begin with, but who then became involved in this 'roguish' pilot who reappeared in her life, and I couldn't stand to read this anymore. Based on my short acquaintanceship, I cannot recommend this, and I'm done with this dreary and unimaginative author.


Spellwright by Blake Charlton


Rating: WARTY!

I picked up the sequel to this without realizing it was a sequel - once again Big Publishing™ failed to disclose on the front cover that it was volume two of a trilogy. Despite this dishonesty, I started reading it and enjoyed the opening chapter, so I decided to get the previous volume - this volume - from the library and read that one first. I ended up enjoying it sufficiently to want to go back to volume two and continue reading that, although the entire story was rather ponderous and overall left a bad taste.

In this volume we're introduced to Nicodemus who is the usual hobbled wizard in this kind of story. In his case though it has a twist in that spells (for reasons which went unexplained) are wrought in the muscles of the body and involve words which then migrate to the hands where they can be used. Bizarre, yes, but that's how it was. So Nicodemus's problem was that he was dyslexic, and therefore could not cast spells reliably - and sometimes cast them dangerously. He was the Seamus Finnigan of this story. Harry Potter's Finnigan may well have been named after Seamus Finnegan, an Irish playwright, but Nicodemus was initially interesting to me because of this twist.

As is the case in most every wizarding story, Nicodemus was the savior of the world because of his 'defective' condition. He'd been rendered this way because some other wizard was sucking the magic out of him. Albus Dumbledore - er, the aging wizard - who has taken a special interest in Harry - er Nicodemus - of course keeps him in the dark, so when all hell breaks loose, Nicodemus doesn't have a clue and has to figure it out himself with the aid of his male and female companions, one of whom is a powerful wizard herself, and just like in Harry Potter, friends are being murdered, and Nicodemus has to go on the run. Unlike with the Rowling stories, this all happens in book one.

here's something I've warned about before. The problem with pronouncing the word 'shone' as 'shown' instead of pronouncing it like you'd pronounce 'one' ('shonn'), as many Americans do, is that sometimes it bites back. On one page, I believe in this volume, but perhaps in volume one, I read, "A wall of silvery text shown down from the other side of the door..." Clearly this was intended to be 'shone down'. Not 'shown', but when pronounced incompetently, leads to a different word and a different meaning! Beware the language, fellow writers! Rein it in before it rains on you (or at least that's what it will tell you is falling on your back...).

So apart from the dyslexia which I found interesting, there really was nothing new here that we haven't seen before. I was able to read all of this and get back to volume two, but things continued to go downhill, only more rapidly. On that basis, I'm going to rate this negatively because it really didn't live up to its potential, it was boring in parts and brought to the table very little that was fresh. I cannot commend it, especially in light of how volume two went.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Polaris by Michael Northrop


Rating: WARTY!

This sounds like a sci-fi novel from the title, but it isn't. It's a middle-grade scare novel a la Goosebumps, but not. I picked it up because I thought it was sci-fi, but even when I realized it wasn't, it still sounded like an interesting premise when I first looked at it at the library: "The proud sailing ship Polaris is on a mission to explore new lands, and its crew is eager to bring their discoveries back home. But when half the landing party fails to return from the Amazon jungle, the tensions lead to a bloody mutiny. The remaining adults abandon ship, leaving behind a cabin boy, a botanist's assistant, and a handful of deckhands -- none of them older than twelve."

I think as a writer you need to bring your reader in pretty quickly (of course this rule doesn't apply to established writers how seem to think they can ramble on endlessly and still keep all their readers entranced. Stephen King I'm looking at you...). The problem is that for different readers this type of entrance means different things. It's hard to write a generic opening that will draw everyone in, and in this case, the writing just did not welcome me at all. Right from when I first started listening to it, I couldn't get into it at all and I DNF'd it pretty quickly.

I think the problem was the mesmerizingly rapid, if not rabid switch of viewpoints as the story opened so I wasn't ever quite sure where the hell I was. Maybe if I'd been sitting in a room listening to this it would have been different, but I listen to audiobooks pretty much exclusively when I'm driving, and when I am driving, I'm all about driving, and will ditch attention to a novel rapidly if something demands extra attention on the other side of the windshield. That's not to say I ignore traffic if a story is really engrossing, by any means, but I know that if my mind is wandering onto other matters - such as my own writing, then the audiobook just ain't cutting it. So, other than that, I don't have anything to add about this except that based on my experience I can't commend it.