Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Rules in Rome by A L Sowards

Rules in Rome, The (c) 2015 by A L Sowards
The Rules in Rome by A L Sowards  is an exciting WWII novel about a pair of spies working together in Rome during the Nazi occupation.

I really enjoyed this story, and I loved getting to know the characters. Bastian and Gracie are both brave, heroic protagonists who help me appreciate what real life people went through in WWII to bring the war to an end. I really liked that minor characters, including the Antagonists, the Nazis and the SS were portrayed as real people, not just mindlessly evil psychopaths. I liked Heinrich especially, though his nickname was a little distracting.

There were some things the main characters did that didn’t make sense to me, that from my perspective were, well, blindingly stupid that I don’t think they did for any other reason than that the author wanted them to do it to create conflict, kill off someone, and/or move the story forward.

These bits however, were mostly overshadowed by the powerful writing of the rest of the story, the characterizations, and the rich history. I liked the slow way the two grew into their feelings for each other, and the very satisfying twist at the end. I especially liked the epilogue!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Phantom of the Opera performed by Layton High Drama

The Phantom of the Opera (c) 1986
by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Last night, I hat the exciting opportunity to go with my son to one of my favorite musicals, The Phantom of the Opera performed by Layton High School Drama!        
The Phantom of the Opera was published in 1986 by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe. It was based on a book by the same name by Gaston Leroux.

Christine DaaƩ, a talented soprano who sings in the Paris Opera House is reunited with her childhood friend Raoul, and realizes she has romantic feelings for him, but fears offending the Angel of Music who has been secretly tutoring her in her singing.

On investigating who this mysterious character really is, Christine and Raoul discover that he is a physically deformed genius who lives beneath the Opera House. This Opera Ghost has an unhealthy obsession with Christine, and is displeased that she is developing a relationship with Raoul. What happens when the Opera Ghost tries to interfere with the two sweethearts? Watch the play to find out!

Sadly, tonight was the last performance of The Phantom of the Opera by Layton High School Drama, but I highly recommend the Play itself, and after watching Layton High’s performance, I was very impressed! If all their productions are even a fraction as good as this one, then they’ve got some great performances coming in the 2019-2020 school year!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites by Chris Heimerdinger

Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites
(c) 1989 by Chris Heimerdinger
Recently, I listened to the book on tape of one of my old favorites from my teens, Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites by Chris Heimerdinger.

Jim Hawkins, no relation to the character of the same name from Treasure Island, his friend Garth Plimpton, and Jim's younger sister Jenny are exploring a cave when they fall into an underground river and find themselves wisked away to the past. They wake up in a strange place, and find that they've traveled back in time to pre-Colombian MesoAmerica, and are smack dab in the middle of a conflict between Nephites and Lamanites! How the three kids are going to get out of this fix, none of them know. But as they team up with the likes of Teancum, Moroni, Pahoran and others, their hopes start to rise.

This is a good book for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints who enjoy a good adventure, and in fact anyone who enjoys a good adventure story might like it. It was as fun to read this time, as it was the first time I read it!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Cat Who Smelled a Rat by Lilian Jackson Braun

The Cat Who Smelled a Rat by Lilian Jackson Braun is a cozy story about Jim Qwilleran and his two Siamese cats, Yum Yum and Ko Ko. 
Cat Who Smelled a Rat, The (c) 2002
by Lilian Jackson Braun
Quil and his cats are living comfortably in Pickax City which is in Moose Country which is “400 miles north of everywhere” waiting for the “Big One” the major winter storm that always hits this time of the year, when mysterious things start to happen. Fires are starting near the historic mine shafts, and Qwil and his cats suspect arson. Then, when two people die under mysterious circumstances, a volunteer firefighter is murdered, and the local bookstore goes up in flames, Qwil and his cats know that something sinister is afoot! How do Quil and his feline companions track down the bad guy? Read the book and find out!

I recommend this book to people who love clean, cozy mysteries. And cats!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Holes by Louis Sachar

Holes (c) 1998 by Louis Sacher
Holes by Louis Sachar follows the story of Stanley Yelnats,who after a string of misfortunes in his family finds himself falsely accused of a crime and sentenced to labor in Camp Greenlake digging holes.
While Stanley digs holes, the reader is also given the stories of characters from the past, Sam and Katherine, whose tragedy intertwines with the story of Stanley’s no good dirty rotten pig stealing great great grandfather as well as his descendants, stemming from his accidentally broken promise to Madam Zeroni. The story is fun and well written with great twists and likable characters. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys adventure stories with satisfying endings.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Fablehaven Book 1 by Brandon Mull

Fablehaven (c) 2009 by Brandon Mull
The first book in the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull introduces the reader to Kendra and Seth, a brother and sister who go to stay with their Grandpa and Grandma Sorensen for a time while their parents go off on a cruise.  Thinking that they're going to be bored, the kids come with some amount of trepidation.

But what they find when they get to their grandparents' property gives them no time to be bored! Discovering that mythical creatures really exist and have taken refuge in the preserve their grandparents watch over, is just one part of their grandparents' secrets. That some of these creatures have evil intent is another. From demons who want to take over the preserve to naiads who want nothing more than to pull them underwater and drown them, Kendra and Seth have to be careful where they go and what they do. But when all the adults (except grandma and I won't explain why) are kidnapped on midsummer's eve, the kids have no choice but to brave the dangers of Fablehaven in order to try to rescue them.

I enjoyed this book, and recommend it to readers young and old who enjoy fantasy for young readers.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Passage to Avalon by Mike Thayer

The world building in Passage to Avalon by Mike Thayer is breathtakingly magnificent! I was thoroughly impressed by the detail of this world; the magic systems that are in place, the unique species, the established government etc. Middle grade readers, especially kids who love fantasy, will absolutely enjoy this book!

Mike Thayer is a master at creating a unique and completely believable world; one that is separate but parallel to our own. And I might add, close enough that the main character is actually able to communicate on occasion, (when he can find enough bars) with the Earth side of the dimensional divide.

Passage to Avalon (c) 2018 by Mike Thayer
While Samwise (Sam for short) Shelton and a friend are pulling a mean prank on someone, they experience an earthquake and subsequently find themselves transported to Avalon, a world separate but parallel to our own. The particular geography of this parallel dimension seems to match ours, and Avalon is where New Zealand is on our half of the dimensional divide. There, he encounters a society that is similar in dress and thinking to the middle ages of Europe, but also with a magical system. When coming into contact with a couple of ne'er-do-wells, Sam unwittingly defeats them, because, as it turns out, he is what the people there call a "void" someone who isn't affected by magic at all, and can actually drain it from others. As the story goes along and as he meets new allies, he learns to use this odd skill as he sets about trying to rescue his friend who came over with him, but who landed in another part of Avalon.

What actually happens when he finally comes into contact with his missing friend was something I predicted would happen, but it was still very exciting, since the protagonist and his friends had not anticipated it.

For myself, and taking into account that I am not a member of the target audience, I really did not like Samwise. He is a downright cruel boy who plays mean tricks on people, thinking himself clever and witty as he does so, and calling the mean tricks "pranks" to justify them. I do understand the appeal of such books to many middle grade readers, however, and were I a younger person and a member of the target audience of this book, what Samwise did wouldn't have bothered me.

I hoped Sam would grow as the book moved along, but from what I saw of him, he largely didn't.  As the story neared the end of the book, he even said that the "pranks" he played were only done to people who "deserved" it. I wondered what the librarian at his school had done to him that was so terrible that she deserved to have her lunch ruined which is a difficult thing at best, and at worst could be outright dangerous if she has health issues and needs to eat regularly. (I mention this because I have witnessed first hand "pranks" being pulled on a teacher almost just like this, and the teacher spent the next day sick at home, and unable to keep anything down.) I also wonder what the vice-principal did that was so horrible that Sam believed that it was appropriate to risk causing serious eye damage to the man. Had the egg Sam dropped hit the vice-principal in the eye rather than the forehead, it could have seriously injured his eye or even blinded him, and Sam was old enough to know that. What he was doing right before the earthquake wasn't much different than chucking a frozen turkey off an overpass. Being young does not excuse him from being unkind or ignorant to such potential problems. He's not five years old; he's fourteen and at this point in his life, he has the ability to know better. If he doesn't know better, it's because he has consciously chosen not to learn better. He mentioned, also toward the end of the book, that pulling his so called "pranks" was something his dad (who is deceased when the story begins) had taught him to do. I was a bit surprised at this. If his dad would approve of and participate in such meanness, then alive or dead, he's not a great guy. But would his dad really approve of Sam treating people in such a cruel way and think it funny? I seriously doubt it; most likely, the mean pranks Sam has pulled on teachers, police, and likely others is more a misguided interpretation of harmless and playful jokes his dad taught him that would entertain everyone, not just the person doing the prank.

In addition, again near the end of the book, Sam still hasn't learned much about honor or honesty and shows it when he lies to one of the characters who asks him if anyone could learn to use his phone; he leads the person to understand that he, Sam, is the only one who can or ever could use the phone the way he does. The person who asked hadn't given any indication of being a bad or dishonorable person, and Sam had no reason to withhold the truth from the person.  The only reason he did it, is because he wanted others to see him as special, as the only one with the ability to control his phone and all the things it could do.

From his attitude, it appears that at the end of this first book he still hasn't learned a significant amount of character. It will be disappointing if, at the end of the series, he still sees half-truths as acceptable, or  teachers as dross, and as suitable brunts of cruel jokes like he does at the beginning.

That being said, much of his acting out in such mean ways may have something to do with the fact that his dad passed away before the story began. Sam does try to rescue his friend, and even endures difficult and dangerous situations in his attempt to find and save the other boy. It will be interesting to see if he learns to extend that compassion to others including his mom and other adults (teachers, the police and other authority figures) in our dimension (not just the cool cowboys and rebel leaders in Avalon's dimension) and if he learns to appreciate the often raw endurance that such adults exercise when dealing with a child like him and what they all do and go through for him by the end of the series.

Of course, this is just the first book of a series, and the following books may see Sam learn and grow in surprising ways. The world building, as I already mentioned, was absolutely astounding, and Avalon, with its environment, people, magic system and rules, and the deliciously corrupt government is completely riveting.

Middle grade readers will find this book engaging and exciting, and will look forward with much anticipation to the rest of the series!