Miscellaneous

Ferno The Fire Dragon by Adam Blade

Ferno The Fire Dragon (Beast Quest, #1)Ferno The Fire Dragon (Beast Quest, #1) by Adam Blade

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

If you, like I, were worried that Adam Blade’s Beast Quest would be an extremely black-and-white adventure series about children pointlessly slaughtering Always Chaotic Evil “monsters”, you can stop worrying. It’s not quite that bad. Rather, it’s a series in which two preteens, Tom and Elenna of Avantia, go on a quest to save the mythological Beasts–guardians of Avantia–from the brainwashing powers of Devimon’s Black Gears. Wait, no–that’s the Digimon Emperor’s Control Spires. No! The Shikon no Tama shards? Chimera animas? Or–oh, whatever.

…my point is that there’s absolutely nothing here that hasn’t been done before. I’ve seen the “animals/monsters brainwashed by the nefarious McGuffin” plot plenty of times. I’ve seen the “two or three ten-year-olds who are for some reason the only people capable of or brave enough to completely this world-saving mission” plot more times than anyone can count. We’ve all seen the evil overlords, the good wizards, the brave children, the missing father, and all the other fantasy cliches of Ferno the Fire Dragon over and over and over again…

But I think the thing to keep in mind with Beast Quest is that the target audience might not have seen all this before. Beast Quest might be a good starting point for children to get involved in the fantasy genre. If they haven’t seen all the stock characters and cliche plots before this, Beast Quest might be something they’ll enjoy; it might even be something that they’ll look back on with nostalgia when they’re all grown up (and hopefully have moved on to fantasy works of far better quality).

If you’re really trying to excite your children about the fantasy, Beast Quest isn’t the series I would suggest. For the younger audience who aren’t ready for books over 100 or 200 pages, I’d suggest starting with Emily Rodda’s Deltora Quest. It’s more interesting, the writing is better, and it has two sequel series and an anime adaptation. If your child’s a little older than the target audience for the Deltora series, I’d suggest Harry Potter (MG/YA wizard-focused fantasy set in 1990’s Britain, in case you somehow don’t know), Percy Jackson (MG mythological fantasy set in modern America), or Song of the Lioness (YA feminist fantasy set in the fictional kingdom of Tortall).

However, if your child just wants something to read, Beast Quest isn’t the worst thing you can pick up. It’s a long series of short books, and if the rest of them are anything like the first, their plots are cliche and simplistic. But it should be entertaining enough to children just getting into chapter books, and it’s certainly not the worst way to be introduced to the genre. If they like it, try Deltora Quest next; it’s much better. If they hate it… well, there’s always sci-fi.

Miscellaneous

Slayer Princesses Plotting

Walt’s Girls (Slayer Princesses, #1)

  1. Introduce Snow White, Fred and Henry Charming, and Walt + Slayers and Vampires 
  2. Introduce the Watcher’s Council and Dracula
  3. Snow White plot
  4. Introduce Ella Albert, Aurora Perrault, and Philip English
  5. Dracula’s defeat 
  6. Twilight parody/deconstruction + Introduce Meyerpires
  7. Cinderella plot
  8. Meyerpires = Fae reveal
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  13. Sleeping Beauty plot + Maleficent’s defeat + Walt’s death
Untitled (Slayer Princesses, #2)
  1. Introduce Ariel Kingsley, Eric Barnes, and Frank (Watcher)
  2. Introduce Sirens + Little Mermaid plot
  3. Introduce Belle Beaumont, Gaston _____, and Adam Benson + werebeast
  4. Introduce Jasmine and Jafar Agrabah
  5. Introduce Aladdin Ameen and Jim (Genie) + Djinn
  6. Introduce demons
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  8. Introduce the origins of the Slayers 
  9. Gaston is turned into a werebeast
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  13. Gaston’s defeat + Frank’s death
  14. Defeat the Faerie that cursed Adam
Untitled (Slayer Princesses, #3)
  1. Introduce Rebecca Brown, Kocoum Kingfisher, John Smith, and Michael the Watcher
  2. Introduce Mulan Lee, Lee Shang, and Mushu + dragons
  3. Introduce Tiana Rose and Naveen Maldonia
  4. Princess and the Frog plot + Introduce Facilier + Witches
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  6. Introduce zombies + Kocoum dies
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  14. Introduce John Rolfe
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  16. Defeat Dr. Facilier + reveal the existence of Chernabog as the Big Bad
Untitled (Slayer Princesses, #4)
  1. Introduce Rapunzel Grimm, Amaranta Grimm (Mother Goethel), & Robert the Watcher
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  4. Introduce Merida DunLoch and Mor’du the Werebear
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  6.  Introduce Anna Queen + ????
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Miscellaneous

Caroline’s Secret Message by Kathleen Ernst

Caroline's Secret Message (American Girls: Caroline, #2)Caroline’s Secret Message (American Girls: Caroline, #2) by Kathleen Ernst

My rating: ★★★★☆

In Caroline’s Secret Message, Caroline Abbot is preparing for a what’s expected to be a long, hard winter, and after an entire summer has passed, her father is still being held captive by the British. As she struggles to come to terms with the fact that he’s probably going to miss her tenth birthday and might even be gone for years, she and her mother devise a plan to help him get back to America.

The second book in the American Girls: Caroline series, Caroline’s Secret Message is a worthwhile read for fans of children’s historical fiction and the American Girls franchise; unlike many war-related books, it endeavors to present the individuals on both sides as humans capable of sympathy and kindness. And, via Caroline’s relationship with her captive father, it presents the emotions a child must struggle with when their parent or other close relative is separated from them by a war–something with which many children in the target age group can sympathize.

Like all of the American Girls books, I recommend it to young readers and their parents interested in historical fiction or the War or 1812, as well as fans of children’s literature and/or the American Girls franchise.


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Miscellaneous

Kristy’s Great Idea by Ann M. Martin

Kristy's Great Idea (The Baby-Sitters Club, #1)Kristy’s Great Idea (The Baby-Sitters Club, #1) by Ann M. Martin

My rating: ★★★★☆

With Kristy’s Great Idea, Ann M. Martin sets up the premise of The Baby-sitters Club, a series that spanned two decades, produced eleven different spin-offs and sub-series, and spawned a 13-episode television show and a movie. There’s a lot of BSC stuff, is what I’m saying; and if you’re looking to get into it, here’s where you should (probably) start.

In our first BSC installment, the club itself is formed. The Baby-sitters Club is Kristy’s titular “great idea”; when her mother, Elizabeth, can’t get Kristy or her older brothers, Sam and Charlie, to baby-sit for their younger brother, David Michael, she is forced to call all over Stoneybrook looking for a sitter. So Kristy gets together with four of her friends to form a club through which a a parent reach four potential sitters by calling a single number.

And that’s how our club starts out. We begin with only these four girls–Kristy, Mary Anne Spier, Claudia Kishi, and Stacey McGill–and over the course of the next 350+ books, their lives (and an apparently endless loop of 8th grade school years) unfold. Characters form and sever relationships, characters move into and out of Stoneybrook, and some characters even die. But for now, we’re starting with just these four girls and their initial issues: Kristy’s divorced mother’s relationship, Mary Anne’s father’s strictness, the possibility of Claudia growing up faster than and away from her friends, and Stacey’s mysterious diet.

Kristy’s Great Idea isn’t one of the best books in the world, I’ll give you that. But it’s the starting point of a series that proved to be rather addictive, in and outside of its target audience. The books were a staple of 80’s/90’s “little girl’s” literature, and though there are definitely scattered references that date the series, I would still recommend it to modern little girls. (And modern little boys. And modern not-so-little girls. And modern not-so-little boys. You get the picture.)

MG fans of all ages should check out The Baby-sitters Club at least once in their life; if you think the BSC books might be a little too much for your child(ren) to swallow at their age–whatever that age may be–the Baby-sitters Little Sister series or The Kids in Ms. Colman’s Class spin-offs might be a better starting point. Alternatively, the California Diaries spin-off was directed toward slightly older readers. And for the mystery lovers out there, there’s always the BSC Mysteries and the BSC Super Mysteries.

All in all, there’s a lot of BSC stuff out there to try, and if you can get your hands on it, I’d always suggest giving it a go. It’s not the most fascinating literature in the world, but it’s charming at the very least.

Miscellaneous

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The Color of Magic (Discworld #1)The Color of Magic (Discworld #1) by Terry Pratchett

My rating: ★★★★☆

After hearing people gush about Discworld for so long, I finally got around to reading it earlier this year. Until actively seeking out negative reviews here on Goodreads, I’m not sure I’d ever heard or read anyone speak ill of the series; I’d been told it was hysterical, clever, and something I just had to read.

So I was a bit disappointed by The Color of Magic. Just a bit.

See, when I read a bunch of different people saying a bunch of great things about a book, movie, or show, I tend to swing to one of two extremes; either I’m convinced that I’m going to adore whatever it is, or else I’m positive that I wouldn’t be able to stomach it. In the case of Discworld, my expectations were on the positive side of the scale.

As usual when this happens, there’s almost zero chance of the book, show, or film in question living up to my expectations. I’d expected The Dresden Files to sheer Crazy Awesome (as the TVTropes page implied), but I ended up quitting the series after the first book because of the misogynistic protagonist; I’d expected House of Leaves to blow my mind and terrify me with its mind-screwy nature plot (as the TVTropes page implied), but I realized by the end of the book that Danielewski and I were on totally different pages (pun intended); I’d expected The Color of Magic to have me in stitches and/or constantly smirking at the clever wordplay and trope manipulation (as the TVTro–well, you get the picture), but…

I guess I just set my standards too high.

The Color of Magic was a humorous book, don’t get me wrong, and it definitely picked up towards the middle and into the end. And I’ll certainly be reading more of the series; I’ve been told that Discworld doesn’t really come into its own until later in the series, so I’ll be sticking around for a few more books, at least.

At the end of the day, I would definitely recommend the book to those looking for some wit and trope deconstruction. Just don’t do what I did and preemptively set The Color of Magic up as an example of Comedy Gold.

It’s more like Comedy Octarine anyway.

Miscellaneous

The Illustrated Anansi: Four Caribbean Folk Tales by Philip Sherlock

The Illustrated Anansi: Four Caribbean Folk TalesThe Illustrated Anansi: Four Caribbean Folk Tales by Philip Sherlock

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

The Illustrated Anansi contains four Caribbean folk tales, From Tiger to Anansi, Anansi and Turtle and Pigeon, The Quarrel, and Anansi and the Crabs.

In From Tiger to Anansi, Anansi, the weakest of the animals, makes a request of Tiger, the strongest. Anansi wishes to have something named after himself–the stories. Tiger agrees, but only with an impossible condition; for the stories to be named after Anansi, the spider must bring Snake, alive, to Tiger.

I was a bit disappointed by the ending of this one, although it’s obvious why it ended how it did. Anansi being a trickster deity, his story could only ever end with him outwitting his fellow animals… regardless of how much easier the task would have been if Anansi simply asked Snake to accompany him to Tiger. But a trickster’s going to be a trickster, I suppose.

Anansi and Turtle and Pigeon was a very short and, frankly, odd story. In it, Anansi and Turtle ask Pigeon to teach them to fly; Turtle gets to try learning first, so he accompanies the pigeons to Tiger’s cornfield, from where they “steal” his corn every day. But turtles can’t fly, so Turtle is caught by Tiger’s watchman… and Tiger decides to make Turtle stew.

Now, Turtle gets away when he remembers a bit of Anansi’s advice… but it doesn’t make a ton of sense. I imagine there’s some cultural nugget I’m missing that gives the scene significance, but without it, I’m finding myself rather puzzled.

The Quarrel explains why Anansi–and spiders in general–live in webs… and it’s even weirder than Anansi and Turtle and Pigeon, casting Anansi as a layabout and a thief. Tiger and Monkey get a rep in this story than Anansi, which I have to say surprised me. The explanation of webs is intriguing, but I find it almost more interesting that the myth casts its own protagonist in such a negative light.

…and Anansi and the Crabs might be the most utterly WTF thing I’ve ever read. In the story, Anansi wishes to preach, but he has no one to listen. Then he learns that the crabs have neither a preacher nor a church, so he sets out to preach to them. Over the course of several days, he preaches in their town and is ignored. Finally, after getting several other animals to assist him, he convinces the crabs to let him baptize them… upon which he promptly shoves them all in a bag to eat for dinner. WTF #1. WTF #2 comes when the crab king tries to get vengeance by sending Aligator after Anansi; the spider pretends to be related to Aligator, which he “proves” with more trickery. So Aligator leaves without doing anything about the fact that Anansi just ate his entire “congregation”. I just… wtf?

I was really hoping to enjoy this… but no.

Miscellaneous

The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher

The Wig in the WindowThe Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher

My rating: ★★★★☆

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

The Wig in the Window is an endearing children’s mystery from Kristen Kittscher. In the story, best friends Sophie Young and Grace Yang are playing spy games in their neighborhood when they catch their school counselor, Dr. Agford, seemingly murder someone… Except that’s not what they saw at all, as they find when Sophie faces punishment for calling 9-1-1 for the apparent non-emergency. But the mistake entrenches Sophie, Grace, and Sophie’s classmate Trista in a potentially life-threatening mystery.

I’m pleased to say that The Wig in the Window really worked for me, going a long way to remind me exactly why I so enjoy reading MG. The characters are charmingly written and true to their age (~12) without being bogged down by the melodramatic romantic angst that ruins most YA works for me. Sophie, Grace, and Trista each experience real issues in a believable way, even as extraordinary fictional circumstances go on around them; they navigate school, friendship, and early puberty while dealing with the mysterious Agford A-plot, and Kittscher manages to make both interesting.

As far as the plot goes, it was intriguing. I could have done without the second-to-last twist, as I felt it gave the story a bit of ending fatigue, but all in all, it was definitely a story that I enjoyed and would recommend to those readers who enjoy MG and mysteries.

I look forward to reading more from Kittscher in the future.

Miscellaneous

Monsters vs. Aliens: The Junior Novel by Susan Korman

Monsters vs. Aliens: The Junior NovelMonsters vs. Aliens: The Junior Novel by Susan Korman

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Monsters vs. Aliens is a 2009 sci-fi/comedy that was recently spun off into a Nickelodeon cartoon; I found it to be an amusing enough film, but nothing groundbreaking or especially enchanting.

This novelization, then, is a rather bare-bones adaptation of an already rather straightforward movie. If your child is a fan of the film and/or still learning to read, this might be a nice tool to have at your disposal; otherwise, I can’t say that it adds anything to the film experience.