Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Limit

Author: Kristen Landon

Rating: * (1 star out of 3 possible, "C")
Recommended with Reservations

Audience: Middle School

This first novel by Kristen Landon begins with a somewhat choppy plot sequence and some choppy, colloquial dialogue. But the author has created a believable near-future America where debt, senseless consumerism and an over-reaching central government combine to create provocative philosophical and ethical questions for characters and readers.

The Search for WondLa

Author: Tony DiTerlizzi (author of the SpiderWick Chronicles)

Rating: * (1 star out of 3 possible, "C")
Recommended with Reservations

Audience: Middle School

My main reservation with this book is that, as the first of 3 volumes, it impossible to conjecture where DiTerlizzi may be headed with his science fiction trilogy. Will it continue as a harmless fantasy, purposefully reminiscent of Oz books, or will it devolve into some sort of post-modern treatise on equal rights for plants, animals and robots with no real moral compass or Higher Power?

Eva Nine, the main and human character, has been raised in an underground protective sanctuary by her robot "Muthr" (Multi-Utility Task Help Robot: points for creativity). They have been preparing for the day when they can return to the planet's surface and/or find other sanctuaries occupied by other humans. Eva Nine and Muthr have never seen the sun, the moon, or the surface of their planet, not to mention another human being.

Eva is very much a typical 12-year old adolescent, chaffing at her robot mother's frequent reminders and syrupy comments and longing for some harmless freedom. She possesses an "Omnipod" (the most amazing, futuristic, encyclopedic Ipod ever) and one very primitive item: a scorched and glued together picture, or tile, or perhaps cover of an old hardback book, showing a human child, a robot and an unidentifiable adult along with the pieced-together word "WondLa."

Blood on the River

Title: Blood on the River/James Town 1607

Author: Elisa Carbone

Rating: *** (3 stars out of 3 possible, "A")
Highly Recommended

Audience: 5th Grade and up

Ahh, I love to give out a well-earned "A"! This book is an excellent example of fiction (historical fiction) that is real literature: well-written with meaningful themes.

Necessities such as plot and character development are not overlooked. This book will appeal to boys and girls who love adventure, and they'll learn valuable history painlessly along the way.

I am so impressed with this book that I wrote a 9&1/2 page review in my journal! Let me do my best to condense it here:

Samuel Collier was a real orphan boy (age 11) chosen to sail to Jamestown as servant to Captain Johns Smith. Other boys accompanied other gentlemen on the trip and this novel explores their relationships and experiences. Elisa Carbone did her research well and the book offers an excellent portrayal of real-life struggles and realistic situations faced by the Jamestown colony between 1607-1610.

Tintin (comic strip & movie)

23 Titles: Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, Tintin in the Congo, Tintin in America, Cigars of the Pharoah, Blue Lotus, Broken Ear, Black Island, King Ottokar's Sceptre, Crab with the Golden Claw, Shooting Star, Secret of the Unicorn, Red Rackham's Treasure, Seven Crystal Balls, Prisoners of the Sun, Land of Black Gold, Destination Moon, Explorers on the Moon, Calculus Affair, Red Sea Sharks, Tintin in Tibet, Castafiore Emerald, Flight 714 to Sydney, Tintin and the Picaros.

Author: Herge (pen name for Georges Remi)

Rating: ** (2 stars out of 3 possible, "B")

Audience: Ages 9 and up

We interrupt our regularly scheduled reviews for a more timely weigh-in on Steven Spielberg's Tintin movie!

My daughter began reading the Tintin comic books (now promoted to "graphic novels") when she was probably 8. (Perhaps a little young.) I found Tintin in Cricket magazines when I was in 6th & 7th grades. I never really knew exactly what Tintin was because I was unable to complete the series sequentially; I never seemed to know how the mystery adventure began, nor how it concluded. But I was hooked by the art and the action.

Twenty-one of these serial adventures are currently available beginning with Tintin in America and published in collections of 3 episodes each. Herge was a prolific Belgian artist working in the middle 20th century. The Tintin episodes were written between 1929 and 1975 and sometimes reflect historical and political events of the day. Do not expect overt references to WWII or the Cold War, however, as Herge's political sympathies were changeable and suspect to both Allied and Axis powers. He frequently set his adventures in out-of-the-way places to avoid controversy.

All this to say, enjoy the art, story and character of Tintin without looking too deeply for conspiracy theories! The only reason this series does not quite receive "highly recommended" remarks from me is the level of cartoon violence and lack of any exterior moral influence (aka GOD) on Tintin.

Tintin is some sort of teen reporter who travels the world solving mysteries and apprehending bad guys. This he accomplishes through physical and mental skills, as well as the support of his trusty fox terrier, Snowy and adult friends like Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus. Some of the writing is repetitive, comic book style ("Great Snakes!" "Crumbs!" "Blistering Barnacles!") and the strip relies heavily on physical humor and prat falls, but in my opinion, it is some of the best recreational reading graphic novels have to offer.

Steven Spielberg's current movie combines parts of three adventures (The Crab with the Golden Claw, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure) and is a satisfying depiction of both the visual effect of Herge, and the fast-paced plot lines.

While some Tintin purists (those impossible-to-please, stick-in-the-mud types) lament that Spielberg and 3-D have denigrated an institution, this amateur felt the movie held quite true to the spirit of the series. The complaints that a chase scene was too long, or the movie too busy seem to be weak, sour grapes when compared with the comic book itself. (For instance, I felt the noses were drawn too large; then I revisited the books and found them accurate!) Furthermore, the resident expert (my 10-year old daughter) was satisfied that the art remained intact and all necessary inside jokes, hints and references were present. Let's hope the planned sequels maintain the quality.

Monday, January 2, 2012


Author: Roland Smith

Rating: * (1 star out of 3 possible, "C")
Recommended with Reservations

Audience: Middle-school

Here is a contemporary youth novel offering middle-schoolers a unique plot and setting. The main character, Peak Marcello, is a 14 year old boy with mountain climbing skills in his bones and in his brain. Relocated with his mom, stepdad and twin stepsisters from Colorado to New York City, he illegally climbs skyscrapers to satisfy his thrill-seeker genes. Peak is a good kid: bright, doing well in his private school, loving to his stepsisters. But when arrested for trespassing on skyscrapers, Peak finds himself in serious juvenile delinquency territory.