Showing posts with label children's fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label children's fiction. Show all posts

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt

Rating: WORTHY!

Read by Lyle Lovett of all people, and pretty decently too, this audiobook turned out to be a worthy listen despite some annoyances, which may well not be so annoying for the middle grade reader this is evidently aimed at.

The true blue scouts are raccoons Bingo and J'miah, who are newly recruited to report on events in the swamp to their overlord, the Sugar Man, who I suspected from the off was a bear of some sort, but in the end I had no idea what he was! Meanwhile in the human world there are machinations going on! A developer wants to take over the swamp and turn it into some sort of theme park, and he has the support of the admirably-named Yeager Stitch (spelling - this was an audiobook after all!) who wrestles alligators for a living. You know how this is going to end, so the fun is the journey there and the author keeps it fun for the most part, especially in detailing the antics of the raccoons, and a band of unruly hogs.

My problems with it were two-fold. The first of these was the sound effects which I assume were written into the text, such as the attack of a rattler being described as snip-snap, zip-zap, which was annoying (as well as inaccurate) the first time I heard it, let alone the tenth. Also the idea of drawing out the letter 's' in words spoken by snakes is so far overdone these days that it's just irritating and not even mildly imaginative. Let's cut that out shall we? I could have done without those sound effects, but maybe younger kids will like them. The other issue was more serious because it relates to the overall theme, which seemed to be environmental - in that more than one party was working to protect the swamp from being plowed under and cemented over.

That's all well and good. No problem there, but one of the parties expressing astonishment that someone was planning on destroying the swamp was also the same one which was running a café that served sugar pie, which was made by pillaging the sugar cane that grew near the café. No one said a word about replanting this cane, to keep it replenished, All I ever heard was the clear-cutting of it to get the sugar. That sends a poor message right there and a hypocritical one too. You can't protect the environment by raping it. That's like cola company saying they're replacing every drop of water they suck up from the environment to feed us diabetes-inducing drinks, and then carefully arranging their accounting so they're really doing no such thing, but it looks like they are from a certain perspective.

That aside this story was entertaining and amusing, so I'm going to let the environmental snafu slide in this case and rate this a worthy read.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Title: Gracefully Grayson
Author: Ami Polonsky
Publisher: Disney
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new novel is reward aplenty!

This is a novel which I decided would be fun to blog along with Bumbling Into Body hair by Everett Maroon. The two stories, one fiction (this one) and one factual, are like bookends to the entire spectrum of gender identity, which is a lot more complex than most people realize. Gender isn't black & white. It's not a binary thing, despite popular misconception. It's a sliding scale and there's no guarantee at conception where any of us will end up along it. Gender isn't a congenital disease, and to pretend that there's something bad, or abnormal, or immoral about people who end up outside the two most common ranges and behave as nature intended them to, is simply wrong, and that's all there is to it.

Bumbling Into Body Hair is a true story about a man who was born in a woman's body and underwent a painful, amusing, rewarding, and educational transition to 'normalize' himself. The fictional work reviewed here alongside this today is the opposite of this in many ways: it's about a young boy who identifies more as a female than ever he does as a male. I invite you to read both my reviews, which are tied together in some ways, but still very different, even though I rated both books worthy reading.

There's no sex in this novel which is a good thing, because it's not about sex, it's about gender identification - a different thing altogether. That's why I employ the term 'genderism' instead of the more common 'sexism'. It's not about sex. This novel is beautifully titled and just as beautifully written. It's really good, and I recommend it. That doesn't mean I didn't have an issue or two (I always do!).

Grayson is twelve, and has a secret life fantasizing about being dressed as a girl. He's so secretive that he even disguises his doodles (of princesses) as geometric shapes to avoid anyone learning of his predilection. One of my initial issues with this was that the novel never gets down to the nitty-gritty of exactly what is going on with Grayson. Grayson evidently isn't gay, but is he simply (simply, hah!) a transvestite, or is he truly a female in a male body? The two are not the same, but it didn't take me long (yah, I maybe slow, but I get there in the end!) to realize that this doesn't matter, because it's not about what he/she is, it's about his/her freedom to be whatever it is that he/she is, and the obstacles which society places squarely in the way of people who honestly try to inhabit themselves.

One reviewer pointed out that the author does nothing to answer this question or to help Grayson's case with her choice of personal pronouns, consistently employing the masculine form to refer to Grayson (from which I take my cue for this review), and the ending to the novel doesn't reveal anything either. In the final analysis (which I just did, with a report in triplicate, with lots of graphs and diagrams and complicated sums on my desk!) and in the end, that's just fine. I have to say I did wonder, at one point, if the author was going to bring-up Grayson's hidden history and reveal that he is intersexed and had a gender forced upon him by some mindless meddling medico, but this wasn't how it played out - at least not unless Polonsky has a sequel in mind which might be more forthcoming!

The isolation of Grayson is so great that he has no friends, not even amongst his siblings, which technically aren't his siblings since he's living with his aunt and uncle (his mom and dad died in a accident when he was four). He does end-up falling into a friendship with Amelia, a new girl in school, who is slightly overweight, and who ends up hanging out with Grayson almost by default. The two start to have fun and go on shopping trips together to the thrift store to buy clothes, but the one time Grayson bravely tries on a skirt, he's seen by Amelia, and that pretty much kills off their friendship. But that's not even the biggest event in his life so far.

Much more momentous is the staging of a play about Persephone, and Grayson reads for the female lead. The play's director, Mr Finnegan (about whom there are rumors), and who is universally known as Finn amongst teachers and students alike, allows this. Grayson so inhabits the role during his trial read that he's given the part. None of the other actors have any issues with this (apart from one temporary resentment) thereby showing what consummate professionals they are. I was thrilled by this aspect of the story, but of course, choices have consequences, and they come thick and fast now.

The real issue I had with the story is about this play. Grayson is thrilled to have the part, and has to suffer the slings and arrows attendant with it, including brutal bullying, but he never wavers because his eye is on the prize of being able to dress as a woman in public. The bulk of the novel is taken up with his anticipation of, and participation in, rehearsals. It fills so much of his life - and the story - that I was really let-down when none of the actual performance was included. Instead, all we got was what quite literally looked like the author's sketchy notes for the writing - a list without any elaboration, no talking, no lines read, no action, no reaction. The performance of the play was essentially skipped in its entirety. This play was so important to Grayson that I felt robbed of it, and cheated out of it.

In many regards, this story is a dedicated replica of the movie Shakespeare in Love which was brilliant. That, of course, featured rather the reverse of this: a woman posing as a boy - and a straight woman at that, and it included a tragic love story which would have been out of place here, but the point is that it all came together on the night, during the play, and it was truly magical. I was hoping for the same thing here, and I never got it. The play's the thing, but that doesn't mean I like to be played - or played with.

However, I'm willing to forgive that, and rate this highly because in all other respects it did exactly what it needed to do. It's an important story and well told, and I recommend it.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Amelia's Notebook by Marissa Moss

Title: Amelia's Notebook
Author: Marissa Moss
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Marissa Moss.

This one I picked up on close-out because it was so hilarious and so irreverent that I couldn't leave it sitting there unloved.

Amelia is a young kid who has to move away from her school and friends, starting over in a new locale. She makes random notes about her experience and about anything and everything she deems worthy of a note in hardback notebooks. You know the ones: those with the cover looking like it already has ink-blots galore on it. In some ways, she's rather like a modern, much more funny, and far less creepy .

I love the way she draws a lot to illustrate her text, and the way she's completely unafraid to tell it how it is. She rambles on about her sister, her friends - old and new - and her teachers. In some ways she actually reminds me of me when I was so young. In particular it's really funny the way she illustrates various noses she's encountered, and the way that she tinkers with the 'useful information' - you know, those obscure weights and measures - inside the back cover of the book. This particualrly reminds me of how much I loved to re-write such things.

I found this book to be completely hilarious. Hopefully that's not just me, and children of the right age will find it entertaining too. There's a host of similar material written by Moss which is worth pursuing if you liked this one.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Maddy Kettle Book 1 The Adventure of the Thimble Witch by Eric Orchard

Title: Maddy Kettle: The Adventure of the Thimble Witch
Author: Eric Orchard
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

p28 "...cloudsape" should be "...cloudscape."

This is a charming graphic novel for children which tells the curious tale of Maddy Kettle, whose parents, ma and pa Kettle, are kangaroo rats. They apparently ended up that way after an encounter with the Thimble Witch and her horrible spider goblins, which frankly creep me out, but I'm probably just making a sow's ear out of a spider-silk purse, right?

Maddy has a pet spade-foot toad, Ralph, who floats and can talk, but talking animals seem to be the norm in this world. None, of course, are as important as Ralph (although most seem to have a better memory than he does).

Just as maddy is about to announce to her folks a new plan to get them changed back to human form, she discovers that the unexpectedly evil Thimble Witch appears to have has sent in a spider goblin to kidnap both her parents and the toad. Maddy finds herself ejected unceremoniously from the train on which they're traveling through the American west (as far as I can tell).

Maddy is done pussy-footing around now, and so she strikes out bravely across the desert intending upon attacking this mystery. Is it a mystery or a misunderstanding? Either way, Maddy will get to the bottom of it. That's when she runs into a bear, Harry, and a raccoon, Silvio, cloud cartographers who have been stranded by the failure of their balloon transportation (powered by Moon gas!). There's also a snake. And later, vampires, but that's just bats....

On a small point of order, I have to take issue on page twenty-five with the snake asserting that it isn't poisonous. It's never too early to set kids straight on nature and there's nothing more important than understanding it properly, given what we're all doing to the planet. I guess that snakes can be poisonous, that is: they may cause illness or death if eaten, but what I think this little guy was trying to reassure Maddy over, was that it was not venomous - a different thing altogether. I'm just saying!

Anyway, Maddy takes charge and pursues this problem with a relentlessness and a tenacity that's a joy to watch. Nothing deflects her from her purpose. How sad is it that children get a wonderful character like this at that age, and then grow into young adults only to find themselves beset by one limp excuse for a female role model after another?

Eric Orchard I command you to write young-adult novels with strong female characters like Maddy or I'll turn you into a kangaroo rat! Now then, that should fix it. So while we're waiting on the first of those novels coming down the pipeline, please enjoy this excellent children's graphic novel as I did! And note that it is indeed book one of a series, so there will be more. Oh yes, there will be more....

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer by Janni Lee Simner

Title: Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer
Author: Janni Lee Simner
Publisher: Cholla Bear Press (website unavaiable)
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

This review will be shorter than my usual ones because this is a very short novel, and it's new, so I don't want to give out too many spoilers here. Let's talk about the importance of names and titles! This novel is a classical example of picking the right name for your novel in my opinion. It was originally titled Secret of the Three Treasures, which is very tame. It's almost hard to believe what a quick switcheroo can do, but now we have the magnificent title Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer - can you believe that? I think that's leagues ahead of the original and really catchy. I probably never would have read this had it retained its original name. I'm not one for going on much about covers (unless they really tick me off), because authors typically have little to do with their cover (and all-too-often little to do with their title!), but this cover is also wonderful. It amplifies the title perfectly.

This is yet another novel where I fell so in love with the title that I couldn't not read it! Of course, as I've discovered with other novels, a great title doesn’t guarantee a great read, but I'm always optimistic that a writer who can come up with a title like that can also write a novel like that, and unlike my previous experience with such a title, this novel kept me on-board to the very end.

I did get tripped up by the very first sentence. The author amusingly writes a short paragraph at the start of each chapter in italics, as though Tiernay truly is an adventurer. I loved this, but the very first one confused me. At first I thought it was written badly, but after I’d run it through my mind about four times employing different emphasis, pauses, and speeds, I realized it’s perfectly fine. Maybe it was just me, but I’d be a wee bit worried having a novel, even one with a brilliant title, starting out with a sentence that it takes a reader three or four passes through it before he gets it! Here's the sentence in case you're interested in seeing if you're sharper than I am!

Tiernay west stalked through the forest, silent as the great cats of the African plains, deadly as the fabled Royal Assassins of Arakistan.

Now when I read it, it seems perfectly fine to me. I think it was the juxtaposition of 'forest' and 'plains' which tripped me up initially; then my mind was so focused on that, that I couldn’t grasp the rest of the sentence!

I am so in love with Tiernay Markowitz (from which you know it’s only a short hop to 'West'). She's an admirably feisty and determined young woman. She wants to be an adventurer, and to take after the hero in the novels her dad writes. Not that she sees dad much these days, since he and mom have split up. Now she has to deal with the new man in her mom's life, Greg, who seems like a nice guy, but who doesn’t seem even remotely interested in adventuring; nor does his young son Kevin - at least, not at first. I loved Tiernay's long-suffering mom, too. She was the perfect combination of feistiness herself, and of face-palming patience in the face of her daughter's aggressive self-confidence

Acting on information received (by eavesdropping on a nearby table at the restaurant where they ate lunch), Tiernay learns of treasure! This treasure could even be in her home town. Admirably, she heads to the library and discovers a really interesting book about her ancestors, and what should drop out of the book but a short, handwritten note, which mentions not one, but three treasures! Tiernay is on the job, and next she does some Internet research. Yes! She uses the library and the Internet! She researches. She doesn't have things miraculously drop into her lap (apart from that one note!). She doesn't have magical powers. She isn't 'the chosen one'. She's not part angel, part demon or whatever, she's just a regular ordinary child who refuses to be hobbled by others' perceptions of her age and gender and so becomes extraordinary. In short, she's how every main female character should be. How hard is that? Why can more authors - especially female ones who write about females - not get what Jannie Lee Simner has grasped so firmly in both hands?

Tiernay is the kind of daughter I would have chosen, had I had one to choose. She's smart, fearless, indomitable, and completely adorable. She's not afraid to go out on a limb, even under the derision of others. She's always optimistic, she sticks to her guns (even though she carries none!), and she selflessly plays it out to the end. There's rather more than a handful of YA novelists I could name who could learn how to craft a strong female main character by reading this novel, let me tell you! I recommend this novel without reservation not just for the appropriate age group reader but for anyone who likes a good yarn, and for any writer who wants to know how it should be done.

I'm not a big fan of series, but once in a while there comes along a character who has earned the right to be in a trilogy or series, and Tiernay "West" is definitely such a character. I'd like to see more of her. I'd also like to see an adult fiction about the grown-up Tiernay, perhaps where her life didn't quite turn out to be the adventuring existence she had envisioned as a child, where she's in an interesting but relatively mundane job (maybe she's a tour guide, so at least she gets to travel) and then, quite by chance, something pops up on her radar and leads to a rollicking adventure. Yeah. I want to be a beta reader for those stories!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens by Alex McCall

Title: Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens
Author: Alex McCall (no website that I could find)
Publisher: Floris Books
Rating: worthy!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review. Since this is a new novel, this review is less detailed so as not to rob the writer of their story, but even so, it will probably still be more in-depth than you'll typically find elsewhere!

P142 Lizzie says, "They only want to help us" and Jesse's response is "No, they're not." which makes no sense. "No, they don't." would have sounded much more appropriate for the verb tense. The only way the existing response would make sense is if Lizzie had said something like "They're only wanting to help us."

Jesse is a co-hero of this novel telling it from first person PoV which I normally detest, but this novel managed to make it bearable somehow, and I think it’s because while Jesse was always telling the story, he was never promoting himself, merely relating events. Jesse's brother, who is never named, was always ready for the end of world; he had plans for anything from aliens to zombies, but he disappeared eight months ago when the chickens attacked. Was he not ready for whatever it was that befell him? Whatever it was, Jesse never finds him.

This novel starts out in a library, which I really appreciated, just as I appreciated the fact that the page numbers are enclosed in eggs, and the demarcation symbol for breaks in text is a broken eggshell. Jesse and two other guys are at the library in Aberdeen, Scotland, uninterested in listening to Jesse's 'a chicken walks into a library' joke. Unlike the chicken, they're not there to borrow books, either. The meeting which they had planned fell through: the other party didn't show, but a large, nameless horror did, and they only just got away and back to the train station where they live.

"Living in a chicken apocalypse is not quite what you’d expect." - so begins chapter two! Jesse and his partners were hoping to hook up with the Library Gang for an exchange of ideas and intelligence, and maybe to work together. Jesse is part of a gang, too, but you'll have to read the book to find the name of his gang! Trust me, you'll never guess the name of the gang which Jesse hangs with in a train station - not in a million gazillion years....

In an hilarious parody of YA tropes, all the adults had been taken first by these evil robot chickens, leaving only those under the age of sixteen. The chickens are amazing at guessing people's ages; they could have made a fortune as a carnival side-show, but well, they had to go the world domination route, and there you are. Or were, depending on your age. So most children have survived by banding together into these gangs, but some apparently made it on their own. One such young woman is The Ambassador. She was year older than Jesse and filled him with dread, as indeed all girls should do when you're his age. The Ambassador stood out as filling a person with more dread even than they who were renowned amongst young women in the filling-with-dread department, as being significantly above average efficiency dread-fillers. The Ambassador is not only a girl you see, which is bad enough, but she's also wise, independent, capable, and rather muscular. In short, your typical mid-teen boy's (and all-too-many men's) nightmare.

Imagine Jesse's horror, then, when gang boss Noah tells Jesse he has a job for him, and leads him straight to The Ambassador's compartment at the end of the train - that would be the last car on the straight-ahead. The Ambassador doesn’t even know Jesse. She refers to him merely as 'The Joke Teller' (which I guess means she really does know him after all). His jokes are nearly all puns and are consistently awful (apart from that first one!), but may well appeal to the age range this novel is aimed at. The Ambassador's name turns out to be Rayna, and she and Jesse end-up tied together by a cunning plan to take down the chicken empire.

That was by far the most outstanding part of this novel. Jesse and Rayna work together without any hint whatsoever that one is male and the other female. It’s never an issue which is pretty stunning when you think about it, especially when considered in the light of the fact that most YA and older children's novels can’t get through a chapter without some remark that's gender engendered or relationship related. In McCall's novel, this never happens. Male and females have true equality and that's really rather remarkable (and all the more sad for being so). For that alone I would recommend this novel and rate it worthy, but there's more to it than that.

Yes, the story is absurd! That's a given! Deal with it! If you can't handle the chicken get out of the coop. But within the framework of that premise, the story is pretty good. It moves along, real things happen in real ways, people get things done, plans are thwarted, people rally and come up with a new plan, and in the end, things work out. Given the subject matter, it's impressive that violence is minimal, and pleasantly tame. I especially liked the "fight" between Rayna and the bruiser working for Cody - the leader of the group she seeks out for help in plucking them thar chickens. It’s that simple. Why don’t more writers get that?

This novel is a worthy read and it's especially worthy if you're of the age range for which it’s intended.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Purple Girl by Audrey Kane

Title: The Purple Girl
Author: Audrey Kane
Publisher: Wakefield & Quincy Press (no website available)
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Tory & Norman Taber

The Purple girl tells us her story, but not her name. She was born purple (and kudos to Kane for putting this in chapter one where it belongs! Down with prologues!!!), but the purple doesn’t just stay with her - it can spread to whatever (and whomever) she touches and wherever she walks. Fortunately, the color quickly fades from everything (and everyone) else but herself; she's permanently purple. The midwife is creeped out by The Purple Girl, but her mom & dad love her and raise her like any child in the world. But guess what, the color purple isn't the most fascinating thing about The Purple Girl. You'll have to read the novel to discover what is!

Even when she's sorely tempted by the chance to lose her purple for the price of her voice box (shades of The Little Mermaid!), The Purple Girl determines, aided by her dog Waxy, that she will remain steadfast in her purpleness. She does this on more than one occasion. During a time of drought, when The Purple Girl's family still has food growing in their garden, she meets Frankie, an extremely impoverished boy from the village who isn't afraid of her as everyone else seems to be. The two of them begin meeting in secret, but eventually Frankie's family must leave to seek work and food elsewhere and they must say goodbye. But The Purple Girl isn't destined for Frankie!

That and the illustrations are some of the great joys of this fine novel. It most assuredly does not go where you expect it to - at least it didn't go where I thought it would. Instead it went to much more interesting places and is the better for it. This novel should go down well for appropriate age groups. It's charming, it's well-illustrated, it features a strong and independent female main character, and it's neither too short nor too long.

I had only one complaint, and that concerns the negative portrayal of the "gypsy" girl, especially when this portrayal is going to reach and possibly influence young children to grow up with a prejudice where none need be created. I found it rather ironical that in a novel which is admirably teaching children that color-prejudice is wrong, we should risk teaching them a different prejudice. I appreciate the call for a miscreant or a scoundrel in fairy-tales, but is it really necessary to deprecate an entire people and portray them in a very unflattering light for the sake of having your villain? That aside, I recommend this book. You can always omit the Romani girl's origin when you read this to your kids, now can't you?!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Never Underestimate a Hermit Crab by Daniel Sean Kaye

Title: Never Underestimate a Hermit Crab
Author: Daniel Kaye
Publisher: Diamond Book Distributors
Rating: WORTHY!

This story is decidedly weird, and proudly so! I don’t know what I thought I was getting when I requested to read this, but what I got was more than I expected! This idea, in particular that title, so intrigued me that I couldn’t not request it. It’s obviously a children's story, but I am not ashamed to say I loved it. It comes with a serious note at the end: that hermit crabs are living creatures and require care and attention if you want to keep one as a pet.

The art work is simple and clean, and engagingly well done. The descriptions are short, but highly entertaining. More art and more description would have been welcome for me, but hopefully this author will turn out more such books on other subjects. Indeed, with an imagination like that, it would be a shame if a novel or two were not to come from this mind. The story takes itself seriously, but you can’t help but see that tongue in the cheek there, and you can’t help but be amused at the outrageous assertions as to what hermit crabs enjoy and get up to in their 'spare time' when no humans are around....

I recommend this book, and especially recommend it for children who might like to own a hermit crab as a pet.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Rocket Robinson and the Pharaoh's Fortune by Sean O’Neill

Title: Rocket Robinson and the Pharaoh's Fortune
Author: Sean O’Neill
Publisher: BoilerRoom Studios
Rating: worthy!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

Here it is: THIRTY ONE TITLES IN THIRTY ONE DAYS - and they said it couldn't be done!

This is a comic book or graphic novel adventure featuring Ronald, aka "Rocket" Robinson on the trail of treasure and villainy in early 20th century Egypt. The novel appears to be written for a pre-young-adult audience and in general it's a pretty good adventure for the age range, with mystery, thrills and dangerous adventures. I'm willing to rate this as a worthy read, but I do want to highlight some problems I saw in it.

I found it a bit sad that the villain is made 'villainous" by means of giving him only one eye (the other is covered by a patch, and making him bald. I know a graphic novel has to portray the villain somehow, but it was taking rather an easy and clichéd out by drawing him thus. That aside, the artwork is really good, and the lettering is done neatly and very legibly, which I always appreciate! I'm not sure of the point of his monkey, but at least it doesn’t talk. For me, it (and many points in the story in general, for example, the chase across Cairo) were far too reminiscent of Disney's 1992 Aladdin movie.

Rocket begins his adventure traveling by train in Egypt, and he's bored with nothing but sand to look at. He quickly learns of some evil machinations, but his dad - who looks way too young to be an important official for the US State Department, doesn’t believe him, of course. It would be nice to see one of these tales where the father does believe, or where he 'believes' but only that his son is playing a fantasy game.

The richness of their rented house in Cairo doesn't seem to match (on the inside) the appearance of the house on the outside! That was a small oddity, but it's an accumulation of oddity and incongruity which can trip up even a good story. For example, the pigeon English spoken by one of the villains is bad. He wouldn’t speak English to himself and his own thoughts in his native language would not be pigeon! That felt a bit klutzy to me. Worse than this, though, was the "gypsy" girl who speaks perfect English even though she's living on the street in Cairo. That seemed unlikely at best, and although 'gypsy' was probably the term which was used back then, it would have been nicer to see her correct his employment of that term with a more accurate and less weighted description, such as Romany or Traveler.

But these qualms aside, the story is interesting and moves quickly and with determination despite some unlikely events. Rocket ends up with a paper with hieroglyphs which make no sense even to an expert. The eye-patch villain, Otto, is trying to recover it and villains under his employ kidnap Rocket. There's really no reason for this since they only want the note that he can’t read, and he has a copy so he has no reason not to give it to them, especially since they do get it in the end.

One panel depicts a misspelled version of Archaeology in "Archealogy Digest" on page 111. Maybe it’s not a journal of archaeology but of the study of an ancient form of bacteria called archaea?!

I did like the cool code-breaking by Rocket - this would definitely have impressed me were I in the intended age range, but then we hit the downside of the improbability of having a canal under the Nile - into which the Nile drains! It would flood! The Nile would empty! But I'm betting that most children in the intended age range would not be so critical, so perhaps I should not be either! There was lots of daring action, and thrilling escapes from some rather sneaky pyramid booby traps, but our heroes were no boobies, and they successfully navigated them all, supporting each other and sticking together to the end. Overall, this is a great romp for age-appropriate audience, delivering lots of fun and offering a good ending. When all's said and done, I rate this a worthy read!

Quincy and Buck by Camille Matthews

Title: Quincy and Buck
Author: Camille Matthews
Publisher: Pathfinder Equine Publications
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Michelle Black

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

Michelle Black's artwork in this novel is beautiful. I do not know how she did it exactly, but it looks like it's oil on canvas (for all I know, it may well be!). The painting at the end, which made Quincy look like he was smiling without making it look absurd was absolutely priceless.

My apologies to the author, but in a book like this, it's the artwork that makes the first impression! But rest assured it's not all art and no substance to the text. The story is excellent too, teaching valuable lessons about bullying and bravery as young Quincy and the older, rather meaner Buck take their riders out onto a desert trail for a nice day's ride. There's no preaching here, no strident lessons, simply a tale as soft and easy as a comfortable horse-ride on an old and familiar saddle.

I defy anyone to not like this. I rate it a worthy read.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Welfy Q. Deederhoth: Meat Purveyor, World Savior by Eric Laster

Title: Welfy Q. Deederhoth: Meat Purveyor, World Savior
Author: Eric Laster
Publisher: Opsimath Press (no website found)
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

Welfy Q is a young guy of otherwise almost indeterminate age - maybe twelve, thirteen? He's homeless having lost both his mom and his dad. Some people might call that irresponsible. I call it unlucky, but therein lies a story! He's been in endless foster homes and none of them have worked, but we're offered no explanation as to why that is. He wangles himself a job in Morton's deli and his whole life turns around, not to say 'spins around'. During a trip to the basement carrying a case of Green Giant® peas, he falls, and instead of ending up with a broken neck, as he expected to, he ends up on a different planet where the Good Brundeedles are being slowly wiped out by the evil Ceparids, an insect-like race who spawn from a queen.

Welfy Q discovers, much to his dismay, that he was predicted in this world - as the savior of the Brundeedles. Also, he can pull all manner of useful items from his deli apron pocket, including weapons (which bizarrely revert to ordinary items, such as a bottle of Windex® when he returns to the deli) as well a a choice salami or a slice of bologna. This is relevant, because it misled me as to how this novel would be resolved, and it may mislead you, too! Working with his good friend, homeless Harlan and Harlan's good friend who is a homeful girl whom Harlan met while free-loading from a Star Trek convention in a hotel, Welfy Q, who initially begins his adventure with grave doubts, eventually mans-up and leads (well, kinda leads!) his adoptive alien people to a great victory

This novel is completely off the wall, with one out-of-left-field event or item jumping-up as soon as another has gone away. The most oddball things persisted in happening, with Welfy Q continually wrong-footed by events and discoveries. This novel seems to be an unholy cross between something out of Frances Hardinge's playbook, and something out of the Men in Black comic books. If you like either of those, you'll probably like this, but keep in mind that it's for the pre-young adult generation, so don't expect miracles from it if you're not in that age-range. I am most certainly not in that age-range, but I still rate this novel to be a worthy read!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Nick the Saint by Anthony Szpak

Title: Nick the Saint
Author: Anthony Szpak (has no website that I could easily find)
Publisher: Vincere Press
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

This novel was rather odd to categorize. I started it thinking it was a young adult novel, but it began with a child, who turned into a young teen who ended up in prison and before you know it, ten years have passed and he's an adult. So no, not a YA novel! it purports to tell the true story of Santa Clause, aka Saint Nick, by garbing a New Your prison escapee in a fake white beard, a red, bullet-proof fireman's jacket, and riding on a rocket powered sled. Yeah, like that. I wasn't impressed.

Nick loses his parents to a drowning accident in 1869 New York City, and is "purloined" by a witness to the accident, Fergus, who has decided that child labor is the new black, so he wears them out in his factories and becomes rich. Nick, his supposedly adopted son works as slave labor in his factories. It's rather sad, but Nick's life is unremarkable until it's defined by Molly, a child his own (teen) age, who comes to the factory looking for work. She treats him like dirt, calling him "Rat-Boy" even as they supposedly fall in love and plan upon running away. They fail. Fergus, who was planning on marrying Molly as soon as she turned eighteen (why would a man like Fergus even wait that long?), discovers Molly and Nick in a tryst, and he accuses Nick not only of kidnapping, but also of attempted murder, and since Fergus has the police, the witnesses, the judge, and the jailers in his pocket, Nick is sent down for a life-long stretch on Rikers Island - at a time when the prison was new!

Molly tries to visit him but is told that he doesn't want to see her, and later that he's dead. A decade goes by and Nick manages to escape, conveniently hooking up with a total genius of an inventor, who Nick treats like trash until he realizes what utility he has. Nick is hardly a saint. No one in this novel is. Nick isn't very smart, and his leading impulse is continually towards violence. I don't like him. Neither do I like Molly who, when Nick looks her up after his escape, treats him like trash and rejects him. It's patently apparent that she's doing this because she has a child she fears losing to her husband Fergus if there were any dissent between them, but none of that excuses her appalling treatment of Nick. Having said that, surely this sorry couple definitely deserves one another?

Rather than move on, Nick decides to stick around and eventually, even he gets it into his stupid head that the best way to take down Fergus is to hit him hard in his money bags. Of course, this will hurt Molly, too, who has grown accustomed to living in luxury, but that's the price she will have to pay for not having the guts to run away from Fergus and instead, marry the lousy swine and have a child with him. I'm sorry but she's not heroic either.

Nick's friend Benny can do anything - he's the super hero of inventors, making mechanical walking dolls out of nothing in just a few minutes, making a bullet-proof coat out of a red fireman's jacket, making an airplane years before Gustav Weisskopf, Clément Ader, Karl Jatho, or the Wright brothers ever did. But you know what? Benny makes more sense than does Molly. Nick gets shot and when Molly reads of it, thinking he's dead, she takes to her bed in grief. This is the same Molly who treated him like dirt a few days before! No. I don’t buy it. I don’t buy that the feisty self-possessed Molly of fourteen years of age, who had intelligent plans for her future, who supposedly loved Nick, has turned into the sell-out, loser Molly we meet after Nick gets out of prison, an inverse Molly who is to all intents and purposes happily married to a jerk who treats children like disposable diapers.

When Nick tries to contact Molly again, asking her for money, all she cares about is what happened to the children from the factories, and once she sees that they're being taken care of, her life suddenly turns around and it’s insta-love again? Where was this attitude for the last ten years as she lived with the very guy who was abusing these children en masse? I'm sorry, but suspension of disbelief just got suspended.

When Nick finally gets a real chance to talk to her, her excuse for not pursing finding out about him with more zest than she did, and for not trying to see him or help him is that Fergus threatened her with losing her child! Excuse me, but there was no child when Nick went to prison. There was no marriage. She whines about not being able to run and hide with a child in tow, but she sure as hell could have run and hid before she was married, before she jumped into Fergus's bed, before there was a child, when she was young and feisty and intent upon doing that very thing. Molly chose not to. She chose the easy way out. This girl who was introduced to us as a fierce, determined, and strong young woman simply bows down and knuckles under for no reason whatsoever except that it’s the road most taken. The bare fact is that she betrayed Nick, and everything that both she and they together stood for.

The story reaches absurdist proportions when Molly is summoned from her (and Fergus's) bed at midnight, and is expected to travel the dangerous and dark streets of New York City alone, for no better reason than to see a demo of Benny's latest invention - a rocket powered sled that flies. Yes, flies. Seriously? This was the point at which I called, "Check please, I'm outta here!" I really did not want to read any more of this novel; it's just too stupid for words and the characters are not even remotely endearing, much less believable. This novel is WARTY!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Iris and the Aloha Wedding Adventure by Lynelle Woolley

Title: Iris and the Aloha Wedding Adventure
Author: Lynelle Woolley
Illustrator: Karen Walcott
Publisher: Markelle Media
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

This is obviously one in a series (it follows Rosie and the Wedding Day Rescue and is succeeded by Starr and the High Seas Wedding Drama), and it’s a great idea to demonstrate cultures outside of your standard US mainstream, by showing wedding customs, although Hawaii really isn't that far out! I’d like to see this series stretch its legs, and hopefully it will. If there's one thing we get way too much of with children's and young adult novels it's that the USA is the only nation on Earth. It’s rather sad. But this series has the potential to go far and bring a lot back from its travels. I hope that's not an opportunity wasted.

The main character is Iris (all the characters in Iris's club seem to be named after flowers), and she is a member of Flower Girl World™ (FGW) along with friends Rosie And Starr, who were all flower girls at a wedding. I'm not going to get into the propriety of pulling up flowers to toss under the bride's feet at weddings. It's tempting to assume that these flowers were specially cultivated for that purpose, but it looks like the girls simply go grab them directly from flowers and trees growing wild. And am I going to mention the issue of flower girls vs. flower boys? So, moving right along…!

Iris learns she can be a flower girl once more, this time at a wedding in Hawaii, so six months later, off the family travels and Iris meets a new candidate for the FGW. Her name is Hana, which also is a word referencing a flower. Suspiciously convenient, huh?! Hana turns out to be my kind of girl: a real feisty handful of a tomboy, who tends to get very off-task if not closely supervised. She and Iris hatch a plan to catch a fairy known as a menehune, which they then hope to use to do the work of creating leis and other drudge-work for the wedding. They set up a box-trap primed with a cookie under a tree one night and the trap seems to work, but a fierce storm breaks out and they run indoors before they can find out what they caught!

The next day, the entire yard is trashed because of the storm, ruining all the work they'd done the previous day. A power outage also ruins the leis they made and the food they'd prepared, too. Since no storms were predicted, Hana and Iris think they caused all this by trapping the menehune (not that they ever saw what they trapped). Hana, Iris, and Leilani, Hana's older sister troop-off to pluck more blossoms. I have to say there's not much parental supervision going on here, and it badly backfires. Hana, of course, goes charging up the trees and crawling along ever thinner branches, eventually falling. Leilani tries to break her fall and ends up almost breaking her ankle in the process.

But in the end, things tend to work out, and Iris even gets to learn to hula dance. This story seems to me to be a little more 'fluffy' than I’d like, but then it's hardly aimed at me, and it does have some educational content, so with the caveat that I’d like to see this series stretch more and educate a bit more, and also be somewhat more inclusive of the male gender, I'm happy to rate this one as a worthy read. The grey-scale illustrations are charming and the tone upbeat. Like I said, I'd like a little bit more weight and a bit more of the culture in a story like this, but this one is a good start!

Kobee Manatee: Heading Home to Florida by Robert Scott Thayer

Title: Kobee Manatee: Heading Home to Florida
Author: Robert Scott Thayer
Illustrator: Lauren Gallegos
Publisher: Thompson Mill Press
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

It’s been a while since I've reviewed anything aimed at really young children, so this one is long overdue. It's also unusual to have a guy write a story of this nature (at least in my experience!), so that's another good reason to dive in! My own kids are too old for a story like this, but when they were younger I would have loved to have read this to them, and they would have loved to hear it. This is exactly the kind of story which children need, and I'll tell you why: when those children grow up, they will be the ones who are making decisions about the fate of this planet and the life on it and if they're ignorant about what the problems and threats are, then how on Earth (quite literally) are they going to be able to make smart decisions about what to do for the best?

I'm not a big fan of anthropomorphizing animals, but there's no getting away from it since young children are swamped with this, and perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing to have them think of animals as "other kinds of people" if it helps them to grasp and appreciate how inextricably integrated the life on this planet is. This story isn’t an educational text book, it’s a story, but that's no reason why it can’t also be educational, and Thayer doesn’t let us down. Kobee spent his summer way north of where he ought to be hanging out, and when it starts turning cold, he almost has a cow - a sea-cow that is! He heads back home to Florida with all speed, and he picks up a couple of friends on the way. I really oughtn't to give out spoilers, so I won't outright say who they are, but one of them is rather crabby and the other is a little hoarse...!

The joy of this particular story is that it takes an endangered animal and imbues the whole story with the idea of helping each other, and then it goes one step further and adds a little info burst to each illustration giving just a snippet of real information about manatees, offering not only interesting, but useful and educational information.

If there's an issue I had with this, then it wasn't Kobee's jaunty cap and waistcoat or his amazingly appropriate name. Though far from accurate of course, the clothes were rather fun, and I was glad to see all the other manatees, at the end of the journey were illustrated accurately: "the way nature intended", as they say. Indeed, Gallegos's multi-color illustrations were excellent, and complemented Thayer's playful text neatly. I loved Tess's fiery red hair-do and Pablo the crab's klutziness. What bothered me was that all three of these guys had light colored eyes (Kobee and Tess blue, and Pablo green). There were no brown eyes to be found even though that color of eye (in all its shades) is the most common on the planet. As long as we’re anthropomorphizing (and as long as the animals themselves do not have those specific eye colors!), let’s try and be a bit more inclusive! I found this particularly odd given that Gallegos is herself brown of hue and eye; she seems so very youthful, too - obviously she has a long career ahead of her. At least I hope she does. Thayer too.

Other than that quibble, I recommend this story for the appropriate age children. It’s well-worth sharing with your young 'uns. And please do go visit the website the book recommends: Save the Manatee! It's a place you can share with your kids, learn more, and even donate.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chicago Bound by Sean Vogel

Title: Chicago Bound
Author: Sean Vogel
Publisher: MB Publishing
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review.

This novel is, quite frankly, way too young for me. It’s off the lower end of young-adult, written for an audience even younger than that. If you think of the movie Home Alone, you will be in the right ball-park, especially given that this novel has some large helpings of Home Alone slapstick at the end. But I knew, going into this, that it would be a younger read, so I'm not about to down-grade it for that. This novel is a worthy read for the right age group and I'm sure lots of kids close to, or just venturing into their teens will appreciate it. As I mentioned, it has significant elements of Home Alone in it, and while they're unrealistic, they will no doubt appeal to the target adience. In addition to that, it takes a surprisingly mature approach to the characters, despite what I've just said about the target age range.

Jake Mcgreevy is a fifteen-year-old boy whose mother was killed when he was only two years old. He is bound for Chicago for a two week music camp. The camp is inexplicably set over the Christmas and New Year's holiday period, and I have no idea why. That seems odd to me. If there was an explanation in the novel, I must have missed it. I admit I did skim some parts here and there which were not really very engrossing for me (and then had to track back on more than one occasion to catch up on something important that I’d missed!).

Jake and his best friend Ben play violin, which is a refreshing difference, and the two of them travel to Chicago on a specially arranged bus with ther best friend Julie, who is a gymnast. On the bus they meet Natalie, another violinist. All four children are smart, capable, curious about the world, well-educated, caring, and playful and all have a good sense of right and wrong, even though they don’t always heed it. They bond well, and are very loyal to each other, all of them becoming embroiled in the predictable unravelling of the mystery of Jake's mother's death - ruled a hit and run, but which, predictably, turns out to be anything but that simple.

Jake discovers cryptic clues left in a Chicago museum thirteen years earlier, by his mother. The clues are far too cryptic and unrealistic, but perhaps the target age range will not notice this. I should have my own son read this and comment on it from that PoV, but he's notoriously hard to talk into reading something which doesn't already have an inclination towards! If I do succeed, I'll add his comments to the blog review. Anyway, Jake follows the clues and eventually discovers a forged painting to which his late mother led him (she was evidently too late...), and he traps the bad guys, one of whom killed his mom. In process of slowly tracking down these unlikely clues the foursome goes through all sorts of interesting days at the music camp, getting into issues and scrapes which kids of their age inevitably will, but resolving them with smarts, a willingness to share, a willingness to take responsibility, a desire to resolve problems amicably, and a bit of early teen naughtiness!

I recommend this novel for age-appropriate readers.