Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: Down Under Thunder

Down Under Thunder
Down Under Thunder by Mark Miller

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So, yeah, I did read the second part of this adventure - just for completeness' sake and I stand by my earlier review. The characters are stereotypes, the adventure is predictable, the writing is straightforward and not especially compelling. This might be redeemed, if some of the other promised elements were worthwhile, but the geography is even faulty. If you land at Uluru, it is around 1,778 MILES to Sydney. You can't expect to cover this much territory in one nap (the drive to Sydney) or one brief conversation (the drive back from Sydney). And, there is very little water along the way, so the chances of meeting that crocodile are pretty slim.

Sigh. I will try something else.

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Review: New Kids on The Rock

New Kids on The Rock
New Kids on The Rock by Mark Miller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first thing to say about this is that I am not sure about this marketing plan. This selection only cost $0.99, but it is only one chapter's worth of story. The second thing to say is that, in general, I am not a fan of short stories I just get into them - and they are over.

Now, for the story (I can't quite refer to it as a book, since it really isn't). The premise is interesting, but there isn't nearly enough development for me. So far, everyone seems like a stereotype, from the kid-jock and the other kid-computer geek to the threatening-secret agent, the out-back-kid, the nondescript out-back girl place-holder, the aboriginal jeep driver, and quite a few other minor characters. For such a short excerpt, there just isn't enough there.

It is an interesting idea and it may appeal to its target audience - middle grade kids who like action and adventure, but I will need to debate with myself long and hard, before I commit too much to it. There are so many good books out there. But I am a sucker for things that have to do with geography and, in this instance, Australia, so who knows, maybe I will try at least the rest of this story.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: Wonder

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I was reading this, I kept thinking, "This would make a good read aloud; a good discussion starter." And, now that I am finished I still think so. How DO you get past the initial shock of someone who has a physical deformity? What IS the kindest way to react? How can you look past the outward appearance and get to know the person?

I once taught a girl who had severe cerebral palsy and I never managed to answer these questions. In her case, I never even managed to figure out how to communicate with her, but that really doesn't explain (or justify) my reactions to her.

There were parts of this book that were just a tad too good (Auggie's family), but most of the book was spot on for each of the different characters. The craft of the author really shows through in the shifts of points of view - with each character adding to the depth of the story. In literature for students of this age (somewhat young for YA; too old for middle grades), there is sometimes the temptation to simplify people and situations, but here the author purposely adds to the complexity, illustrating convincingly that you need to know each character better, before you really understand the situation.

Highly recommended.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Review: Blood Red Road

Blood Red Road
Blood Red Road by Moira Young

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This audiobook was 9 CDs long and I did listen to them all, which says something about the interest level of the book. I enjoyed it and might even look for sequels, but it seems to me more like a guilty pleasure than a book I would recommend to many people.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Review: Die Wolke

Die Wolke
Die Wolke by Gudrun Pausewang

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I listened to this in German. I am not a native German speaker, so I probably missed some of the words, but I understood the reader pretty well.

The story is not a pleasant one. It follows the fate of a 14 year old girl after a large nuclear accident in Germany. The book was originally published in 1990, well before the Japanese earthquake and the resulting nuclear accident at Fukushima, but after the nuclear accident at Chernobyl.

It is obvious that the author is trying to engender fear of atomic reactors (and might be criticized as being a tad didactic), and, after the accident at Fukushima, this doesn't seem as unreasonable as some critics of the book might maintain. The authorities at Fukushima did not understand the full extent of the damage in the situation and they did not inform the public quickly of the dangers. But the actual physical damage takes second place to the resulting psychological damage in the audiobook and it doesn't feel like this is exaggerated. It will be interesting to compare this fictional account to biographical accounts, should they eventually come from Japan.

There ARE safer atomic energy reactors (thorium reactors), but the large majority of currently operating reactors are not of this type. Adults need to consider carefully and with long term thinking the benefits and problems of using atomic energy. The question is, should children do this? The book is targeted at children 13 to 16 years old. I think it is appropriate for the older end of this range, and would pair well with a more scientific account.

As for the literary quality of the book, I am a terrible judge of "literary" writing, especially in a language that is not native for me. My criteria tend to be more mundane - did the book pull me in? is the story convincing and worthwhile? I found it exciting and the characters appealing. The emotional impact of the book is strong and the subject matter is important.

I was a little disappointed, when I looked up the book for this review, to find that the audio version is abridged. I generally prefer to avoid abridged versions, but in this case, I think it probably worked OK. I am not sure I could have maintained strong interest in such a painful story had it gone on significantly longer. But I also think the longer version might have allowed for better development of the characters, which is always important to me.

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Review: Mouse Guard: Fall 1152

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The illustrations and the relatively straightforward story are very appealing in this story. The mice are well drawn and distinctive. The only critique I can think of is that, in some cases, the illustrations have too much red or reddish orange. This makes sense when there is a fire or they are traveling through the forest with orangish leaf-fall; it makes less sense when it is just sunset. Anyway, the illustrations that have less orange are more appealing. I wish I could find an excuse to purchase the plush or plastic characters. Now to learn how to play the game based on these books.

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Review: Artsy-Fartsy

Artsy-Fartsy by Karla Oceanak

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is written for kids a bit younger than the ones I usually read for, which may color my review. I liked the book, but I think the narrator sounds a bit too cute. The concept of the book is good and I think the plethora of "a" words is a good, whimsical touch.

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