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

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi, Corinna Luyken

Rating: WORTHY!

Written delightfully by Crimi, and illustrated by Luyken, this was a middle-grade book that I had access to only in the audiobook format, so I cannot comment on the illustrations. It was quite amusing despite being not aimed at me as an audience. I got interested in it because of the amusing title, so I bought it and listened and it was an easy listen, a fun story, and an empowerment inspiration for young girls. Women are tragically under-represented in many traditional male fields and engineering is one of the most glaring. It was encouraging to find a book aimed at middle-graders and which showed girls interested in sciences and in particular this one girl who made her own little robots out of bits and pieces she put together herself.

The robots could move around, but something happened and they took on a life of their own and began interacting with the other robots and with their creator, Penny Rose, with intelligence and motive. Penny is new in town and has no friends to begin with so the robots are special to her, but soon she makes friends with Lark who, true to her name likes to study birds. Penny gets the chance to join a secret science club, but this invitation, extended only to Penny and not to Lark, causes a rift between her and her new-found friend. Also, what the heck is going on with the robots and will the troublesome Jeremy wreck them with his less than respectful play?

I loved this book and commend it highly.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, LeYuen Pham

Rating: WORTHY!

Written by the Hales and illustrated exquisitely by Pham, this short, large print chapter book tells the story of a cute little princess who fights monsters under the guise of The Princess in Black! Definitely empowering, especially for female readers, I felt this was an inspired story designed to quell fears of monsters under the bed and at the same time tell a story to entertain - and it's not all about the princess! There's something in there for boys, too. It was well-worth the reading.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Mia Marcotte and the Robot by Jeanne Wald, Saliha Çalışkan

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a middle-grade story which isn't exactly my cup of tea, but it's entertaining enough that it passes muster for me. What I liked about it was that it stars a female protagonist who is self-motivated, imaginative, and a strong character, and who is deeply interested in science. All of that is a big plus. What I didn't like about it was that the 'rather dumb, pedantic, literal robot' has been done to death. It was already tiresome when Star Trek Next Generation introduced the ridiculous Commander Data and it could only go downhill from there. I think the science could have been a bit stronger and more prominent, too. Those gripes aside, I liked Mia and her attitude and the story was a short, fast read illustrated nicely by Turkish illustrator Saliha Calıskan.

One annoying thing to me was Mia's father's habit of referring to Mia as 'louloute', which is a diminutive endearment (purportedly!) for a young female child. I felt giving her a pet name and using it so often rather diminished poor Mia, who already had enough to deal with. Plus it felt so out of place. Maybe this family lived in Louisiana, but there was no mention of that state in the novel. The family name is suggestive of French origins, but there was nothing in the story to indicate why her dad would use this term since not a word of French was spoken in the entire story to indicate any such origin or tradition.

Mia really wants to be an astronaut, but in order to get one small step closer, she needs to do well in the science fair, but she needs a project! Can her visiting aunt's robot Aizek help her or will he get her into trouble? And can she help him learn to be a better robot? Those are the questions explored and answered here and despite some issues with it, I consider it a worthy read for a young female - and male - audience.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Rating: WARTY!

Perhaps it isn't a coincidence that the initials for this book title are BS! Again this is a middle-grade book and I'm far from middle-grade, but I've ready many middle-grade novels that have entertained me well. This one did not, and I quit it about three-quarters of the way through, in disappointment.

The premise here is that there is a book publisher based in San Francisco, which fortuitously is the city to which the major character has just moved with her family. This publisher likes to create book games, and one of them is the eponymous scavenging, by which used books are secreted in places around town, and clues to their location are left online. The finder of the book gets to read it, and gets finder points, and then gets to hide it again themselves. It sounds like fun, and while I can see problems with that practice, it's likely to become a dying art with mega corporations like Amazon forcibly moving everyone to ebooks and all that entails, and forcing authors to sell their work for less than a dollar for the most part, or even offer it for free just to get a foot in the door.

The basic plot here, is that this publisher is about to launch a new game, and is off to the launch when he's assaulted by two low-lives who are evidently in the employ of someone who wants the specific book this publisher is going to use to launch the game. Because they're idiots, they fail to secure the novel (The Gold-Bug - a prize winning short story by Poe, which was probably his best-read work during his lifetime).

Instead, the book falls into the hands of the main character, whose name I've completely forgotten at this point, but it's really not important when you get down to it. Instead of trying to get the book back into the right hands, the main character decides to hold onto it and to try and solve the puzzle herself, thereby causing all kinds of horrors, and putting children at risk, including herself, which would never have happened had she acted responsibly. I think this novel could have been written a lot better.

One major problem with it is that it moved appallingly slowly, and would have made for a better read had it been shorter and consequently better paced. Another problem was the fact that young children were put in harm's way and the last thing they think of doing is alerting the police. For me this is a serious problem with the writing. Yes, to have a 'fun' adventure, children often have to be placed in fictional peril, but if you're going to do that, at least have the writing chops to make it work: make there be a reason why the authorities can't help. Don't go writing the idea into children's heads that the best way to deal with an adult threat is go it alone as this author seems intent upon doing!

For these reasons I cannot commend this as a worthy read.

Keara's Raven Escape by Mindy Klasky

Rating: WARTY!

Erratum: "for the entire three days that the titheman ad stayed on the green" 'Had stayed' was required there.

Previously published as Darkbeast, this novel evidently failed its first time out, and was renamed and re-released for a second try. For me it failed that time, too. There were several problems with it. The first was that it was worst-person voice, which I am actively now trying to avoid in novels having pro-actively weeded out my entire aging print book collection of first person voice titles and ditched them unread. I'm slowly doing the same with my larger ebook collection. This one didn't start out too badly, but it soon embarked upon road after road most traveled, and it was boring. The cliff-hanger ending was expected and not appreciated, and I have zero intention of reading any more of this series.

The novel is aimed at a younger audience than the one I (don't!) represent, so take my commentary as you will, but the story had issues. The author set up the girl as having no female friends. Even her sisters hated her, and the only female she meets turns out to be a traitor to her. Her only savior is of course the inevitable boy, because all women are useless unless they have some sort of male validation according to this kind of author. Why so many female authors seem so hell-bent upon denying female friendships to their characters is beyond me.

In this medieval world - where they have female actors strangely enough - every child grows up with a 'darkbeast', which is an animal (bird, amphibian, or reptile, it would seem) which can talk and which plays the role of Jesus, taking away their sins. They're supposed to unload their negative thoughts and emotions on the beast, and at the age of twelve, are required to visit the 'godhouse' and kill the animal, thereby freeing themselves of childhood sins so they can enter adulthood renewed. Keara cannot kill her darkbeast - her only friend - and is forced to flee her community, sought by inquisitors. She runs away and joins the circus - well, a company of traveling players at least, which earns a living by visiting villages and performs plays tied to one or other of the twelve gods

The story was a fast read and I followed it all the way, believe it or not, but by the end I was disappointed and resented the time I had blown reading this when I could have been doing something much more rewarding. This is why I typically do not even try to read a book to the end when it's doing little or nothing for me. With this one I kept hoping it would really have something to offer, but it never did, and I cannot commend it at all. It was full of trope and took forever to really have anything happen despite it being a relatively short read. It was as warty as one of the darkbeast toads - which aren't really warty, but this observation isn't meant to be any more realistic than was this novel, which turbned out to be a dark beast that definitely ought to have been slain.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a graphic novel, apparently based on personal experience, about a twelve-year old girl going through typical 12-year-old experiences, except that in this case, she becomes fascinated by the so-called sport of roller derby. I say so-called because one thing which isn't covered here - or even mentioned - is the risk of concusion from a sport like this. Worse, concussion has been show to disproportionately affect women more than it does men, with women taking some fifty percent longer to recover from it than men do, so that's worth keeping in mind for this or any sport where the head is at risk of violence being done to it.

Main character Astrid has been best friends with Nicole for what seems like forever, but comes the summer of their twelfth year, and they each want different things. Nicole wants to go to Ballet camp. Astrid, overwhelmed by her first trip to a roller derby, wants to go to derby camp. Her blithe assumption that Nicole will fall in with her plans means Astrid is in for a rude and unnerving awakening.

I'm not a fan of so-called sports that encourage violence and conflict, but this story was amusing enough that even while I disapprove of the sport, I'm willing to consider this graphic novel a worthy read. Astrid has to learn to stand on her own two feet with Nicole gone, and that's not easy on skates! Plus, she lies to her mother about the fact that Nicole isn't going to derby camp with her. The derby work is hard and Astrid is brand new to it, so it's a long learning curve for her, but eventually she picks up the rhythms and skills, and she finds her place.

The story, the second I have liked by this author, had humor and heart, and the art was pretty decent, so I consider this a worthy read.

Girlwood by Claire Dean

Rating: WARTY!

Polly is twelve. Her older sister Bree has fallen into the wrong crowd - drugs and so on, and one day Bree disappears. Polly is convinced she has escaped to the woods, but no one believes her. Given how everyone pitches in when a child goes missing, I found it hard ot believe that there was so little interest in organizing a search for her. Yes, Bree was older, and there is the drugs angle, but it felt wrong.

There is talk of fantasy and fairies in the story, and it started out well enough, but then it just dragged. Instead of getting into the woods and going along with the story I felt I'd been promised, it became bogged down in Polly and her wolly doodles all day, and it became a tedious read. I'm not about to expend more of my time on this when there is too much to read and too much to be written. I can't commend this based on the part I read.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

This is Just a Test by Madelyn Rosenberg, Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Rating: WARTY!

This is a middle-grade book that started out well enough, with some nice humor and interesting activities, but unfortunately it quickly settled into a rut and never seemed interested in getting out of it. The rut had four grooves: David's upcoming bar-mitzvah, his ongoing attraction to schoolmate Kelli Anne, his fear of nuclear war, and the ongoing battle between his two grandmothers. The problem is that it never got out of those grooves, and they became ruts. So the best thing I can say about this book is, awesome name, Wendy! That's more like a sentence than a name, but it is awesome.

As as you might guess from those author's names, one of the hinges of this story is that David isn't only of Jewish heritage, he's also of Chinese extraction, and his grandmothers do not get along. In fact they're both interfering busy-bodies each trying to be the dominant one, and at first this was mildly amusing, but it quickly became tedious, as did everything else in this story, I'm sorry to report. You know from the off that everything is going to come out fine in the end - his grandmothers will get along, he'll "get the girl," he'll somehow overcome his ridiculous fear of nuclear war, and the bar-mitzvah will be fine. So why waste my time on the journey there?

Ridiculous I say because this wasn't set in the fifties; it was set in the 80's so WTF? Nuclear war? Yes, it's always been a fear, and is a greater one now we have an even bigger jackass for a president than Reagan was, but what I didn't get was why the authors had chosen to set this back in the eighties because setting it back was what I felt they'd achieved by that choice. At first I thought that maybe it was because the authors were in their fifties, but I no longer think that's the case, so I'm at a loss. The fifties would have made sense, but the eighties??

This book isn't aimed at me, obviously, but for me, it didn't get there. It spent too long ruminating on topics that really aren't that relevant today. I know a lot of people are into religion, but for me religion is as Shakespeare put it in The Tragedy of Macbeth, scene five (although his words were about life, not religion): "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," so that typically doesn't resonate with me because I can't take it seriously.

The battle of the grandmothers, as I mentioned, quickly became tedious. David's obsession with nuclear war and his digging of a bomb shelter in his friend's back yard wasn't remotely entertaining or even interesting. His flustering at every thought of Kelli Anne wasn't amusing, but was understandable and perhaps appropriate, but nothing new, and in the end that was the problem. There really was nothing new here; nothing to see, so I moved along. I can't commend this as a worthy read.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Get a Clue! by Lisa Banim

Rating: WARTY!

This is the first book in the Lizzie McGuire Mysteries series. It's the last one I will ever read! The front cover won't tell you (way to diminish people Disney, you dicks), but it's written by Lisa Banim and based on the TV series created and developed by Terri Minsky. I've been curious about the series, but never watched it. After this book I don't intend to.

The plot, if you can call it that, is that someone has been leaving notes is assorted places around the school, with cheesy messages like "I Know What You Did Last Week." Other than the annoyance factor, it's hardly a major crime. The "twist" if you can call it that, is that the notes are in Lizzie McGuire's handwriting. Lizzie decides to take it on herself to track down the suspect, and she pretty much lives up to the absurd 'ditzy blonde' trope in doing so. That's when I called out, "Check please! I'm done here." I can't remotely commend this based on the portion I managed to suffer through. I fear for young readers and readership in general if this kind of garbage actually appeals to people.

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Proto Project by Bryan R Johnson

Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

"We can't be a minute to soon or late." - should be 'too soon'

This book didn't sit well with me for an assortment of reasons. Opening it with the main character looking in a mirror is old hat, so when I read, "Jason Albert Pascal stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror" I was already starting-off on the wrong foot. Note that this novel isn't aimed at me; it's aimed at middle grade and I am far from that, but I've read many middle grade novels that have appealed to me. This wasn't one of them.

It's subtitled "A Sci-Fi Adventure of the Mind" and I'm honestly not sure what that meant because this was hard sci-fi, not fantasy or psychological, about two kids who come into possession of an advanced AI in the form of a tiny mechanical 'transformer' that can reshape itself from a walking pseudo-spider to a wristwatch look-alike and so on. It also changes color to exhibit mood. On top of that it's really dumb about some things and amazingly advanced about others. In short, it was too good to be true.

I've seen characters like this in movies and TV, such as Commander Data in Star Trek Next Generation, for example, who was quite simply absurd in his mix of complete naiveté about common situations, to his annoyingly trivial pursuit of others. It made no sense, and can only ens up making the AI look moronic.

Perhaps kids of the age-range this is aimed at will not see anything wrong with this, but for me, too cutesy pets and robots are nauseating. My own kids have grown beyond this age range, but I don't feel they would have been much into a story like this when they were younger. Not that I or they speak for anyone but ourselves, but on this matter of age range, another problem was that the kids seemed to express themselves way beyond their age and even beyond realism at times, employing terms like 'nefarious' for example, which struck me as inauthentic at best.

The biggest problem though was that once again the kids are doing all the investigating with little to authenticate it. Obviously in a story like this you don't want the kids calling the cops and then sitting around at home playing video games while the cops nab the bad guys! You have to get the kids out there and put them at some risk, but I don't think you can realistically do that any more without offering some sort of rationale as to why it is that they can't just call the police. We never did get such an explanation here; all we got was one kid's hunch about the FBI agent being a bit suspect, and then they were running with it.

I don't believe kids should be talked down to or written down to. Kids these days are more sophisticated than ever, having seen TV and movies about a whole variety of topics, including police investigations, science fiction, super heroes and on and on, where grown-up language and attitudes are expressed (and where nefarious isn't spoken even once!), so I think you have to give them a fair shot at a realistic story; however, this one had too many holes in it, with them being thrown into risky situations inorganically, and in one case where a parent actually puts them at risk.

That latter scenario came about when mom, the inventor of the AI, had built a second one in captivity, and used the communciation element to convey her whereabouts to her children. I had it ask why? Why risk putting them at risk? Why not use the communication opportunity to call in the police? If there had been a reason given why it must be this way, that would have been one thing, but it made no sense to have her put her kids any further at risk than they already were for no good reason.

A bit more social conscience wouldn't have been amiss either. For example, this AI must have had the most amazing battery ever invented, because it never recharged and it never ran low on energy! That kind of technology could revolutionize the world and free us from a lot of fossil fuel dependence, yet it was being used in what was little more at that point than a cute toy! Clearly no thought had been put into how this toy was supposed to function!

For one more example, I read early in the novel some speculation by the boy on what his mom was doing in her secret lab at work. He asked himself, "was she working on space tech to colonize another planet in the event of a global warming crisis?" Well, we're already in a global warming crisis, so no, it's not coming: it's here now, and kids need to be educated about this. But the way to fix it isn't to abandon Earth, it's to stop pumping CO2 and methane into the atmosphere and take urgent steps to scrub those gasses from the very air that we've ignorantly spent the last 200 years polluting with them! "In the event of" doesn't get it done. Not remotely.

I was disappointed in the educational opportunities that were missed here, and the flights of loose fancy that this novel indulged in. It was a sound basic plot, but for me nowhere near enough was done with it. I can't commend this as a worthy read based on the sixty percent of this I read before I decided to DNF it.

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.