Tag Archives: reviews

Okay, so… that happened.

15 Jan

I’ve been asked to review many books before, but children’s books aren’t necessarily my forte. On the other hand, I’m a father of two and have read MANY children’s books before, so I’m gonna call myself an expert. Let’s dive into Honeycake.

Honeycake is a evil child with special magical powers who threatens to destabilize the world economy by… no, of course not. Honeycake is our protagonist’s nickname, whose actual name is Nala, a mixed-race girl who goes with grandma and Uncle JD to give her leftover toys to charity. I mention that she’s mixed-race, not because I care, but because it’s the first thing you notice on page… two? (Could be four–children’s books are formatted with maximum space for small readers.) The child is black, the grandma is white; since the author (Medea Kalantar) is mixed-race herself, she’s basing it on her own life.

Okay, let’s move on, the art is amazing! There are so many children’s books where the art is either sub-par or they had a professional illustrator have to come in and save the day. This is done by the author herself and it is excellent. Since there is so precious little text in children’s books, this makes me move my review WAY up, because I give great respect to illustrators. After all, in a kid’s book, the art is over half the material.

Now I’m pretty cynical, and there’s not a lot of text in this book, so the author gets to the message rather quickly. “Talk less, smile more.” (blink) Wait, that’s Aaron Burr in Hamilton. Let me have the book tell it: “When you give a someone a nice smile, it makes them feel better,” said Grandma. (Grandma might need an editor there, or it’s supposed to be a delightful brogue, but it’s a kid’s book–so who cares?!)

So when Honeycake uses her special magical power of smiling, you show kindness, and spread sunshine wherever you go. Okay–good message.

Going through the visit, Nala’s experience reinforces her special magical power of kindness, and she learns that she can use her power to spread kindness wherever she goes. Nice. Although, having the stars around the phrase “special magical powers,” puts a ™ in my mind, as if the author trademarked it. 🙂

There’s not much else to review, because it’s only 36 pages, and half of them are art, so I’ll just say this is a great children’s novel. It feels about right for a 3-6 year old and it’ll probably have good repeat value. It’s got a story, a relatable character, so I think it’s worth getting. As much as I gushed about the art earlier, she does repeat many of the same pictures, so I’m gonna dock her a star in my review, especially because the best children’s books are those that are a little quirky and the message is not so blatant. But this is good and I’m sticking to it.

What are your favorite children’s books–the ones that are heavy on pictures and not much on text? Let me know in the comments section below!

The Battle for Downers Grove

10 Jan

Yesterday, I started a review of Salford World War by Mike Scantlebury. It’s a solid book, but it has flaws, and I’m not sure if the flaws are with the novel… or me.

The first thing that frustrated me was the book title–if you live in England, you might know where Salford is. I figure Great Britain is about the size of Illinois, the American state where I grew up. I know… most of the towns, and can probably rattle off most of the Chicago suburbs. However, that doesn’t help anyone who doesn’t live in the UK. That being said, if I named a novel Downers Grove World War, that still doesn’t make any sense. The Battle of Salford might work, or the Fight for Salford, but it still doesn’t grab me. The Fight for All at the Salford Mall might intrigue me, but “mall” has a different connotation in American English (shopping center) than in British English (wide avenue).

The second issue I have is the way that Mr. Scantlebury does conversations. As mentioned previously, I like the main character (Melia), but when she talks to people, the author doesn’t use quotation marks. That makes it real difficult to know if she spoke or not. For example:

Melia wanted to smile at that, maybe laugh out loud. It was ridiculous! People were checked, and double checked.

“I’m only saying what I hear,” Terry said, and walked away, back into the throng of technicians.

Mike Scantlebury, Salford World War, Chapter 4, p. 38

It’s implied that Melia spoke to Terry, since he responded, but did she just think it? I don’t know! AAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHH!!!

Now am a former history teacher–the conceit of the book is that since the assassination of Franz Ferdinand started WWI, then the assassination of a Chinese minister in Salford could start WWIII. Okay, I can buy that–I don’t need that repeated 3-4 times in the book. What I really needed Mr. Scantlebury to do is explain it clearly the first time. Then near the end, he starts throwing in tons of historical references for kicks… ugh.

When he finally gets to the minister arriving, things pick up, and all the whodunit changes to whodoesit, and that’s very enjoyable. So the book ends on a high note and Melia saves the day. Or does she? The love interest (Mickey) who keeps showing up in the book just long enough to torment Melia, then disappears again, does a serious amount of badassery near the end, which helped, but since Melia is our POV character, shouldn’t she have done it?

Since it’s a spy/mystery novel, there’s a lot of stuff happening that Melia doesn’t know about, and is trying to get to the bottom of. However, I’m left with the sneaking suspicion that we should have been following Mickey this whole time. It would have been more interesting. And perhaps that’s the most frustrating part of it. It wants to be a spy novel, but spy novels involve travelling to interesting locations, getting involved in action scenes, doing the cool stuff you can’t do. That rarely happens–it’s actually a mystery novel, where people die and the investigator is trying to figure out the answer. But since the stakes are so high, the author has to keep throwing in elements that… honestly don’t work for a mystery novel.

As much as I complain, I finished the novel, and it ended well. I’d give it a 3 out of 5. Good solid story with some serious flaws. It’s worth a read–try it for yourself!

What do you think? Have you stories you like but can’t get over the formatting, or the tone, or anything? Let me know in the comments below!

The War Next Door

9 Jan

People say you should write what you know–so if you live in a suburb of Manchester, England, that’s where you set your world-changing spy story! But how do you turn suburban Britain into a international crime thriller?

Full disclosure–I was asked to review this novel by the author himself, and considering this is the third time I’ve done this, I’m… a little cautious about book reviews. As an indie author myself, I want to support my fellow writers, but I want to be honest, but polite. The first two books I read were absolutely awful–so I didn’t post those reviews here–but since this is appearing here, Salford World War doesn’t fall into that category. This is a solid book.

Okay, that isn’t glowing praise, but part of my problem with this book is that spy/mystery novels aren’t really my genre either. I don’t like puzzles, or figuring out whodunit, but I’ll enjoy watching the detective figure it out.

This book is fun–a young female spy who is stationed in Salford (instead of Manchester–why?) and is responsible for protecting a Chinese minister who’s visiting the town. However, not everything is as it seems. The Chinese immigrant community has one agenda, the Chinese government another, and her own agency (MI-5? It’s never said) seems out to get her. And what about her love for her fellow agent, who now can’t seem to give her the time of day? Has he gone rogue?

The characters are interesting, but there are a lot of them, and there is the implication that this character has met many of them before. Which leads to me a strike against me–this is obviously the third or four book in a series. Unfortunately, if you go to Mr. Scantlebury’s website, you have no idea what order the books are supposed to be in. I really wish I didn’t have to keep guessing what the previous job was that she was on with this guy, or what her relationship with the love interest was before this, or what she was doing when dating the guy before he was killed. If it was just to add flavor, fine, but it seemed an integral part of why I should care about this character.

However, I said there were a lot of characters, and even though they are interesting, they mostly show up for a scene, do their thing, and are never seen again. This is very frustrating–it goes along with why I don’t read short stories. If I’m going to invest my time in a novel, I want to care about what happens to the characters. The only two characters who are consistent are our heroine and the love interest… and even the love interest keeps flitting in and out, which seems rather rude.

I’m realizing that this review is running way over, so I’ll need to continue it tomorrow. Also, check out Mr. Scantlebury’s book for yourself–let me know what you think!

However, let me ask you–have you run into a book that you fundamentally like, but the flaws make it difficult to love? Let me know in the comments below!

Fantasy World Yelp Reviews

10 Oct

The Hissing Chef: 2 1/2 stars. Quaint, elf-run establishment, but turned off by the perpetual orc attacks.

Prancing Pony: 3 stars. Great beer, good entertainment. High pitched screaming by nazgul made it impossible to sleep.

So I woke up this morning with the weirdest thought – what if fantasy worlds had Yelp reviews?

Of course, it’s a silly idea – you don’t have the Internet in a D&D universe – but there are enough magical equivalents that could have a virtual bulletin board. However, once you leave the main cities, it’s not like the village of Broomfondle is going to have to many choices. You can go to the Boiling Leopard or you can sleep in the street. Gee.

So you only bother to have reviews when you have choices to make. The first restaurant reviews – Michelin – is a tire company. They made maps and reviews so that people would drive their fancy new cars and put more wear on their tires (so they could buy more tires). So you could drive from Paris to Caen and check out this “rustic interpretation of Norman cooking” without having to stay there.

Your intrepid band of adventurers doesn’t have this option. It took two days to get to Broomfondle. They’re hungry, they’re tired, they want a roof over their heads. So the Boiling Leopard is the place to go… the ONLY place to go.

Of course, I could extend this goofy metaphor to include dungeons, ruins, et al… but the point of these abandoned places is that “no one has journeyed there in a hundred years,” “No one ever returns from the Mines of Moria!” Well, then they’re not about to post: “Moria used to be a nice dwarven family establishment. Then they changed management. Goblins not friendly, rude service, had to run out of there. Will not go back.”

What you had instead was the wise woman of the village spreading rumors that she may have heard third hand from a passing bard. You know, what Facebook is today. 🙂 Actually, this shift in research really bit me in the butt once. One gets so used to Google searches that the time I played in a Call of Cthulhu game set in the 30’s, I forgot how to research! Thankfully, the game master took pity on me and suggested, “You remember reading something in this book…”

Have I beaten this metaphor enough? Have you been thinking we need to have more reviews or less reviews of things? Let me know in the comments below!

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