Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Homework Machine

by Dan Gutman.

Told in short snippets from the point of view of several children, this book tells the story of one genius boy who invents a "homework machine" to do his work, and the group of four unlikely kids who come together using the machine. Dan Gutman is an always reliable writer. He brings in enough humor to appeal to kids, enough of a message to please parents, and always just a touch of seriousness to ground the books in some kind of reality. I don't like these books quite as well as I liked his "Baseball Card Adventure" books, but you really can't go wrong with this writer. He does good work.

Here's a link to Dan Gutman's home page:

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Paula Spencer by Roddy Doyle

Oh, welcome back, Roddy. You went all abstract and arty on me with your Henry Smart books, and I was afraid I'd lost one of my favorite writers. But you've returned with one of my favorite characters. Paula Spencer has led such a grim life. Why does she make me so happy? She's been an abused wife, a drunken mother, and by all measures I guess she'd be a failure. But darn if she doesn't get up somehow and keep fighting. Roddy Doyle has done a gorgeous job of showing how we humans mess up our lives and mess up our kids, and say awful things to those we love and behave terribly toward others, yet somehow manage to muddle through. As both a mother who knows how guilty mothers feel, and the child of an alcoholic, I feel like this book is full of truths. Now I know Roddy Doyle isn't for everyone. His books are profane and full of swearing and shockingly bad behavior, and sometimes they aren't easy to read due to the fact that he never uses quotation marks or the wonderful phrases "he said" or "she said." But I don't care. If you want to really read A LIFE - this book and it's predecessor The Woman Who Walked Into Doors are well worth your time and effort. Bravo. Long live Roddy Doyle! Long live Paula Spencer!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

The trouble with Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings

To clarify here, I mean the Harry Potter BOOKS and Lord of the Rings MOVIES. The trouble with these two very good franchises is that they have made others think that it is OK for books to be 350 pages or more, and all movies must hit at least 2 hours and 20 minutes.... Depsite their individual excellence, they have encouraged others to copy their length, and so we have to see movies that are 20 or 30 or even 40 minutes too long, and read books that would have been much better if only the story had been condensed. Every one now feels justified in going on too long, not realizing that it takes great talent to extend a book or movie to great lengths.

Why do I go on about this? Well, because of a book called Larklight. It's a book stuffed with good ideas and absorbing illustrations, but it is just too darn long to sustain itself. Written as an alternate history kind of science fiction type book, the novel is set in Victorian times, only in this version of history, Isaac Newton discovered space travel, and gravity machines, etc. Space isn't as we know it however, but more like Victorian Empire builders may have imagined it - filled with something called "aether" and capable of being traveled without special gear, stuffed with alien lifeforms and ready to be added to the empire. The book is written in a somewhat florid "ripping yarns" kind of way, and tells of the exploits of a brother and sister who must try to foil the attempts of a spider-like race to bring down the Empire. It is inventive, fun, and entertaining - mostly. But it is too darn long, and the language is just too florid and old-fashioned. It is written with the tongue firmly in the cheek - making fun of that kind of old-fashioned adventure novel - but I don't know that most kids (or any kids) would get the joke. For a better use of an alternate reality old-fashioned adventure, you'd be better off with Airborn and Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel.

Link for Larklight:

Link for Airborn & Skybreaker: