Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Monster Hunter's Handbook by Ibrahim Amin

In this incomparable and fully illustrated compendium, classicist Ibrahim Amin reintroduces the ancient art of monster hunting to a whole new generation of intrepid warriors. From a hellhound's three-headed assault to a brain-eating zombie attack, The Monster Hunter's Handbook instructs readers in the background of each creature and the dangers each present. It also includes an impressive catalog of the premodern world's most powerful armament.


Genre: nonfiction; monsters

Rating: 3/5

This book has a lovely cover and while it's a bit more juvenile in content than I originally expected, it has moved off the shelves in the library at a very fast pace. The students love it. The illustrations are nice, though maybe not as colorful as some other monster books. What I did really like is that there are references at the end of each section if someone really wanted to look up source material. There is also a large section of mythical weapons in this book too, which was something different not normally covered in monster books and probably the thing I found the most unique about this book.

While for me this was a rather basic book of monsters and I've read more interesting ones, this has been very popular with the kids, so maybe as an introduction this book is appealing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cuttlefish by Dave Freer

In a post global warming catastrophe world,Clara, an outcast at her boarding school, finds herself and her mother on the run from Soviet and British agents because of her mother's talent with chemicals. Their only hope is to escape on the Cuttlefish, an outlawed submarine. There she meets Tim, a boy from the streets of drowned London that works on the crew. The two become friends and try to unravel the mystery of who might be a spy on the crew as the vessel attempts to escape capture from all sides.

Genre: steampunk

Rating: 3.5/5

Having immersed myself in steampunk for quite a while, this offering was more of the classical steampunk quality with a healthy dose of Jules Verne-esque adventure. The story moves along at a good clip and the characters of Clara and Tim are very likable and believable. Clara is feisty without being annoying and Tim is heroic, but believably so. The biggest problem for me came with the ending feeling rushed and sometimes I struggled to tell whether the author was talking about a flashback or what was currently going on. The other thing, which is just a comment that I make as a librarian who has bought this book for our library and has heard students talking about it, the title "Cuttlefish" is getting mispronounced as "Cuddlefish", making some of the boys a little wary of picking it up. This is a weird thing, but something I've encountered with readers.

Steampunk is a funny genre in general and I would think a bit of a hard one to work in. You're blending history, speculative fiction, science fiction and adventure in many cases there's a lot going on, which is why I admire authors who try it. Because it's such a tricky genre there's a lot of room for books to fall flat, but also a lot of room for creativity. This particular example struggled a bit at the end, but for YA readers who like their adventure I feel like this would be very popular.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Authors Sort of Hate Me

Considering I've got a very small book review blog that is more for my personal benefit than anything else, I've interacted with more authors than I ever thought I would, generally over books of theirs I didn't like. Some of them have been very nice. Lyn Cote was more than nice in her interactions with me, remarkable to me because I was pretty harsh in one of my reviews. Some authors aren't so much. This is a personal review blog. I'm not going to like everything I read. I'm going to be very vocal about WHY I didn't like what I read. The way I look at it, books are expensive. I don't want to spend 16 or more dollars on something I didn't enjoy. I don't want people I know to do that. Therefore if I like a book, I'm generous about it. But if I don't I'm not going to mince words. That being said, I figure if you're an author looking up reviews of your book, you're doing so under the auspice that not everyone is going to like it. I understand having thin skin about your art. I do too, but then I'm not an author of anything published officially.

I say all this because an author left a comment on a review of one of their books (which they then deleted either because they thought better of their action or because they wanted me to see it in my email and no one else) accusing me of inability to write a review and not reading their book well. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt that maybe they were having a bad day and felt bad about their comment afterwards which is why they erased it. I won't mention their name because of that. But I am making this known:

Perhaps my reviews are poorly written. I'll grant that. Often I'm in a hurry or just am not paying attention well. But here's the difference between me and an author. I'm not paid for my reviews. No one has to read them. No one has to look at them. Because of that I'm not going to pander to an author, no matter how well known, if I don't like their work. My hard earned money goes into buying THEIR works. I'm entitled to not like what I read. I'm entitled to say something about that. Reading back over the particular review that the author was upset about, I still feel it was well written. I mentioned what I didn't like about the book and that it was still well written. I've written harsher reviews. I've written reviews I've put less thought into. Just because you don't like what I have to say doesn't make me a poor reviewer.

I will also say this:

I and anyone I'm associated with will never buy another book from this author again. I mentioned Lyn Cote before. She was so nice about my review of a book of hers I didn't like that I promptly went out and bought another of her books to see if I could find something of hers I liked better, which I did. This particular author, who is quite well known at least in my mind, has completely turned me off of reading anything else they've written. Maybe they have better works. I know the one I reviewed wasn't one of their more well known. Maybe I would have loved their other works. I don't know because I now have such a sour taste in my mouth for that author that I don't think I'd be able to enjoy anything they wrote without confusing my impression of their work with their rudeness.

So whatever. But if you're an author, keep in mind it's not personal. I don't want to read a book I don't like. I don't choose to go out and be disappointed by your work. I'm not hunting around for books to hate. If I love it, I'll say I love it, but if I don't, don't be surprised if I say that as well.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade

The mysterious Mr. Socrates rescues Modo, a child in a traveling freak show. Modo is a hunchback with an amazing ability to transform his appearance, and Mr. Socrates raises him in isolation as an agent for the Permanent Association, a spy agency behind Brittania’s efforts to rule the empire. At 14, Modo is left on the streets of London to fend for himself. When he encounters Octavia Milkweed, another Association agent, the two uncover a plot by the Clockword Guild behind the murders of important men. Furthermore, a mad scientist is turning orphan children into automatons to further the goals of the Guild. Modo and Octavia journey deep into the tunnels under London and discover a terrifying plot against the British government. It’s up to them to save their country.


Genre: steampunk; mystery

Rating: 4/5

Blending a little Victor Hugo with a lot of steampunk and mystery, this series starts off swinging with adventure and intrigue for teens looking to be introduced to the steampunk genre but not sure if it's for them or not. Modo is a deformed, but highly intelligent young man able to shapeshift, an ability that makes him highly valuable to Mr. Socrates, a shadowy figure who is the only father figure Modo has ever known. Mr. Socrates cares for Modo, but it is very obvious that he sees him merely as an expensive operative rather than human as he keeps him at a distance and makes sure that Modo doesn't become too attached to anyone. Modo's first true friend is Octavia, another agent who is just as intelligent and not as blindly obediant as Modo. The two find themselves embroiled in a mystery that involves mind control and kidnapping with villains looking to kill them as soon as possible.

While this might be a more juvenile steampunk, it would be a good introduction to the genre without being too strange or overwhelming. The characters are likable and the action fast paced, making the book appealing to either gender.