book review: Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith by Shaun Hume

I finished Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith several weeks ago, but I wanted to take some time to think about how I wanted to review it.

This book is about a misfit boy who finally feels at home when he starts attending a magical school.

If this sounds like Harry Potter, that’s because there are many similarities between Ewan Pendle and Harry Potter.  Ewan doesn’t fit in with the other children because of his ability to see monsters and is often bullied by his foster siblings.  Like Harry, Ewan is an orphan.  However, instead of living with an aunt and uncle, Ewan has been passed from foster home to foster home until Enola, the Grand Master at Firedrake Lyceum, takes him into her care. There are hints throughout the book that perhaps Ewan is known to some people in this new world, as Harry was famous in the wizarding world.  There is a Master at the school who seems to strongly dislike Ewan, as Snape disliked Harry.  Unfortunate events happen to Ewan, often outside of his control, that land him into trouble, just as Harry had a penchant for getting into mischief at Hogwarts.  The similarities don’t end there.  The white wraith conjures memories of the dementors.

This book is an okay book, but it could be a good book.  The magical world of Ewan Pendle was interesting, the characters were likeable, but I found myself thinking that this book needs a good editor.  It took me a little while to get into the story because of the repetitive descriptions.  There were some inconsistencies in the story, too.  First, the Does (Ewan’s foster parents at the beginning of the book) have four foster sons, besides Ewan.  The four pick on Ewan and though the Mr. and Mrs. Doe are not nasty to him specifically, the reader is told that he is their least favourite foster child.  Given the unwelcome behaviour, it is a wonder that Ewan is so hesitant to leave their care.  Another inconsistency has to do with Ewan seeing monsters.  He first starts seeing them at age 5 and the book states that having been passed off from foster home to foster home due to his babbling about monsters, Ewan quickly learned not to tell anyone about them.  Ewan himself is perplexed by why he is bandied about, but blames his special ability.  However, if he has learned to keep his mouth shut about the monsters, why is he being passed around yet again if his foster parents and siblings have no knowledge of his special ability?  Why are his foster brothers bullying him?

I think that readers who enjoyed the Harry Potter series and the Charlie Bone series would also enjoy this book.  Be warned that this book is the first in what will be a series, but there are no plans for the release of the second book yet.  The end of this book contains an impassioned plea from the author  to help with funding so that he may finish writing the next book .

Disclaimer: The author provided me with a complimentary copy of this e-book in exchange for my honest review.

 

book review: Jack and the Geniuses: at the Bottom of the World by Bill Nye and Gregory Mone

This book appears to be the start of a series of adventure stories geared towards middle schoolers.  The book is about Jack and his two genius foster siblings, Ava and Matt, who had themselves declared legally independent.  With two siblings who are geniuses, it is hard for Jack to stand out, but he manages to come up with some clever solutions to problems on his own.

I would say that the target audience would be upper elementary children (4th-6th and maybe even 3rd graders), maybe early middle school, rather than middle school.  The inventions described in the book are very creative and, since one of the authors is Bill Nye, he tries to stay true to the science.  In other words, even though the inventions don’t exist, parts of them do exist so it is possible that some of the inventions may come to fruition one of these days.

In this book, Jack and his siblings do volunteer work for an inventor named Hank Witherspoon who has to judge a contest in Antarctica.  As a reward for their hard work, he takes them along.  When they arrive, they are faced with solving the disappearance of a missing scientist.

I was wavering between 3 stars and 4 stars for this book, but decided to go with 4 because of the neat science bits.  I enjoyed reading about how to make a shelter in the snow, how to survive intense temperatures, and the great inventions.

I wish that the characters in the book had been more developed.  The story is told from Jack’s point of view so the reader becomes most familiar with him.  Unfortunately, little is known about Ava and Matt other than that they are geniuses and that Ava names her robots and Matt likes to work out.  Dr. Witherspoon is a rich man, but expects the children to work for him for free?  Come on, what kind of a person is he?

Maybe we’ll get to know the other characters better as the siblings go on more adventures in future book.  I hope Dr. Witherspoon intends to start paying the poor kids for doing so much work for him.

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.  This book will be published April 4, 2017.

Book Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I remember seeing the movie, Coraline, years ago and thinking it was an odd, creepy movie and probably not really a children’s movie.  I don’t know why it gave me the creeps exactly.  I’m not much of a horror movie fan nowadays, but I used to love horror movies and was pretty fearless.

I wanted to revisit the story to see if it was just as creepy and weird.  The book did not disappoint.  It starts out innocently enough – a girl who is bored with older neighbors who are odd but harmless enough.  Then you get whiffs of the weirdness about to come – the tea leaves warning of danger, the mice warning her not to go through the door.

Spoiler alert – don’t read this next part if you don’t want to know about what happens in the story.  Coraline, of course, goes through the door (the door between her house and the empty house next door – her mom told her that there is a brick wall there so there is nothing to explore) because who is going to believe a old guy who talks to mice and passes on messages for mice?  She finds a sort of alternate universe where everything looks just as it does in her own house, but the people have buttons instead of eyes.  She calls the people the “other” people so her mom is her “other mom.”  Coraline gets creeped out by this other world and runs back to her own home.  Unfortunately, her parents disappeared and she has worked out that the other mom somehow kidnapped her parents so she has to go back to the other world.  The other mom takes the key to the door between the two worlds from Coraline.  The only other creature who seems to be able to freely travel between the two worlds is a black cat who can talk in the other world.  The cat is haughty but ends up being Coraline’s friend.  Later, the other mom locks Coraline up for being disobedient.

It is in this locked room that Coraline meets the shells of other children who have been caught by the other mom.  The children tell Coraline to run away but when they learn that she can’t until she finds her parents, they ask for her help in locating their souls so they can be free of the other mom.  Coraline makes a deal with the other mom – if she can find all 3 souls of the trapped children and her parents, the other mom has to let them all go.  If she can’t, she agrees to stay with the other mom and be obedient.  The other mom swears on her right hand that she will let Coraline and the others go.  With the help of a charm from one of the neighbors and the black cat, Coraline is able to find the 3 lost souls and figures out where her parents are hidden.  Unfortunately, the other mom has no intention of keeping her word to let them all go.  Coraline then has to trick the other mom into opening the door between the other world and her home.  She then throws the black cat at the other mom in order to makes it home with everyone safe and sound.

Or not.  Since the other mom swore on her right hand, the hand becomes unattached and travels to Coraline’s world to try to get the key.  Coraline throws both the key into a well and when the hand goes after it, she boards up the top of the well so that it can’t escape.

My version of the book had a Q&A session with the author.  In it, he says that there was a door like that in an old house that he lived in growing up.  He also spent quite a few rainy summer days reading the Narnia series (so there’s the whole door leading to a different world motif).

It was a short story (it’s supposed to be a children’s story) and an easy read.  I really liked this story – It wasn’t full of gory, bloody entrails or anything – it had the right amount of creep factor.  I think that many young children would get scared, but the ones who are 12+ would probably enjoy it … or adults.  It’s appropriate for Halloween .. and the movie was very well done so I would recommend that as well.

I’m going to try one of his adult books next.