Friday Finds

Friday Finds [2014 #1]

Friday Finds, a book blog meme from Should Be Readingshowcases the books you ‘found’ and added to your To Be Read list this week… whether you found them online, or in a bookstore, or in the library — wherever!


I haven’t done a Friday Finds in quite a while, but I stumbled across something this week that made me want to revisit it! I’m sure most people familiar with children’s media from the earlier 2000s recalls the Spy Kids franchise.


Spy Kids (2001), Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (2002), and Spy Kids 3D: Game Over (2003) are all childhood memories of mine to varying degrees of fondness (no, I have not seen Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D, and I do not intend to).

But I never realized that the movies had tie-in novels, and I was quite surprised earlier this week when I stumbled upon them! As it turns out, there are a total of ten tie-in novels for the original Spy Kids trilogy; I imagine they’ll probably be difficult to find nowadays, but I definitely want to try to track them down at some point.

Check ’em out!

Miscellaneous

[Book Review] SpongeBob Squarepants: The Big Win by Kelli Chipponeri



This book puzzles me. Not the story–that’s about as straightforward as it gets (barring the issue of when exactly Squidward of all people became interested in competitive sports). SpongeBob, Squidward, Patrick, Mr. Krabs, Sandy, and Gary are on a team competing in the Bikini Bottom Relay Race; Squidward seems to think that winning the gold medal is super serious business, and so of course he gets butthurt when the team doesn’t train as hard as he’d like. Moral of the story: it’s how you play the game that matters, not whether you win or lose. Typical kiddie moral stuff.

My question is: why? Why the crap would someone sit down to write a SpongeBob book that is completely devoid of humor and only serves the purpose of teaching a moral that thousands of other books, television shows, school lesson plans, and actual sports teams already teach? Like, did you miss the part about SpongeBob being a comedy show about absolutely random nonsense? Somehow I don’t think the show that brought us the Hash-slinging Slasher and this wonderful scene…


…is the best vehicle for the “let’s teach children valuable life lessons” thing.

But whatever. If you want to buy your kid a SpongeBob tie-in that lacks any semblance of humor… here you go.


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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] Barbie: My Fabulous Friends by Mary Man-Kong


Do you know who Barbie’s best friends are? Did you know that Teresa is a talented artist? Or that Nikki loves to sing and dance? Or that Summer loves sports? Little girls will love to learn all about Barbie and her fabulous friends in this full-color storybook.


On one hand, this is a cute book for (very young) Barbie fans. On the other hand, I have no idea what the heck it’s talking about. I have never heard of most of these characters; they definitely weren’t Barbie’s friends when I was growing up. So the book clearly ties into either a new line of dolls or a new series of books or maybe the Barbie movies. (Or is there a television show I’m unaware of? Perhaps.) The book seems to be outlining a specific modern continuity unlike the ones that came before it (such as the ones that feature Barbie’s sisters, her My Scene days, her brief break-up with Ken, etcetera)–one that I never knew existed. Lacking any knowledge of what this continuity is or when it happened or where it comes from, I’m fairly baffled by the apparent existence of these “fabulous friends”.

But I imagine that if you’re clued-in to the recent goings-on in the fictional Barbie universe, this is a really cute book. It introduces Barbie as a movie star, which I think is pretty clever if one assumes it means that Barbie’s real-world movies are her fictional-universe productions, and goes on to list her friends. I am familiar with only three of these; I believe the others are new additions to the franchise, but of course I could be wrong. Old faces are Teresa, a Hispanic woman who is apparently artistic and some kind of designer (the book makes no mention of what exactly she designs); Ken, Barbie’s blonde* boyfriend who is apparently “the captain of the football team”; and Steven, Ken’s African American best friend who “loves all the latest techno-gadgets and gear”. New faces are Nikki, an ethnically ambiguous dark-skinned dancer; Summer, a “sporty” blonde; Raquelle, a rival actress; and Ryan, a “sooo cute”, “mysterious” brunette who I’m sure would’ve been right up my ally if I were part of the target audience. Barbie also apparently has a slew of extremely stereotypical “rich white girl” pets: a teeny tiny Chihuahua, a floofy white cat, and an even floofier poodle.

And I have to say, I’m left with at least a few questions–none of which really matter, of course, but they’re questions nonetheless. Has Ken always been “officially” blonde? My Ken dolls were brunette. How old are these people? They all seem to have careers and homes of their own, but the book keeps mentioning “school”. Is Nikki supposed to be African American, and if so, why is she just a palette-swapped Barbie while Steven has more obvious ethnic features compared to Ken’s? Why are they all clearly extremely rich and successful at such a young age? Why are all the girls/women pursuing “Acceptable Female Goals”? Perhaps it’s a personal thing, but I would’ve appreciated a mention of a STEM job or at least the “sporty” girl playing more than just tennis. And again, what continuity are these characters a part of, and is it intended to be a long-term thing or a passing gimmick like the My Scene dolls?

If you have a Barbie uberfan in your life, this will probably be a great book for him or her. At the very least, the art style is adorable. For the rest of us, though–especially those of us who aren’t exactly keeping up with what Barbie’s doing as of 2014–it’s probably a waste of time.


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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] Trillion The Three-Headed Lion (Beast Quest, #12) by Adam Blade


The quest is almost over. But the most terrifying of Malvel’s evil Beasts still stands between Tom and victory.

Tom must defeat Trillion of the Three-Headed Lion and collect the final pieces of the magical golden armor to save Aduro and the kingdom. But the task will not be easy. The evil wizard Malvel is determined for the boy to fail, and has a special plan in mind…


I’m so excited, guys! I mean, I probably shouldn’t be–this book was far from great, after all–but holy shit, Beast Quest finally broke formula!

It’s absolutely mind-blowing. For eleven books–damn near two entire series–every story’s followed the same pattern: Beast attacks people somewhere in Avantia, Tom and Elenna meet the Beast’s victims and/or find themselves in some less serious danger, Tom and Elenna confront the Beast, Tom defeats the Beast while Elenna plays damsel in distress, and then Tom and Elenna celebrate their victory before heading off to the next Beast.

But now for something completely moderately different! (And it involves one of the Beasts actually doing something useful!) The book opens with a Tagus fighting Trillion, and our protagonists continue this battle throughout the rest of the plot. I really shouldn’t be so absolutely amazed by such a small change… but after eleven extremely formulaic, repetitive books, I am so pleased to see anything new.

And, even more amazingly, it didn’t fizzle out at the end. Instead of the short-lived Happily Ever After that Beast Quest (the first six book series, that is) delivered, the ending of The Golden Armor expands the series’ universe and sets up the plot of The Dark Realm. It’s like it actually plans on taking the story somewhere new! Be still, my heart. It’s a genuinely intriguing ending that breaks formula and implies that the next series might be more than just another “gotta catch kill ’em all” story; I have hope again. At this point, I didn’t think that was possible.

I am seriously crossing my fingers for The Dark Realm. Please don’t let me down.


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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] Vedra and Krimon: Twin Beasts of Avantia (Beast Quest Special Bumper Edition, #1) by Adam Blade



Two new Beasts have been created in Avantia–twin dragons Vedra and Krimon. The Wizard Malvel plans to capture them and control the Beasts with his dark magic. Tom must find the dragons and bring them to safety. But Malvel has some dangerous tricks of his own. Will Tom prevent the twins from falling under the wizard’s evil spell.

Spoilers ahead!


Vedra and Krimon: Twin Beasts of Avantia is the first Beast Quest Special Bumper Edition book; it takes place between Beast Quest and Beast Quest: The Golden Armor. It is also a clusterfuck of weird.

In the book (which I read after the Golden Armor series instead of before–my mistake), Blade introduces two new Beasts, hatchling twin dragons named Vedra and Krimon. If you don’t like them, don’t worry; as far as I know, they never show up again. Because reasons. And since we need some conflict, the oh-so-evil-and-yet-he-never-seems-to-accomplish-anything Malvel wants to corrupt these Beasts for himself, since that worked so well in the previous seven books.

So he sends Seth the Obvious Henchman to befriend and immediately betray Tom and Elenna… within the span of five pages. He is seriously the most transparent double agent I’ve ever seen. Then again, considering I spent most of the Golden Armor series wondering where the heck the little mook came from, I’m just glad to have finally found his introductory scene, regardless of how utterly ridiculous it was.

Seth then proceeds to “steal” one of the baby dragons. A dragon that is, in spite of being newborn, twice as large as Seth. So… he put it in his pocket, then? Yeah, that sounds about right.

And then for some reason that continues to evade me, the story ends with a “to be continued”. In spite of the fact that the sequel/second half/conclusion is on the very next page. In other words, Vedra and Krimon decided, halfway through its plot, that it wanted to be an anthology. Except that it was, as far as my Google Fu has lead me to believe, not originally published as two separate books. (The Italian edition came out in two parts, but that’s just an export translation, not the original edition. IDK.) So that’s some more WTF, because the plot itself apparently didn’t have enough.

At this point, Vedra is in Malvel’s clutches and being subjected to unknown tortures. When they find him again, he’s been corrupted; he’s now “evil”, which apparently is some kind of virus in the Avantia universe instead of, you know, a moral judgement. Quick! Someone vaccination Krimon!

No surprise, Tom and Elenna manage to save their wayward dragon friend, and Blade presents the reader with quite the touching little quote, “Vedra was cured of the evil–he would carry the mark of Good on his belly forever.”

I seriously cannot handle this series’ perspective on morality. It’s absolutely warped. Apparently good and evil are absolutes, and there are no shades of gray. So far, given that Malvel hasn’t really done much besides antagonize Tom, where characters are on the good/evil divide seems to be primarily down to whether they’re aligned with the protagonist or not.

And now Vedra and Krimon has taken it a step further. Born good/neutral? Ah, well you can be corrupted to evil by a few mere moments spent with someone who isn’t good. But worry not, you can also be cured with the “mark of Good”.

Except for Malvel. And Seth. And the evil Beasts in the Golden Armor series. Fuck those guys!

Ugh. I’m really starting to hate this series. I’m 99% positive I won’t be reading past The Dark Realm.


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Miscellaneous

10 Things About Me

This has been a popular thing to do over on BookLikes recently, so I finally took an afternoon to try to come up with ten at least reasonably interesting things about myself. Here’s what I’ve got.
  1. I’ve never left the U.S.
  2. I took Spanish and Latin lessons in middle and high school.
  3. I’ve had two cats: one who my parents took in as a stray before I was born and died when I was seven, and another who we adopted when I was eleven and who’s turning ten this year.
  4. Depression, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia are common on both sides of my family, and I’ve suffered from the first two since puberty hit.
  5. I have ancestors who emigrated from Spain, England, and Ireland, as well as a handful of ancestors whose ethnic identity and country of origin are still ambiguous. Unfortunately, I doubt I’m ever going to be able to find any records to clear up the mystery.
  6. When I was in fifth or sixth grade, part of our summer reading assignment was to keep a chart of what we read, when we read it, and how many pages it all totaled. I think we were expected to read around three to five books or so, at best; I turned in two or three pages of titles. I did it again for seventh and eighth grade, in spite of neither teacher actually assigning it. (Me, a dork? Heavens, no! Whatever gave you that idea?)
  7. My all-time favorite video games are the original Spyro trilogy–though I love the Sims franchise, too!
  8. While I’m fascinated by religion and mythology from an academic standpoint, I’m an atheistic antitheist.
  9. I’m a huge fan of children’s media–books, movies, shows, you name it.
  10. I own over a thousand books–and that’s physical books, not ebooks!
Miscellaneous

[Book Review] Sky the Blue Fairy (Rainbow Magic: Rainbow Fairies, #5) by Daisy Meadows


Follow a fairy to the end of the rainbow!

Sky the Blue Fairy is having some bubble trouble. Will Rachel and Kirsty be able to help her out with a clue from the rainbow-colored crab?


Frankly, I think Sky the Blue Fairy is a bit of a dip in quality form the previous books–hence the half-star I’ve knocked of the rating. We’re not quite yet back to Ruby the Red Fairy levels of nothing happening, but there wasn’t much to Sky the Blue Fairy compared to the two previous installments. Most notably, the villains finally manage to corner a fairy… and they do absolutely nothing. They spend their opportunity playing on the pond in which the fairy’s been frozen, while her human protector lazily tries to swat them away; it’s ludicrously underwhelming. Afterwards, it seems their presence alone was enough to endanger Sky’s well-being… but talking about your restrained conflict. Can we see the villains do something vile soon, please? And for that matter, are we going to get to see the actual villain before the heptalogy is through? Or will it just be his henchbuffoons wasting time?

Eh. I shouldn’t really be disappointed by how short, fast, and uneventful a book is when it’s only about sixty pages long, but… Saffron/Sunny and Fern did a much better job filling in that space. Hopefully Inky the Indigo Fairy will get back on track.


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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] Touching the Waves (Dolphin Diaries, #2) by Ben M. Baglio

Jody McGrath’s dolphin dreams are coming true! Her whole family is sailing around the world researching dolphins–and Jody is recording all their exciting adventures in her Dolphin Diaries.

The McGraths are in Key West, Florida, visiting a very special dolphin center–with “dolphin teachers.” Jody loves watching the dolphins at work.

But when one dolphin gets tangled in netting, will Jody be able to free it?


Once again, the back cover blurb of a book damn near misses the point (at least it’s not outright false this time–yes, I’ve seen it happen recently). The most important part of the dolphin center isn’t that the “teachers” are dolphins, it’s that the center, Cetaceans as Educational and Therapeutic Associates (aka CETA), is a dolphin therapy facility where children with disabilities come to receive a unique incentive–time spent with dolphins–to focus their attention on their education and physical therapy. It’s run by a small group of new characters, the Rozakis family. Jerry, Alice, and Lauren Rozakis, plus a few minor assistants (named and unnamed) work with four dolphins: Nick, Nora, Maxi, and Maxi’s daughter, Rosie. And contrary to what the blurb above says, the main conflict of the story is not any of these dolphins–or any of the original seven from Into the Blue, who all return for Touching the Waves–getting caught; instead, the plot revolves around one of the dolphin’s apparent decision to abandon the facility with the the aforementioned Into the Blue pod.

In my review of Into the Blue, my main complaint was with two of the characters, Dr. Taylor, a stereotypical stuffy scientist, and Brittany, a stereotypical Rich Alpha Bitch. As Jody the majority of the book away from the Dolphin Dreamer, Dr. Taylor only appears for a very brief scene at the beginning; as such, his character doesn’t get a chance to improve in Touching the Waves. Though, frankly, it was kind of a relief to have him elsewhere.

Brittany, on the other hand… what to say about Brittany. Touching the Waves sets up a rivalry between Jody and Brittany; both girls want to be friends with Lauren Rozakis, who is not only a fan of dolphins but also in-style enough to win Brittany’s approval. Lauren is content to be friends with both of them, but Jody at least is not pleased with that in the least. And that’s where I think my biggest problem with Touching the Waves is. Unlike Into the Blue, it’s not Brittany who’s a one-note brat in the book; it’s Jody. In the half of the plot that isn’t spent talking about the dolphins and the special needs children, Jody spends an absurd amount of time moaning about how Lauren should like her better. Despite the fact that Brittany and Lauren are repeatedly shown to have many hobbies and interests in common–with the major exception being dolphins–Jody insists that Lauren only likes Brittany because the latter girl is “pretending” to be worthy of Lauren’s friendship. To the reader, however, it’s very clear that Brittany is incredibly lonely and emotionally fragile; ultimately, she comes across as the victim of Jody’s jealousy and nastiness, which is the exact opposite of how a protagonist/Alpha Bitch dynamic is supposed to work.

On the one hand, I can only assume that because there are several acknowledgements of Brittany’s loneliness from various characters (including Jody, at one point), Baglio purposefully subverted the stereotype. On the other hand, Jody ends up winning. By the end of the book, she manages to sway Lauren; Lauren finally sees Brittany’s frustration boil over, and they have a fairly minor argument that somehow permanently severs Lauren and Brittany’s friendship and leads Lauren to agree with Jody that–to put it in less friendly terms than the book uses–Brittany’s a bitch who should get out of their way. Lauren’s response to the fight is, “I don’t suppose there’s any chance she might decide she’d rather go live in the wild instead of staying with us?”, and apparently, it isn’t just a joke; the last words of the rivalry subplot are, “Next morning, Jody and Lauren breathed a sigh of relief when Brittany demanded to be taken back to Dolphin Dreamer.”

Um… alright, then. Good job with using your passive-aggressive bullshit to ruin Brittany’s only friendship, Jody. Real great protagonist behavior, there.

Seriously, I shouldn’t find the antagonist more sympathetic than the protagonist. I really, really shouldn’t.

Luckily, the rivalry/friendship subplot didn’t have a huge presence in the story, and the main plot–that of the missing dolphin–and the second subplot–that of Hal Davis, an autistic patient with rich parents–were much more interesting and satisfying.

I have no idea where the series will go next (I’m sure I’ve read later books, but I honestly don’t remember much about them), so I’m looking forward to seeing where Baglio takes the Dolphin Dreamer next. Hopefully, the dynamic between Brittany and Jody will get some satisfying resolution, because it certainly went to a weird place in this one.


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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] I Want a Pony (Pony Pals, #1) by Jeanne Betancourt



Do you love ponies? Be a Pony Pal!

Lulu wants a pony. If only she had a pony, then staying with her grandmother while her father is away would not be so bad. If she had a pony, she could ride with Pam and Anna. And then they could be friends–Pony Pals!

When Lulu finds a pony in danger, she wants to help the wounded animal. Will she be able to save the beautiful pony?


Pony Pals is yet another series I read as a young girl (I read a lot as a child, yes), but I don’t remember it nearly as fondly as some of the others I’ve reviewed recently. Rereading it, I can see why; I Want a Pony isn’t exactly a spectacular book.

Let me start off by saying that, honestly, some of my dissatisfaction with this reread is tactile. Seriously. The copy of I Want a Pony that’s currently sitting in front of me is a library copy from 1994. The pages are rough and yellow/browning with age, and I think it actually had the weird effect of making the book seem stuffier and less alive than it would have if the copy had been freshly published on crisp, smooth, white paper.

Of course, I can’t blame it all on that. The simple fact of I Want a Pony is that the first half of the book is dull. Lulu doesn’t want to live with her grandmother in Wiggins. Lulu wants a pony. Lulu wants to be friends with the girl next door, who has a pony. Lulu sneaks visits to the pony next door, Acorn. Lulu spies on the girl next door, Anna, and her pony-riding friend, Pam. Lulu does this. Lulu does that. Lulu does nothing of particular interest.

Then, finally, she does something to get the plot going about halfway through. She stumbles across a pony that’s been hurt–one that she’s visited before and has immediately bonded with–and the real plot of the book begins. Snow White, the pony, belongs to Baxter family; the daughter and mother love the pony, but the daughter’s away at boarding school. The father is an asshole who cares more about his wallet than the live of an innocent creature and demands that the non-life-threateningly injured Snow White be euthanized on the assumption that she won’t be a prize winner anymore, which is absolutely stomach-churning… and yet this is the second time I’ve seen it happen in as many child-targeted horse series.

Anyway, I’m sure it’s no spoiler to say that Snow White is not euthanized. And, since the series title is Pony Pals, it also shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Lulu and Snow White join the other two girls and two ponies to form the sextet of friends.

If you happen to have one of those little girls or boys who’s in their pony, horse, and unicorn phase, I Want a Pony definitely isn’t the worst choice you can make. When I was part of the target audience, I genuinely didn’t notice the dull monotony of the first half of the book nor how the ending would inevitably be happy; it shouldn’t entertain the age group and/or reading level it’s meant for, and it’s a long enough series that it will probably last a child through their horse phase, assuming they don’t binge.

I’m going to keep reading through it (most of them, I think, will be rereads for me), and I assume that afterwards, I’m going to branch off into other horse-centric series (Saddle Club, Thoroughbred, Phantom Stallion, etcetera). It’s not a genre I’m particularly fascinated by, but there’s no harm in sampling.


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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] Callie (Kitty Corner, #1) by Ellen Miles


Welcome to Kitty Corner!

Mia and Michael Battelli want a pet more than anything. And Mia thinks a cuddly cat or kitten would be perfect. But her parents aren’t sure the kids are ready for the responsibility.

Then Mia spots a tiny calico foraging for food. Callie doesn’t seem to belong to anyone–and she’s hurt. Mia can’t just leave her to fend for herself! But what if she can’t convince her parents to keep the sweet little kitten? Will Callie ever find a home?


Kitty Corner is a series (currently a quartet, and I’m not sure if more books are planned) of children’s chapter books about the Battelli family and their foster cats. It’s written by Ellen Miles, who you may or may not recognize as the author the Puppy Place series; I haven’t read that one yet, but I imagine it’s quite similar. So if you like this, you’ll probably enjoy that, as well; I’ll definitely be giving it a try soon.

Callie, the first book in the series, tells the story of the Battelli family’s first cat and their decision to become a foster home. Because while Mia desperately wants a cat and Michael feels the same about a dog, their mother feels their lives aren’t yet ready to raise any pets–at least not until they get out of their city apartment and into a house with a yard and some space to grow. But then Mia stumbles across an injured kitten outside the apartment building, and with the help of the local grocer, Mr. Li, they bring the kitten inside and take her to the vet.

But then comes the question of what to do with her. They can’t keep her… so who will? Ultimately, the decision is made for the Battelli family to give Callie to a more suitable home–I won’t spoil whose!–and open their apartment up to the possibility of more short-term kitty boarders. It should be a spectacular series for children who have fostered animals or plan to, and those children who are–like myself at that age–absolutely in love with all things feline should certainly enjoy Mia and Michael’s story.

There’s one bit of weirdness that I can’t say I appreciated, and that’s the occasional slip into the cat’s POV. It was quite weird and unexpected, and honestly, it threw off my suspension of disbelief. When it comes to animal fiction, there are two main kinds: the human-led stories, in which the animals are treated as intelligent but inherently different, and the animal-led stories, in which the animals are anthropomorphized and their intelligence is communicated via complex human thought and English (or whatever language the book happens to be written in). But this kind of blended the two, and that frankly creeps me out a bit. I definitely hope that doesn’t continue in the rest of the books and the Puppy Place series… but I suppose if it does, I’ll simply have to get over it.

Like I said, recommended to animal lovers and children who foster or are interested in doing so, and I’ll definitely be reading more from Ellen Miles. The books are short and not too complex, but if the rest of them are like Callie, they’re cute, fun reads. And for children a bit too old to get into such short chapter books, I highly recommend checking out the similar Animal Ark series.


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