February 27, 2013

[Book Review] The Berenstain Bears Get the Twitchies by Stan and Jan Berenstain




Well, I'm thoroughly baffled. There wasn't a word of this that made any sense. Apparently, the Bear parents have mistaken hyperactivity--possibly indicative of a treatable medical condition--for whatever the hell "twitchies" are... And it seems these dreaded "twitchies" are the bane of society and must be stopped at all cost! Luckily, Papa pretends to have the "twitchies" himself, so Brother comes up with a brilliant solution: if he stops twitching, that'll cure Papa!

Wait, what? None of that makes any sense! What does it matter if the kid squirms in his chair? There are absolutely no possible negative effects of being antsy for a single afternoon--and if its a persistent problem, the kid needs to go to the doctor, not be pressured into trying to will away a medical condition--but apparently it's a big fucking deal in the Bear household. And why would Brother think that sitting still would make his father stop twitching uncontrollably? And--?

No. Nope. I'm done here. It's too stupid, it's completely nonsensical, and I'm moving on. One star.

February 26, 2013

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

My rating: ★★★★☆

Pride and Prejudice is far from my normal reading material, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. It's easy to see why this particular Austen novel has become such a beloved classic; while I find the subject matter to be incredibly boring, I can't help but enjoy reading it if only for the flair with which Jane Austen writes.

That's something I honestly didn't expect to say, coming into this. When it comes to reading, I'm a plot and characterization kind of girl. As long as you've got your basic grammar and spelling in check, I'm not particularly concerned with the wordplay; as long as you get your point across without making me wince or leaving me baffled, I'm satisfied on that front. What I tend to be concerned about--what I look for going into a book--are well-rounded and interesting characters acting out an eventful, clever plot; if you don't have that, I don't care if your writing is the literary equivalent of El Dorado. If I can't enjoy your story, I can't enjoy your book.

Pride and Prejudice, then, is pretty close to the opposite of what I normally read, and that's what makes it such a wonderful surprise. The story didn't resonate with me the way it does with a lot of people, but the words did. Reading Pride and Prejudice comes with a swift awareness that Jane Austen isn't just writing your typical romantic fluff; she has undeniable talent.

That's not to say, of course, that I couldn't find any enjoyment in the plot. There was a lot to it that I would have found objectionable had it been written in modern (or less well-crafted) prose, but the flair with which Austen wrote smoothed over most of my complaints. I will never be one of the die-hard fans of Pride and Prejudice or Elizabeth/Darcy, but I'm pleased to have read this regardless.

I highly recommend Pride and Prejudice to anyone interested in cracking open a classic, and I'm sure there'll be more Austen in my future.

February 22, 2013

Friday Finds [2013 #3]


Friday Finds is a weekly meme from Should Be Reading that showcases the books that bloggers have found during a particular week, either online, in bookstores, in libraries, or wherever!

My finds this week were:

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.

With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.

They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.

Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part. Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prospered precisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty.

The End Games

It happened on Halloween.

The world ended.

And a dangerous Game brought it back to life.


Seventeen-year-old Michael and his five-year-old brother, Patrick, have been battling monsters in The Game for weeks.

In the rural mountains of West Virginia, armed with only their rifle and their love for each other, the brothers follow Instructions from the mysterious Game Master. They spend their days searching for survivors, their nights fighting endless hordes of “Bellows”—creatures that roam the dark, roaring for flesh. And at this Game, Michael and Patrick are very good.

But The Game is changing.

The Bellows are evolving.

The Game Master is leading Michael and Patrick to other survivors—survivors who don’t play by the rules.

And the brothers will never be the same.

Stung

There is no cure for being stung.

Fiona doesn’t remember going to sleep. But when she opens her eyes, she discovers her entire world has been altered—her house is abandoned and broken, and the entire neighborhood is barren and dead. Even stranger is the tattoo on her right hand—a black oval with five marks on either side—that she doesn’t remember getting but somehow knows she must cover at any cost. She’s right.

Those bearing the tattoo have turned into mindless, violent beasts that roam the streets and sewers, preying upon the unbranded while a select few live protected inside a fortress-like wall, their lives devoted to rebuilding society and killing all who bear the mark.

Now Fiona has awakened branded, alone—and on the wrong side of the wall.

Not a Drop to Drink

Regret was for people with nothing to defend, people who had no water.

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn't leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….

Legally Blonde

Elle Woods, California University senior, seems to have it all. President of Delta Gamma sorority, she's aced her major--sociopolitical jewellery design-and is on the verge of becoming Mrs. Warner Huntington III. Too bad Warner, bound for Stanford Law, dumps her with the explanation that he now needs a more "serious" woman at his side. Faced with this unexpected reversal of fortune, Woods doesn't get depressed, she gets busy.

Thanks to a creative application video and a demand for "diversity" at Stanford Law, Elle is admitted. Soon she's packing up her convertible-as well as her pet Chihuahua "Underdog"-and heading north, determined to win back her man.

Icons (Icons, #1)

Your heart beats only with their permission.

Everything changed on The Day. The day the windows shattered. The day the power stopped. The day Dol's family dropped dead. The day Earth lost a war it didn't know it was fighting.

Since then, Dol has lived a simple life in the countryside -- safe from the shadow of the Icon and its terrifying power. Hiding from the one truth she can't avoid.

She's different. She survived. Why?

When Dol and her best friend, Ro, are captured and taken to the Embassy, off the coast of the sprawling metropolis once known as the City of Angels, they find only more questions. While Ro and fellow hostage Tima rage against their captors, Dol finds herself drawn to Lucas, the Ambassador's privileged son. But the four teens are more alike than they might think, and the timing of their meeting isn't a coincidence. It's a conspiracy.

Within the Icon's reach, Dol, Ro, Tima, and Lucas discover that their uncontrollable emotions -- which they've always thought to be their greatest weaknesses -- may actually be their greatest strengths.

The Burning Sky (The Elemental Trilogy, #1)

It all began with a ruined elixir and an accidental bolt of lightning…

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she's being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.

Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs but he's also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to revenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.

But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.

February 18, 2013

[Book Review] The Art Contest: No Cheating Allowed! by Steven Banks

The Art Contest: No Cheating Allowed!The Art Contest: No Cheating Allowed! by Steven Banks
My rating: ★★☆☆☆

There's not really much to say about this one other than to point out that this tie-in picture book might have the Spongebob characters, but has a poorly explained moral instead of any typical Spongebob humor.

So how about a .gif summary instead?

February 12, 2013

The Bike Lesson by Stan and Jan Berenstain

The Bike LessonThe Bike Lesson by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain

My rating: ★★★☆☆

Have you ever seen the Berenstain Bears like this:



No? Then you haven't seen the Berenstain Bears at their best. This was the era before every book tried to shove a ham-fisted moral down children's throats. This was the time before Papa Bear became a belligerent asshole. This was the era when Brother Bear was called Small Bear because Sister Bear hadn't been born yet.

If only this could have lasted.

Just take a moment to compare these two covers:


The image on the left bears the original character designs. The image on the right bears the new ones. (No pun intended.)

Notice the differences? For one thing, they're both smiling in the 1964 artwork (Papa Bear more so than Small Bear). But in the redesigned version, Papa Bear is suddenly racing with his brow furrowed, and Brother Bear looks scared for his life.

Now, I've only read the 1964 version, so I can't say for sure how deep these differences run. I can't tell you, for example, if the story was given the same treatment as the cover--that is, if it was altered to match the new personalities.

And they definitely have new personalities. In "Brother Bear" stories, Papa Bear is a downright jerk; he's temperamental and close-minded, and that's just the beginning. In The Bike Lesson, Papa Bear overconfident and blundering, but he means well; he's generally trying to help his son.

In modern stories, Brother Bear is a "good son", leaving Sister Bear to be the focus of many--perhaps most--of the moral dilemmas. Depending on the book, Brother Bear either overcomes his vices with his sister, or else he's downright saintly. (The "saintly" tends to show up more often in the chapter books than the picture books.) In The Bike Lesson, Small Bear is an earnest and excitable child in whose eyes his father can do no wrong.

Both characters are vastly more endearing in their earlier incarnations, which begs the question: what went wrong? What caused this dynamic shift? In-universe, one could say the entire family changed with Sister Bear's birth the way a real family would; but this didn't happen when Honey Bear was born, so it's obvious that the in-universe reason isn't the "actual" reason.

Something changed in or around the Berenstains that caused or enabled the Bears' complete redesign. I'd love to know what that something was, and I'd love to know if it extended to slightly rewriting the plot of this. Honestly, I suspect it did.

In any case, this edition of The Bike Lesson, regardless of what's in the reprinted editions, was a cute little story made more endearing by the nostalgia for a day when the Berenstains were writing Bears books I could actually stomach.

February 8, 2013

Ten Rules (Flight 29 Down, #0) by Walter Sorrells

Ten Rules (Flight 29 Down, #0)Ten Rules by Walter Sorrells

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

In the mid-2000's, Discovery Kids aired a show called Flight 29 Down. It centered around a group of high school students whose trip to Palau got called off on account of... well, a plane crash that left them lost on an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean for a month or two. The show's been called the kid's version of Lost, but that's a really nonsensical comparison considering that Lost was, you know, SFF. If we're stretching that far for comparisons, you might as well say Flight 29 Down was a Gilligan's Island knockoff.

Anywho. The main characters of Flight 29 Down were Lex Marin, the Annoying Younger Sibling played by Allen Alvarado; Nathan McHugh, the Rival to Daley's Type III Leader, played by Corbin Blue of High School Musical fame; Daley Marin, the aforementioned Leader played by Hallee Hirsh; Eric McGorrill, the Slacker played by Jeremy Kissner; Cody Jackson, the New Transfer Student from the Wrong Side of the Tracks played by Johnny Pacar; Taylor Hagan, The Ditz played by Lauren Storm, and Melissa Wu the Heart played by Kristy Wu.

What you may notice from the above is that the case is not entirely comprised of white people: Nathan's African American, Melissa's Asian American, and one of the other characters is (IIRC) also Asian American. Unfortunately, it seems that Walter Sorrells didn't notice.

Throughout the entire book, it becomes increasingly clear that Sorrells flat-out assumed that his protagonist, Nathan, was a "white" guy. The book is peppered with blink-and-you'll-miss-it references to Nathan "going white" when he's shocked, looking "pale" when he's anxious, and "turning red" when he's embarrassed. Now, I'd be willing to give Sorrells the benefit of the doubt with "pale" and "flushed", because Corbin Bleu is fairly light-skinned. But there's no way I'm letting "going white" skate by. I, for one, am mixed-race "white" and Hispanic (possibly also Native American); my skin's olive, making me at least a few shades lighter than Corbin, and there is no possible way someone with a skintone like mine or even darker to go "white". It cannot be done. Pale for olive is a slightly lighter tan with a green tinge. (Olive can, however, get very red when flushed.) Pale for neither my olive nor Corbin/Nathan's mocha is never going to be anything that could reasonably be described as "white" in the bloodless sense (though most people describe me as "white" in the racial sense).

Most amusing, of course, was when Nathan explicitly asks Jackson what it's like to be the only "white" kid going to a predominantly "black" school. Seriously? Nathan's the only shown "black" kid at the "white" school, but he doesn't even reference this? Just a "what's it like being a racial minority"?



Don't make assumptions about race, kids.

On the other hand, the plot of the book isn't terrible. The characters are all at least slightly OOC with added background details and character motivations that I don't remember being stated or even implied in canon (which might be my fault, as I haven't seen the show in about seven years), minor details contradict the series, and Sorrells clearly has no idea how sixteen-year-olds in general (and his characters in particular) actually speak. More annoying, however, is the extreme Adults Are Useless vibe. The two primary adult characters--Jackson's social services caseworker and the school's Headmaster--both make a point of pretending to want to help the kids in their care while explicitly threatening them (with imprisonment and expulsion, respectively). The only person who could reasonably be called an antagonist is Jackson's caseworker, who is actively trying to send him to juvenile detention because he's jealous. Holy fuck.

The other adult is supposed to be a helpful character, but he takes the idea of a helpful adult to absurd extremes, being described as a "hippie-dippy Headmaster" who preaches personal growth... while using the school's so-called honor code to try to force his students to confess to crimes they didn't commit. Not as bad as the other bloke, but still terrible.

Having said that, I definitely didn't enjoy this one, thanks in no small part to the portrayal of teachers and social service workers as well as the unintended racism, but it definitely wasn't terrible. Might be worth a read for anyone who enjoys or is feeling nostalgic for Flight 29 Down, so two stars it is!

February 6, 2013

A Kiss for Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik

A Kiss for Little BearA Kiss for Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik

My rating: ★★★☆☆

It's amazing how the images here convey just as much as, if not more than, the words. The characters are all wonderfully expressive, and Sendak's contribution transforms a simple book for helping young children learn to read into a humorous and sweet story that the adult readers can enjoy just as much as their audience.

February 4, 2013

Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles, #1) by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles, # 1)Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

I'm not going to lie--I read Beautiful Creatures for one reason and one reason only: I've promised myself to always (or whenever possible, at least) read a book before I see its movie adaptation.

As I'm sure everyone knows by now, the Beautiful Creatures movie is going to be released within the next two weeks. I may or may not be going to see it in theatres, but I'm sure I'll see it eventually even if I do end up waiting for the DVD release. So I requested a copy from the library and finally sat down to read this behemoth.

Seriously, Beautiful Creatures is over five hundred pages long. That doesn't sound like much, does it? Not when the A Song of Ice and Fire books creep past a thousand page, Harry Potter got into the eight hundreds, and even the nonsense that was Twilight reached past four hundred (IIRC).

But here's the catch. Harry Potter at over eight hundred pages felt short because a lot happened, and I was emotionally invested in the characters. A Game of Thrones at over eight hundred pages felt long because while there was a lot happening, I didn't have an emotional investment in the characters prior to reading. Twilight felt bloated because nothing ever happened, and the characters weren't exactly entrancing.

So on the scale of Harry Potter to Twilight, Beautiful Creatures was just a tiny notch above Twilight. There was more to the plot than just the instalove, but the interesting elements were few and far between. And when they showed up, they didn't meet my expectations or capture my interest as I felt they should have.

Beautiful Creatures at its core has an interesting idea. Dark versus Light Casters? That's cool. A family curse that removes one's ability to choose one's own faction? That's potentially awesome. Focusing on a boring, one dimensional teenage romance instead of the Dark versus Light, family curse business? That's not cool. Counting down to a the pivotal scene throughout the book, then failing to deliver said pivotal scene? That's so lame it feels like a scam to get me to buy the next book. Killing off the only character I gave a rat's ass about? Yeah, I think I'm done here.

So. Here's what it all boils down to for me: the idea of Beautiful Creatures had potential. The execution was severely lacking--to the point that I felt like I was reading Twilight all over again, which is a point you never want to reach.

But I have not lost hope for the movie.

Have you seen the second trailer for it? Notice anything (besides the massive spoilers)? You should! The movie clearly gives Sarafine a bigger role (and after all, who would cast Emma Thompson and not give her as much screentime as possible?), and I'm hoping that it's a sign that those who made it were willing to rip this thing apart to get at that potential. I'm hoping they have the finesse to take the sprinklings of great ideas scattered about this plot, significantly reduce the presence of the creepy, perma-constipated looking actor playing Ethan, significantly increase the roles of Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson, and build this up into something awesome.

Finally, on the subject of sequels. I really don't see myself reading any more of this series. I will read Beautiful Darkness if and only if the Beautiful Creatures movie is amazing and Beautiful Darkness gets a movie, too. Otherwise... I really just don't care.

February 1, 2013

The Magic School Bus Comes To Its Senses by Kristin Earhart

The Magic School Bus Comes To Its SensesThe Magic School Bus Comes To Its Senses by Kristin Earhart

My rating: ★★★★☆

I adore The Magic School Bus. The television show premiered the week after I was born, so I literally grew up with it. The non-Joanna Cole books that followed the success of the cartoon, however... those I can't say I'm wholly fond of. Some of them infuriate me, actually, in their wild deviance from the nature of the program and the original books.

This, on the other hand, didn't disappoint. It's a very simple book, and would be wonderfully useful in daycare, preschool, or elementary school classrooms, or in the home libraries of parents with young children. Efficient readers over the age of five will find the writing and plot simplistic, but I was surprised to find that the science didn't "dumb down" sensory function (in an objectionable way) for its young audience. Readers over the age of eleven (who go to schools with respectable science curricula) will probably not learn anything new from this, but it's a wonderful way to teach an elementary schooler about the five most well-known senses and the organs and nerves involved.

Through the use of fill-in-the-blank rhymes, the narrative explores hearing, vision, touch, taste, and smell. The last page features some information about the senses of non-human animals--specifically, those animals who possess a specific sense far superior to ours.