Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Book Review: Disney after Dark (Kingdom Keepers #1)

Disney After Dark
by  Ridley Pearson
Date Read:  4/19/16
Rating: ★ ★ 

This is a book I’ve seen and contemplated reading for a while now. I really love Disney (Disneyland, Disney World, Disney movies, Disney store…) and I loved the Peter and the Starcatchers series that Ridley Pearson co-wrote.  There are just a lot of them (7.5 so far) so it’s been hard to start that series…  But alas, the time came that we were still waiting for our next How to Train Your Dragon book, and there was nothing else we could check out, so I found this on CD at the library. Perfect timing.

Overall I think I’d give is 2.5 stars and since I can’t do half stars – I’d lean toward 3.

I feel like this book had more potential than it actually delivered. I found myself a bit disappointed with it, though I still enjoyed it enough.  Most of the characters I didn’t get attached to or really even like. The characters that I liked were Finn, Amanda, and Phiby. I really disliked Charlene, Willa and Duddard.  I go back and forth on how I feel about Maybeck.  The characters didn’t really have any growth in this story and they all seemed pretty one-dimensional – though some were just really annoying.  The narrator also didn’t help with the unlikeable characters. The only female character voice he did well was Amanda’s. I couldn’t stand it when either Charlene or Willa was talking.

I enjoyed the parts that described the Magic Kingdom and the rides, as I used to go to Disneyworld often as a kid and was just there about 3 years ago. Some of his references date the book (such as ToonTown is now gone and MGM is now called Hollywood Studios) but I still enjoyed it. I’m interested to see if the later books address those changes.  I really enjoyed the part about Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at the end – I attended this event at Disney World 3 years and loved it. It wasn’t as good at Disneyland last year.

I’m still a little fuzzy on how the whole crossing over thing works at night. It was something that was hard to believe and hard to accept. Then there were also parts where they have virtual characters in a game.  Listening to that part was really hard because it was hard to follow who was what screen name and it just read really strange. That part would have been better physically reading it.

I didn’t feel like it really captured the magic of Disney at all. The characters and the theming are what make Disney so magical, and they were lacking in this story. The only character they really interacted with was Maleficent.  Some of the dolls from It’s a Small world attacked them, but the way they “defeated” them was absolutely ridiculous!  I have to remind myself though that this wasn’t written for adults, it was written for middle graders…

The book also just kind of abruptly ends. There is no wrap up at all, and you don’t get much of a conclusion. I was really disappointed with the ending. If I end up with nothing else to listen to again, I’ll probably pick up book 2. But I won’t seek it out specifically.

Book Review: Avatar the Last Airbender: Smoke & Shadow Part 3

Smoke and Shadow Part 3
by  Gene Luen Yang (author), Gurihiru (illustrator)
Date Read:  4/20/16
Rating: ★ ★ 
★ ★ 

This graphic novel picks right up where the previous one left off. As the group discovers that Azula is the head of the Kemurikage, Zuko goes to drastic measures to try to find the children and his crazy sister.  Azula’s plan is not revealed until the very end of the story, and I say, she’s still pretty crazy and evil!  She looked a little off to me in the illustrations though – I kept thinking it was her eyes, they seemed more gold that I remembered. As I look at pictures from the TV series, he eyes weren’t quite that gold, but her eyes also weren’t so open – she kind of always had a scowl. And her pupils in the comic are smaller - so it may just be her crazy eyes that make her look different.

I love Zuko and Aang’s relationship. There is mutual respect there but they tend to have different methods of obtaining the same goal. I thought this story did it better than some of the previous ones. They stayed on the same side this time rather than actually fighting with each other.

I love having Suki in the story – and I just want to know what happens with Suki and Sokka! The suspense is killing me – Korra acted like he probably didn’t marry her. Ugh.  While Sokka and Katara were absent from this storyline, I really enjoyed having Mai, Ty-Lee, and Suki in it.

I also appreciated Mai’s reaction to her father. After the events of this story, she showed a very a mature response to everything that had happened. It helped remind us that the characters are in fact growing up.

I’m looking forward to what will happen in the next series of stories – North and South, in which Sokka and Katara will return --- but will it address more of Azula’s story? Or will we have to continue to wait?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Book Review: Will in Scarlet

Will in Scarlet
by  Matthew Cody
Date Read:  4/18/16
Rating: ★ ★
 ★ ★

I’ll be honest, I’ve seen this book before and thought about reading it, but the only reason I picked it up to listen to is because it was the only book after searching and searching that I was able to borrow from the digital library right then.  But I’m really glad I did!

I've had some bad luck recently with narrators for audiobooks. They've been dull and boring. But this reader, though not the best reader I've listened to (David Tennent is the best!!!), he did a good job at not reading in a monotone and giving several different voices to the characters.

This story is basically a prequel story to the Robin Hood we know and love. Rob and Little John are side characters in this story, but it shows how they come to be the head of the Merry Men and what prompts them to start stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.

This is really Will Shackley’s story.  He is only 13 years old and his father is away fighting with King Richard. During this time Sir Guy and Prince John start taking over and are demanding everyone side with Prince John. If you don’t, bad things happen. The Sheriff of Nottingham is also in this story and of course causes some drama. 

Once Will joins up with the Merry Men, things started really getting interesting. I felt the beginning of the book moved a bit slow – setting up Will’s backstory, skills and the treason. But once you get past that, the story is very entertaining.  Through most of this book, Will is out for revenge to avenge the death of someone close to him. I liked watching his motives change by the end of the story.

I really enjoyed the parts about Much, who is really the Miller’s daughter pretending to be the Miller’s son.   She and Will connect and care about each other and want each other to be safe.  While there are some hints that they may like each other a little more than friends, nothing actually happens.

This book has a lot of violence and death in it, and a mention of a mother breastfeeding her infant.  I think this really qualifies as the very top end of Middle grade books – the character is young enough, but the content is more YA.  This would be a good book for a child who is transitioning from 6th or 7th  grade to 8th and 9th grade.

The book had a couple of loose ends and was pretty open – not tied up in a pretty bow. While it does have a very satisfying conclusion, it also leaves it open for the author to possibly come back and write a sequel eventually. If the author ever chose to do so, I would happily pick it up.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Book Review: Lady Midnight (The Dark Artifices #1)

Lady Midnight (The Dark Artifices #1)
by  Cassandra Clare
Date Read:  4/18/16
Rating: ★ ★

It is really hard for me to review this book. There were things I liked about it, and things I didn’t. While I think Cassie Clare is really milking her series, I still enjoy the world she built and will likely continue reading her stuff – though maybe I won’t own all of them.

This is the first book of hers that I haven’t gone out and bought - I checked it out from the library. I loved the Mortal Instruments and absolutely adored the Infernal Devices (except that epilogue that I still refuse to acknowledge exists). However, I feel that Lady Midnight has really become the book that Clare is milking it. There were several times where characters from the other series would show up at completely random times just so the reader would swoon and go “AWE!”.

I liked getting some updates on the characters we loved though. But it just didn’t fit with the story. These characters (Emma and Julian) had met Jace and Clary once during the Dark War. And suddenly they became best friends and Clary checks in every week?  I just don’t believe it. Perhaps if they had interacted more in the other series it would be more believable…but they live on the other side of the country! And don’t get me started on the part where Emma wanted to ride the flying motorcycle because Jace and Clary rode one. And because her reader would say “How in the world would Emma know that?” Clare puts in a bit about there being paintings about it. Seriously??? Why in the world there be paintings about such a random and unimportant part of Jace and Clary’s story? It was yet another way to remind the reader of this parallel between Emma and Clary. But all it did was make me feel like Clare thinks I’m stupid as a reader. Let the reader draw this parallel. They will remember that part from the Mortal Instrument series. It would have had better impact for the reader to make that connection themselves.

I feel like if she didn’t specifically point out all the update info on the characters and parallels like that I would have enjoyed this more.  That’s why I like the Infernal Devices so much. A last name would pop up that you recognized, but that was all. It was like solving a puzzle and a teaser for the reader. But this was just like she purposely added those things in. I didn’t appreciate it. And all of the scenes felt forced – likely because it didn’t really flow with the story she wrote.

If I forget about all of the above, the story itself was ok. It was stretched out a little long though. It was more of a detective story, which was a bit of a nice change. There also wasn’t any sarcastic, snarky love interest in this book – which is a change. While I miss my Herondale  boys (Will and Jace), I did appreciate that Clare at least mixed that up.  Most of the characters were likeable, but I just wasn’t attached to any of them like I was to Tessa and Will and Jace and Clary and Simon. 

I still hold a grudge against Clare bringing Jem back from the Silent Brothers. She set up all these rules in her first two series, and then BROKE them when she brought Jem back in that epilogue. So having Jem in this, while I did enjoy seeing him again, I was frustrated that I was seeing him. I was also frustrated about him being with Tessa. How crappy.

There were also a lot of times that the dialogue just didn’t flow because she didn’t use contractions. The characters would say something and in normal every day talking you would use a contraction, but the character didn’t so they sounded strange and it jarred me out of the story.  There is one character where not using contractions made sense (though I still didn’t enjoy it); it helped maintain the difference from where this character came from. But it wasn’t just that character that this would happen with and it happened more than once.

About ¾ of the way in to the book you finally discover where the title of the book comes from.  I’m still not 100% clear on who is on the cover…but I’m pretty sure I know. The story behind the title is pretty good. I was happy with that part of the book.

About half way through the book we finally started getting somewhere in their investigation. It had been pretty slow up until then. But it finally picked up and from then on it got good. There was a big twist at the end when you find out who the villain is. I really liked the story behind the villain of this story because you can feel a bit of sympathy – I like stories where you feel some sympathy for the bad guy because it creates this conflict within the reader. I didn’t have a lot of conflict with this character, but there was just a tad bit of sympathy in my heart.

We get about 100 pages of wrap up. I always appreciate a good wrap up, but this was almost excessive to me. I found myself just wanting to have it finished already!  I think this is the shortest epilogue Clare has ever written…and it definitely let you know what will be coming in the second book.

While I enjoyed the story between Julian and Emma, of course there has to be love drama. And of course the only way Clare can cause drama between characters is by creating this love triangle. So even though there really ISN’T a love triangle, she creates one anyway… Because it couldn’t have had enough drama with just the “parabatai curse”. UGH.

There is also a bonus story at the end of the hardcover from Clary’s perspective. Again, this mostly seemed like it was there to have all the characters you enjoy from the previous series show up.  I really enjoyed the first few pages, but after that it just got a little silly with all the different characters who came.  BUT THAT ENDING!

If I rated the book on just the story itself, I would probably give it 4 stars, but because of those forced scenes, contractions and forced love triangle and such, I think I need to demote it to 3 stars – which is disappointing because I’m so used to loving her stuff.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Book Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society #2

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey (#2)
by  Trenton Lee Stewart
Date Read:  3/31/16
Rating: ★ ★

I found it hard to pay attention while listening to this book.  I recommend not reading this one, and just letting the Mysterious Benedict Society be a standalone book…read below for why…

It started off a year after the first book ended.  Therefore, we are regurgitated a little bit about what happened to each child during that year after they split up. It was interesting enough at the beginning to see the reunion.

However, shortly in to their new adventure I found myself bored. It wasn’t exciting and it started getting a little farfetched.  Constance has this “ability” to see patterns and tell who is coming based on their footsteps. Really? That’s not a normal ability.  Sticky also starts having a bigger and bigger memory – which just seems like something convenient the author put in there so they wouldn’t have to research anything.

I enjoyed the first one when the kids were a little more realistic in their “intelligence”…but the author is going too far – and this book just wasn’t very interesting or exciting.  I read several reviews about the third book and it sounds like it gets even worse. Apparently Sticky remember an entire library worth of information, Constance becomes psychic, and Reynie gets a “sixth sense”. This has essentially become a paranormal story, but still wants to be called normal.

I wish this series had stayed either one way or the other. It feels like the author wrote it as one book, and then it did well, so either he or the publisher wanted to make it a series. Therefore he had to come up with ideas for sequels, and it just wasn’t the same.  With all of this said, as much as it pains me not to finish a series, I will not be continuing this. There are so many books in the world it’s not worth it to waste time on a book I’m not going to enjoy.
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