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

Monday, September 2, 2019

Troublemaker by Andrew Clements


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a really short audiobook aimed at middle-graders and read pretty decently by Keith Nobbs.

Young Clayton Hensley was known for the rather mean gags he pulls at school and he was getting sent to the office a couple of times each month, but when his older brother gets out of jail, he lays it on the line that he wants Clay to reform and not end up like him. On Halloween though, someone eggs the school principal's house and spray paints a graffiti sketch on the door. The picture is of something that Clayton had drawn at school in art class, so now he's the prime suspect, especially since he supposedly spent that entire evening in his ground-floor bedroom in a huff. He could have easily slipped out of the window. But did he?

The story was a bit predictable and trite at times. I mean, it seems to me it would have been difficult for someone to do all of that to a house and not been seen by trick-or-treaters for one thing. For another having the school cut-up being also artsy was a bit much, but overall it wasn't too bad and it sends a message, so I feel I can commend this as a worthy read for the intended audience.


Nadya Skylung and the Cloudship Rescue by Jeff Seymour


Rating: WARTY!

I did not get far with this at all. It sounded interesting from the blurb, but it was worst person voice and I usually find that annoying. I find it particularly annoying when it's happening in real time and the narrator's voice doesn't remotely reflect the terror of enduring a life-or-death experience, as this one failed dismally when Nadya fell from the airship and went plummeting down through the clouds - and her narrating voice remained unchanged! Worse, her description of it was boring!

The most serious problem here was not that Nadya actually had a sky-lung and was stupidly named after it, but that there's no suspense here whatsoever. By definition, there cannot be in first person stories because this girl is narrating the story - what, are they going to stop it 15% in because she died unexpectedly? No! I stopped it at 15% in though, because I couldn't take it seriously. I wasn't openly laughing at it, but it was a close-run thing. Gone is your immediacy. It was sad because the world the author had been building was moderately interesting, but the voice was just not getting me to suspend my disbelief, so I suspended my listening to it instead. I can't commend it based on this experience.


Hawk Moon by Rob MacGregor


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun and entertaining whodunit set in high-school. It's a little heavy on the Hopi religion, and at first I thought this might turn me off it, not being remotely religious myself, but I do enjoy a variety of stories including those with religion in them, and in the end it wasn't an issue.

The story concerns Will Lansa, who is back for the new school year after spending the summer on a Hopi reservation with his father. After meeting with his girlfriend on a lonely stretch of land outside of town, Will breaks up with her and she promptly disappears. Will is the last one to see her alive, and consequently becomes the number one suspect when her murder appears to be the explanation for her disappearance. This becomes even more of an issue when his baseball cap, along with a knife, a distinctive gift that he had foolishly kept in the unlocked glove compartment in his jeep, are discovered with traces of Myra's blood on the knife blade.

In the rush to judgment, and even though Will hasn't been arrested, he's largely shunned at school except by a few close friends and a key person in the form of a computer whizz named Corina who has long had a crush on Will. With her help and some assistance from a spirit guide, Will eventually manages to solve the mystery and prove his innocence. I can actually think of a better way to have told this story, but in in the end, it was told well enough, and it was engrossing and a easy to finish, and I commend it as a worthy read.


Friday, August 9, 2019

Sahara Special by Esmé Raji Codell


Rating: WORTHY!

Sahara has issues with her school, most notably that they confiscated some of her letters. These were ones she'd written to her absentee father and then stored in a disused locker at the school. Sahara also has issues, evidently about storing things at home, because she's also a writer and when she's written something creative in her journal - another chapter in her Heart-Wrenching Life Story and Amazing Adventures, she tears out the pages and hides them behind a disused section of books in her local library where she loves to spend her free time.

Sahara was a special-ed student, but now her mother has demanded she be removed from that category and integrated into regular classes. This requires some adjustment on her part, but Sahara is amazed to discover that her teacher isn't going to be who she thought it would be. There's a new fifth-grade teacher by the name of Poitier, but since these children seem unable to pronounce her name, she gets labeled 'Miss Pointy'. She's unlike any other teacher Sahara has ever encountered. Her methods are rather radical and pretty soon everyone is paying attention to the teacher. How radical is that?

I'm not normally a fan of this kind of story, but this one was different, amusing, and Sahara was an interesting and strong female character and also a main character of color. I liked her, liked the story, and commend it as a worthy read.


The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a sequel to Zita the Spacegirl which I reviewed recently and loved. This one is equally loveable. Zita is irrepressible. I didn't know, when I read the first one, that Zita was actually invented by a fellow college student of the author's named Anna, who would go on to marry him. Paradoxically, Zita was older when she was first conceived than she is now, and the art was much more basic. She then transmogrified into an adventurer a bit like, I guess, a space-faring version of Jacques Tardi's Adèle Blanc-Sec. I'm not sure I would have liked her like that, because I much prefer Zita in the incarnation I first came to know her, which is this early middle-grade femme de feisty.

In this adventure, Zita, who we left thinking she had saved her friend and dispatched him home safely in the previous volume, is brought to trial in a kangaroo court which disappointingly isn't held by kangaroos, but by an alien villain and his hench-robots. His purpose is to recruit people by foul means (fair isn't an option with this guy) and set them to work in his mine in search of a crystal. He doesn't care that removing it will collapse the asteroid which bears the mine, and kill the indigenous life forms which look like lumps of coal with startling white eyes. Why a mined-out asteroid would collapse remains a bit of a mystery, but I didn't let that bother me! This is more sci-fantasy than sci-fi!

Zita meets her usual assortment of oddball alien friends - but even more-so in this outing, it seems - and she attempts to escape, but even when freedom is within her grasp, she can't help but go back and lend a hand to an alien she noted earlier who is being sorely-abused. Since this graphic novel was published just over four years after a Doctor Who episode titled The Beast Below, I have to wonder at the author purloining this idea from Stephen Moffat, but maybe the latter purloined it from elsewhere before that and so it goes. Writers can be a very derivative bunch can't they? Especially if they work for Disney. Remake much? But as long as suckers will pay, they'll be delighted to keep suckering them in won't they - innovation be damned?

But this story was amusing, entertaining, and made me want to read it to the end, so I commend it as a worthy read.


Sunday, August 4, 2019

Runaway Twin by Peg Kehret


Rating: WORTHY!

This book was amazing and despite it not being aimed at my age range for entertaining reading, it thrilled me because it did exactly what I advocate: tell me something new! Don't take the road most-traveled, but strike out on your own route which is coincidentally, precisely what the main character did. This book has a happy ending, but it isn't the happy ending you might think you're going to get. That's what made it special.

Sunny Skyland has been raised in foster homes one after another, since she was separated from her twin sister when they were both aged three. Now, in her early teens, Sunny happens upon a large sum of cash which no one claims, so she employs this windfall to embark on her dream road trip - hunting down her sister, Starr.

She doesn't dislike her current foster home, but she desperately needs to find her sister so she leaves a note for her foster mom Rita, and gets herself a bus ticket. Before long, she's in deeper than she imagined. It's not all plain sailing: soon she's taking on board a stray dog, running into bullies, missing a bus, taking a potentially risky long-distance cab ride, and finally, finally, finding her sister, which isn't at all the reunion that Sunny has envisioned all these years.

I commend this author for some fine writing and a great ending. I'm not much for series and sequels, but this is one story where a sequel would be highly appropriate. I'd read it.


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun book for younger middle graders and pre-middle-grade. Zita is outdoors playing with her friend when they find a meteorite crater in a field, with a small meteorite in the bottom of it. There's something sticking out of the meteorite which has a large red button on it, and you know you have to press the button if it's large and red. Zita doesn't listen to her friend, and she presses it, and suddenly a rift in space opens and her friend is pulled through it. After some miserable and desperate recrimination, Zita realizes she has to go through the rift and get him back.

The other side of the rift is very much a United Nations kind of a planet (or maybe not so united - more untied really) with aliens of all sorts, mechanical and meat, and the planet is under threat. Within a short few days, an asteroid is due to strike the planet wiping out everything on it. Zita can't be bothered about that. She has a friend to find and she heads out in her newly-created super hero-looking outfit. She was sort of befriended by a humanoid scientist who is also hosting a giant creature that looks exactly like a mouse, but is the size of a small horse, complete with saddle, and which Zita rides.

From this point on, and heading into the foreboding rust lands, Zita picks up a bevy of oddball alien associates, two of whom are mechanical, one of whom isn't, and finally tracks down and tries to liberate her friend, but there are surprises and betrayals in this story, so you never quite know who your friends are or who the villains are, or when your protective military robot will break down. None of this fazes the intrepid and fearless Zita at all, Not even a phaser fazes Zita, and she kicks buttons and takes names.

This was a playfully, and beautifully-illustrated book with a fun story that I enjoyed despite it being way out of my age group - or was it?! I commend it fully and will look for more from this author.


A Girl, a Raccoon, and the Midnight Moon by Karen Romano Young


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. This isn't out until January 2020, but again there are reviews appearing on Goodreads already. I refuse to post there since it's Amazon-owned, but I don't feel bad about posting this so early since everyone else apparently is already doing so!

This novel, aimed at middle-grade, was too long for my taste. It began interestingly enough, but after the initially flurry of excitement over the disappearance of the head from a statue in the grounds of an old and barely-used public library in New York City, things seemed to slow to a glacial pace with nothing really happening. There are some four hundred pages all told, but in the first one hundred, this was literally all that happened that had anything to do with the main plot, and I found that while the story wasn't exactly boring, I wasn't looking forward to reading another three hundred pages of this like I ought to have been.

The title and then the blurb is what drew me in because it sounded, fun, oddball, and intriguing, but the story didn't turn out to be any of those things, and the characters seemed so lifeless and uninteresting that I found no one to buoy me up and carry me along. Pearl is the main character. Her mom works at the library as the circulation librarian, but she's neither in charge, nor second-in-charge at the library, so why she's called in when there is an apparent break-in, I have no idea. She nonetheless comes in and drags her daughter, who is too young to be left home alone, at three o'clock on the morning which is just plain irresponsible.

It's weird, too, because the author has some oddball idea that she has to add footnotes every single time she mentions a book or a magazine. The story is set in a library, but really? Even commonly-known books, such as Harry Potter are referenced, like no one ever heard of them. Worse, there are sidebars for no apparent reason. The first sidebar is one which explains what sidebars are. The others have little or nothing to do with the story, but go off at tangents from it. One sidebar is about four times longer than the text on the page. Several more ran to two pages which is way too long for a sidebar. I quickly took to skipping the sidebars.

I did like the idea that raccoons had this secret life and produced their own newspaper, but it took way too long to get that part of the story moving - about a third of the way in, and right at the point where I was seriously thinking I should really let this book go and move on to something which would spark my interest more; however, the story became rather more intriguing after that. I still felt like it was too long and dragging, and I found myself really wishing that the characters would be less docile and a bit more motivated; less lackluster and more go get 'em.

To me they seemed like they were drifting through life letting things happen to them rather than being shakers and movers. This changed, but again it took forever to get there. The main character developed a friendship with this girl she initially found irritating, and those two combined made one interesting character as it were - like they were two halves by themselves - not completely and not wholly engaging, but almost interesting enough as a pair.

The big problem for the library staff wasn't the fact that their statue in the library grounds was missing its head, but that circulation was at an all-time low, and no one seemed interested in coming into the library any more. Bruce, the library branch head, seemed more interested in begging for more money from the city than ever he did in coming up with ideas to actually bring more people into the library. Never once did he say what he would do with this money if he got it (not until right at the end), so why would they give it to him?

I was disappointed in this approach because it quite frankly made the library staff look like idiots who could only bemoan the fact that the library was in grave danger of being closed and the building sold, instead of thinking positively and taking preventative action to thwart the threatened closure by stirring up interest in the library, or in putting on activities to bring people back. I've met one or two librarians who were idiots, but not many. This approach - that the entire library staff is idiotic - was a poor direction in which to drive a story about books.

The result of this was that rather than side with these people who I found tedious, I was starting to get fully on the side of the city who seemed to favor closing the library, because I'd been given no reason at all to root for the librarians. Why would I root for people who had let it all slide to this sorry impasse in the first place? The time to be thinking of solutions was months ago when circulation first showed signs of sinking, not when it had reached a nadir. Why would any city want to support a bunch of people who did nothing to help themselves and simply sat around whining about their sorry status and begging for handouts instead of showing signs that they were actively trying to make improvements in the things they had control over, but had let slip from their lax grasp?

So like I said, I was about ready to let this go, but then it all turned around and the last two or three hundred pages made up a lot for the sluggish writing in the first hundred or so. At that point the story became much more interesting and I became much more engaged, although I have to say the final reveal was a bit much. The early talk about the missing head was that it was solid stone and too much weight for someone to simply walk-off with, but then we see this little kid carrying around this replacement head like it weighs nothing, and this is a granite carving! Granite is one of the densest stones and weighs more for a given size than most other stone does, so it made rather disingenuous all this talk about how limited the pool of potential thieves was ! Had I known a kid could carry the head, it would have been easier to work out who was really behind it. I felt a bit cheated there!

So this review sounds negative because it is. It reflects my strong feelings over the first hundred and some pages, and my disappointment in the sluggish story-telling and poor pacing, and improbable ideas. And I'm not counting literate raccoons, which I enjoyed, as improbable at all. Not for this purpose! The rest of the story let them down though. So overall, I cannot commend this as a worthy read at all.


Roll With It by Jamie Sumner


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. The publisher requested that this not be published until a month before publication (which is October 1st), but there is already fifty reviews published on Amazon-owned Goodreads and a bunch of them elsewhere, so frankly I don't see the point in withholding mine any longer.

This one is about this pre-teen girl with cerebral palsy, and since the author has a child of her own with this condition, she speaks with knowledge about it. Due to the illustration on the cover, I had mistakenly thought it was a graphic novel at first glance, so I was somewhat surprised to discover it was a text novel, but that's fine. It was still an interesting and fast read because it engaged me always.

There were some issues with it - often with parts of a story that seemed to be opening up concerning other characters, only to be abandoned because the focus was so squarely dead-set on Ellie. It was a first-person voice, which is typically not a good idea in my book, and so in a way it explained the somewhat selfish perspective, but on the other hand, it still did feel selfish here and there, which is precisely my problem with first person voice. In this book it was not as bad as some I have read, so I was able to get by that and focus more on the story, but the blind self-focus was quite honestly an irritant at times.

Ellie is twelve and was a premie when she was born which is why they think she has these issues, and right at the point where she gets to come off her seizure meds, her mother's father is developing distinct signs of dementia, so she and mom (dad is not, of course, in the picture) move miles from home to live with grandma and help out with grandpa. This means, of course, that she's the new kid in school and has to start over again in the friends market, but Ellie has more on her mind than just that. Her CP is a constant companion, never letting her forget that she's different from most other kids she meets, but when she meets two other kids at school who are different in their own ways, she realizes she has already found her friends.

Ellie's grandparents live in a trailer park and nice as it is, it's a 'wrong side of the tracks' kind of a deal, so initially Ellie feels she has problems piling up faster than she can handle them, but none of this gets in the way of her ambition to be a baker, which is her primary dream. She tries new recipes constantly, and bemoans her failures, but she's always thinking about them in terms of how she can fix what went wrong. That doesn't mean she has no successes. Far from it!

I think it would have been nice to twist it a bit and make it mom who left to find a new partner leaving dad with his ornery daughter, but this author went the traditional route, so dad left and now has a new family and really isn't in the picture. The way this was written made it seem to me that he might put in an appearance at some point, or maybe even come back into his daughter's life, but he never really does. At one point, after Ellie has an episode requiring hospitalization, her mother is about ready to give up on project 'help grandpa' and head back to their old life, and this brings the fight out in Ellie, because she has changed her mind about this place and refuses to leave.

There was one part of the novel which felt wrong, or at least odd to me. We have a letter here and there which Ellie has supposedly written to some well-known baker or other asking them a question or complimenting them on a recipe, and these to me were neither here nor there, but I didn't think too much on them until a point where Grandpa has a serious episode himself. He might have died and I wondered whether or not he might have been intentionally putting himself in that position because he considered himself a burden, but this particular event was pretty much brushed-off as though it were nothing. The next thing I read was not Ellie in the hospital worrying over him, but a light-hearted letter to a baker about a recipe! That seemed cold and out of place to me.

Also for me the ending was rather lax, not really an ending at all, but then life isn't always neatly-packaged and its episodes don't really have a beginning, a middle and an end in the way a prim and proper three-act play has, so this kind-of worked. Regardless of that, the story was engaging and made me want to read it, which is a good thing for a middle grade novel, some of which I've been disappointed with of late. I think this tells an important story and it certainly kept me reading to the very end. I commend it as a worthy read.


Sunday, July 28, 2019

Polly and the Pirates by Ted Naifeh


Rating: WORTHY!

After the disappointment of Princess Ugg, I might not have read another Naifeh novel, but this one was already in the works, so I ended up reading it and was glad I did. I don't believe in pirate treasure stashes. I don't think pirates were the kind of people to hoard their loot. I think they spent it as fast as they stole it, and while I'm sure there were some who set themselves up in a new life after a piracy voyage and never went back, I think the majority just spent all they had, and then went right back to sea to go after some more.

This story is cute and a little bit different in that polly, a new girl at a boarding school where young girls sometimes foolishly fantasize about pirates, is actually the daughter of Meg, the pirate queen. When Meg's pirate crew come looking for Polly, it's out of desperation. There's a map (there's always a map!), and the pirates think perhaps Meg's daughter is the very one who can find it for them. Now since this is Meg's loyal crew who were presumably with her when she hid the treasure, you'd think at least a few of them would know exactly where it was, but no! Hence Polly.

I honestly don't believe there ever was a legitimate pirate map either for that matter. Why would any pirate commit their precious knowledge of their treasure (assuming there even was any) to paper or parchment or whatever? It would be foolish and go against the very grain of a pirate's character! Besides, pirates were largely illiterate and relied on sound memory to supply everything they needed to know to get from A to B and plan their pirating. They had no need of the written word or the drawn map.

But they kidnap Polly thinking she can help them retrieve this map and at first she's completely against it, but then she becomes involved and sneaks out of school at night to go on adventures. It's a bit of a stretch to imagine that she can, like Santa Claus, get it all done in one night (or eventually, in a couple of days' absence), but this is fiction after all - and pirate fiction at that! So Polly becomes ever more involved and eventually she does find the map but the treasure isn't what the pirates thought it would be. I thought the story might continue with a second map that had been hidden in something they found in the treasure vault, but the story pretty much wrapped up after that.

This is a series as far as I know, so it's possible there are other volumes which continue the story (maybe with that second map, assuming there is one), but just as Polly seems done with pirating after this adventure, I think I'm done with Naifeh now. It was a bit oddly-written. Naifeh isn't English and so doesn't quite get the lingo down, and much of it is rather anachronistic so his attempts to make it sound period were a bit of a waste of time. He doesn't know what 'The Sweeney' is for one thing. The term wasn't in use back in the classical pirate era. The Sweeney is rhyming slang: Sweeney Todd - Flying Squad, referring to a division of the London Metropolitan Police. Obviously that didn't exist in the old era of piracy and neither did the stories of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

It was a bit much to think only a young girl could open the treasure vault since most pirates probably had a young boy or two on their crew who could have done the same thing, but overall, I enjoyed this tale. It was a cute and fun story, and while it was nothing which made me feel any great compulsion to search out other volumes, assuming they exist, I did enjoy this one and commend it as a worthy read.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne la Fleur


Rating: WARTY!

Read indifferently by Christy Carlson Romano, this short novel started out slowly, but with intrigue, and it made me interested in what would happen, but then it seemed to hit a roadblock with the story-telling and it quickly backslid into boring.

Mathilde is a young girl who lives with her mother and father, and younger sister, and who attends school with her super-smart best friend Meg. The country, named Sofirende (spelling might be off, because audio!) is at war. I have to say I had a problem with the names of places in this novel.

I don't know how the name of the enemy country is spelled, but it was read like it was "Tease Ya" which sounded like a poor choice of name for a violent enemy, but even that wasn't as bad as the name of the city where Mathilde lives. The audiobook reader had about three different pronunciations for the city, and one of these sounded as though she were saying "Like a lick." The other pronunciation sounded like "Lick a Leg" neither of which was particularly appealing, especially not for a book for younger children.

When you bring children into an adventure, you need a legit reason to have them there - why they're exposed to this rather than grown-ups or trained professionals, and this author never did the work. There was a test, which was entirely predictable, because I knew as soon as I heard about the test that Mathilde and Megs would take it and the 'smarter' Megs would fail and the 'dumber' Mathilde would pass because this was never going to be a regular school test.

So off waltzes Mathilde (this is starting to sound like an Australian bush song, isn't it?) and finally we get to the worst part of the novel which is that when Mathilde arrives at this military intelligence place, From day one, she's never once given any orientation to what they're doing or how she can help. This place is the most lackadaisical, haphazard place you can possibly imagine with the kids just running wild and doing whatever they want whenever. Some of the kids seem to have a regular job trying to predict where ships are moving or where enemy planes will bomb next, but they're really not very good at it, and ultimately what they're doing is a waste of time, but some adult direction and some hints and tips would sure have helped, yet there were none. It was pure bullshit.

Worse, it failed to rationalize the kids being there. There was quite literally nothing that they were doing that an adult could not have done better - or a computer. But there's the rub! Were there even computers in this world? We have no idea because it was completely fictitious with no guide as to in what period of parallel Earth history this was taking place. There were airplanes, trains, phones, but that merely places it anywhere between somewhere around World War Two and the present.

There were other random elements in the story, too. At some point a prisoner is brought into the compound and Mathilde is tasked with talking to him, but she's told nothing about him or given any idea of how to approach this or what they want from him, and even had she been given this information it would have been worthless because this guy was almost as young as Mathilde - clearly a very low-level soldier who had no more clue what was going on in the "Tease Ya" military than Mathilde did herself. Maybe tease ya was right after all.

Continuing with the randomness theme, suddenly Meg shows up out of the blue without warning and with no apparent reason, and shortly after, and without whispering a word of early warning to the residents, the order to evacuate the camp is given and Mathilde is heading out to catch a train with the others, gets separated, and misses the train. Best friend Megs is nowhere to be seen and doesn't even wait for Mathilde. I guess that friendship's blown!

Mathilde manages to make it to the port and depart for safer shores - but not once does she think about her family whom she's supposedly been missing the entire time she's been in the intelligence compound! Never once does she have a thought for how they're doing or what will happen to them if Tease Ya wins this war. So in the end the Intelligence gathering was a joke because there was zero intelligence in this story! It sucked. I dis-commend it fiercely. It was garbage.


Thursday, July 25, 2019

Courtney Crumrin Volume 4 Monstrous Holiday by Ted Naifeh


Rating: WORTHY!

Volume four wasn't quite as entertaining as the earlier volumes I think in part because Courtney seemed much more gullible in this one than she had in all of the three earlier volumes, which made little sense. Admittedly she was charmed by a boy, but having gone through what she'd been through previously, you'd think she'd be less inclined to fall for something instead of more so. And yes, she was feeling disgruntled (her gruntle had never been so dissed in fact), but it made her look limp and weak in comparison to how she'd appeared in earlier volumes. Ideally this would have been the first volume. That would certainly have made more sense in terms of her personal growth and would have explained a lot about her attitude in the other volumes.

That said it still made for an enjoyable read and I commend it as worthy. This story involves Courtney's visit, with her great uncle who is sometimes not so great it has to be remarked, to a family chateaux which of course is occupied by vampires, one of whom is mature and very old (although she looks in her thirties), and the other of whom is around Courtney's age, but also very old. So Yuk! The mature one is an old flame of Aloysius's evidently, and plays very little part in the story. It's the young one who charms Courtney and wins her confidence, and at first she wonders if he's a ghost, but when she realizes he's solid, she changes her view. Even when she suspects he's a vampire though, she trusts him and that trust is misplaced.

He bites her three times over the next few days, which is supposed to either be fatal or seal her fate as a vampire, but this is where the story let me down because the ending was a complete fizzle! I couldn't say if the vampires were destroyed because the panels where Great Uncle Aloysius did battle with them were not exactly categorical, and would a blood transfusion save Courtney at that stage? I dunno, but the book ended without giving any sort of an answer. It begs the question as to why her uncle even took her there is there were vampires and if he still insisted, why he didn't provide her with some magical protection against them.

So while the story was entertaining and I commend it, I have to say the ending was poorly done and a sad way to end such a sterling series.


Saturday, July 20, 2019

Courtney Crumrin Volume 2 The Coven of Mystics by Ted Naifeh


Rating: WORTHY!

Volume two - meaning I finally caught up to the first volume I read in this series, which was three. I'm not a huge fan of series, not regular books, and not graphic novels, but this is one of those rare exceptions that manages to change up the story and keep it fresh and interesting even though we're following the same main character.

In this volume, Courtney learns new ways to circumvent and side-step the witch conventions that seem to hold everyone else in paralysis or in rigid regimentation. She's always ready to try something new, learn something extra, or make unexpected and unusual friends, and she has great instincts. She's not afraid to change her mind either, so this makes for a multi-faceted and engaging character.

So she starts out tackling Tommy Rawhead, the hobgoblin of the marl-pit, whom someone has unleashed. Fortunately, her enigmatic and mysterious uncle is just the match for Tommy, but just because Tommy's beheaded doesn't mean he can't be useful to Courtney later! Courtney gets an usual invitation to visit the cat council, but this involves her becoming a cat herself. Finally she befriends Skarrow of the under-world, and this brings trouble on her uncle's house.

The variety and inventiveness of these stories is remarkable and welcome and is what kept me reading on - that and the indefatigable Courtney. This is why I commend this volume and intend to go on to read volume four.


The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall


Rating: WORTHY!

This is another audiobook, read sweetly by Susan Denaker, but once again I learned after I picked it up at the library that it's volume three in a series of five, which is an annoyance. It ticks me off that publishers do this without offering any indication on the cover that this is part of a series or what number it is in that series. I'm not a fan of series because they tend to be filled with fluff and matters of little or no consequence; however, going blind into this one, before I discovered it was one of several, it didn't feel like a sequel, so I was hearing it like it was a stand-alone and it sounded just fine to me. The novel has a charming old world style to it, although at that point I had no idea when it was supposed to have been set. It turns out it's contemporary.

The author didn't publish the first book in the series until she was 54, which might account for why the book seems a little 'out of time', but that holds out hope for us all doesn't it, that her first novel came relatively late in her life despite her apparently deciding she wanted to be a novelist at the age of ten? Never give up! Lesson learned! The book is quite short, so I quickly decided that if this one panned out, I'd see if I could get the audiobook version of the earlier - and later - volumes. I seem to have been doing this lately in the case of Courtney Crumrin, and Bad Machinery graphic novel series so it's almost a habit by now.

The series is about the Penderwick sisters, of whom there are four, and the OAP - which in Britain used to mean Old Age Pensioner, although there's probably a more politically correct term for it now - stands for Oldest Available Penderwick. Since the actual oldest sister Rosalind, is going to spend two weeks with a friend, the OAP role falls to Skye, the next oldest, who has to look after her younger sister Jane and youngest, who has the unfortunate name of Batty. Their parents are out of the country and the bulk of the Penderwicks are staying with an aunt who's unfortunately been disabled by an ankle injury and is hobbling around on crutched, so the Penderwicks are pretty much left to their own devices.

Skye is nervous about being in charge and trying to corral her wayward sisters, each of whom has her own distinct personality. Batyt is the cute and slightly crazy one who fedeveops fads for colelcitgn beach rocks, shells, and stray golf balls from the nearby gold course, which she then sells on the street, like with a lemonade stand but for these tiny dimpled and expensive balls that cause golfers so much unnecessary grief (when no one is looking, just throw the damned ball for goodness sakes. The hell with the club). Before all these events kick off, the sisters hold one of their secret councils, known as Mops, so Rosalind can pass down the last few nuggets of her wisdom and experience, although it's really not necessary since Skye appears to have it covered already despite her misgivings about performing her new role.

Mishaps and adventures ensue. Batty makes a friend. Jane - the aspiring novelist - falls into deeply romantic love with the older brother of Batty's new friend and tastes cold rejection after penning him an ode. Skye becomes possessed of a cleaning frenzy at one point. But the story is laugh out loud hilarious so often that I couldn't help but love it. There were parts that were less than enthralling for me, but for the most part the novel was highly entertaining. The author's incisive and witty observations make for a joyful read. I imagine she would be a charm to have a conversation with, and I'm definitely interested in pursuing the series, which is a novelty for me. I commend this as a worthy read.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Scarlet Hood by Mark Evans, Isobel Lundie


Rating: WARTY!

No success with this graphic novel either. I don't have anything to say about Isobel Lundie's artwork except that it was gray-scale and scrappy. And the writing was simple, pedantic, and uninventive.

When I picked this up and glanced through it briefly, I thought maybe it was a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, but it was not. It looked superficially interesting, but it was not. Greta the Cruel sounded like a fun villain, but she was not. It was just a story of school bullying and a magical remedy and it was very, very short.

Scarlet treks through the forest to grandma's house, doesn't get eaten by a wolf; grandma isn't impersonated by a wolf, and all grandma does is give to Scarlett a red hoodie which she claims will help her granddaughter. She says nothing about it delivering the poor girl to a dragon! Thanks grandma.

But Scarlet ends up befriending the dragon as she ends up befriending the school bully, who never pays for her previous acts, and no-one in the entire school seems to have any issue with the bullying. The best thing I can say about this, is that it's short. I can't commend it in any way.


Monday, July 15, 2019

Wildwood by Colin Meloy, Carson Ellis


Rating: WARTY!

Written by songwriter Meloy this ebook is very long and very slow-moving unfortunately. The 540-some page print version is illustrated by his wife, Ellis, but I saw none of that in the audio version, which was read by Amanda Plummer in such a sweet voice that I think I kept it going longer because of that. Had the voice been less pleasing, I would have ditched it a lot earlier than I did.

This book exemplifies one reason I don't like longer books: too many of them seem to take forever to get anywhere. When I was about a quarter the way through it, nothing had really happened other than that this girl saw her toddler brother carried away by crows into this wild wooded area, and she went into it to get the kid back and discovered that it was home to a bunch of weird characters including a regiment of military coyotes.

So it was a charming idea, but it was moving like a slug. It had moved along quite quickly to begin with, but once Prue, the main female character had got into the Wildwood area, everything seemed to have the brakes slammed on and it really started to drag. I kept going until about a third the way in and lost patience with it.

There was a battle described between the coyotes and the bandits in the forest, and it was so gory that I couldn't believe I was reading a book written for young children. While I get that children see this kind of thing more often in video games, movies, and on TV these days than their counterparts used to, this still struck me as a lot of unnecessary detail. It's possible in a children's book to describe death without going into into loving detail. Again this is a problem with an overly long book - too much time on the author's hands.

The only amusing thing, to me, about this is that it was at this point that I chose to skip to the last few tracks and despite the skip, I came back into it to discover equally gory detail! I couldn't believe it. We have enough violence in schools these days without needing to extoll it in literature. It was like I was still listening to the same part of the book. On top of this was a baby sacrifice, and I decided this book wasn't worth spending any more time on, and quit listening.

I can't commend something like this as a worthy read or a listen, not even with Amanda Plummer's voice.


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Courtney Crumrin Volume 1 The Night Things by Ted Naifeh


Rating: WORTHY!

As promised a few days back, I did pick up volume one and read it and loved it. I think I liked this more than the volume 3 I read previously, so now volume 2 is on the way!

This volume brings Courtney to her great uncle Aloysius's house...or is it her father's great uncle? Or his father's great uncle? Courtney gets bullied by the spoiled rich kids at school, but when she discovers her uncle has some interesting spell and charm books in his secret collection, she manages to co-opt help from a forest sprite, get herself glamoured to become the most popular person in school (big mistake), and lose the baby she was babysitting in a unilateral exchange with the fairies. But she cdecides she likes it here and wants to stay.

I enjoyed this book - the steady pace, the interesting situations, the steadfast fearlessness of Courtney and the endearing artwork. I commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Saving the Team by Alex Morgan, Full Fathom Five


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known beforehand that this was a Full Fathom Five product, I would never have picked it off the library shelf, but I didn't learn this until later. I expected better from someone of Alex Morgan's Stature.

Anyway, after enjoying this year's women's world cup I discovered that one of the US team's leading scorers, Alex Morgan, had written a middle-grade series about girls' soccer. At least I can only assume she wrote it. It is Full Fathom Five after all, so who knows? Since I'd written my own YA novel about a girl who gets to play soccer in the English men's professional league, I was curious as to how a professional player would write a soccer story, so I checked this out of the library.

I have to say I was disappointed in it in several ways, not just in the story telling. I can't speak for middle-grade girls, but this wasn't quite what I was expecting and the story was a bit too black and white, traditional, and safe for my taste: the inattentive adults, the evil bully girl, the oh-so-wonderful instant friends, the 'problems' that are not really problems. To me it felt a bit young and simplistic for today's middle graders.

The basic plot is that Devin moves from the west coast to the east coast meaning it's the trope 'new girl in school' garbage that's already been done to death. Could Morgan not have added a bit of an original twist here? Aren't strikers supposed to be inventive? I guess she really wasn't very inventive in the world cup. Yes, she admirably took the goals as the chances presented themselves, scoring five of hers in that first easy game, but she really didn't have to work for any of them, did she? She certainly didn't make them with inventive and incisive runs through the defense; for the most part she simply stood there and then took advantage of the opening when the ball came right to her. She's no Marta Vieira da Silva, that's for sure.

You know there's a lot been said about the US behavior in that first game - about scoring so many goals against Thailand, but I never had a problem with that. You get the chance, you score. It's almost a knee-jerk reaction, and no one can complain about the confidence-building and experience credits it brings to a player, especially in an opening game. No, my problem was that the US's extravagant celebration of each goal was way out of proportion to the effort it took to get it. They were humiliating poor Thailand and reveling in it. That's cold. That's callous. I expect better of a women's team. Morgan herself writes on p85 of this very novel, "There's a mercy rule in soccer, right?" as Devin's team is being roundly beaten. How hypocritical that was.

If they'd faced a tough, seasoned, team (as they did each game once they were into the knock-out rounds where their scoring dropped precipitously from that first game and came to rely more than once on penalty goals), then celebrating like that after a score is entirely appropriate, because it's hard work scoring against a team like those, and players deserve that kind of celebratory release, but shaming a poorer team which doesn't have the resources the US team had and which isn't going to get paid the third of a million dollars that each of the US players will end up with (and that excludes any endorsements they may get) is disgraceful in my opinion and far beneath the conduct I'd expect of a team which has the status and power that the US team enjoys. It was white players beating down the brown players and loving it, and that's never a good thing.

Equality isn't only about pay (which the US women's team definitely deserves having earned actually more than the US men's team has over the last few years). It's about everyone having an equal chance. The Thai team is new to the cup and had nowhere near the experience and resources the US team had. The Argentinian team had to fight bigotry and prejudice and a complete lack of support in their struggle to have a national women's team. The US deserves equal pay and no one in their right mind would argue otherwise, but that said, the US also enjoys privilege and status which many other women's teams are still fighting desperately for. We'd be fools to forget that this is bigger than the US team. Much bigger.

But I digress! As usual! So what's with this Alex Morgan obsession with California - like it's some exotic foreign country that Devin can't get over? Could it be that Morgan herself is from California and perhaps now has a thoroughly warped view about how super-human the soccer players are and how they dress far in advance of the rest of the country? Yeah, five of the US 23-member team were native Californians, but three hailed from Georgia and two each from Arizona, New Jersey, and New York state, so whence this outlandish praise for California soccer? Bias - again! Remember this is where players were born, not necessarily where they blossomed and learned how to became the world-class players they are today.

It's nice that the cover of this novel depicted such a diversity of people: Asian, Black, and white, but if you look at photos of the USWNT, it's almost entirely white. There were only three black players on the team of 23 - and not a single Asian or Latinx player. Yes, of course they have to pick the best players, but what does it say about us if we can find the best only among white players? Whence equality there? Where is our melting pot of diversity and opportunity?

That said, the book cover doesn't remotely reflect the characters in the novel - and pink boots? Really? And the art is by a female artist who once again evidently never read the novel. The only pink mentioned in the novel is of a headband and a top. Never boots. How about a picture of real live girls - real soccer players on the cover - not models, not cartoon characters? Is that too much to ask? I guess it is from what's been roundly touted as a book mill, but more on that later.

Morgan has Devin stupidly following along with these Californians like a bleating lamb. "Mom, I must have flip-flops!" (or words to that effect) she cries after their team tryout! (Disclosure - I am biased against flip-flops. I think they're stupid, cheap, and nasty, but then I'm not the one writing a novel advocating about them! Although now, I think maybe I'll put in a couple of words about them in this novel I'm currently working on! LOL!). My point here is that once again Morgan could have made Devin stand out by making her an individual instead of a lamb, but no. She doesn't want that. Maybe she thinks individuals have no place in team sports, but if that's so I'd have to ask her "Did Megan Rapinoe get to be the figure she is today by blending in?" Hell no! Learn something from your teammates, Morgan!

There was at least one grammar issue that I recall, where Morgan apparently doesn't understand the difference between criteria and criterion (p8). The former is plural, the latter singular, and Morgan uses the wrong one. Now you can argue that this was written in first person by a twelve-year-old, so maybe it was the youngster who got it wrong and not the university-educated author who is more than twice her age, but this comes back to how you want your main character to appear, doesn't it?

Do do you want her to sound illiterate and dumb? I guess that's the choice the author of this novel leaned into. It's one of many problems with first person voice stories which is why I rail against them. Do you really want to write the novel in a way that makes it as dumb as your character might be? Because that doesn't make for great reading in my book. On the other hand, if you have a dumb character and write her in first person, but write literately, then do you betray that character and your entire story? This is why third person is nearly always the wisest choice. First person doesn't bring immediacy, it brings a complete lack of realism and dearth of suspense which overwhelms your rather desperate substitution of first person for immediacy.

So by now you must know that I did not like this story. It felt wrong, too fluffy, inauthentic, too easy, and far too predictable. Yes, they do beat their bedeviling team at the end, and it's no spoiler to say that, but that victory comes out of nothing - no sweat, no tears and certainly no blood (which is probably a good thing!). Maybe middle-grade girls will like this story, but if they do, I feel sorry for them that they settle for so little when they could have so much more. Surely this, right now, in the midst of the afterglow from the US women's victory on a world stage, is when we ought to be strongly-pushing for more and better for our girls?

All of that aside, the biggest reason for avoiding this series like the plague is that it's copyright not to Alex Morgan, but to Alex Morgan and "Full Fathom Five" which is the book mill run by businessman James Frey, which begs the question as to whether Morgan even wrote it at all. In January 2006, The Smoking Gun published an article online titled: "A Million Little Lies: Exposing James Frey's Fiction Addiction" alleging that James Frey simply made up large parts of his memoirs. The next month, Frey apologized for these fabrications. Full Fathom Five was the subject of an article in New York magazine: "James Frey's Fiction Factory" (November 2010) which is still available online as of this posting date. You should read it: http://nymag.com/arts/books/features/69474/. For me, I would advise avoiding this series like the plague. I feel it does a disservice to women's soccer and women in general for that matter.


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Bad Machinery Volume 5 The Case of the Fire Inside by John Allison


Rating: WORTHY!

This was one of the last two of this series that I had not read yet, although by no means the last in chronological order. Not that that matters very much with this series, but this one was published as volume five, and was the last one I read, and it's odd to think this grew on me so quickly after I had initially not liked one of these volumes when I read it a few years back and so never pursued the series! Now I'm sorry it's over, but I do understand Allison's desire to move on and try something new. I'm just sorry I didn't like what he did next.

In this volume, the author explores Selkies - mythological seal-like creatures that inhabit the ocean, but after casting-off their sealskin cloak, appear as human - and very pretty young girls some of them are, too. Due to Lottie's discovery of one of these cloaks on the beach, and her stuffing it into one of the boys' bags, the Selkie latches onto this boy and pursues him ardently, including enrolling at his school, where she poses a threat to the established swimming champion in the school, who is also threatened by her boyfriend dating one of the girls without telling her he doesn't want to date her any more. But wait, his ex is good-looking, and a great swimmer? What's going on here? Meanwhile the Selkie's dad emerges from the ocean in search of his lost girls and is immediately assumed to be a homeless guy!

Once again I was highly amused by this and I am sorry to see the series come to an end. I commend this as a worthy read.


Bad Machinery Volume 2 The Case of the Good Boy by John Allison


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the second to last I've read in this series, but the second to be published chronologically. In the story, Mildred wants to win an enchanted pencil at the visiting carnival, so she can draw a dog - which the pencil will make real, and then she can have a pet. Meanwhile toddlers are disappearing, mostly from the baby care centre, and the police don't seem to be doing much about it ("Oh, they'll turn up!"). Meanwhile some sort of creature is lurking in the forest and a crazed animal hunter is called in to track it down.

So once again the boys and the girls are coming at a mystery from two direction and destined to collide, one way or another, in the middle. There's the usual off-kilter humor, and bizarre utterances from Lottie, my favorite character, and overall the story was hilarious and very much appreciated. I fully commend it as a worthy read.