If you've ever wanted to read every book in the library, maybe you should rethink that.

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Sweet bathtub Mary on a stick!

Featured books:

REM World by Rodman Philbrick

The Daystar Voyages, book 9: The White Dragon of Sharnu by Gilbert Morris

Rem World

This writing is definitely Rodman Philbrick. If you’ve liked any of his other books, you’ll like this. The style isn’t as conversational as Freak the Mighty, but there are some pretty nice puns in this one. This is targeted to a slightly younger audience, but it was more fun than Freak.

Arthur finds himself trapped in an odd place and finds out he has to save the world to get back home. While I’m tired of the trope where it’s up to just one boy/girl to save the world, I’m pleasantly familiar with the plot in which the hero travels all over the land and encounters the most strange, random things in order to disguise a weak plot. I wrote one such story in 6th grade (and, no, you may not read it).

This is a very quick read featuring much adventure, creative landscapes, and a sarcastic opossum.

My copy featured a table of contents with incorrect page numbers. Scholastic, you’re so funny.

The White Dragon of Sharnu (Daystar Voyages, #9)

In the name of all half-bathtub Mary statues, this is one of the worst books I’ve ever read in my life.

This is the 9th instalment for a Christian science fiction series called The Daystar Voyages. Remember my 50-page pledge to the books I read? Well, I got to page 25 before giving up with this one, but I stuck it out to page 72 because I own this (not for long). Apparently book 1 of the series is good, or so says the internet, and I hope that’s true for the author’s sake. I hate to think how much time and paper might have been wasted on the series. I regret buying this book a decade ago simply based on the pretty dragon on the cover. That’s right, I’ve owned this book for at least 10 years and haven’t read it. That’s what book hoarders do.

In lieu of pointing out every little problem I had with the book in general, allow me to demonstrate disgust using one of the worst scenes I’ve ever read from none other than the first chapter. Keep in mind that this is the writing quality I’ve experienced so far:

We got skillz. Bad acting skillz.

 

Heck Jordan was helping the chief engineer with the safety links located in the bowels of Engineering. These links were the fuses that protected the relay paths from the engineering computers to the main Star Drive engines.

Open the access panel, Heck,” Ivan Petroski ordered gruffly.

Heck opened the latches, and the large red panel promptly fell to the deck, almost hitting Ivan on the head

Be careful!” the chief engineer yelled in surprise.

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for that to happen. The stupid panel fell before I could grab it.” Heck was obviously getting tired of taking Ivan’s grouchy orders.

Ivan Petroski knew he was often cranky. Sometimes his anger was bigger than he was. The engineer was no more than four feet six, though he was well proportioned. He had flashing brown eyes and thick brown hair. He came from Belinka Two, where everyone was about his size. Indeed, he often boasted that he was one of the tallest men there. As chief engineer, he had great responsibility on the Daystar, and one of the biggest problems always turned out to be Heck Jordan.

I’d like to open the hatch and throw you out into space!” Ivan grumbled crossly. He had no respect for this reckless young man who have him so much trouble. Ivan felt like a baby-sitter.

Heck Jordan was a heavyset boy with bright red hair and innocent-looking blue eyes. He was an electronics genius, but he had several serious problems. He ate constantly—usually sweets—and Ivan Petroski was sure he was the most selfish human being on board the ship. Ivan well knew that Heck was very stubborn and was mostly concerned about getting his own way. When you add to all his bad habits the fact that he loved fancy clothes but was color-blind, Heck was a very noticeable young man.

Right now he was tugging at the lime green neckerchief that ill-suited his uniform—although of course he would not know that—and he paid no attention to the chief engineer.

Petroski yelled until he was almost hoarse. Finally, he decided that the ensign was going to totally ignore him. Ivan reached up and pulled free a very warm safety link from the relay tracks above his head. He tossed the link toward Heck.

Each safety link measured about two feet long and three inches in diameter. Twenty of these links were connected to circuit pathways behind the panel that Heck had just removed. Ivan figured that it was better to lose a safety link than to blow the engine computers. The condition of the safety links was OK, but the temperature of the operating links would make someone think twice about holding on to one for long.

Heck caught the hot link by reflex and then started juggling it wildly. “Hey, look out!” He yelled at Ivan. “What did you do that for? That’s hot!”

Ivan grinned at the Ranger as Heck finally put the relay down and blew on his hands. “I wanted to make a point,” Ivan told him.

Well, you didn’t have to burn my hands off!”

Heck, you’re irresponsible, and you won’t follow orders.”

Heck glared at the engineer. Then he picked up the cooling-down link and tossed it back to Ivan, who replaced it in its receptacle. Heck looked down at his red hands and blew on them again. “That hurt!”

If you’d just do what you’re supposed to be doing and stop acting like an idiot, I wouldn’t try to burn you up.”

Heck reached into a pocket and lazily brought out a candy bar. Then he unwrapped it and chewed off half in one bite. “Well, maybe I do have a problem, Ivan. Maybe.”

A problem! You got a hundred problems!” the chief engineer roared.

It’s just that I’m impulsive, and I want to get on with the program. Sometimes I don’t always think things out before I act.”

Look, Heck,” Ivan said a little more calmy, “I want to help you, but you’ve got to start listening. Nothing’s going to get better on this ship until you start to pay attention.”

All right, then Ivan. Go ahead and talk. I’m listening,” Heck said. He turned back to his computer.

And Petroski knew that Ensign Heck Jordan immediately closed his ears to anything he was about to say.

Did I even read this correctly? Here’s what I gather:

  • Ivan is compensating for his size with grumpiness.

  • Heck’s apology for accidentally dropping something is answered with a threat.

  • Having a sweet tooth may mean you’re selfish.

  • Dressing yourself despite your color-blindness is annoying, not endearing.

  • Ivan isn’t irresponsible at all for disconnecting a part of the ship to throw at his co-worker.

  • Ivan needs a vacation.

I did catch an attitude from Heck at the end of that passage, but who wouldn’t be a little short if someone was always shouting and burning your hands? I’m probably missing a lot of subtleties or key information from the characters because I haven’t gotten to know them through the other 8 books in the series, but have a little sensitivity with your information, Morris! It’s later implied that Heck is a little ugly, but I didn’t catch that from the description above. I happen to find red hair attractive no matter a person’s size. Fifty pages later, the ship’s captain unnecessarily sends Heck on a mission that he hopes will kill Heck simply because he wants to get rid of him. I thought the captain was supposed to be one of the good guys.

The clearest evidence of this having not been edited is the paragraph in which the safety link is described. Ivan has just tossed the link, and what does the link do? Just hang in mid-air and wait for the reader to get a backstory on this object? By the time the paragraph is over, my attention is no longer watching the link as it travels toward Heck, rather trying to make sense of the information.

Starting from “Petrovski yelled” and ending with Heck catching the link, here are the exact same sentences organized differently:

Petroski yelled until he was almost hoarse. Finally, he decided that the ensign was going to totally ignore him. Ivan reached up and pulled free a very warm safety link from the relay tracks above his head. Twenty of these links were connected to circuit pathways behind the panel that Heck had just removed. Each safety link measured about two feet long and three inches in diameter. Ivan figured that it was better to lose a safety link than to blow the engine computers. The condition of the safety links was OK, but the temperature of the operating links would make someone think twice about holding on to one for long. He tossed the link toward Heck.

Heck caught the hot link by reflex and then started juggling it wildly. “Hey, look out!”

Easy-peasy.

Ugh. Agh! Grr. I could only groan so much before realizing this book wasn’t going to improve. (It did improve, actually, but there was so much repetition of obvious information and I could see where the plot was going with my eyes closed that I decided I wanted no more of it.) Even the publisher doesn’t list this book on their website. One thinks they must be ashamed, as well they should be.

If you can find a worse passage from any novel in the world, I accept your challenge. Post it in a comment on this website, post it on your blog and link me to it, or throw the book at me and describe its attributes as it’s flying into my face.

It appears Gilbert Morris has written a fantasy series for young adults, and I’m willing to give him another chance (at another time) because I can get into fantasy a lot more quickly than science fiction. He has also written adult fiction, where I’m hoping Morris won’t pander to the readers as much with nonsense passing itself off as dialogue. (Be glad I didn’t subject you to the nonsense.)

Pardon my snarkiness in this post. I’ve been reading this collection of reviews of a completely different book that are wonderfully full of rage and are probably bad for my health. What did I tell you about writing good reviews because of disgust? Despite the time it takes type up one of these, it’s a constructive way to vent.

18 titles down, 34 to go.
Days left: 31.

Because most of the books I’ve read for this challenge have so far come from both male characters and male authors, I’m going to move on to female protagonists and authors for a while.

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This post contains spoilers!

Featured Books:

Nightmare by Willo Davis Roberts

Breath by Donna Jo Napoli

Nightmare

I couldn’t finish this one, but that’s OK. To each her own. I give a book 50 pages to offer me some sense of its world and characters. If I’m on the fence about whether I like it, I give it 50 more pages to convince me to stay on. If I don’t like it, I send the book back to wherever it came from. This is why I love the library; you can get a good sense of your tastes without paying. There are so many books I want to try in my life, and if I don’t like them I don’t bother.

The plot of Nightmare is compelling enough, to its credit. Nick is a teen who has three bad things happen to him in the first two chapters. His girlfriend dumps him, his car collides into a man who had just jumped off a bridge, and his dog is shot by a home intruder. The dog was fine, the man was not, and the ex-girlfriend was probably a bitch anyway.

Teens might like this book for the my-life-sucks-and-anyone-who-cares-about-me-is-annoying tone. We’ve all been there, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I want to read about it. The characters got on my nerves, mostly Nick. He complained about his step-father, Steve, though with good cause. Steve, a cop, was almost completely insensitive to Nick’s experience with the man who died on the hood of Nick’s car merely days after the horrible event. Steve insisted in passive-aggressive ways that Nick should be concerned about cleaning out the garage than a human’s life. Um, OK. Yeah, that’ll cure those night terrors. Aside from constant complaining about Steve, Nick annoyed me at how peeved he was with his neighbour, Daisy. I got the sense that Nick’s only thoughts about her were “My ex-girlfriend once said that Daisy, my neighbour who’s the same age as me, dresses a few years her junior which makes her totally uncool to like as a person. Also, she cares about my well-being and makes the time to stalk me from her window, which ended up saving my life several times. What a little pest.” I wasn’t buying it, so I hope that at some point in the novel Nick realizes Daisy is the best thing about his life. Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about that if I’m no longer invested in the story. I made it to page 78.

I started reading on July 20 after hearing about the shootings in Aurora, CO. I especially wasn’t feeling this book when I read how Nick wanted to go to a movie, “see if anything good was playing at the Tri-Plex there. Preferably something violent and heavy, with no girls in it, just guys slaughtering each other.” Yeah, it didn’t sit well that weekend. It probably wouldn’t sit well if I read it today, either Having published Nightmare in 1989, Roberts certainly didn’t mean any ill will with this passage. It was just bad timing on my part.

If you like murder mysteries, I might recommend this novel. I actually do wish to know whether the suicidal guy jumped or was pushed. More so, I want to know what kind of bug has been living in Steve’s ass. It would be even more satisfying if the guy had been pushed off the bridge, and Steve was somehow involved with it because, according to Nick, he’s kind of a bad person. If anyone has read this book, do tell me!

I’m surprised to have found this in the Juvenile section instead of Teen. Wherever it’s placed on a library shelf, it’s obviously meant for mature readers—not necessarily those over 13—because the first chapter features a lot of imagery of a horrified man hitting the wind shield of the car you’re driving. Not all children’s books feature happy images, something all parents should be aware of. You can’t protect your little one from the terrors of life, especially if they read, but they do need to read so they can have an understanding of life itself. Death happens in fiction as much as real life, and I’ve found this is especially true in mysteries.

I’ll still count this book towards my children’s lit challenge because I put the effort into finding out about this book, and it fits with the theme of this post. I might check out other titles by Ms. Roberts because she has apparently written a lot. Some of her other books might be a success, especially a non-mystery with a female, child protagonist as opposed to what I just read.

Breath

Breath was easier to read in terms of writing style and plot consistency. Besides, I always prefer historical fiction over mysteries or general fiction.

Not only does our main character see death, but his family openly speculates his early expiration. Growing up with cystic fibrosis, Salz knows how precious his life is. Gladly, this isn’t all there is to the book. A plague scare is sweeping through the entire town, and the novel becomes somewhat of a historic mystery as Salz’s family tries to find out the cause of the disease.

The story is based on the legend of the pied piper, which one might not realize until the last few chapters. I love this. As a reader, I appreciate being swept up in a story instead of being beaten over the head with a theme. There’s a lot going on in terms of relationships and history and I’m not left wanting—except for a slight desire to know whether Pater Frederick evaporated into thin air.

It’s funny how the more I like a book, the less I have to say about it. This is why I could never be a book critic; I’m only wordy when I’m angry. As fun a job this would be, my health would surely decline by how often I’d have to force my high blood pressure. I loved this book well enough, and am excited to explore Donna Jo Napoli down the road of my reading adventure.

I do have things to say about the cover of Breath. It features The Triumph of Death by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. As much as I love the macabre, the more I looked at this painting the more disturbed I was. I wondered, “Is this suitable for a children’s novel?” Thankfully, the library mislabeled this novel and stuck it in the juvenile section (it’s supposed to be in the teen section). To top that off, when I tried to check it out the book wasn’t in the system. What gives, library? *slow clap*

Take a look at this picture. (Click the image to expand.)

The Triumph of Death

 

The picture’s bottom half is featured on the cover. The skeletons aren’t just symbols of death. They’re performing murder before our eyes. Animals, who are dying as well, torment the people. Covers are powerful things, and this historic piece of artwork says more about the novel than the blurred image of a child’s mouth on the top half of the cover. It’s a fine representation: vagueness over an expanding death toll brought by possibly supernatural causes.

Still, I prefer that cover to this one:

Breath

With these two novels, children learn there’s always more to a death; a murder, a born illness, a spreading disease, and punishment from an invisible force are all part of an investigation. In all investigations, there are lessons and myths. In all lessons and myths, there are stories.

16 titles down, 36 to go.
Days left: 37.



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