I ran across a Goodreads First Readers giveaway for this book, and was intriguied by the premise: kid discovers that lycanthropy runs in his family (t...moreI ran across a Goodreads First Readers giveaway for this book, and was intriguied by the premise: kid discovers that lycanthropy runs in his family (this has been done before --and vastly better!-- in the drama form in various movies and TV specials, some of them also aimed at pre-teens). Knowing it was a children's book, I didn't expect a lot of depth; but I did expect it to be a reasonably well-written book for its age bracket, that I could at least like --after all, I was an Are You Afraid of the Dark? fan (as an adult!) in the 90s. (Okay, there wasn't much supernatural fare on TV back then!) But alas, when I unexpectedly won a copy of the book, even that modest expectation was destined to be dashed. :-( If I didn't feel a sense of obligation to review it, I'd never have even bothered to finish it.
This is the kind of self-published book that gives self-publishing a bad name, and the kind of children's book written by people who don't respect the intelligence or taste of children --who think the latter can't tell the difference between a well-crafted story and a helping of thrown-together swill served up with no thought or effort. (If the discernment of today's nine-year-olds actually IS that poor, we as a nation are in even worse shape than I've imagined!) At just 57 pages (with very large type), this isn't long enough to develop as a chapter book, though nine-year-olds are normally getting into chapter reads. The storyline is thin, and the characters cardboard; there's no development of setting (indeed, the geographical settings aren't even specified, although middle-grade readers can and do appreciate a defined setting); and the denouement is so far-fetched that it would have destroyed any chance for suspension of disbelief if I'd read it when I was five, let alone nine. On top of this, Ryans' execution is unbelievably slipshod. She clearly didn't even attempt to proofread, or even to pay attention as she was writing; while the book is mainly written in first person, she often disconcertingly drops into third person (sometimes in the next sentence!), in what appears to be simply heedless carelessness as to what person she's using. We don't learn that Carson is nine until p. 8, or that James and Jenny are his cousins until p. 34(!). The dream sequence appears to have no other function than to confuse the reader. Ryans seemingly never heard of the injunction, "show, don't tell;" and the intended message is stated explicitly with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
Even though it's April 1, my review of this disaster unfortunately isn't an April Fool's joke. :-( Don't waste time or money on this!(less)
The author of this short story (I actually read both "Volumes" 1 and 2, which together form a whole story; it was divided by the publisher because of...moreThe author of this short story (I actually read both "Volumes" 1 and 2, which together form a whole story; it was divided by the publisher because of its length, which is relatively long for short fiction, so I'm reviewing the two as a whole here), is a Goodreads friend of mine, and I got my copy (at my own request) as a gift from him. (He's also a brother Trestle Press author, which is why I refrain from rating the work.)
It should be stated at the outset that this is probably not the sort of kid's fiction that would also interest most adults. I liked Madison and Josh well enough; and I'd say that Miller does a good job of presenting some details of local color in his Australian setting (I've been to Australia and have family there, so I know something about this) and reproducing idiomatic Aussie speech, especially in Mick's dialogue. (Good on ya, mate!) And he handles his prose well. But by adult standards, the plot is shallow, and the premise and the villain fairly cartoonish. (That the SF elements --the Star Trek-style matter transporters and James Bondish gadgetry-- are "soft" science-fiction is no criticism in itself, but their role in the story is sometimes not the most plausible.) And despite the claim that in some instances kids can do jobs that adult agents can't, I don't see that as being true here.
All of that said, though, adults aren't the target audience here; kids are. And I could definitely see pre-teen kids eating this up with a spoon! The inherent wild implausibility of the premise won't bother them; kids often like to identify with child protagonists in heroic roles, and they tend to feel that they're more capable of handling difficult challenges than adults give them credit for. (Sometimes they actually are.) There are no objectionable language or sexual elements, or excessive violence, here that would disturb kids (or their parents). The physical and mental challenges the hero/heroine face are actually within the capability of smart kids with athletic and martial arts training to meet (of course, it helps that they're dealing with particularly cretinous and careless bad guys; otherwise, they'd be in more trouble :-) ). It's a nice touch that we have both a male and a female co-protagonist, to appeal to kid readers of both genders. And the discussion questions at the end are a plus, IMO. In short, I'd say this promises to be a series that could be quite popular with kids in this age bracket! The one operative question is whether the Kindle format is the optimum one for reaching this age group. Hopefully, the publisher will eventually bring these stories out in a paperback edition; school and children's librarians would definitely want to consider it in that event.(less)
Earlier, I'd read (and reviewed) Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery, which --though aimed at YA readers-- was appreciable by adults; the stories selec...moreEarlier, I'd read (and reviewed) Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery, which --though aimed at YA readers-- was appreciable by adults; the stories selected there were kid-friendly, but not written intentionally for children. When I saw this volume on sale last summer at a yard sale, I expected more of the same. I was particularly drawn in by discovering, in the table of contents, that it included a story by Manly Wade Wellman (my favorite supernatural writer), AND one I read as a kid in some otherwise long-forgotten anthology and still recalled fondly, though I'd never memorized the author's name: "The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall."
Though set in England, that story was the work of an American, John Kendrick Bangs (1862-1922 --I got the dates from Wikipedia; this volume provides no contributor information beyond the names). It was as good as I remembered, highly original both in its haunting and in its ghost- busting denouement, and flavored with a current of dry humor (if "dry" is an adjective you can connect with the tale of a ghost who drowned herself, and who can thoroughly saturate any room she haunts :-)). An added enjoyable jaunt down memory lane came with the discovery that "Jimmy Takes Vanishing Lessons" by Walter R. Brooks (who seems to have been a favorite of Hitchcock's; his work also appears in the Ghostly Gallery) was another well-liked and still remembered yarn I'd read in grade school. Both of these stories deal with ghosts and haunted houses --though the latter is humorous, and its ghost is a sympathetic figure. (Just because ghosts happen to be dead doesn't mean they have to be malevolent! :-))
Unfortunately, these were the only supernatural stories (!) out of the nine, by ten authors (the Peatties were a writing team). Most of the selections were simply mystery (though not murder mystery) stories, in the mold of the Hardy Boys' adventures; and some didn't even feature a house --the Twain selection, for instance, turned out to be an excerpt from Tom Sawyer, dealing with hidden treasure in a cave. (The inclusion of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story, "The Red-Headed League," was a particular head-scratcher!) Even worse, though Elizabeth Coatsworth's "The Forgotten Island" managed to be genuinely suspenseful, with a good use of Maine wilderness ambiance and just the right touch of exoticism, several of the tales included were not only written for children (and apparently for children younger than those envisioned as the readers for the Ghostly Gallery book), but by authors who thought literature for that audience has to be "dumbed down." (I disagree completely!) That entails writing with thin plots, cardboard character development, limited vocabulary, and no texture. I think that even a discriminating child reading this book would feel gypped --especially if he/she had been attracted by the bogus promise of nine ghost stories. Hitchcock's usual ability at story selection deserted him miserably (for the most part) here, and it shows!
Note: the Bangs story apparently appeared in that author's 1894 story collection The Water Ghost, and Others. That might be a volume worth looking into.(less)