Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Brief reviews: Fall 2013 Part 1

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (Flavia de Luce, #2)(This is a review for the second Flavia de Luce book, if you haven't read the first you can find my review of it here)  You have to love an eleven year old who observes: "How exciting it was to reflect upon the fact that, within minutes of death, the organs of the body, lacking oxygen, begin to digest themselves!"  and who can then go on to describe the exact chemical processes at play.  Flavia is just as spunky and delightful as she was in the first mystery and this time there's the added excitement of puppets.  I loved the new character of the former German pilot obsessed with the Bronte sisters!  The way Flavia's sisters continue to taunt her by saying that she's adopted makes me uneasy though.  Still it was a great, quick mystery for a lazy afternoon.  The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley: buy it or check it out today!

Cow Boy I have mixed feelings about this comic.  The art and the design are absolutely gorgeous.  From the endpapers to the title page to the art in the comic itself, there is a wonderful style that evokes old westerns.  The premise of a child cow boy rounding up his outlaw relatives for bounty is funny and they add little touches like a gun that looks like a hobby horse to take advantage of the absurdity of the situation.  I loved the brief interludes between chapters, particularly the one about the female cowboy and the penguin.  I'd love to read a full-length comic based on this premise (and based on my students' love of penguins stories, so would they!)  But despite everything in this comic's favor the pacing felt a bit off to me and the moral ambiguity of the tale left me thinking that it would be better for an older crowd than it's aimed at.   The interludes break up the flow of the story and the plot and motivations seem really bare-bones.  The idea of a boy that age hunting down his family and often threatening them with a gun or injuring them to bring them to justice isn't fully dealt with.  There's another scene where he stands up for a run-away slave only to have the slave say that he would have preferred to be beaten without intervention because now he'll have to run to avoid a lynching.  As an adult reading it, I can fill in the complexities of the situation myself but I think most children would have difficulty understanding what happened in that scene.  Especially because it's just something that happens in passing.  The ending is also troubling to me for something branded as all ages.  The moral of the story seems to be that you can't trust anyone, even your own family.  It's better to live a life alone even if it means you'll never be happy.  Perhaps if the story was better fleshed out, his actions would make more sense, but as it is the cow boy just seems oddly cold and jaded. Cow Boy by Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos: buy it or check it out today!

Goliath  I love classic stories that are re-told from a non-traditional perspective, especially when it re-casts the villain in a new light.  In this version Goliath would rather do admin than patrol and is an all-around soft spoken, nice guy.  When an ambitious captain comes up with a plan to end the war with a battle of champions, he's banking on the fact that no one will take up the challenge once they see Goliath.  Goliath is quick to point out that he's much better at paper work and the fifth-worst swordsman in the platoon, but there is no reasoning with authority.  So he resigns himself to wait for a rival champion he hopes will never arrive.  It's a sparse but beautifully told tale that would work great in a unit about multiple perspectives.  There's a subtle humor and a strong sense of irony throughout as Goliath plays with pebbles and sympathizes with a fighting bear.  When the inevitable happens and David finally comes along the suddenness and pointlessness of it gave the story an existential feel. Goliath by Tom Gauld: buy it or check it out today!

Hilda and the Midnight GiantThis is a fantastic, imaginative story for children.  Hilda gains the ability to see a race of tiny people that have been living outside of her house for years and sets out to make peace between them and her family with the help of a giant.  The varying sizes of all the characters set up parallels in the plot and allow for the exploration of multiple perspectives.  The world created by Pearson is populated with wonderful creatures and the large physical size of the book allows for a close-up view of the many delightful details in the artwork.  There's some light satire of politics as Hilda tries to make peace with the little people, but a knowledge of politics isn't necessary to appreciate the humor and heart of this comic.  I'd recommend it to fantasy fans of all ages.  Hilda and the Midnight Giant by Luke Pearson: buy it or check it out today!

The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave, #1) I hated the beginning of this book.  It kept making vague references to what had happened and jumping around in time instead of clearly explaining what had lead to the current situation.  There didn't seem to be any reason for this other than creating cheap tension by alluding to awful things and then postponing the explanation.  The narrator seemed to revel in every gritty detail of the apocalypse and addressed the reader like some sage describing what happens when you face death, etc.  I imagined her talking in Batman voice the whole time.  Plus she uses 'decimate' incorrectly which is enough to set me off.  The book picks up a bit once other narrators are introduced, but it is still full of unanswered questions.  Why do the aliens use so many waves if their technology is so advanced and what exactly their endgame is to name a couple.  I can't get too much further into how little sense the book makes without revealing spoilers, but suffice it to say that the plot does not hold up to any kind of scrutiny.  On top of all that I have major issues with the romantic plot.  The male love interest stalks the female love interest, violates her privacy by reading her diary among other things, and worst of all their kisses often start with the girl actively resisting him and telling him no only to melt into the kiss and enjoy it.  Perpetuating the idea that a girl could say no and fight physical affection but secretly want it is unconscionable as far as I am concerned. I won't be reading the sequel. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey: buy it or check it out today!

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