Category Archives: Novels

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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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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The Marvels Review

I first found out about Brian Selznick from, like a lot of people, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. That was one of the most creative books I’ve ever read in that it has pencil images that tell a story combined with traditional novel writing. It was also an excellent story. He followed it up with Wonderstruck that was not as good as Hugo but was still interesting. His most recent book in that style is The Marvels and it doesn’t live up to the previous two books.

Joseph Jervis has run away from his boarding school to stay with his uncle Albert Nightingale in London during Christmas. It’s here that Joseph discovers The Marvels, a family of stage actors who started in 1766 but it all ended in the early 1900s. Now Joseph thinks these were his ancestors and is trying to find out the truth from his uncle.

The thing that made the previous two books great was that Selznick knew what the perfect balance of drawings and writing was. Here, we get almost four hundred pages of drawing and then nothing but text for two hundred pages and then fifty pages of drawings. Yes, I admit that this was done deliberately as explained by the ending, but it kills the pacing of the book.

Not to mention that Joseph isn’t really that interesting of a character, nor is his story. Hugo had a kid trying to not get arrested and Wonderstruck had a kid finding his dad my going to the Museum of Natural History. This is just boring.

The Marvels themselves are an interesting family as is their story, Joseph’s just doesn’t cut it. In fact, all the characters here aren’t that interesting. It’s a shame since Selznick does have talent.

The drawings are still amazing, so that’s something. Selznick has the talent to use drawings to tell a compelling story that doesn’t need words to describe what’s going on. I may go so far as to say that Selznick is a better story teller using art than with words.

I’d still read any further Selznick books. I do enjoy his imagination and artwork. It’s just that this book was a letdown when compared to Hugo and Wonderstruck.

 

 

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The War of the Worlds (book) Review

Ah, The War of the Worlds. This is the defining invasion from Mars novel that sparked a whole bunch of them in the forties fifties. Since it is the first, it must be the best, right?

For those of you who have never heard of this book, it’s a Londoner’s account of an invasion by aliens from Mars and its aftermath. That’s pretty much it. The story is basically the narrator going from one place to the next while the Martians decimate everything.

This style of writing is why there has been a ton of adaptations for screen, TV, comics and radio. It’s just non-stop carnage and then the narrator hiding from the aliens. That’s why it’s not that great of a book. Yes, it is influential in that it spawned an entire genre and was one of the reasons why space travel exists, but it’s more along the lines of popcorn summer blockbuster movie.

While there has been some debate about the philosophical meanings in the book, it all boils down to the strong will destroy the weak. This may have been scary and shocking for people back in 1898, today we’ve already seen a ton of these types of stories. Hell, the movie Mars Attacks makes fun of this idea. We as a people have stopped being scared of Martians attack that we’re making fun of it.

That’s not to say the book is crap, oh no. It’s well written and an interesting read. Wells does a fine job of putting us into the head of the narrator and we do feel whatever emotion he’s going through. When he’s scared we feel it. When he’s pining for his wife, we feel that too. This all gets buried in a plot that, to modern readers, is something that’s been done to death.

Does that mean that nobody should read The War of the Worlds? Of course not. The impact it’s had is too high to dismiss it as something that should be forgotten from a bygone era. Just don’t expect to be blown away by it.

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1984 Review

Yes, I am aware that 1984 is the go to book now because of recent events in the US, but I just want to make it clear that this review is for entertainment purposes only. This review will NOT contain any political talk or any of my political views. Everything written here will be about the book, George Orwell and Orwell’s views only. I would never put y political views in my reviews because I know better. Also, any comments that do not pertain to the discussion to the book or attacks on anyone will be deleted. I don’t want this to be a political discussion that will get out of hand. With that…

1984 is considered to be George Orwell’s magnum opus with some even saying Animal Farm is. For those who don’t know, 1984 is about Winston Smith who lives in what used to be London, England but now called Airstrip One in a mega country called Oceania ruled by a man named Big Brother. In this new world, there is only one government called Ingsoc that watches over everything people. Basically, a totalitarian state. Winston, a lower level party member, is having doubts about his government which is a crime called “thought crime.” His life changes when he meets the beautiful Julia who only strengthens his hatred for the government.

As a book, for the most part, the writing keeps the reader interested and the world is well developed. Winston is an interesting character and Orwell does a fine job of showing how scary this world is. There are TVS called telescreens that basically allow Ingsoc to see and listen to your every move and there’s the fear of being taken away as a thought criminal.

Orwell makes these characters interesting is how he shows how each character can be a potential thought criminal, even Syme who is fanatical about Newspeak (the official language of Ingsoc.) It creates tension in that Winston can be taken away and killed at any minute.

The big negative of this book is when Winston gets ahold of Goldstein’s book (Goldstein is basically the bad enemy and the leader of an underground rebellion.) While, yes, it does go into more detail about the world, it comes across as a massive info dump written in the dryest, most boring language you can think of. It’s a huge tonal shift that takes the reader out of the story and will make some people skim or quit outright (I quit the first time I read it.)

Now the hard part: Why has this book lasted so long? Simple, Orwell made it abundantly clear here, in Animal Farm and all of his writings that he hated communism. He also lived in a time where the threat of communism taking over was a real threat and he feared for humanity’s future. In the afterword of the Signet Classic edition of 1984 by Erich Fromm, one of Orwell’s fears was that people will basically become like mindless robots and just do what the government tells them to do.

Basically, this is a political doomsday essay written in the form of a novel. The difference here is that Orwell knows how to write a story and make an entertaining one. He also doesn’t become preachy like some stories of this kind do.

Sp. should you read 1984? Yes, but not just to quote from it but also read it as any other literature. Yes, it has a massive downer ending, but once you think about it that’s the point.

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Let’s Talk About Winnie the Pooh

Ah, Winnie the Pooh. That lovable silly bear who loves honey so much he even got caught in a tree filled with honey. Don’t forget his friends Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Tigger, Rabbit, Owl, Eeyore and Christopher Robin. All owned by Disney and their many movies about them. What many people don’t know is that, like a lot of things, these stories were originally in book form written by A. A. Milne with art by Ernes H. Shepard. It’s a good thing these stores have been rereleased in The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh.

Thing is, only the first two parts are Winnie the Pooh. The other two are poems where a handful has characters that look like Winnie the Pooh characters but are not named.

For those who don’t know what Winnie the Pooh is, what rock have you been hiding under? Basically,  it’s a bunch of stories about the stuffed animals of a boy named Christopher Robin and one of them is a yellow bear named Winnie the Pooh who isn’t that bright and loves honey. This is the imagination of a six-year-old.

Now, the reason why these stories have lasted so long is because we’ve all had favorite toys as little kids and came up with little adventures with them. These stories are pretty much that. Yes, they were written at a different time and most kids won’t be able to identify most of the stuff here, but overall they will find themselves in Christopher Robin.

Then there are the poems. The only word to say about them is cute. There’s one where Christopher Robin is just hopping. It’s a kid talking about hopping. Just imagine any six-year-old saying this poem and you’ll see how brilliant it is.

For adults, this is one of those examples where you’ll think you were a kid again. Come on, read any of these stories/poems and tell me you weren’t six years old again. That’s another reason why adults will enjoy Winnie the Pooh (besides “aw, how cute.”) Adults, please, talk to your kids about what you just read with them. You’ll be surprised with what they have to say you may even learn something from then.

Yes, I just advocated bonding with your kids by reading. I don’t have kids, nor am I a teacher. I just think bonding over kids books is a great idea and will help with imagination and emotional growth. I’m no expert, so take what I said with a grain of salt. It worked for me, anyway, but everyone’s different.

So, Winnie the Pooh will be with us for a long time because of how it resonates with everyone. Get the book, get the movies from Disney and just enjoy them with the family.

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