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The Books I Read: March – April 2018

The Books I Read: March – April 2018
Out of My Mind by Sharon R. Draper

It’s very good. I was invested right away and I didn’t expect to be. It’s like Wonder in that the kid has a disability, but in this case, it’s cerebral palsy. The mind works fine, but the body doesn’t. And thus we get a nice look at the terrible way schools lump all the “special ed” kids in a single room, whereas Wonder was about bullying and prejudice and superficiality.

It dragged in the middle, but it’s not a scmaltzy ending like Wonder. (I mean, Wonder by Natalie Merchant for the movie trailer? Really?) As one would expect, it’s inspirational, but not cheesy. There are consequences for actions on both sides, and both show a not-so-great side of humanity. I recommend it, especially because it’s short.

Robots vs. Fairies by various authors

It’s actually not so much about the conflict between future and fantasy as it is alternating robot and fairy stories (except for the one at the back which combines them). Which makes me wonder why this collection exists. It’s not a matter of taste–I like robot stories and I like fairy stories–but what’s the point of combining them? Seem like two things that would be better on their own if they’re not gonna play together.

Most of the stories are pretty good. This is one of the better short story collections I’ve read, and I don’t like ’em all that much. I even found one or two new authors to investigate (which is what a good short fiction collection should do–act like a sampler for other authors). To my surprise I was not impressed with Scalzi’s contribution. But I was with Jim C. Hines’s. I expected those two to be reversed. I think I need to amend my earlier stance on Hines for a corollary about his short fiction.

Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech

My daughter said this is one of her favorite books and Sharon Creech is one of her favorite authors. I had already read “Walk Two Moons” but that didn’t set me up proper for this one. Walk Two Moons has big questions, like karma, parental loss, parental absence, and lots of death. Ruby Holler is about a brother and sister, two grandparents in a cabin, and evil villains who run an orphanage.

It reminded me of a female Roald Dahl book + Gilmore Girls/Switched at Birth. There’s all this quaint country stuff (living in the woods, rural lifestyle, hiking and boating) with a little spitz of magic. There are some problems with choppiness and loose ends (the evil orphanage owner gets a rather pithy comeuppance for his misdeeds). It’s like Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events if it was shown on CMT.

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

A young, shy girl finds that her favorite library book has been considered “contraband” because of a “concerned parent”. And of course, anything that’s forbidden becomes automatically interesting. So others around her borrow the same books she loves, which leads to her running an underground lending library of all the banned books. Anything being censored becomes novel and rebellious. Hell, I put a bunch of them on my own reading list after reading this.

It was not as weighty as I thought a book like this should be, but it’s still engaging. It’s not too long and not artificially extended with meaningless subplots. On the younger end of YA. All in all, it’s a fascinating little scheme and it’s fun to see how it all turns out. The concept is based on an urban legend and it’s clear the author apporached it with reverence. If you finish it, you’ll find yourself looking into all the real banned/challenged books it mentions.

Daemon by Daniel Suarez

I don’t read too many thrillers, but this was recommended for fans of “Ready Player One”. It’s kinda longish, but it does involve some interesting concepts. Far-fetched concepts to be sure (a dead software developer somehow has the wherewithall to turn the world into an AR game, control all the world’s money, and make autonomic cars with ninja swords. It’s like Dr. Light in Mega Man X, who despite being a hologram in a buried capsule, knows who Zero is–this guy ain’t dead).

However, like most thrillers, interesting characters get less screentime for the sake of suspense. People become talking heads for explaining and furthering the plot via investigations and news updates. They don’t have much personality.

It’s a techno-thriller, so there’s going to be a lot of focus on IT stuff. It’s not terrible writing, but it’s not great. It’s like Stephen King minus the New England color. Meant to be a bestseller thriller. I’m not sure I’d put this on a list of “If you like Ready Player One, you’ll like…” — the mood is completely different: bleak and noir — but I was intrigued enough to put the sequel on my “to read” list (but that’s because the book just ends with no resolution/the bad guys win).

Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn

This was one of the books I gleaned from “Ban This Book” by Alan Gratz. I’m not sure why it was challenged. Maybe someone thought it was too spoopy for the targeted audience. A second-marriage mom and dad move their family to a quaint farmhouse in Maine so they can work on their art (reminds me of the House Hunters joke: I’m a mouse trainer and he’s a toothpick collector; our budget is 2 million dollars). But the littlest girl, the main character’s stepsister, keeps seeing a ghost nearby. A ghost trying to push her into going full Bad Seed.

The pacing is poor. I should have lowered my expectations when I saw the cover–one of those mass-market Avon-Camelot numbers that look like they’re part of a series. The kind with the border and standard typeface you saw in the spinning racks in the school library. Being a ghost story it s t r e t c h e s the narration out, trying to provide a spooky atmosphere. Maybe it’s just me, or it could be the times, but I wanted her to stop being such a whiner and show some initiative regarding finding out the truth. Not to keep going back to mom and dad. But it was written in 1987 after all. It goes a little farther than those “for kids” scary shows like “Goosebumps” and “Are You Afraid of the Dark”, but it doesn’t do anything to stand out among the tropes.

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

A cute little story about a girl who finds a dog and makes a few friends thanks to that dog. It’s just her and her dad in a trailer (she calls him pastor instead of Dad) and the dog gets her into typical shenanigans. Reminded me of Marmaduke but where he’s not such an asshole.

It also leads to finding some new friends, both adult and kid. Which proves that dogs are great for picking up chicks. I’m not sure why people consider this a classic, or how a movie got made from it. There’s nothing that stands out, no emotional hammers. It’s not too different from Beethoven or “Where the Red Fern Grows” (except the dog doesn’t die) in terms of fundamental beats. But it contains no offensive material, so schoolteachers can show it without worrying about a “concerned parent”.

Eric J. Juneau

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at http://www.ericjuneaubooks.com where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.


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