Book Review – Word Nerd

Title: Word Nerd
Author: Susin Nielson
Format: Hardback
Published: 2008

So, I thought about starting off this review by saying that I am not this book’s target audience, but I doubt that I’m the target audience for most of the stuff I read.  And really, since it’s technically a children’s book, I’m pretty sure you know by now that I’m not some 11 yr old girl (I am still holed up in my room with the stuffed animal I sleep with, but that’s a different argument altogether).

ANYWAY.  Word Nerd follows around Ambrose Bukowski, a self-described word nerd, only child, and peanut-allergy sufferer.  He’s named after his dad, who died before he was born, and as a result, he hops around Canada with his mother, a professor who moved whenever the going get tough, or she didn’t get tenure.

The book starts out with the school bullies slipping Ambrose a peanut in his sandwich.  Predictably, it almost kills him, and the result is that Ambrose ends up home schooled while his mother teaches at night.  While all that is happening, he’s becoming friends with the neighbor – Cosmo Economopolous – who showed up unnanounced after leaving prison.   He coerces Cosmo to take him to Scrabble Club instead.

So… Uh.   I’m sorry, but the plot of the book reads sort of like a NaNoWriMo dare.  I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing, but it’s just odd.  “Let’s kill the dad off in utero so he’s out of the picture…  Let’s go to scrabble club… Let’s pick some random medical issue… Let’s… “   I’m not saying it’s a bad thing per sey, but most of what happened in the story is defintely stuff that seems peculiar.  Most pre-teen boys aren’t gung ho about something like Scrabble Club, for instance.

That said, the book is written well enough, (although I wish it weren’t first person, bcause it’d would be so much stronger if it wasn’t), albeit predictable (although, again, I’m about 25 years beyond their target audience, so it might be better if I were).

I also had issues with the alphabet soup type of last name that the upstairs neighbors had.  Ambrose usually called them Mr. & Mrs. E, but every time the author said the whole last name, it pulled me out of the book entirely because your eye kind of trips over it on the page.

 

In the end, even though it was a silly premise, I thought it was well enough written, especially the scene with the mother in the car when she finds out about Scrabble club.  The chapter headers are single words but arranged so you’re making words out of a strimg of letters, and that was a cute touch.  I did feel that a few of the characters talked down to Ambrose a bit, which was annoying because it was his freakin’ story, but I’ll give it a pass for the reading level this book is written at.

In the end, I was looking for a simple read that I could finish in a hurry, and I did finish this in an hour or two on the couch one night.  That in mind, I’ll actually give it a tentative four out of five pages.  If you’re the book’s target audience, go ahead and grab it.  If you’re beyond that point, though, you may not enjoy it quite as much.

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Book Review – Lady Friday by Garth Nix

Title: Lady Friday

Author: Garth Nix

Format: Hardback

Published: 2007

 

It is hard in some ways to fully give an opinion on this particular book in the Keys to the Kingdom Series. This book took me far longer to read than I wanted as there was a week in which I was unable to read due to time constraints. I know that there was also the problem that the book was a little slow to get into but once I was in, I enjoyed the book .

 

Lady Friday picks up right after the events in Sir Thursday and it continues forward as Arthur is tricked into being transported into the Middle House with a quest to take the 5th key that was left behind by Lady Friday who abdicated her position and challenged Arthur, the Piper and Superior Saturday to be the first to get the key.   Considering the challenges Arthur faced, he determined to get the Will first as it would help him against his other foes.

 

The store progresses forward and we learn about the middle house and the army that the Piper made out of nothing. The army is known as newniths and Arthur is met by one who is set to watch over Suzie and Fred both of whom escaped the piper to help Arthur in his new quest to get the will before he gets the key.

 

While Arthur is facing his own adventure Leaf his friend is wakes up in a sort of hospital room where sleep walking people are being taken to another realm by denizens of the house. Leaf is compelled to follow the denizens and the sleep walkers as her favorite aunt is part of the mix. She is discovered as being awake and works to try and let Arthur know what is going on and where she is as she tries to rescue her aunt.

 

The two stories intersect in the end and things do get concluded, if I say anything further I will be giving away the end of the book and the lead up to the next book which I’ll be interested to read as this book heavily led up to the next two books as have some of the other books such as Grim Tuesday – which had the denizen of Superior Saturday working against Arthur.

 

Over all, the story was pretty good though the parts with Leaf were quite boring to be honest, and I felt like the end of the story was a bit rushed to reach a conclusion, particularly when I compare the end to the pacing of the rest of the book. I still in enjoyed the book though so I think I would give it a 3 out of 5 page review.

Book Review – Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Title: The Lightning Thief

Author: Rick Riordan

Format: Paperback

Published: 2005

 

I had heard things about the Percy Jackson series in the past and I admit I’d been curious for some time particularly when the whole bug-a-boo came down about Christopher Columbus directing the first film just like he did for Harry Potter films.  Why people were upset by this I don’t know but then again the internet is a weird place to be honest.  Anyway it wasn’t too long ago that I took the time to read the book, but failed to review it.  I admit the first time I read the book and I enjoyed it fairly well.

 

Having read the book I stumble upon the movie and decided why not?  Now I will be first to say that I do not ever expect the movie to be the living book I expect changes and tweaks along the road but when I saw the movie I cannot express how many times I was ready to throw my remote across the room, and how many times I stopped the DVD, because I was that frustrated I skipped parts just to see how much they mucked other things and if they could accomplish a few basic facts of the book and by basic facts I’m not meaning Annabeth’s hair is supposed to be blond but was rather brown (I can live with that.)  No I’m talking the actual quest they went on, how the flying shoes were used (which is a major plot point) and what actually happens in the underworld which is where the characters go on their quest.  I will start off with saying that the movie got it wrong to the point that they eliminated the major villain of the entire series in this movie; because of this I don’t know how they managed a second movie.

 

Anyway instead of ranting on the movie I’ll focus on the book which is about a middle school boy in 6th grade who is dyslexic, and has ADHD and is in a school for troubled students because of this and because every school he goes to he gets kicked out.  He is proud of the fact that he was almost to the end of the year and hadn’t been kicked out when he goes on a field trip that is always trouble to a museum with Greek artwork and statues.  From there he gets in trouble with a nasty piece of work teacher Mrs. Dodds who turns into a Fury and attacks him.

 

From there Percy gradually learns that he is in mortal danger and is a half-blood, a demi-god, a hero and he is being blamed for stealing Zues’ master bolt.  He discovered to which god sired him and he is then thrown into a rather dangerous quest to go the underworld where it is believed that the master bolt is being held.

 

I don’t want to give spoilers but the story has a lot of adventure and some rather good twists through out it and it just keeps with a nice even pace.  Over all I thoroughly enjoyed the book even with it being my second read through and I am sure I’ll enjoy re-reading the second in the series and then finishing out the series I find Rick Riordan’s writing to be easy to read and enjoyable and very age appropriate for a middle grade student to read.

 

Over all I would give the book a 4 out of 5 stars simply for the ease of getting lost in the writing style and story that is being presented.  I find the tale to be very well told and I advise to never touch the movie, particularly if you like Greek Mythology.  The story takes place during the summer and the characters go to the underworld, in the movie Persephone is present in the underworld.  If  you know any of your Greek Mythology then you know how wrong and problematic that is!  (Particularly when the book notates her lack of presence and why.)  Long story short, read the book don’t watch the movie.

Book Review – Mr. Wuffles

Title: Mr. Wuffles
Author: David Wiesner
Format: Hardback
Published: 2013

Mr. Wumples is a true picture book. (Okay, there are about six words… but they’re not really the story anyway.)

In this book, the cat ignores its new toy because, duh, cat.  But also because of another cat toy-looking item – an alien spaceship.  And the rest of it looks like a comic book, except there are no words (okay, the aliens talk, but in total symbol gibberish), and it’s all about the aliens trying to deal with the cat and the cat wanting the aliens.

It’s full of weird unexplainable cat behavior, but when the cat is staring at “nothing”, we know that the aliens are in the walls, holed up with the mice, and that’s what has the cat’s attention.

I LOVED IT.

So a word of advice.  I got this to ‘read’ to the baby (11 months old) – not knowing there were no words – and he was bored with it.  But given to a kid of the right age group (or an adult that just doesn’t want to totally grow up old), and you’ll have a winner.  5/5 pages.

Book Review – Mama’s Tales of Kanji: The Turtle’s Shell

Title: Mama’s Tales of Kanji: The Turtle’s Shell.
Author & Illustrator: Vincent Eke
Format: Paperback Picture Book
Published: 2013

Mama’s Tales of Kanji: The Turtle’s Shell is about a greedy turtle who doesn’t share his food during a famine with the other members of the animal kingdom, and when they find out about this they tie up his family, take all the food, and then chase him off a cliff.  Oh and some poor goat gets eaten for lying (actually telling the truth), because apparently the lion doesn’t have to share with the other meat eating animals but does have to rationalize.

Along with the normal Dr. Seuss and Thomas the Tank Engine, I’ve been reading my five-year-old nephew Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, often a full chapter in a single sitting. Keep that in mind when I say I think my nephew would be bored and bothered by The Turtle’s Shell.  I certainly was.

On the upside, I can’t criticize the spelling or grammar, but the wording was often clunky and redundant. Not in the charming way that children’s stories can repeat a line with rhythmic variation, but the staid way of repeating information unnecessarily.  The animals gathered for a meeting; the animals have the meeting; the animals go to do what they agreed upon in the meeting.  Five pages are dedicated not to the story itself but to the storyteller before and after the tale.  This sort of metafiction wrapping might work if it had been short and punchy, but it isn’t.  Instead it gives a lot of descriptive information that should be provided by the pictures in a picture book.

At first glance, the cover illustration has a nice balance of color, and the title pops. The golden tone of the story pages have an intriguing richness to them. But soon the illusion of good art begins to fade. The line work looks appropriate to a dollar store coloring book, and the coloring is a clunky mix of Photoshop gradient fills and inconsistent brush work. The tree looks nice and crisp, but the children’s faces are oddly waxy. The back cover is flat out awful, and things don’t improve inside where we get the same coloring book line work with no color.

If the book was designed to be a “color it yourself” interactive experience, the lack of interior color on the illustrations and coloring book style would make sense, but I could find no indication that this was the intention.

On to technical issues: This book is awkwardly large.  My nephew has plenty of other books the same size, but they tend to be hardback, which stay open more easily, and have more intricate illustrations. Even with the oversized font, there’s lots of wasted space. The empty bubbles that frame the title page so neatly continue through the whole book and seem to serve no purpose or connection to the story.

The font is a little too big for the reading level and far too small to use as an oversized book in a group read setting. It was not so bad for the first few pages, but midway through my eyes were getting tired.

The story is a bit too complex and violent for most preschool readers.  I would not try the current version with a child under eight and definitely not as a group read.  It could easily be trimmed down into a nice fable of greed and consequence, but only if the superfluous material was cut away. However if it’s intended for eight and up, it’s really too short and might be better off expanding to a proper chapter book.

The idea of introducing some African wisdom and fables to general audiences is good, but as a nerd, I’m annoyed that there’s no reference whatsoever to what portion of Africa this story is supposed to come from. Instead of some interesting culture notes at the end, we’re bombarded with an avalanche of links to help us follow the author online.  In particular, an explanation of the term “Kanji” would be nice, since it’s clearly not referring to the Chinese symbols commonly used in Japan.

One last note, there are a couple references to the “wisdom of the gods”, which may make some parents uncomfortable and seem out of place in a picture book that claims to be appropriate to all children. I have no problem with children’s books that deal with religious topics, but since this one doesn’t, the framing in these sort of religious terms seems out of place, adding to the too complex for preschoolers aspect mentioned earlier.

This one gets a 2/5 for good idea but poor execution.

Book Review – Codecrafter by Erica Sandbothe

Title: Codecrafter

Author: Erica Sandbothe

Format: Paperback

Written/Published: 2013

As many of you readers know we here at Book in the Bag do get requests from authors to read and review their books.  If you are familiar with how we operate we do not promise to give good reviews only honest ones, thus I will dictate that I have received nothing more than a few e-mails and a copy of her first book Codecrafter from Erica.

To start off, the book is about a young girl named Tagglinde (Tagg for short) who is going to a school to learn how to be a sorceress.  He spell work however is not your typical mystical fare but rather based in code and programming.  She receives a magical stick that has a memory drive that she has to remember to defrag and her spells have to be written in proper code for them to come out and be usable.  If you are familiar with any sort of coding you can see a lot of the connections between what she does in the book to actual coding, if not in a lot of ways everything is still very odd and mystical. I am not overly familiar with coding but I do know enough to be familiar with what was being talked about on some levels (most of what I have done has been BBC coding and very basic code to set up a web page back in the day).

Still, if you know about coding or you don’t the story is still and enjoyable read and is very well fitted for middle grade ages as Erica claims the book to be.  The story was interesting and I wasn’t sitting there wondering when will this book end or regretting to volunteer to read the book.  I only have one major complaint about the book which sometimes can be a good complaint and that is that the book wasn’t long enough.  There were times where I would have loved a bit more pacing and a deeper exploration of certain things but all the same I enjoyed the read.

Aside from the book being a quick read of only 135 pages (perfect for the age range she is aiming for), my only remaining recommendation for future copies of the book if possible is to have a map or two in the front of the book showing the lands of the world of Codecrafter and maybe even a map of the school grounds where the gardens and school building are in Tilde.  Of course, these things aren’t necessary but I know I probably would have flipped to the map if there was one at some point just to get a feel for where Tagg was when she was traveling about.

Overall, the book was a good read and not only that it taught some great mathematical concepts as well because computer science is related to that ever dreaded subject for many- math.  Odds and probability are something that tends to go over people’s heads.  I had fun with it, because I’m your all around geek not only enjoying a good read but also loving a good mathematical problem as well.  There was actually a point where I stopped reading the book to figure out the answer to the question before I read the answer (please note I was just waking up from sleep at that point).

In the end I would give this book a 4 page rating saying that it is a good read and age appropriate for middle grades.  I know I’m looking forward to the next book in the series which I’m told Erica is currently working on!  Additionally I am looking forward to the growth and expansion of her website to include the yet to come teaching materials because I can see the educational value of the book as well having formally been in the field of education myself!

Book Review – Meet Molly by Valerie Tripp

Title: Meet Molly

Author: Valerie Tripp

Format: Paperback – First Edition

Written/Published: 1995

 

It was not too long ago that I came upon some very sad news, American Girl Dolls get retired.  I was shocked and saddened by this when I learned that great characters such as Felicity, Kirsten and Samantha have all been retired.  Yet, saddest news of all is next up to be retired is Molly McIntire!  Why is this the saddest news of all?  Molly is my favorite American Girl from the entire collection!  In a lot of ways I felt like I was Molly because she was the girl with stick straight brown hair that she hated because it was so flat and boring and the girl with glasses.  Molly was a girl who was imaginative and had two best friends that she did almost everything with – just like me.  Only difference in my mind was that she had grey eyes while I didn’t, lived in World War II and had siblings to wrestle with as well.  Yes in some ways major differences, but still Molly was the girl I identified with the most, living during a period of history that fascinated me the most.

 

It is because of my love for this character growing up and even to this day that I decided to read back through some of her books to give Molly a fitting farewell.  He books will always live on according to the American Girl website but still it is not the same because when another little girl falls in love with Molly and wants to be just like her and have the doll just like her it won’t be available.  (Needless to say I own a Molly doll – and getting her was a huge deal for me!)

 

Picking up the first book in the series I was hit with a flood of memories having forgotten much of the story.  I forgot how she had siblings to wrestle with; I forgot that her first story was set in Halloween and how she wanted to be my favorite fairy tale princess Cinderella.  So it was nice to re-explore the story and drudge up the old feelings such as her hatred for turnips which I did happen to recall of all things.  It was a simple and happy read as Molly was very much a classic nine year old girl dealing with a pain in the butt older brother.  In a way as I read I was transported back to being that nine year old girl who first started reading the book on the floor of her teacher’s class room thinking , this girl is exactly like me she looks like me and reacts the same way I would to this situation!

 

My only complain about the book was the ending and not because it ended but because it was a quick and convenient wrap up.  It is something that does happen in a lot of books that are trying to teach a quick little lesson.  After reading an entire story about Molly and her brother fighting and getting back at each other to finally make up the moment after mom gives them a lecture about getting along and setting them to chores as punishment for their misbehavior.  I don’t have any siblings but from what I know of sibling rivalry this isn’t a very accurate portrayal.  The one saving grace that did keep things from being too over the top was the fact that Molly and her brother Ricky did find a bit of common ground before agreeing to not fight any more, so the ‘hug and make up’ scene wasn’t too over the top and random.

 

Overall, I would give this book a 4 out of 5 pages and strongly recommend this book to any brown haired girl, or really any young girl because the American Girl book to me always seem to be rather relate-able and fun to read while teaching about interesting times in American History.  (I particularly love that not only do you get a mostly realistic story that shows off the way life was during that time period there is an entire section at the end all about  life during that time with images of thing and people during that time period).

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