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review 2013-05-24 03:29
Treasure Island
Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson,John Seelye

At last, I've read Treasure Island! It was such a treat. I usually don't like to give ratings to classics because I don't see the point, but I enjoyed this very much. Highly recommended!


I think I had never read it until now because I thought it would be like Robinson Crusoe, which is rambling and imperialistic (and so, kind of boring), or like The Swiss Family Robinson, which is preachy (and so, kind of boring). But Treasure Island is just straight-up solid adventure times.


What is there to like?

  • Jim Hawkins is a believable boy, and a likeable one—I especially like that all the major plot points, and all the ways in which the gentlemen crew evade the pirates, happen because Jim doesn't do as he is told. He acts honorably, but he takes risks, which is the perfect adventuring ethos.
  • The plot is fast-moving and exciting (the book is actually a lot shorter than I expected).
  • Long John Silver is a truly excellent villain, and thoroughly deserves his place in the classic villains hall of fame. He's not a frightening monster; he's an expert code-switcher and actor, an intelligent, canny businessman, able to think on his foot (sorry, couldn't resist!) and calculate the best likely outcome for himself at every quick turn of events.
  • Good inept rookie-pirate comedy.


What is there not to like?

  • A few uncomfortable-making comments about "Negroes" but it's pretty tame—again, especially considering Robinson Crusoe as a point of comparison.
  • Ben Gunn is a bit of a troubling figure. I'm not quite sure what to make of him and his fate, but he ends up basically okay, so I'm not too worried about him.
  • Might make you sad that swashbuckling is not a legitimate career path these days.


What made me pick it up?

I was on a trip and had finished the print books I had with me and, lucky for me, found this pre-loaded as a Google Book on a (hand-me-down) tablet I had just recently been given.


Treasure Island poster/cover art

The very cool cover art used for the e-book version I read.

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review 2013-02-21 00:00
A Confusion of Princes
A Confusion of Princes - Garth Nix

Not Garth Nix's best work. The first 5 chapters or so were actually pretty tough slogging--so much exposition, and in a voice that sounds like a 19-year-old boy's efforts at science fiction. I don't know if that last bit is a compliment: Nix is obviously capable of writing in other tones, so maybe it's verisimilitude. But it's also not particularly enjoyable writing. Furthermore, there is quite a bit of repetition throughout the book, from Khemri speaking from his present-tense, much-wiser narrating voice rather tiresomely pointing out the arrogance of his former ways and how he's learned so much since then.


Similar To:

Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card

Feed, M.T. Anderson


Not Similar To:

Mister Monday (and the rest of the Keys to the Kingdom series), Garth Nix (which I love)

Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, Garth Nix (which are also pretty great)

What I'm saying is, Garth Nix has some good stuff; this book isn't it, though.


P.S. Not the best copyediting work on display here.

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review 2013-02-14 00:00
Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made
Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made - Stephan Pastis

What is there to like?

▪ This book genuinely made me laugh. Not like “oh, yes indeed I suppose that was rawther funny, hrm hrm” but actual laughs. I think this comes from Pastis’s professionalism as a cartoonist—his artwork is spare, but effective, and the artwork is the punchline to the funniest jokes, rather than simply illustrating it after the fact. (The chapter in which the mom’s boyfriend is introduced is hilarious.)

▪ Timmy’s voice is also genuinely funny! It’s an extremely fine line between making an oblivious-yet-self-assured narrator sound funny and making him just sound like an overly sarcastic know-it-all, and Pastis never puts a toe on the wrong side of that line.

▪ Timmy often resembles an un-self-aware Calvin (of “and Hobbes”), in terms of his precociousness (in some things), his overdeveloped vocabulary, his preference for his own imagination over the company of friends his age, and his furry companion. But this book breaks with tradition for Timmy’s relationship with his teacher. That’s not to say that Timmy’s run-ins with Old Man Crocus aren’t classic class troublemaker-vs.-teacher entertainment, but it’s really great that Pastis chose to include a teacher who understands how to help Timmy succeed in the end, rather than leaving it at that.


What's not to like?

▪ Please, kid-lit authors, stop using the “kids try to avoid getting into trouble by lying about a non-existent play” device. It’s super old and overused, and it probably wasn’t funny the first time someone used it.


Similar To:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney and Dork DiariesRachel Renée Russell (I assume, not having read either.)

Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson



What made me pick it up?

This book has been getting a huuuuuuuuuuge publicity push from Candlewick for months (I think there was a full month when 99% of their Twitter posts were Timmy Failure-related), and loath as I am to say that a marketing campaign worked on me personally, I was curious to see if the book lived up to the hype.Even so, I must say I didn’t expect to like this book more than just passing amusement. I was especially leery when I read this interview with Stephan Pastis, because the kind of character he describes as his inspiration for Timmy is the type of character I find physically uncomfortable to watch, rather than a source of entertainment. I’m glad that Timmy both fails to live up to and exceeds my expectations in that sense.


Overall Recommendation: Recommended! 3.5 stars? I don't know; star ratings are hard. This book is pretty light entertainment, but it's good at being that.

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review 2013-02-12 00:00
A Monster Calls
A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness,Jim Kay

What is there to like?

▪ Throughout the book, Conor experiences some dark emotions…shame, emptiness, a need for destruction, and especially anger—towards himself, others for alienating him, the school bully, and his family—and also deep, deep sorrow. But the reader is swept up in Conor’s feelings and experiences them with him—there’s never a distance that makes the reader fear or disconnect from Conor, which is really important for finding the real strength of this story. Patrick Ness has done an outstanding job of capturing powerful, true emotions in an empathetic protagonist.

▪ Illustrator Jim Kay's art is every bit as much a part of the storytelling as the words, and it is dark and rich and textured and evocative, and worth poring over.

▪ The stories-within-the-story device is pretty commonplace, and readers may share Conor’s initial skepticism at first—but these stories are unexpected, and quickly prove their value.

▪ Excellent, true-to-life cast of characters in Conor’s go-get-’em grandmother, distant father, the school faculty who handle him like an exotic, fragile object they’re not sure what to do with, and the “bully with charisma and top marks” who will “probably end up Prime Minister one day. God help us all.”

▪ The personification of the monster through his language, stories, and the art—and the eventual blurring of Conor with the monster, also make this book memorable.

▪ This is a book that you need to pick up with your hands and read. Everything about the design is gorgeous—from the art itself to the way the art spreads across the page and mingles with the text to the unusual trim size to the weight of the book in your hand. It’s a beautiful book that exemplifies how tactile and visual components of design contribute to the reading experience.


What's not to like?

There's really nothing that I didn't like about the book itself, but Sara raises a good point about audience that I was wondering about as well.


Similar To:

The Pricker BoyReade Scott Whinnem

The Book of Lost ThingsJohn Connolly

GossamerLois Lowry

The Graveyard BookNeil Gaiman (in that the art reminded me of Dave McKean’s, at times)


What made me pick it up?

It’s been on my to-read list for ages, and I saw it on the library shelf when I was picking up another “N” author.


Overall Recommendation: Essential reading. This is one of the most powerful, well-crafted books I’ve read in quite a while.

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