There is a lot about this book that makes it an exciting, dystopian adventure story. Many times, it borders on the horror genre, though the horrors ar...moreThere is a lot about this book that makes it an exciting, dystopian adventure story. Many times, it borders on the horror genre, though the horrors are technological rather than supernatural. However, I found this book lacking ultimately. We are supposed to buy that this horrible suffering is a good thing and that children are murdered and put through these horrible trials for the betterment of the human race. And this is not merely propaganda, it is the premise behind the book. It is unrelentingly dark and filled with horror. There is no humor and very little hope to lighten the pages. I've read Russian novels that were cheerier than this book. When there are no moments of comic relief, the brain eventually shuts down on horror after horror and they have less impact.
I'll probably read the third book because my son likes the series and I appreciate us being able to have shared reading experiences. It isn't, though, a book I'm looking forward to.(less)
I have a secret persona. Every night I drive home from work, leaving the respectable world of the working woman behind and enter my little log cabin....moreI have a secret persona. Every night I drive home from work, leaving the respectable world of the working woman behind and enter my little log cabin. I throw off the mantle of a hard-working writer, change out of my dresses, and become:
Gilbert the Bad
No, this isn’t a persona that I planned for nor one that I dreamed of becoming. It’s just one of those things that happen when you’re the mother of a toddler who likes to sword fight.
Not that I can shift the blame onto anyone’s shoulders but my own. I was the one who foolishly grabbed the LEGO Castle Under Attack book from the Christmas clearance shelf at our local drug store. I’m the one who read it to my son the first nine or ten times.
I just thought that when it came time to play pretend I’d get to be Queen Leonora or maybe even Princess Storm. I appreciate that my child isn’t tied down to strict gender stereotypes, but this is a little much.
He, of course, is King Leo.
Who are all these characters? They’re people from the LEGO book. I hesitate to call them characters because that might insinuate that there is even the slightest bit of characterization going on in it, and that’s not the case. Everyone talks the same and behaves in the expected stereotypical manner.
King Leo is buff, brave, and laughs a lot. Princess Storm is bummed out that she can’t be a knight but is clever enough to sneak away from the bad guys when they capture her. Cedric the Bull is the cowardly leader of the outlaws while Gilbert the Bad is his nearly indistinguishable sidekick. Sir Richard is strong and mighty and John of Mayne knows where to look for the princess when she goes off to mope.
The plot is pretty predictable as well. It begins with King Leo holding a tournament and feast for the people of his kingdom. Cedric the Bull and Gilbert the Bad sneak up behind the back of the castle with their outlaws and siege equipment to attack it. The King and his knights repel the attack by throwing bags of rotten food and manure on the outlaws (they’re not overly determined outlaws). As the knights celebrate, the king and queen notice that their daughter is missing. John of Mayne finds her just as the outlaws grab her and hold her for ransom.
I suppose I shouldn’t give away the ending, though I will say it’s as happy as one expects from this too-predictable book. There’s even a final scene with the villain sneering and promising revenge. If he’d been twirling a mustache and wearing a black cloak, it would have made great melodrama.
However, lest I sound too harsh about this book, I must say that it serves its purpose. Just as I wouldn’t demand a melodrama have well-developed characters who act in a credible manner, neither are my expectations really that high for a book that is merely attempting to put together a story based on building block toys. For what it is supposed to do, Nicola Baxter’s Castle Under Attack does the job quite well. The characters are easy to play pretend with and while there is a basic storyline, it opens up lots of opportunities for children to make up their own stories based on what is introduced in the 32-page illustrated book. It’s listed as a reading level two book (which is seven to nine-year-olds), but my three-year-old loves it and can even quote most of it from memory.
It’s also fairly impressive that a book with knights, outlaws, and kings manages to tell its story with a minimal amount of violence. No one is killed, maimed, or even injured. There are clever tricks and schemes, but no one gets hurt. This is something I especially appreciate when I have to be the bad guy and my three-year-old is coming at me with his plastic sword.
Another feature of the book that is worth mentioning are the sidebars that are sprinkled throughout the text. There are short (30 words or so) articles explaining what catapults are, describing the role tournaments played in medieval society, and even one talking about what women were and were not allowed to do. There is just enough information to hold the child’s interest and encourage him or her to find out more.
The illustrations are pretty classic LEGO. Everything in the illustrations are LEGOs or LEGO backgrounds. They do cheat a little and change the expressions on people’s faces, but for the most part everything is right out of their castles series. Admittedly, they did have to draw from a few of their other sets to get the children at the well and a few of the background pieces, but I’m willing to overlook that small bit of cheating.
Now you’ll have to excuse me. I have a three-year-old clamoring, “Woman, get your sword!” I’m off to do new dastardly deeds. Who knows? Maybe someday I'll even graduate to being Cedric the Bull instead of the inept evil sidekick!
What Lies Beneath the Bed offends me. It offends me deeply.
Rarely do I say that about a book, for I am not easily offended. As a reader, I tend to be...moreWhat Lies Beneath the Bed offends me. It offends me deeply.
Rarely do I say that about a book, for I am not easily offended. As a reader, I tend to be easy to please because I love books and appreciate the effort that goes into creating them. Then along comes a book like What Lies Beneath the Bed and the author, Gerald Sharpe, who arrogantly boasts of how prior to writing the book, he'd never read a complete book (despite graduating from college with a degree in marketing).
This explains a lot.
Perhaps if the author had read a book other than his own, he might have understood things about character development, plot arcs, and how to use the English language. Perhaps he wouldn't have had to run a reading contest for the first 10,000 readers. (The publishing company invited people to list the number of errors they found in the book, state the page number of the error, describe the error, give the proper correction and submit it to the Website. It then offers a $1,000 cash prize to three people who do that. The money would have been better spent hiring an editor—though they'd have to pay at least three times that to get this book fixed.) Perhaps he might have developed the slightest bit of respect for the craft of writing and the profession of writer.
What Lies Beneath the Bed purports to be a children's novel.
While I usually like to read a book in its entirety before critiquing it, this book immediately screamed of problems. The first paragraph was odd, but then the second paragraph had me already making faces as he wrote "Tommy is a skinny, twelve-year-old boy with an enormous smile. Behind that smile is insecurity from a bedwetting problem he has had since birth. No matter what, he cannot seem to fix that problem. To make matters worse, he constantly has to hide it from his friends. It is through his disorder that Tommy has become creative with an imagination beyond his years."
Huh? From birth? Didn't his parents provide him with diapers? And why is bedwetting a disorder that gives birth to creativity? I'd be willing to believe it if the author gave me a reason to.
I began taking notes on what the book was doing wrong:
• Sharpe constantly told us what the characters were like and what the events were rather than showing us.
• The exposition was far too lengthy and boring. He took pages to describe each of the seven main characters, description where there was no development of plot or character whatsoever.
• The tone is nasty and insulting.
• Sharpe has a hang-up about fat people. He describes them in the most odious of manners and assumes that they are all stupid and lazy. On the second page, he describes Tommy’s mother: Mrs. Smart loves to cook for herself and her family. You can tell by the extra pounds that she carries on her body. With her big hair and big body, she looks as if she swallowed the Thanksgiving turkey all by herself. That is the least offensive description of anyone even slightly heavy set. It’s much worse when it gets to Chuck Puddin who can’t stop stuffing his face in the most disgusting manner that Sharpe can find to describe.
• There are far too many similes, many of which don't work. At one point he says “blank like a Pilgrim’s face.” Perhaps Sharpe's visualization of a Pilgrim's face is blank, but it’s a perception that has no basis in reality. In fact, most Pilgrim's would find our faces quite bland as we wipe away all signs of the life we've lived. It was also painful to have so many similes on every single page. Nothing was described without a simile.
• All the adults are idiots and irresponsible parents. He also makes all of them either hugely fat or spindly thin. Perhaps he lacked a simile for anyone not fat or thin.
• Sharpe struggled with verb tenses. Perhaps someone told him once to “always write in present tense.” While present tense can make things more exciting, its overuse creates a very stiff tone.
• The book's use of bold and italic is completely arbitrary.
• The seven friends are completely one-dimensional. They each have a single characteristic and that is all there is to them. The characteristic gets exaggerated and repeated ad nauseum.
• The pages are soaked with grammatical errors. One of the most awkward errors are that the pronouns constantly refer to the wrong antecedent, creating confusion.
And those were my notes from only the first 18 pages of this 293-page novel. Had I not been obligated to read this book for reasons other than leisure, this book would have gone into our fireplace at this point. Instead, I slogged through it, slowly force-feeding myself each page and feeling more sick with every bite. Nor did it help that the chapters went from 20 to 30 pages to the final chapter that was just short of 100 pages. It felt like it would never end.
What Lies Beneath the Bed read almost like a poorly written version of South Park without the swearing, the humor, the satire, or the cleverness.
What's worse? The author claims this is the first in a series of seven books.
There are few callings more high in the publishing industry than that of writing for children. Any given book may be the deciding factor in whether a child becomes a reader or not. It&'s why writing children's book is such a sacred responsibility. Gerald Sharpe had so little respect for that responsibility that he couldn’t even be bothered to learn the craft, to proofread his book, to notice the huge error on the back cover, or to read other books to learn how they are put together.
What Lies Beneath the Bed qualifies as the worse book I've ever read—and I've read a lot of dogs. The only function this book could adequately fill would be as a writing instructor's example of how not to write.
Note as of 2012: The author later contacted me and asked me to rewrite the review as he was going to release a second book. There also appears to be a revised version of this book out. Perhaps it got better. I couldn't bring myself to read it again. (less)
If Robert Dugoni's novel Damage Control were a painting, it would be a stark landscape done in bold blacks and whites with splashes of blood red and p...moreIf Robert Dugoni's novel Damage Control were a painting, it would be a stark landscape done in bold blacks and whites with splashes of blood red and portraits made difficult to look at by their lack of shading.
He'd also force his viewers to re-evaluate their definitions of success based on the colors he chose to paint that particular holy grail.
But Dugoni didn't choose a landscape to tell his story. Instead, the novelist who stormed the New York Times bestseller list with his first novel The Jury Master returns to the thriller genre to ask his questions about the cost of success and how much of our soul and blood we must sacrifice to attain it.
Damage Control opens in a doctor's waiting room with attorney Dana Hill counting the billable minutes she is wasting while waiting for her diagnosis. It's quickly apparent, though, that her calculations are only a thin veil hiding her fears about the irregular breast exam results.
From there, we find that Dana is a woman with few compassionate people in her life. The one nurturing relationship she has is one she has found little time for of late—perhaps because he is the only one unwilling to place unreasonable demands on her. So when this understanding twin brother is murdered, Dana's world is shaken. With the help of detective Michael Logan, she hunts his killer while re-evaluating the emotionally abusive work and home relationships she is steeped in.
Poor Dana attracts tragedy like a blood does a shark. In less than a week's time she has to face alone the diagnosis of breast cancer, the murder of her brother, the discovery that her husband is cheating on her, and threats upon her own life.
Dugoni creates a black and white world in which it is easy for readers to identify the actors worthy of cheers and those who should elicit boos. The characters smack of melodrama in that they are either completely likeable or totally despicable. The only well-rounded characters in the novel are Dana's mother Kathy and Elizabeth Meyer. Not that the presence of flawed vulnerabilities in either of those characters make them ambiguous in reader sympathies.
Perhaps it is the nature of a thriller, though, that bad guys must be bad and good guys good. Certainly the looks we get into the soul of the serial killer is chilling. His creepiness as he hunts and taunts his prey truly inspires goosebumps. Dugoni expertly weaves in plenty of foreshadowing to produce a frightening climax.
As the detective, Michael Logan is almost background noise. He provides Dana with one of the few compassionate voices in her life and offers her a look at what the alternative to her life could be. His role in this thriller isn't so much to solve the crime as it is to force Dana to realize it is possible to have a spouse who can see past disease and with whom a life of beauty can be created. He forces her to look beyond the allure of materialism.
Far more interesting is the artist William Welles who functions as a sort of fortune teller, moving Damage Control from traditional thrillerdom into more mystical realms. It is through this character that Dugoni injects an undefined spiritualism into his story, crossing over from natural realism into a more impressionistic work.
Blended into the work is a frightening look at spousal abuse and an exploration into why women put up with abusive behaviors from their husbands. The answers are different for each of the women in the book and perhaps the flimsiest reasons are presented by the woman who suffers the greatest abuse. Whereas each of the other women have an inner strength that allows them to choose what they will and will not tolerate, the victim of the most severe abuse has had most of her spirit battered from her.
There are moments in this book that are political, but while one of the more smarmy and despicable characters is a Democrat, it isn't his politics that make him offensive. Rather, it was simply necessary to place him in one party or another and the comparisons to Kennedy's Camelot provided for several strong parallels to Jackie O.
Dugoni's Damage Control is an easy read in part because the villains are villains and the heroes are loveable. No mental stretching is necessary. Instead, Damage Control is simply a well-written book with a fast-paced plot and a few surprises along the way.
It's a painting that trades subtle shadings for bright, stark contrasts, leaving the reader with few doubts.
Some stories beg for visual presentations, others sing melodically through oral telling, poetry, or song. Some...moreNot every good story makes a good book.
Some stories beg for visual presentations, others sing melodically through oral telling, poetry, or song. Some stories are most meaningful when shared with family and friends who have the context of knowing the individuals involved.
Erin and Katrina has the feel of a family story, one that is shared with relatives and friends but loses some of its power as it stretches further. If not for the beautiful illustrations created by Becca Huber and Lauren Pope, this children's picture book would have a ho-hum quality to it.
Perhaps the difficulty is that there are so many compelling and strong true-to-life stories that came out of the ravages left behind by Katrina. It’s hard to be moved by the story of a child who watched fascinated by the storm and whose biggest sacrifice was giving up a stuffed animal. Yes, Erin is a sweet and loving child who showed wonderful generosity to another child. It’s uplifting to know that children are still taught to be kind and loving.
However, there isn’t anything special to this story. So many people suffered so deeply that the entire world was mesmerized by the stories that came out of the region. While it isn’t necessary for every story about the hurricane to be on a grand scale, there does need to be a connection that rouses emotion in us.
Erin’s story is pretty prosaic. She lives 100 miles inland and watched as the storm came raging in, the remnants of the hurricane that hit the shore. Electricity failed and a tree fell on the neighbor’s house, but they were otherwise unharmed. After the storm was over, they gathered clothes and toys to give away to refugees that they figured would be congregating at their church. While Erin dearly loved her stuffed animals, she chose to part with a few so that they might comfort another child who was now without everything.
Nan Sugg’s book is carefully and meticulously written and she shows great affection for her subject. She is a talented wordsmith, though the book weighs heavy on details that adorn rather than further the story. She also ends the book on a heavy-handed note, sapping any authentic emotion she’d earned up to that point.
Erin and Katrina isn’t a bad book, it just lacks power.
Good children’s book writers are gifted storytellers. They have a feel for the rhythm, the words, and the pacing of a story that can enthrall, charm,...moreGood children’s book writers are gifted storytellers. They have a feel for the rhythm, the words, and the pacing of a story that can enthrall, charm, and give the child something to think or laugh about long after the book is done. These bards can spin tales around characters who jump out of the pages and become our lifelong friends as real as any playmate.
For all those reasons, children’s picture books have maintained their appeal to me, despite being decades past the target age. Granted, not all children’s books contain the magic of a good story, but when they do, it makes all the reading worthwhile.
Lydia Griffin has catapulted to that position of sacred bard with her alluring book, BeBa and the Curious Creature Catchers, published in 2006. Young Beba's exuberant compassion and problem-solving charm her readers as she makes plans to rescue Zilly the Zebroose (a cross between a zebra and a moose) from the catchers of curious creatures who want to trap him and sell him to "mean people."
BeBa has a magic soda pop straw that she uses to protect the animals living near her. Infused in the plans she devises are subtle messages about the beauty of diversity, the necessity of interconnectivity, and the power of courage. Griffin employs a light touch, though, and never resorts to sermonizing.
Stephanie Lostimolo's vivid paintings work in tandem with the text, providing bright colors and unique creatures that blaze forth from her imagination. Her creatively chosen creatures speak of her rich fantasy experience. Lostimolo is a digital colorist who has worked extensively with George Lucas, including as a part of the team that colored Star Wars: Episode III and Simon and Schuster's The Katurran Odyssey. She also provides concept designs for such film studios as Paramount and Miramax. It's easy to see within the pages of Beba why her work is in such high demand.
BeBa is a spirited girl whom Griffin has brought to life in the finest traditions of storytelling. The illustration on the final page of this 32-page books hints that we can expect more BeBa stories. I, for one, will be on the lookout for them.
Poor Haley. She loves science, but it does nothing but get her into trouble.
Adventures of a Young Scientist: Haley and the Big Blast is a well-writte...morePoor Haley. She loves science, but it does nothing but get her into trouble.
Adventures of a Young Scientist: Haley and the Big Blast is a well-written, informative, and entertaining book for young readers, particularly female readers. It is very accessible and the small publishing house, Amy Elise Press (an imprint of Foundations for Girls, Inc.) has high quality print standards, putting out the 146-page chapter book as a full-color edition on heavy stock glossy paper.
It’s not often even the large publishing houses will commit to such high production values and to see it in a book being sold for $9 is especially impressive.
Add to that, the story is good. Haley is likable and her adventures are amusing. It's not every 10-year-old that manages to blow up a refrigerator in the name of science. Author A.E. Scotland also makes the science accessible and interesting.
Scotland ought, however, to be more upfront about the book's religious message and tone rather than keeping it a secret until two chapters into the book. There is nothing on the back cover or the tabs that indicate it is a Christian novel replete with scriptural references. Being honest about the content would also likely increase the book’s marketability and make it more attractive for many who would purchase it for young women in their lives. However, tricking people of other faiths into purchasing the book is not an act of evangelism—it's an act that creates hostility.
That said, as a Christian novel, it is very well done. The writing is interesting and it manages to have real conflict while creating real characters who are distinct and have depth to them.
We watch Haley grow as she and her friend Red befriend an outcast who is new to the town. They learn bravery and forgiveness as they stand up to the CATT club, a trio of girls determined to make their lives miserable. Haley also must make difficult decisions about how to use her natural scientific talents--especially when her experiments go wrong and the consequences are heavy to bear.
There is a message, but the book delivers its sermon through the plot and the actions, the way any good piece of literature does. Haley is a fun read and I look forward to her further adventures.
Art compels the most when there is an authenticity in medium. A story mesmerizes most when it takes fullest advantage of the form the artist chooses....moreArt compels the most when there is an authenticity in medium. A story mesmerizes most when it takes fullest advantage of the form the artist chooses.
For every step away from that medium, something is lost. A movie made from a book always lacks somewhat. The serialization of a movie sounds a tinny echo. A musical made from a play feels forced. Likewise, children’s books condensed from novels produce a stale aftertaste and the feeling that something is missing.
Susi Beatty and Keri Gunter’s Angie the Ant and the Bumblebee Tree has its heart in the right place. Angie the Ant has been enslaved all of her life and longs for freedom, freedom that can be found only by taking a dangerous journey to the Bumblebee Tree. Frankie the Blue Heron befriends her and helps her avoid the evil Fleavils who are helping Queen Sadina enslave the ants.
They travel through the beautiful countryside and are able to make their escape only through a happenstance that smacks of deus ex machina.
The story too quickly glosses over the details of the world. We don’t know why the Fleavils and Sadina are evil. We don’t know who is enslaved or how it came to pass. We don’t know why the Bumblebee Tree offers safety. We get just a touch of explanation engendering more questions than answers.
The pictures are all cheerful and happy. Even the home of the slaves have a Garden of Eden-like feel to it and the young ant appears to be surrounded with comforts and beauty. It’s difficult to feel that Angie is escaping from any hardship other than an undefined slavery.
There seems to be a metaphor woven throughout the story, but it stays hidden. It is the back cover that reveals this book is based on the first novel of the Chronicles of Antamar series—a series that doesn’t seem to yet be published.
Angie the Ant is filled with many promising storytelling elements, but there is too much missing, too much that may very well be fleshed out in the novel. Standing on its own, Angie the Ant wobbles, begging for the support of the full work. It’s a story in which the authors are too close to their world. In their intimacy with it, they forget to fill the readers in on important details that would make it come to life for them as well.
This is meant to be a children’s picture book. Already, it is heavy with small-type text and to add more would begin the teeter over into a novella. It would be better to tighten it, cutting out some things to provide more compelling detail on what is left.
A children’s book works far better when it picks a single element—or at most two—and makes it as interesting and fleshed out as possible. By being choosy, a picture book can have great power and not muddle its message.
Andrew M. Lueck chooses a style for his children’s picture book Chicabee and celebrates it consistently.
Every page is boldly painted with large splas...moreAndrew M. Lueck chooses a style for his children’s picture book Chicabee and celebrates it consistently.
Every page is boldly painted with large splashes of color with Chicabee romping through them in even more bold colors. Her white hair and large eyes jump out from every page. Her right eye is bigger than her left, which draws you constantly to her smiling face.
As for plot, this book doesn’t really have one. Rather, it appeals to young girls and invites them to celebrate their girlhood. When reading this book, you go on a journey with the stylish Chicabee to visit her friends and her haunts in the Emerald City “where it rains almost everyday and keeps the city shiny and green.”
We also meet Chicabee’s little sister, Little-O who likes to doodle and loves all words with the letter O. Like most siblings, the two don’t always get along. Chicabee gets along much better with her dog Yappy.
According to the back panel, Lueck has enjoyed storytelling, drawing and doodling since he was six, but this is his first children’s book. Before this book, he did illustrations for Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and worked as an art director.
While the text is clear and written well, it is truly the illustrations that make Chicabee a charming book. Given Lueck’s background, this makes sense and his strengths as an artist are immediately apparent. He has an eye for style and it makes his book appealing to young children, particularly girls who are preschool through third grade.