The Boxcar Children (book) Review

You know the story about me: I find out about a movie that’s based off a book that I may find interesting, read it and post a review here. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude C. Warner is yet another one of those.

Four children become orphans after both of their parents and they refuse to live with their uncle who they view as a cruel man. They find an abandoned boxcar where they make a permanent resident and we see into their daily lives.

It starts off interesting, but the overall story is pretty bland. These kids not only do everyday stuff that’s not that interesting, but they show ZERO signs of mourning for their parents and have to live in a boxcar. They all come off as way too happy and saccharine. Really, there’s NO tension or sadness in their dialogue. It all comes off as if this whole thing is just one big picnic. What makes it worse is that none of these children act like, well, children. They are WAY too nice to each other and other people and they speak way too formally.

One thing that stands out is that this is supposed to be a mystery. There is one that does come close to being one, who made noise outside the boxcar one night? We do find out, but it’s a huge letdown, is settled too quickly and the kids don’t really talk about until the end when it’s “solved.”

Yes, I understand that this book came out in the 1920s so things were different at the time, but do you know what else came out decades before that? Alice in Wonderland, a children’s book about a girl who goes to a world where nothing makes sense. I guess I’m not a child from the 20s so it wasn’t for me.

Sorry if this review isn’t all that positive, but you guys know I have a soft spot for YA and children’s fiction, but this is one I couldn’t get behind. There’s no conflict, the kids don’t act like real kids and the mystery is lame.

 

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The Breadwinner (Novel) Review

Full disclosure: yes, I did see the movie and then the book because it was nominated for Best Animated Feature (alongside Boss Baby of all things.) Call me a filthy casual shill, but this is one of many ways I discover new books and will discover them in the future.

Anyway, The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis is about Parvana, a young Afghan girl whose father was taken by the Taliban one day. With the only male in the family being a toddler, Parvana decides to cut her hair to pass as a boy and make money so her family can survive.

There really isn’t much that can be said. It’s a decent enough book with some fine scenes. The problem is that we’ve seen a ton of these books that this won’t really stand out that much. There are some memorable scenes but they’re few and far between. The one that does stand out is when Parvana and her friend Shauzia try selling cigarettes in what they think is a soccer game but turns out to be a public execution.

That’s not to say it’s a bad book. Parvana is strongly written and is interesting. In fact, she’s probably the only interesting character in the book.

As far as how similar the book and movie are, there’s a LOT of differences. These include Parvana and her mom actually do get to the prison her dad is and get beaten instead of getting stopped halfway through. The Talib that Parvana and her dad meet in the market who’s a major character is not in the book, the story about the young man going on a quest to save his village is missing and the climax is different and a LOT lower key.

Now, I can see why both versions are held in high regard. The movie has wonderful animation and the book shows what life is like inside Afghanistan from a young girl’s perspective. Some people do really enjoy the book and movie, but for me, both were OK at best and only worth watching once to say I saw it. If you want to read/watch the movie, that’s fine. If you enjoyed both, that’s fine. Hell, read the sequels if you really want.

I may sound like some heartless person, but I’m also saying it’s not a bad book or movie, it’s just something that has a great concept, but in reality, it never goes above decent.

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The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Novel) Review

Anyone remember an anime called The Girl Who Leapt Through Time? Yeah, it’s one of those that you either loved it or hated it. I was one of those people who was underwhelmed by it. Of course, once I find out there’s a book based on an anime I have to read it. This one was written by Yasutaka Tsutsui in 1967. Yup, it’s one of those anime where the original story takes place in a different decade.

While cleaning the school science lab with her friends, Kazuko gets a strong scent of lavender which causes her to faint. The next day when she gets run over by a truck she finds out that she can leap through time. Now she and her friends are trying to find the cause of this new power.

Do you remember all the times that Kazuko leaped through time in the anime? Yeah, here she only does it a handful of times just to go back to the science lab incident. In fact, the anime has a lot more happen in it than the book. For those wondering, the book is only 100 pages long.

Is it any good? In a way, it’s fine. The writing is strong, the story is interesting and the ending is OK. It’s a perfectly harmless story where if you want to read it, go ahead. Just remember that it’s the kind of story where the conflict is introduced, the find out what to do and fix it in short time. There’s nothing wrong with short stories, in fact, some of the best stories ever are short stories. Just remember that the anime has the same basic plot, but a lot more happens in it because if they did make a direct adaptation the movie would only be about 30 minutes.

Of course, I prefer the movie of Kazuko over the book version. The book version she really doesn’t have much of a personality except generic Japanese school girl. In the movie, she is breaking rules, going back in time to do things a teenage girl would want to do and she even shows a lot more emotion than her book counterpart.

In all, watch the movie or read the book. It’s your decision because both versions don’t go above OK.

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Monsters Unleashed Review

I made it no secret that I love young adult literature. It’s a genre that has been put down as easy reading for dumb kids, but many YA books have a lot of literary merits.  With that said, Monsters Unleashed by John Kloepfer isn’t one of them.

Freddie is a huge kid but would never harm a fly. That’s one of the main reasons why he is constantly bullied by three of his classmates. To help him out, he draws his bullies as monsters that he and his friend, Manny, plan on using in their movie. One day they find a weird 3D printer in their teacher’s office and decide to use it to create their monsters. Instead, these monsters come to life a wreak havoc on the town. Now it’s up to Freddie to try to stop these monsters even if it means making friends with his bullies.

It’s a nice idea that a kid makes peace with his bullies by making them help him solve a problem. This is something that’s rarely done anywhere and it is a welcome addition. Another welcome addition is that for once the main lead isn’t some shrimp but a huge kid.

Sady,  that’s where the positives end. This book reads like a Goosebumps book that forgot what makes Goosebumps books interesting. While, yes,  the way the characters trap the monsters is ingenious, the characters themselves aren’t all that interesting. Yes, they do have personalities, the problem is they just aren’t three-dimensional personalities. Hell, Freddie is practically invisible because of how little presence he has despite being a big dude. You forget that he is a big dude.

Now, I’m not saying that this is a horrible book. It does have some neat ideas and it is something young adults would love to read. I’m also not saying to skip it entirely, give a chance and you may like it or think it’s OK like I did. Again, it’s Goosebumps without everything that made Goosebumps what it is. In fact, Goosebumps isn’t even a literary success. It has its problems but it is insanely fun to read. That goes for this book, too.

So if you’re just looking for a YA book to read, this one is fine but its target audience will like it much better than an adult. They will love something like this despite it being mediocre.

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The Pigman’s Legacy Review

This is the first time in a long while that I have thrown a book in disgust. The last book I did this to was The Fault in Our Stars but for a different reason. This time the book is The Pigman’s Legacy, the sequel to one of my new favorite books The Pigman. While The Pigman is a heartwarming story about two teenagers who felt sorry for tricking an old man and befriended him, this one is an insult to that book.

Four months after the first book, John and Lorraine are feeling guilty about the death of the Pigman.  While passing by his house they notice that somebody is in there. They discover another old man living in the Pigman’s house and they take it as the Pigman coming back to them.

This sequel reads like a fan fiction sequel and not written by Zindel himself. This new old man, who we don’t find out his name until halfway through the book (Gus) is a cranky old man who is mean and acts like he belongs in a home. Not to mention the circumstances of what happens later are a bore. However, one scene truly makes the book seem like it wasn’t written by Zindel: John gambling all the money Gus won in Atlantic City. This does not seem like John. Granted, he is basically a delinquent, but the John from the first book would never do anything like this. Not to mention the old Lorraine would have dragged John out of there.

The writing has taken a huge hit here. Once again, the book is written in the first person with John and Lorraine tag teaming the chapters. What they have to say here isn’t as interesting as in the first book. While, yes, it was funny seeing Gus run out of the hospital with a hospital gown and John driving out of there like a bandit.

Now, you may be asking, “why did you through this book in disgust if it’s just dull?” It’s the ending. They do this whole cliche of John and Lorrain stopping on the floor where the nursery is in a “life ends and begins” bullshit and then this line, “our legacy was love.” Add to the fact that throughout the book there were “secret” paragraphs of each character admitting they love each other in the most gag-worthy way and this book found itself in the air.

This book should not have been written. It’s obvious this was written to cash in on the popularity of The Pigman and Zindel juts phoned it in.  Just pretend this book doesn’t exist and read the first book. You’ll thank me later.

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My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness Review

Get your perverted heads out of the gutter, people. This is a serious comic and not some cheap porno.

Now that that’s out of the way, Nagata Kabi has written a manga called My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness which is the true story of how she spent a good amount of time feeling lonely and decided the best way to go about it was to hire a lesbian escort. Again, shut up.

I’m no shrink, but her entire depression/anxiety stems from wanting to just be loved by a motherly figure. Yes, that is what she says. Why the escort? She kinda wants to fuck her mom. It’s weird in a way because she also has this issue of wanting to please her mom by getting a salaried position just to make her proud but she is constantly failing at that.

The overall manga is pretty interesting, to say the least. Kabi writes in a way that makes you feel her anxiety in everything she does, even eating. She even had an eating disorder where she didn’t eat anything and then she was super hungry a few weeks later. Again, I’m no shrink but you don’t need to be one to understand and enjoy this manga.

What about the experience itself? Well, without spoiling anything, it’s awkward in all the right ways. It isn’t arousing or pornographic in any way. Again, you feel her emotions in every panel and it feels like you’re on a roller coaster.

This is helped by the art. The artwork is different but it does have that manga feel to it. Hell, it actually goes beyond the typical manga by making it feel like an original style. One way is that Kabi adds pink to the black and white. It may sound weird, but it works in a charming way. The best bits are the main lead’s facial expressions. Take the typical manga expressions and make them go to eleven. This is a woman who’s suffering and these reactions are warranted.

Would I recommend this manga? Hell yes. I knew going into it I was going to enjoy it and it didn’t disappoint. Hell, I remember going through the emotions Kabi went through but I dealt with them differently. There should be more stories like this as long as they’re written in such an emotionally charged way.  I applaud you, Kabi san. I applaud you, madam.

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The Pigman Review

I’m a weird person. As much as my parents may hate it, I like weird things. So when I saw a book called The Pigman by Paul Zindel and read the back blurb I had to read it. It was nothing like what I was expecting. In fact, it was a lot more normal, but still an enjoyable book.

John and Lorraine are about as different as possible but are somehow friends. One day while doing their usual prank calls they stumbled upon Angelo Pignati who they felt sorry for and decided to spend time with him. They call him the Pigman because of his name and he had a ton of collectible pig statues from across the world.

This is an interesting book. It has two kids who started out playing a prank on a lonely old man and then they became friends with him. That’s basically the entire book.

Of course, the term “the journey is better than the destination” rings true here. The Pigman takes John and Lorraine shopping, to the zoo and they spend a ton of time at his house. You can say it’s like these kids giving a lonely old man company because he seems like a lost puppy. It actually is pretty heartwarming once you take John into consideration. John drinks, smokes, gets into trouble (he used to blow up school toilets) and his parents wish he did something with his life.  Lorraine, on the other hand, tries to be a good girl and sees the consequences of her actions.

That piece is important since this book is written in a sort of tag team narrative between the two. Lorraine’s parts are drier, more sympathetic and caring. John’s parts are more harsh, to the point and feel like getting kicked in the balls when you read them. This is a brilliant literary device that is rarely used nowadays. It keeps the story fresh, gives us different perspectives on the same topic and it doesn’t bog down the writing.

Keep in mind that the characters flat out say at the beginning that the Pigman is dead and that they killed him. That gives the reader reason to find out why and when you do, you yell “it was an accident.” Of course, on the other hand, they do feel guilty about so you can’t really blame them.

While it wasn’t what I was expecting, The Pigman is still a great short book to read. In fact, it’s one of the better books I’ve read in a long while. I highly recommend it and if Zindel’s other books are like, he’s got a new fan.

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The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun Review

If there is one thing you should know about JRR Tolkien is that this guy loved mythology. Hell, this guy not only taught it, he created his own which has a ton of crap. Because of this, he created some mythology before he wrote The Lord of the Rings. One of these was a poem called The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun.

the story is about tow wealthy Britons, Aotrou and Itroun, who don’t have any children. Aotrou seeks to remedy that by asking a fairy to give them children. She does by giving them a potion that bears them twins, but when she comes back to get her fee, Aotrou must make a choice between his marriage and his life.

Plotwise, it’s the typical plot you hear in mythologies that basically say “don’t make deals with magical bearings unless you’re willing to face the consequences.”  Despite that, it’s an OK story told in the ABAB style poem. The rhyming is fine, you do get into the rhythm after a while and the poem does flow.

The two “Corrigan” poems that lead up to it are much better. They basically give a sort of background to each of these characters. They are written in the same ABAB style, but they seem to come off as more personal to the reader. They’re something that seems to ring true to readers.

 

The edition I have (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) does have scans of the original hand-written copies which is always a nice touch for any fan’scholar. There is also a fair copy manuscript version of the poem included which basically is the same except for some minor changes. The only reason to read it is to see what changed.

While this review may sound like it’s bashing this poem, I do feel that it is worth reading for mainly academic reasons and, of course, if you’re a huge Tolkien fan. This can also be an inspiration for anyone thinking of going into mythology because this poem is a great resource that shows people how stuff like this is written.

 

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Vampyr (1932) Review

When you hear early vampire movies the first ones people will mention are either Nosferatu or Dracula with Bela Lugosi. There were others, but those are either unknown, most of the film is damaged or gone completely. One of the least known ones is the 1932 German movie Vampyr by Carl Theodor Dreyer. On the surface, it looks like a generic vampire movie, but upon further inspection, it’s actually one of the better vampire movies to come out during this time.

One thing that needs to said before I proceed, there is no English language print of this movie since all were destroyed. You can only watch it in German with English subtitles.

With that, Allan Grey stumbles upon an inn where a man who breaks into his room one night leaves a package with the words “to opened upon my death.” That man dies, the package is a book about vampires and, curiously, his daughter is becoming a vampire.

While not a groundbreaking plot by today’s standards, it’s still pretty entertaining to see how the plot plays out. We see early on that the village doctor is in cahoots with the vampire and..you know what? Let’s talk about him. He looks absolutely creepy with that hair, mustache and glasses just make him look like the typical 1920s villain. Every time he’s on screen, you can’t help but feel disturbed by his presence.

In fact, what makes this movie worth watching is how well shot and creepy it is. For a movie that came out in 1932, some of these techniques are amazing. One of the best ones is when Allan is in a coffin and we have a bird’s eye view of what he sees. While something like this is easy to pull off today, back then this was a huge pain in the ass.

There are some things that do drag down the movie a bit. One of the most glaring examples is that entire scene when Allan is in a coffin. While the camerawork is excellent, why he’s in there and the circumstances are a bit confusing.

Vampyr is a great movie that’s creepy and has a ton of great filming techniques. If you can find, give it a try and enjoy this forgotten gem.

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Something Wicked This Way Comes (comic) Review

Time to sound like a broken record: I tried to like this. Yes, I tried to read the novel, failed and now I read the comic and even failed at that. Let’s just get on with it.

Two friends, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, decide to go to an amusement park that has just arrived in their town. This amusement park is operated by Cooger and Dark, two figures who, as our leads find out, are much scarier and have some grim ideas for their park.

Yes, this is the origin of all those scary amusement park stories that ever came out. Hell, this is a brilliant set up and a lot can happen. The only problem is this book is boring. Ray Bradbury was a talented writer and was able to write some excellent books. This is, sadly one of his stinkers. Both the book and the comic bored me because not much of interest happens. Yes, there are some moments and some truly disturbing imagery, but most of the book is about Will and his dad. While there’s nothing wrong with that sort of story, the main point of this story is that there’s an evil park run by evil dudes and I want to be scared dammit.

As far as scared, the only scary bits are what the characters look like and act. They don’t really do anything scary.  It may be more of a psychological terror, but even that doesn’t work.

The idea of an evil carnival/amusement park is scary because this is something many kids look forward to when summer comes. If there is some kind of danger, such as “you’re literally going to die,” it will scare kids and is something some parents have a fear of. People have died on rides, you know. Hell, freak shows scare some people because they’re afraid of the acts attacking them. Bradbury had that chance here, and while he did something with it, all came across as weak.

Ron Wimberly did the art for the comic adaptation. It does bring out the creepiness of the situation and the black and white works a lot better than if it were in color. The character designs, on the other hand, aren’t anything spectacular. They look like an average Saturday morning cartoon, making this look more like a Goosebumps comic than something Bradbury would write.

Something Wicked This Way Comes has a great setup and is the originator of said setup, but the overall story is dull and not scary in the least. The art in the comic version has some nice things but also doesn’t quite mesh well.

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