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Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

The Girl with Ghost Eyes

In Book Review on September 12, 2015 at 4:45 am

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The Girl with Ghost Eyes
by M.H. Boroson
ISBN 978-1940456362

Set in Chinatown, San Francisco 1898 — people’s initial response to this might be “so… opium dens, and stuff?” No. This is not a historical fiction novel, or not JUST a historical fiction novel. It is an action packed, supernatural battle of good and evil.

The author describes himself as a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and kung fu movies. This might lead you to think that the main character of The Girl with the Ghost Eyes is a thinly veiled rewrite of Buffy with added martial arts combat, but no. Both Buffy and Li Lin are young women with supernatural powers who save the world … a lot. But, Li Lin and her story stand tall on their own.

I was pleasantly surprised that the story very quickly enters the supernatural realm. There is not a long “get to know the characters” build up at the beginning. We are plunged with Li Lin into a dangerous trip into the land of the dead.

We do get to know the characters and the complications of Li Lin’s life slowly over the course of the story. My favorite is Mr. Yanqiu, the ghost of Li Lin’s father’s eye, sent to rescue her. He is the best kind of companion who gives good, frank advice. Li Lin’s relationship with her father is complex due to mysteries of their past. Li Lin discovers a few clues to these mysteries along the way. By the end, however, the relationship is anything, but repaired. No happy ending wrapped up with a red ribbon here.

This is not just a young adult novel with a strong female character who kicks butt. We get an introduction to 19th century Chinese culture. Li Lin has to navigate not only the land of the dead, but the minefield of her own family and the crime based social structure of Chinatown.

I really enjoyed this book and look forward to more adventures of Li Lin and Mr. Yanqiu.

Disappointing Department 19

In Book Review on September 12, 2015 at 4:02 am

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Department 19

Will teen age boys like this? Yes. Will I donate it to my library? Yes. Will I recommend it? Unlikely. Is it good writing? No, most definitely, not.

It seems more like Mr. Hill was trying to write an action film. An action film that went on, and on, and on. It is a string of wild goose chases (and cliches). By page 275, I had figured out who the traitor was, but had to slog through 176 more pages for the reveal. Then, it was a Dr. Evil “blah, blah, blah” style explanation of how he had betrayed them and why repeating everything that the reader already knew.

I’m a bit surprised that it didn’t start with “It was a dark and stormy night…” It did have phases like “blood soaked room” and a three paragraph long description of a helicopter landing. There is a great deal of unnecessary description which I found tedious. Description was often lame. “Standing over Stevenson was a huge grey wolf, as large as a small car.” He seemed to think that the reader needed to know the gender and age of minor vampires at the moment they were staked. “The projectile flew high, tearing off the upper half of the head of a vampire man in his twenties.” How is that relevant information?

During the last 100 pages, I became convinced that Mr. Hill hadn’t read his own writing. During the discovery of the aftermath of the attack on the Russian base, he describes how the blood has soaked through the snow that has fallen since the attack, but the Director stumbles on the first corpse which is covered by snow which has somehow NOT been soaked with the blood of the corpse below it, even though the blood is pooled around the corpse. Which is it?

There was an interesting story hidden in there, but a serious editing would have helped. Unfortunately, it seems that editors at publishing houses don’t actually edit anything. A good story requires interesting ideas, but the execution should result in a pleasant reading experience. This was not pleasant.

However, teenage boys who like monsters, action and shoot-em-up plot lines will love this.

Jackaby and Abigail Rook

In Book Review on July 31, 2015 at 5:31 pm

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Jackaby
by William Ritter
ISBN 9781616203535

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Beastly Bones
By William Ritter
ISBN 9781616203542

These books are wonderful. Well written, smart, funny, unpredictable — all the things I expect from a good book.

Abigail Rook is a young English woman who has very bravely defied her parents’ plans for her to have a conventional life as the wife of a man with a good career. Abigail wants to have a career of her own. Even though she made a brave choice, her first adventure didn’t go so well and we meet her as she steps onto American shores with only her suitcase and a few coins and no plan.

She answers a peculiar job ad and meets the very peculiar R. F. Jackaby, a Sherlockian detective who possesses perception of the supernatural. (The publisher has pitched this as Sherlock/Dr. Who.) Jackaby uses his supernatural perception to solve unusual cases, but he actually lacks a perception of the non-supernatural clues. This is the gap that Abigail fills. She is very good at the skills of deduction as applied to “normal” observations. They proceed to have grand investigatory adventures.

Abigail Rook is a very strong female lead character. That isn’t so uncommon in YA literature these days — Katniss Everdeen of Hunger Games, Tris of Divergent, etc., — but Abigail really stands out. (Book Riot has a great list of books with strong female characters and I agree whole heartedly with what they say about Abigail in Jackaby. Read the whole list here.)

Quote from Book Riot:

It [Jackaby] also features a headstrong, yet realistically written female protagonist name Abigail Rook. She doesn’t fall in love with the male lead, R. F. Jackaby. She doesn’t pine after him. She voices her opinion and comes to her own conclusions. If you want a little escapism without that annoying damsel-in-distress or love triangle distraction, read Jackaby.

In the first book, Abigail meets and becomes friends with Jenny, a kind of older sister figure. Jenny picks up on the fact that Abigail is attracted to the handsome, young police officer, Charlie, and encourages Abigail to follow her heart. Jenny is a sweet old fashioned girl. In Beastly Bones, Abigail meets the fiercely independent Nellie Fuller who advises Abigail that “men are never worth it.” Nellie is certain that a woman must choose between romance and career. Never the twain shall meet. Abigail is torn between the two extremes that women are often presented with. We must choose family or career. Jackaby gives Abigail the best advice: “So often,” Jackaby said, “people think that when we arrive at a crossroads, we can choose only one path, but — as I have often and articulately postulated — people are stupid. We’re not walking the path. We are the path. We are all of the roads and all of the intersections. Of course you can choose both.” (p.187)

In the world of YA, this is a breath of fresh air. YA novels are fraught with crushes, break-ups, and, worst of all, love triangles. Even when a female character is strong, romance usually means sacrifice. I have a feeling that our Miss Rook will get to be both great and happy.

Tiger’s Curse

In Book Review on July 31, 2015 at 2:37 pm

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Tiger’s Curse

Contemporary Oregonian girl meets ancient Indian curse. That sums it up. Kelsey stumbles into a summer job with a traveling circus that comes to her town. Her duties vary, including being involved in the care of the white tiger, the circus’s only exotic animal. The tiger is actually an Indian prince under a centuries old curse. Kelsey is soon involved in a journey to break the curse.

This is the second book I have read this year (2014) in which the plot idea is good, but the execution falls short. This book could have used more editorial assistance; blunt, honest criticism. The traveling circus is just a device for getting contemporary American girl together with cursed tiger/prince. I happen to be an Oregonian and I haven’t seen a traveling circus there (with actual exotic animals) in decades. There would be too much protesting to make it viable. The thought that a summer temp worker would be charged with handling a dangerous animal pushes the credibility limits. Despite this, I thought, it’s just an awkward set up, maybe the story will improve.

Then the story moves to India and it soon became clear to me that the author had not actually been to India. Unfortunately, fantasy writers think they don’t have to write about what they know. They can invent imaginary places. That is true, but does not apply if they set their story in real places and cultures. According to the acknowledgements at the end of the book, the author ran the manuscript past an Indian reader/editor for accuracy. It still would have helped if she had actually taken even just one trip to India.

There were also strange writing choices, like a four paragraph description of the private jet restroom versus a single paragraph description of the tiger morphing into a man.

Then there is the romance aspect of the story. I will admit that I do not read romance novels because I find them tedious and uninteresting. Same holds here. A passionate and strong bond forms between Kelsey and Ren with a love triangle option in the brother Kishan. Kelsey repeatedly jerks Ren around. Then Ren decides two can play at that game and becomes a smarmy jerk. Kelsey keeps jerking him around and then breaks it off and runs away, because she thinks it will never work out. Most of this should have been cut out. It was thoroughly annoying.

There are three more books in this series. I will not be reading them. I suspect it could have been edited down into a single, really good story. Unfortunately, we won’t get to read that story.

(I delayed publishing this review because it is so negative, but having had time to gain some distance and re-read it, I stand by every word.)

Earth Girl

In Book Review on December 13, 2014 at 10:43 am

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Earth Girl

Jarra lives 800 years in the future. The world has changed significantly due to the invention of teleportation. Earth has been nearly depopulated. Most residents moved off world to populate many planets more hospitable than Earth. However, not everyone can live off-world. One in a thousand children are born with immune system problems that make it impossible for them to live anywhere but Earth. Our heroine is one of these children.

The primary career tracks on Earth are history/archaeology or the health care/education system related to the children who are “handicapped” by their immune systems. Jarra has a strong interest in history, but she also has a bit of a rebellious spirit and a chip on her shoulder. She doesn’t want to just go to an Earth university to study archaeology with other handicapped students. She wants to prove a point. She wants to stick it to those “exos” who look down on “apes” like her. Therefore, she applies to an off-world university planning only to attend for the first year, the classes of which are held on Earth. A long string of adventures ensue.

I enjoyed this book. It actually took a few unpredictable twists that I didn’t expect, which is unusual. I was able to sympathize with the main character.

The future world was interesting. The ability to teleport between Earth cities, as well as between worlds, made land and air transport nearly non-existent. The archaeology teams used slow moving hover vehicles for excavation and transport, but high speed automobiles were antiquated. Small two person airplanes were still being used for arial surveying, but airliners were a thing of the distant past.

The future world that Edwards builds is very civilized, to the point of being a bit unbelievable. The timeline includes a 100 year period called the Exodus when most of the population left Earth. Some didn’t want to go off-world, but were motivated by the increasing crime and gang violence. Somewhere between the Exodus and the time of our heroine, the crime and gangs disappeared. As the characters worked to excavate the ruins of New York, I expected them to encounter some renegades living in the subways. Surely, there would be some outsiders. Despite the utter disruption of life on Earth, everyone has turned out to be civilized and happy to conform. The military was completely de-politicized, objective, and ethical. Their sole functions were to explore and secure future worlds for colonization and to run all the solar power generation facilities. It was refreshing that this book wasn’t another dystopia (ala Hunger Games or Divergent), but the lack of discord was a bit hard to believe.

This book satisfied my interest in science fiction and archaeology, although the archaeology is more like search and rescue than historical discovery. It was worth reading and I enjoyed it. I will read the sequels and any others that follow.

Edwards, Janet. Earth Girl. London: Harper Voyager, 2012. Print. 978-0007443499

Sucking the Magic Out of Neverland

In Book Review, Reading on June 14, 2014 at 1:11 pm

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Tiger Lily

Very rarely a book will completely infuriate me. I can’t even remember what the last title was, but Tiger Lily is 301 pages of “you’ve got to be kidding me.” I cannot recommend this book. I do recommend you use your time more profitably doing anything else.

There will be blatant spoilers in this review.

First, let’s talk about the real Neverland. Neverland is a place of imagination, the desire of any 7-10 year old where adventure reigns. There are pirates, indians, mermaids, lions, tigers, bears, OH MY! There is a pack of wild boys who don’t have to bathe, who climb trees, who live underground in a secret hideaway, and never have to grow up. They are led by a boy who is gay and innocent and heartless, because, according to J.M. Barrie, this is what children are. It is a multilayered story about childhood and the transition to adulthood.

[If you haven’t read the original book, please do. Don’t rely on Disney’s movie version.]

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson deconstructs Neverland so that all that is recognizable is the names of the characters. Many (too many) authors who write young adult literature seem to think it must contain “teen issues.” Anderson manages to work in dysfunctional families, mean girls, gender issues, alcoholism, serial killing, destruction of culture through a Victorian age missionary, rape/sexual abuse, murder, suicide, death of a loved one, and “the friend zone.” Even with that list, I’m sure I’ve missed something. The author doesn’t really deal with any of these issues. She just struts them across the stage.

Now, is it technically well written. Yes. If you went through and changed all the characters’ names and the name of the island, it would be a very interesting, although mostly depressing, read.

Anderson has sucked all the magic out of Neverland. Her Neverland is an actual island somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean and people come there by way of shipwreck. Captain Hook didn’t really lose his hand in a fight with Peter. He is not pursued by the crocodile who ate his severed hand thereby getting a taste for him. No, he is a mean drunk who lost his hand in a factory accident prior to becoming a pirate. Mr. Smee is a serial killer who had a successful spree in the streets of London before being recruited by Captain Hook and for some unknown reason agrees to be Hook’s flunky. There is no fairy dust and no flying, other than Tinker Bell. Fairies are, apparently, just one more exotic animal on this remote island. Mermaids are also just exotic creatures. They are mean and would like nothing better than to drown you and build their undersea houses with your bones. The tribe to which Tiger Lily belongs is not the tomahawk packing, scalping redskins that Barrie described, but are islanders who build houses (not tepees) and have a truce with the pirates that makes life mostly peaceful.

Peter Pan is described as approximately 16 years old, because the other misconception authors have is that teens only want to read about teens. So, instead of a pre-puberty rambunctious boy, Peter is looking for a girl friend. He has already broken the heart of Maeryn, the mermaid. He is currently in a dysfunctional romance with Tiger Lily and will eventually end up with Wendy, well I presume it is Wendy that he marries in the end although it is not explicitly stated.

Tiger Lily is a free spirit, a tomboy, a bit of an outsider. She faces tradition and expectations.

“What you did was very brave,” said Aunt Sticky Feet, her words clipped, but not unkind, “but men don’t want women who are brave. They want women who make them feel like men.”
“I don’t care about that” said Tiger Lily.
…”Someday you’ll want to be a prisoner to someone other than yourself.” page 39

There are many strong female protagonists in young adult literature these days. Maybe too many. Bella of Twilight is definitely NOT one of them. She is the weakest female character I’ve read in a long while and, I’m afraid, despite all her tomboy ways, Tiger Lily falls in the Bella camp. Tiger Lily defies her tribe and sneaks off to be with Peter Pan, yet she submits to an arranged marriage. Not just an arranged marriage, but a marriage to the village rapist. Her relationship with Peter is dysfunctional and fits Aunt Sticky Feet’s description of being a prisoner of someone else. Peter also fits Aunt Sticky Feet’s description since he is uncomfortable with how strong Tiger Lily is and prefers the feminine wiles (read “manipulations”) of Wendy, who praises him and makes him feel superior.

The first paragraph of chapter one of Tiger Lily:

“Let me tell you something straight off. This is a love story, but not like any you’ve heard. The boy and the girl are far from innocent. Dear lives are lost. And good doesn’t win. In come places, there is something ultimately good about endings. In Neverland, that is not the case.”

Yet, the author wraps this story up with a pretty ribbon in the last chapter, which is really just an epilogue. Peter returns to London with Wendy and fathers a son. Tinker Bell follows many years later to spy on him which is how we come to know his fate. She returns to Neverland to find that Tiger Lily has happily married Pine Sap, her childhood companion. Everything is hunky dory. This book suffers from “happily ever after.” Hey, teens, your real life may be horrible right now, but when you grow up and get married it’ll all be happy, happy, happy.

Anderson, Jodi Lynn. Tiger Lily. Sydney: Orchard, 2012. Print. 9781408330449

The Time Traveling Fashionista: On Board the Titanic

In Book Review, Reading on May 28, 2014 at 6:55 pm

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The Time Traveling Fashionista

Vintage clothes and time travel, what’s not to love? Louise is twelve and has a budding love of vintage clothing, which her mother and best friend don’t really understand. She receives a suspicious invitation to an exclusive vintage clothing sale, although she never seems to realize it is suspicious. At the vintage clothing shop she meets the delightfully funny Glenda and Marla. Trying on a powdery pink gown sends her back in time as a passenger on the White Star Line Titanic.

This was a fun read. As you might expect there was much description of clothing. Aside from the magic of time travel, it was believable and an interesting contrast of 1912/2011 cultures.

I have to admit that I prefer print books to e-books. This book was physically enjoyable due to the paper quality and luscious illustrations. The cool, smooth feel of the pages is something an e-reader cannot provide.

Turetsky, Bianca, and Sandra Suy. The Time-traveling Fashionista: A Novel. New York: Little, Brown, 2011. Print. 9780316105422

Shiva’s Fire

In Book Review on May 2, 2014 at 10:37 am

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Shiva’s Fire

The book begins with the day Parvati, our heroine, is born in rural India. It is a day of birth and a day of death. A cyclone hits the village with devastating results. Parvati’s father is killed. The village homes are obliterated. The forest is destroyed. This is only the beginning. The survivors seek refuge in the raja’s palace, but crowded conditions and lack of fresh water leads to disease and more die. Eventually, they return to the village and begin to rebuild as best they can. Just when you think it’s over and it can’t get worse, the tigers who survived the storm, but now have a lack of prey begin to hunt the villagers.

All this devastation and misery gets blamed on Parvati. In the minds of the superstitious villagers, her entrance into the world brought on their problems. It doesn’t help that seemingly supernatural events keep happening to Parvati. Animals react strangely when she is around. Even as a toddler she is driven to dance and on one occasion does so in the fire without being burned. These events set Parvati apart.

Trust me, it does get better. Parvati’s natural talent for dance gets her admission to the gurukulam (school of traditional dance). In exchange, her family receives a small income which is enough to help them improve their life through farming and fishing.

Parvati succeeds at dancing. She also meets and falls in love with the young raja who was born that same devastating day and also has assumed responsibility for the cyclone. Parvati dreams of dancing and Rama dreams of becoming a doctor. She must decide what is most important to her, dance or romance.

I found Parvati to be a very real character who struggles with real emotions and decisions. She faces prejudice, forms friendship, experiences concern for others, and wants to do the right thing.

Things that parents, teachers, and librarians need to be aware of:
1. Puberty is briefly mentioned. Parvati is surprised because she was not warned about menstruation. Her friend alleviates her fears by telling her what is happening is natural. The details about why are not addressed.
2. Parvati meets with Rama secretly and there is a single kiss. This won’t be of concern to Western cultures, but cultures in which marriages are arranged and couples are always chaperoned, this may be a source of objection.
3. The god Shiva and Parvati’s connection with him is central to the story.

I enjoyed this read and it gives a good initial view of India and Indian culture.

Staples, Suzanne Fisher. Shiva’s Fire. New York: HarperTrophy, 2001. Print.

The Desert of Souls

In Book Review on April 18, 2014 at 11:16 pm

book cover for The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones

The Desert of Souls

This book is set in 8th century Baghdad. A dead parrot leads to a complex and deadly adventure. The main characters, captain of the guard Asim and tutor Dabir, prove to be brave and honorable men in the face of evil wizards, djinn, and a unearthly serpent.

I enjoyed this book and am willing to read the sequels to find out what other adventures they have. The female character, Sabirah, is strong, although she makes an immature choice to follow our heroes, but it was necessary for her involvement. Had she not, she would have been sitting safely back in a Baghdad palace. She is intelligent and loves learning. She shows great courage. However, you should not expect a Western style ending for her, I’m afraid.

It is difficult to find novels with Muslim characters who are portrayed positively.  The main characters certainly fit this bill, but some of the minor characters drink alcohol and there are vague mentions of sexual exploits. I may put this into my library collection despite this, just because it is a good read.

Jones, Howard A. The Desert of Souls. New York: Thomas Dunne /St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012. Print.

Recent Reads

In Book Review, Reading on March 21, 2014 at 10:02 am

Here’s what I’ve been reading recently.

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William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

This was an impulse buy. I saw it in the bookstore, read the first page just to make sure it wasn’t ridiculous, and bought it. I enjoyed reading it. It was fun to imagine seeing it on stage. My main complaint is that the author felt compelled to take famous Shakespeare lines and twist them around to be inserted into this. It was jarring to come across these lines and annoying. It was a cheap trick and unnecessary. The worst being Luke’s soliloquy “Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not…” Really?

(My other complaint is that since this was sanctioned by Lucasfilm, it contained the unnecessary and redundant scene between Jabba the Hut and Han Solo. You know, the one that repeats everything that we learn from Greedo. Thankfully, there are no dinosaurs on a desert planet in this production.)

It is a must read for any Star Wars fan. Probably not for William Shakespeare fans. Just be prepared to grind your teeth occasionally.

Doescher, Ian, and George Lucas. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk, 2013. Print. 9781594746376

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Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

As a librarian how could I not get a copy of this and read it? It is quite marvelous. The best part is that, throughout, the characters exemplify critical thinking skills. Something everyone should have, but not everyone acquires. This is an excellent read for all students. I’d give it to mine, but then they would be demanding a library with holograms, rocket boots, a computer game room, and a penthouse suite. And, why not?

Grabenstein, Chris. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. New York: Random House, 2013. Print. 9780375870897

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The Turtle Secret

This is a rare book because it is published locally (United Arab Emirates) and the characters are Emirati. Not many books are written in English about local people and local interest. It is a chapter book intended for ages 8-12. The main character is an Emirati girl who gets involved in saving sea turtles from poachers. It is a good read and opens the door for discussions of ecological ethics and wildlife conservation.

Johnson, Julia. The Turtle Secret. Dubai: Motivate, 2014. Print. 9781860633508

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This House is Haunted

I picked this one up on a whim. The title and cover were intriguing and I wanted to read a book for adults for once. I was also hoping that it might be a book I could place in my library collection.

This is a very mild mannered ghost story. It is an easy read and I did enjoy it. But, if you read real horror and expect to be scared, this is not the book for you. I knew that the protagonist would survive because she is telling the story in the past tense. The haunting consists of a few incidents over a six week period with long periods of anticipation in between. Not a fast paced poltergeist roller coaster. It is more about figuring out what happened to result in a string of governesses dying horrible accidental deaths followed by a ghost show down. It is fairly predictable. There is one loose end that wasn’t explained to my satisfaction, so I need to go back and read that part again to see if I can find resolution.

As for giving it to my students, that is a no go. Were it not for the references to child abuse (although vague and discrete) and the theological discussion with the vicar, it might have made it into the collection. [note of explanation: my students are 100% Muslim].

Boyne, John. This House Is Haunted. London: Doubleday, 2013. Print.