Gone, Part 1

This summer, I started reading this young adult series, that I have heard was popular. To be honest, I did not know much about it, but had heard some positive feedback. With so many other things going on this summer, it turned into a bit of an undertaking. I decided that a single post would not be sufficient to address a whole series, but a post for each book also seems just a bit excessive. I’m trying something new here, so let’s see how this goes!

img_6422Gone

A solid start to the series. One day, in the middle of a high school class, the teacher suddenly disappears. It is soon discovered that it was not just the teacher– everyone over the age of 15 has “poofed.” They soon discover that they have been trapped in some sort of dome, deemed the FAYZ, Fallout Alley Youth Zone, due to their vicinity to the nuclear plant and lack of adults. We get an introduction to most of the main players of the FAYZ here– Sam, Astrid, Caine, Diana, Lana, Edilio, Albert, Quinn, Orc, Drake, and Little Pete. I thought this was done well, in that we get to see pieces of each of them, although it is not quite clear if or why these individuals are important. The plot was fairly straightforward Good vs. Evil, although I appreciated that it definitely showed some gray areas. I thought Grant did a good job in imagining the actions of young people in the absence of adults: most aren’t quite sure what to do, and so they indulge themselves in junk food and laziness; those that recognize that they should be doing something are still not quite sure what that is. I also thought the discovery and development of the mutant powers was done well. Several characters start to show powers, but most seem to be uncertain about them. I also liked that many of the main characters do not have any special power, but still are able to find their place.

The early parts of the book left a bit to be desired as far as writing– I wouldn’t call it bad, but it certainly was not great. I felt like this improved later in the book. I did, however, have some issues with the book in general. The story is pretty intense, and there is some fairly graphic violence. While this does not bother me on principle, I find it a bit mismatched with the Fourth Grade reading level of the book. Also not a fan of the liberal use of the word “retard” in describing Little Pete. While it does address this as problematic, I feel like it could have been toned down quite a bit without losing the intent.

Hungerimg_7718

After the final battle in Gone, we have a 3 month time jump to Hunger. The kids in the FAYZ are beginning to realize that things cannot be maintained long term. Food supplies are running short, and the mysterious “Darkness” is starting to create influence in some of the teens. Much of this book felt slower, and a bit less connected than “Gone.” While it did come together in the end, I felt like it took a long time to get there. Sam, as the main character and leader, is in an obvious slump. I can admit this could be realistic, but to me he mostly came off as whiny and annoying.

We do see some good character development in this novel, although I was not a big fan of the female characterization. The three main female characters at this point are Astrid, Diana, and Lana. Astrid and Diana are claimed to be independent and strong women, but really seem to just be sidekicks for their male counterparts. Astrid is somewhat manipulative of Sam, but this is not for some bigger ambition, it’s her survival mechanism, as she does not seem to think she can do so on her own. Diana claims to be independent and in everything for herself, but her actions are primarily as a pawn for Caine. Lana appears to be different– she is strong, she has an attitude, and she is not afraid to take matters into her own hands. However, her encounter with the Darkness in the latter half of the novel leaves her broken and weak.

There is also the introduction of a new character, Zil, whom I find to be extremely unlikable, although interesting. Zil wants to be important, but has always been someone on a lower rung of the social ladder. He wants the prestige of being a leader, but does not really want the responsibility that goes along with leadership. It appears that he is somewhat jealous of those developing powers, but also mostly wants to save face when he is “shown up” by them. He feeds into fears, and seems to bring out the worst in those around him.

The Hallo-Wiener

img_8015I love the creepy of Halloween, but the season would not be complete without a little bit of the goofy of Halloween. Who better to bring that element than Dav Pilkey?

Poor Oscar doesn’t quite fit in with the other dogs, being that he is a dog and a half long, but only half a dog tall. The other dogs tease him, and while his mother means well, the Halloween costume she made for him is certainly not helpful. But when the other dogs are attacked by a “monster,” Oscar isn’t going to just run away!

This is a fun book for the season, and can be a good teaching tool for kids too– the other dogs tease Oscar, but they learn that sometimes being different as its advantages when Oscar comes through to save the day. Good for a read aloud in October, and also a relatively easy read that incorporates some bigger vocabulary (such as the ornery cats!). Like in some of the other Dav Pilkey books, I like the little “extras” added into the illustrations– we can see that Oscar’s last name is Myers on his mailbox, and the title page has the book title lettered in hot dogs!

Boris’s thoughts: “Seriously? Cats as the bad guys? Boo. Hiss. 1 paw.”

Something Wicked This Way Comes

img_5193Dates Read: September 18 to October 5, 2017

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

As I often do, I am finding it difficult to put in to words what it is that made this book great to me. Alas, here I am, trying to put it into words anyway.

The general theme of the story is fairly straightforward– good versus evil. The “good guys” and the “bad guys” are laid out pretty clearly, and there’s a clear winner of the battle. However, to consider this book only in those terms would be a gross oversimplification. While it may be built around a simple frame, there is something beautiful in the words that truly build this story.

Bradbury perfectly captures all of the wonder and magic of the fall season, and his style here fits with that beautifully. I have read Bradbury before, but never noticed the beauty in his writing. The Halloween carnival is the perfect setting, and I felt there was just enough mystery and intrigue for my liking. This is horror, but not overt, in-your-face horror. It’s more of a lurking, sinister horror, where you never know what may lay around the next corner– not quite waiting for the killer to jump out and grab you, but wondering what trap may have been set for you to stumble upon.

Boris’s thoughts: “I don’t know about all this creepiness, real life is scary enough! As long as you will keep me safe, I give it 3 paws.”

The Boy of a Thousand Faces

img_8077At 48 pages, this is not quite a children’s picture book, but not quite a novel either. Something in between: perhaps a children’s novella? I am a big fan of Brian Selznik. I love the style of his novels and the way he combines words with illustrations to tell a story. This is a little different than his longer works, in that he uses the pictures to supplement this story rather than to continue driving the plot. However, the pictures are no less essential here than in his novels.

Being born on Halloween, it is no surprise that Alonzo has a fascination with monsters. His love is fueled by the late-night horror film show hosted by Mr. Shadow, where he discovers the greatness of Lon Cheney. Alonzo is inspired by the films, which turns into a dream to become the “boy of a thousand faces.” I love that his character has a dream that is outside of what might be considered normal. Alonzo goes beyond “I want to be a movie star” to actually working on and creating something new. His goal is not to be famous, but in the creation of something to be enjoyed by others.

The reciprocal relationship between Alonzo and Mr. Shadow is interesting as well. Alonzo is inspired by Mr. Shadow and his show, reaching out to him when he is beginning to feel disillusioned with his dream. At the same time, Mr. Shadow believed that nobody was interested when his show ended, but was inspired by Alonzo to “bring back” something that he loved in a new way.

I love this as a tribute to traditional horror films, special effects, and Lon Cheney. I think it is also a great introduction to the horror genre. It is a bit creepy, but not something that would truly scare most children. It’s perfect for kids who might have an interest in things that are a bit dark seeming, that might seem a little weird to others.

Boris’s thoughts: “Hmmm… dark and weird… I approve. 3 paws.”

The Witches of Eastwick

img_5282Date Read: October 6 to November 12, 2017

Rating: 2 (of 5) stars

Although October is my favorite month, I am going to start it off with something a bit untraditional for me: a review of a book that I did not like! Prior to reading this, I had heard many mixed opinions on Updike. Most were negative. There are a few people out there, however, who think he is a genius. His characters are so “real.”

Let me start by saying I had some fairly high hopes for this book. Three small town witches, mysterious rich man, scandal. Sounds like so much potential! Unfortunately, my high hopes did not last long. Apparently, what people mean by saying his characters are “real,” is that they are “flawed.” This is definitely true. To a fault. There is not a single character in this novel that I liked. I could not find a single slightly redeeming quality in any of the witches. They were selfish, petty, and generally horrible people. Even their “loyalty” to their coven was so easily cracked with the introduction of a man. These are supposed to be “real women?” Seems more like a parody of every negative quality that you think a woman could possess.

Then there is a power of the witches, which is linked so heavily to their sexuality. This I can understand to an extent– there is a power in a woman’s sexuality, and this would be especially poignant in the era in which the book is set. However, this seems to be the only power that the witches have. A witch whose power is inextricably linked to her sleeping with other women’s husbands? Seems pretty lame to me.

I found the plot to be a bit lackluster as well. There were a few interesting moments, but for the most part, it seemed mediocre. The witches do some questionable things, introduction of mysterious man that seems good at first but ultimately leads to discontent among them, discontent leads to revenge, leads to more questionable things, we get a little hint of some possible remorse, but then ending with indifference. Nothing in the plot of the novel seemed to matter to anyone in the end. Perhaps this is supposed to be some deeper level of social commentary, but it comes off as rather dull.

I will give the novel as a whole a few redeeming points, which is why I gave this 2 stars instead of 1. I did enjoy the style of the writing, and many of the descriptions. This is part of what helped push me through the novel, although also gave me a false hope that it would get better as I read. There was also a single scene, so to speak, that stood out to me. When Alexandra first meets Darryl, he “traps” her on the island with the incoming tide. She realizes that this was in intent, and chooses to exert some power over him by leaving anyway– standing tall and turning her back to him, even though it should have been something that embarrassed her.

Boris’s thoughts: “What kind of real witch has a dog as a familiar? Where are the cats? 1 paw.”

The Little Prince

img_6395Date Read: June 10 to June 12, 2018

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I am a little bit ashamed to admit that it took me until 2018 to read this book. I really loved this book, but I also have some mixed feelings about this book. I’m going to admit up front that I’m not sure this is going to count as a traditional book review– more of my own semi-rambling thoughts. Although, I suppose that is at least somewhat appropriate for such a well known story.

The Little Prince is a book about what a pain adults can be, written by an adult for children, but maybe actually for the adults that are reading the book to children. Did I lose anyone there? Understandable.

I suppose what I’m getting at here, is that I cannot quite decide who the intended audience actually is for this book. Certainly it is written as a children’s book, but there is so much that I feel is intended for adults. These things, of course, are good reminders. We are kind of a pain– especially from the perspective of children. We are so often wrapped up in our own thoughts, our own things to do, our own “matters of consequence.” At the same time, I think there are plenty of themes in there for children as well– responsibility, relationships, recognizing that our actions are part of what gives the things around us value. Perhaps these are themes for children that are also areas where adults may need some reminders?

Honestly, I could probably type for days without ever feeling that I have done this book justice. It is sad, but it is sweet. If you’ve debated reading it, I would suggest that you stop putting it off. It is a fast, easy read–the only reason I did not finish it in a day is laziness and silly adult responsibilities. Even if you do not love it, it is a book that I feel undoubtedly is worth the read.

Boris’s thoughts: “I think this counts as a snuggle-time book. 4 paws.”

Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook

img_7899This book is a fairly recent discovery for me, within the last few years. I saw it for the first time when it arrived as a new book in our school library. It’s a fun story, and the illustrations are awesome. This one is a bit higher reading level than many of the other children’s books that I have posted, but makes a great read aloud across elementary grades.

It begins, unfortunately, how many stories begin: with a student bored at school. However, then enters the new teacher: Miss Smith, with her spiky red hair, leather jacket, and wild dresses. The day goes on as expected, until story time, when Miss Smith takes out her storybook, which has the power to truly bring stories to life. As a total book nerd and a psychologist, I love this: the teacher who can make reading interesting and come alive… but in this case, by actually making the storybook characters come alive. Suddenly school is interesting! Who wouldn’t want to come to school every day to be pulled into a new an exciting world? Of course, at some point, this all has to go terribly wrong. Things go awry when the principal steps in, resulting in storybook characters escaping and wreaking havoc until Miss Smith returns to save the day.

This is the first of a few stories featuring Miss Smith and her storybook. All follow a similar theme: stories coming to life, with varying adventures and interactions with known and not-so-known fictional characters. One of the things I appreciate in these books is the detail in the illustrations. Unlike some recurring children’s characters, Miss Smith and her students are not always wearing the same clothes, and things vary from day to day. I also love the relatively small detail of the buttons that Miss Smith wears on her jacket– in this first book, she has a button for The Clash, but this changes in the other stories. While it seems like a minor thing, I love when there are small things like that to look for in a book.

Boris’s Thoughts: “Short and fun? I suppose I can get behind that. 4 paws.”