November 30, 2012

The Berenstain Bears Lend a Helping Hand by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Berenstain Bears Lend a Helping HandBerenstain Bears Lend a Helping Hand by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

The Berenstain Bears. Not a fond memory on my part. The only ones I enjoyed as a young child were Bears on Wheels and The Berenstains' B Book. Neither of these explicitly feature the Bear family; they might have been pre-Bear family books, as a matter of fact.

And when it comes to the Bear family, there's a lot to complain about. Papa Bear goes from being understandable and well-meaning, if a little bungling, to a raging maniac who has the tendency to cross over into psychologically abusive territory.

But then there's Mama Bear. I cannot freakin' stand this character. She is the most self-righteous, presumptuous, meddling woman in any children's book I've ever read, and she is presented as some kind of saintly patron of motherhood who can never do anything wrong.

This time, after several panels of her children trying to claim they've beaten the other by having a large piece of cake, a better spot in front of the television, and more jelly beans, Mama decides to, and I quote, "mend their selfish ways".

Is the life you're leading different from the book I'm reading, Mama Bear? Because I saw your children having silly, not even angry "arguments" about whose piece of cake was bigger. Sure, that's annoying, but the only thing remotely objectionable about their behavior is that they started pushing on the couch in front of the television. That needs to be your moral; don't shove your freakin' siblings, 'cause someone could actually get hurt that way if you're careless enough. Instead, the moral you pulled out of your ass is "Selfishness is bad!" when their behavior had nothing to do with genuine selfishness!

But the idea she has to get them to "mend their selfish ways" isn't horrible. She makes sure they spend some time with a very old neighbor of theirs. After a few minutes together, their neighbor asks if the Bear children would like to help her out by cleaning out her house for payment.

And then Mama Bear turns into a bitch again. Her children don't want to do it, and I'd say that's a bit rude, but what can you do? You can't force them. Oh, wait! You can if you're Mama Bear!

You see where this is going. She volunteers her children without their consent, then informs the elderly neighbor that they will not be accepting any payment. Who the hell does she think she is? When you do work without payment under your own consent, it's volunteer work. It's charity. It's helping a friend. When you do it because someone else has taken away your choice and forced you to do it, it's forced labor. You know, a distasteful and often condemned component of slavery, serfdom, and the penal system? Yeah... That's cool.

On the other hand, the "helping people" moral of the final few pages is wonderful. The children help the old woman do something that would have been difficult or even impossible for her to manage on her own, they learn about her interesting past and old belongings, they each find a cool toy she lets them keep, and they even convince her to have a yard sale instead of throwing her old things away--they've helped an old, probably stressed for cash woman earn some money, and helped reduce landfill waste, meaning there's also a pro-recycling moral to top it off.

But as always with Berenstain Bears books that teach morals that I don't mind or even support, I'm just horribly disappointed that the intended moral had to be corrupted by the parents' disrespectful behavior.

November 29, 2012

Pinocchio: Nose for Trouble by Ronald Kidd

Pinocchio: Nose for Trouble (Disney's Storytime Treasures Library, #13)Pinocchio: Nose for Trouble by Ronald Kidd

My rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Pinocchio would not admit
The wrong thing he had done.
And he kept on telling fibs--
He didn't stop with one.
To speak the truth is hard sometimes,
But in the end you'll see
That honesty, without a doubt,
Is the best policy!

Except, of course, that's complete bullshit. These "never lie" morals are always nonsensical; there are certain times to lie. Or at least, there is a multitude of people who feel that way.

See, that's the thing about morality. A) Your ideals and your reality are two very separate things. B) Your morality is not the same as my morality, or my neighbor's morality, or an ancient Mesopotamian's morality, or an astronaut's morality, or whoever's morality. Each person has their own moral code, and no one's moral code is better than anyone else's.

So while some people may try to adhere to "never lie", there are immensely more people who would say that "honesty whenever possible" is the best possible compromise. Let's look at some examples:

National Security: Every government keeps secrets, and these secrets can extend into cover-ups--that is, lies. Claiming a top-secret military aircraft is something else while the craft is classified? That's a lie, but most people approve of it. Undercover cops pretending to be regular shoppers to catch a criminal? That's a lie, but most people would say it's for the greater good. Etcetera, etcetera.

Lying to Children: Do or did your children believe in Santa Claus? The Easter Bunny? Maybe Cupid(s) or the Tooth Fairy? Those are all lies, yet most Americans would say those are a culturally integral part of being a child. (And most cultures have their equivalents, too.)

Lying as a Cushion: Ever hear the one about an old dog being "sent to the farm"? Adults recognize that as a euphemism for dying or euthanization, but when spoken to children who will take it literally, it's a lie. Many people believe it's kinder than trying to teach a very young child to cope with death before they're ready.

Lies of Omission: Ever tell someone you're going somewhere, but you give a vague or half-truth answer because they might hassle about the truth? That's a lie of omission--when an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconceptionwhen an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconception[, and] includes failures to correct pre-existing misconceptions. Most people would say that's no big deal.

I could go on, as there are many different kinds of lies, and each can be justified by a certain mindset or situation. Some people would say some or all of these justifications are the result of a guilty conscience. Other people would say that such justifications are the result of conditional circumstances. That's just it: everyone has a different opinion of lying, of what constitutes a "bad" lie, and of which circumstances warrant or allow "good" lies.

I have to admit that with this in mind, I can find fault in most morals that touch the subject of lying. I completely understand that young children might need their morals presented to them in the least complex way possible if they are to understand. But that bugs me, too: if the child isn't mature enough to understand the complex issue, perhaps offering them a simplistic solution to hold them over until they're ready for the complexity is doing more harm than good. For the most obvious example, think about the "no lying ever!" moral will look on the day that the Santa conversation goes down. The parent is confessing to a lie they told for the child's benefit, and yet the child is suddenly faced not only with the realization that there's no magical figure who gives them presents on Christmas--it's just their parents--but also that their parents are lying... something these parents, if tried to teach the "no lying ever!", claimed was reprehensible. That's a tough situation to be in, and is going to create a lot more difficulty than if the parents had simply waited for the day the child can understand their parents' beliefs about lying.

So books like this bug me. Why go out of your way to teach a moral that you're just going to have to unteach later?

November 28, 2012

The Berenstain Bears' Trouble with Pets by Stan and Jan Berenstain

The Berenstain Bears' Trouble with PetsThe Berenstain Bears' Trouble with Pets by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain

My rating: ★★★★☆

The Berenstain Bears' Trouble with Pets opens with the Bear family releasing a bird in their front yard. The bird, Tweetie, had been nursed back to health by the family after they discovered his/her broken leg a week before.

Tweetie wasn't a pet, but s/he does get the Bear family thinking about pets! Before they know it, they've added an adorable puppy named Little Lady to the family. But she's a bundle of trouble in addition to all the cute, and she doesn't stay a Little Lady for long. The Bear family has to adapt to caring for a dog; and most of all, Brother and Sister Bear have to learn about taking responsibility for their new dependent.

The Berenstain Bears' Trouble with Pets is a great story for any child whose family expects to adopt a pet. The Bear family sets a good example in their care for Lady. Though they get her for free from a farm, they don't hesitate to get her licensed and vaccinated. (Spaying isn't mentioned, first and foremost because the target audience wouldn't be able to comprehend the concept without a basic knowledge of what it prevents. And goodness knows the Berenstains aren't getting into that conversation.) And the cubs quickly learn, with the help of a schedule, to take care of Lady's needs--the fun (playing with her) as well as the not-so-fun (cleaning up her messes).

For once, this is a Berenstain Bears story I can honestly say I recommend to children.

November 27, 2012

Trapped by R.L. Stine

Trapped (Fear Street #51)Trapped by R.L. Stine

My rating: ★★★★☆

I read most of the Fear Street series when I was a preteen. I recently reread most of the Fear Street books as an adult. Trapped is the only installment that lived up to its memory.

When I was eleven or twelve, Trapped scared the shit out of me, to the point where I actually had to stop reading it. One scene in particular was downright disturbing, and it stuck in my mind for years afterwards.

As a matter of fact, it was that very scene that had me so excited to reread this. I read Trapped for the second time in November of 2011, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Trapped was the only Stine book I recall that didn't make me wince with flat characters, a storm of clichés, and/or a disinteresting plotline.

Pretty sure I need to buy this one.

November 26, 2012

Bambi: A Noisy Neighbor by Ronald Kidd

Bambi: A Noisy Neighbor (Disney's Storytime Treasures Library, #12)Bambi: A Noisy Neighbor by Ronald Kidd

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Good neighbors are friendly,
Good neighbors are sweet.
They try to make friends
With the people they meet.
So if you're out playing
And see someone new,
Be sure to say welcome
And how do you do!

...Disney, you're giving me mixed messages there. First it's "never talk to strangers", and now it's "be sure to say 'welcome' and 'how do you do' to every stranger in my neighborhood"? CONFUSION.

Alright, *serious*. In Bambi: A Noisy Neighbor, a beaver named Edgar moves into the forest, and Thumper is not happy about it. As a matter of fact, he sulks. And sulks. And sulks some more.

Thumper sulks right up until the forest starts to flood, at which point Edgar becomes a surprise hero. Thumper, grateful, reconsiders his attitude toward Edgar, and the both critters have themselves a new friend.

Typical Disney morals here: Be polite to strangers/acquaintances. Don't judge others. Be respectful towards others. You know the drill. Ignoring the rather counter-productive poem at the end of the book (see above), it's not a bad story. On the other hand, the Bambi characters felt tacked onto it in the sense that they could have been replaced with literally anyone and the storyline wouldn't have been affected in the least.

*shrugs* It's an alright story for young children, though I certainly wouldn't recommend reading it right after attempting a "don't talk to strangers" lesson. Young fans of the Bambi movie(s) might particularly enjoy it.

November 23, 2012

Scooby-Doo! Readers

Scooby-Doo! Readers by Gail Herman, Karl Sturk, Sonia Sander, and Mariah Balaban

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Consider this a review of the entire series.

The back covers list the recommended age of this series as Kindergarten to Grade 2. That is absolute nonsense. An accurate reading level of these would be Preschool to Kindergarten.

I wouldn't recommend these to anyone over five; these are very short books written in the most simplistic way possible with only the most basic vocabulary and grammar--not at all what I'd expect of a seven-year-old. This series is for children at the beginning of the learning to read process, not for children several years into schooling.

On the other hand, this is a very basic, very simple mystery that would hold the attention of a young child learning to read. Five-year-old and younger Scooby-Doo fans will likely adore the series, though parents will likely find it rather boring.

November 22, 2012

Peter Pan: Friends Ahoy! by Ronald Kidd

Peter Pan: Friends Ahoy! (Disney's Storytime Treasures Library, #18)Peter Pan: Friends Ahoy! by Ronald Kidd

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

John went off to be a spy
On Hook's pirate ship.
But then Michael fell into
The captain's evil grip.
Luckily John's trusted friends
Came up with a solution--
When friends work together,
Each one makes a contribution!

And that's a lovely moral--teamwork--except that the entire plot is driven by the fact that Peter Pan isn't being much of a team player. The very first page establishes that he is almost always the leader of their little group, even though John is very much annoyed by this and wants his turn.

John grumbled, "Why does Peter always have to be in charge? Just once I'd like to do things my way!"

And there's nothing wrong with that, of course. John wants a chance, and it's only fair to give him a chance. So John sets out to prove "how brave and clever he [is]", in the hope that he can impress Peter into giving him a turn. He and Michael separate from Peter, Wendy, and the Lost Boys, and off they go to do something daring.

They foolishly decide that their something daring will be spy work. They row to Captain Hook's pirate ship, dressed as pirates, and sneak on board. It isn't hard to fool First Mate Smee, but Captain Hook's a little more observant. He feeds John and Michael a nonsense story about preparing to attack Peter Pan, and when John and Michael get a chance to escape, off they go to warn their friend. They think they're going to be heroes!

As anyone can predict, Captain Hook shadows them, capturing Michael along the way. John runs back to his friends and sister, and Peter realizes that Hook tricked John and Michael. John despairs;

"Peter, I've made a terrible mess of things. What are we going to do?
"I'm not sure," said Peter. "But whatever we do, let's do it together."

With Peter, Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys, and the Darlings working together, getting Michael back is easy. Teamwork at its finest!

Except, no. In the end, John is the only one to learn a lesson. Peter's behavior is never addressed, and that chance to be in charge that John's been waiting isn't mentioned again.

I guess the simple fact of it is that Disney tie-in materials have a tendency to be... sub-par, let's say. Peter Pan: Friends Ahoy!'s inadequacy manifests in the form of its broken aesops, and it reflects badly on the beloved classics being exploited. Disney, if you simply have to use beloved characters to write simplistic morality tales, could you at least make sure they make some sense?

November 20, 2012

Haunted Mansion Mystery (Barbie Mystery Files, #1) by Linda Aber

Haunted Mansion Mystery (Barbie Mystery Files #1)Haunted Mansion Mystery by Linda Aber

My rating: ★★★☆☆

My dad likes slot cars, and when I was younger we used to periodically set a track up in the family room. Every few years or so we'd go into D.C. (or was it Baltimore?) and stop at a store that specialized in slot cars, "toy" trains, and corresponding accessories. He'd always go pick out new cars and track loops and whatnot. I'd always beeline for the miniature train stuff, and stare in wonder at the tiny people, animals, signs, buildings, etcetera. I loved--love--to look at the little towns the more dedicated "builders" put together, and I always wished I could have my own.

Because, really, I've always liked to create and to control. I always loved those train towns, and as a little girl I loved dolls (later, "paper dolls" and now world-building). But when I went to the library down by the beach--not my usual library--and discovered that they made "Barbie" books, I discovered something else that I quite enjoyed.

I was probably ten years old before I discovered the Barbie dolls had books--back in 2003, my family had only had its first computer for about two years, and I wasn't allowed to go on the Internet with it except for specific sites (Neopets, mostly). So my only way to discover books was by actually going to the library, which meant older and more obscure children's books totally slipped by radar. Then I found a shelf of Barbie books at a library about a half-an-hour away from my normal one, and was ever so surprised. 'Course, I was pretty much past my doll phase by then; I had started to make the transition from play-acting my stories with plastic and paper dolls to actually writing them on paper and my first personal computer (which had literally nothing on it besides Microsoft Office 2000). But I discovered that these Barbie picture books, while incredibly juvenile and rather mediocre even amongst tie-in children's books, they did have one thing that fascinated me.

Every other page in the book was a photo of a Barbie doll acting out whatever was going on in the plot. It's the silliest thing, but it enchanted me. Hell, it still makes me smile. Really, it's nothing more than a larger-scale train town. I wished so much that I could set up a miniature town or scene like that myself, especially now that I knew a way to interweave that concept with writing. So I read those ridiculous little Barbie books well into middle school, enamored merely with the pictures. 'Course, now that Barbie "Princess" stuff is so popular, I don't think they bother to make "normal" Barbie stories anymore, but... fond memories, at least.

So when I found the sequel to this book at the local thrift store, I couldn't say no. It was only $0.20, so how could I lose? Maybe I'd get some fun pictures to look at. But I wanted to start at the beginning in the unlikely case that there was an internal timeline I needed to be aware of, so I tracked this one done through the state-wide Marina system.

Disappointingly, the only image I got to grin in amusement at was the cover. I expected at least a page or two of pictures in the middle, but... no dice. And yes, I do feel ridiculously silly complaining that a book didn't have enough pictures, but... c'mon, it's Barbie. Isn't "silly" the whole point?

So as far as I'm concerned, this book didn't really have much to do with Barbie. The character's name is "Barbie Roberts", but... without the cover picture, you'd never know it was that Barbie Roberts. Her siblings aren't there, and none of the peripheral characters I'm familiar with--Ken, Teresa, Midge, Tommy, etcetera--are, either.

On the other hand, it certainly wasn't bad. There's nothing even ridiculously silly that I can make fun of. It was just a completely average mystery for children; great for those who love all things Barbie, but just average for the less enthusiastic.

The absolute best thing I can say about this? If your sons and/or daughters are genuine Barbie fans and aren't yet "into" reading, this series and the other older Barbie series (you know, the non-obsessed-with-princesses ones) might be able to change that.

November 19, 2012

A Reward for Josefina by Valerie Tripp

A Reward for JosefinaA Reward for Josefina by Valerie Tripp

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Well, this was disappointing. Josefina and Juan have been left behind to guard the family's camp while the other members hunt for piñon nuts, but Josefina had wanted to gather the most piñon nuts so she could win her father's prize and impress her Aunt Dolores. So, as is reasonable, they start searching the nearby piñon trees for nuts; Josefina gets inventive and jumps up and down on the tree branches to shake the nuts loose for her toddler-age nephew to gather off the ground. So far, it's a great story about resourcefulness.

Then the squirrel shows up, and the whole story goes downhill. After they chase it away from their lunch, Josefina spots the squirrel's home; like an respectable squirrel, this one has planned for the winter and shoved all the nuts s/he could gather in his hole-in-a-tree home. And Josefina steals every last one.

Do you know how long it took that squirrel to get those nuts? Do you know how many he'll be able to get before winter now? None, because the Montoyas have picked the area clean. This squirrel is going to starve to death during the winter, all because of Josefina.

So when Papá and Dolores learn how Josefina got the nuts, I expected her to be reprimanded. They own a rancho, so they have plenty of food--these nuts are really just a delicacy. To the squirrel, they're life or death. I assumed the adults would explain that to their wayward ten-year-old.

But no. Of course not. Tía Dolores smiles when she learns how Josefina obtained (read: stole) the nuts; she's proud, she says. And it's okay, Josefina thinks, because while she got the squirrel's nuts, the squirrel took the piloncillo (a little cone of hard brown sugar). How utterly fair! The squirrel gets some sugar, and you get the food he relied on to survive the winter! You get to snack on some roasted nuts, and he gets to... starve to death?

So yeah, great moral. Really disappointed with this one.

View all my reviews

November 16, 2012

The Berenstain Bears at Camp Crush by Stan and Jan Berenstain

The Berenstain Bears at Camp CrushThe Berenstain Bears at Camp Crush by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

This is nowhere near as infuriating as some of the other installments in the series, but the Berenstains still found a way to ruin it.

The primary lesson is that there's no reason to keep male and female children separated, and the only people who would attempt to do so are prudes way too preoccupied with the thought of minors having sexual stirrings. So good for you, Berenstains--finally some healthy, progressive lessons! And a book where it's not the children who are ostensibly "wrong"? Ye gods, I may have a heart attack.

...and then they shove in a completely random and unnecessary anti-elopement message, and I'm left staring at the page in disgust. Apparently elopements are some kind of moral transgression because the idea of a wedding without a horde of family members there to "approve" offends them. Know what offends me? The constant insistence that people have to forgive their family members for everything, regardless of how horrible the transgression was, just because they're related. The idiotic idea that a person is expected to put their life on hold to try to appease entitled, selfish creeps just because they're close family. There is no logic to this shit. And don't get me wrong--I'm not a proponent of elopement... but only because I don't like the idea of marriage period. It's this idea that people supposedly owe something beyond common courtesy to their parents and other family members that sickens me.

Why, oh why, did you have to include this nonsense in what could have been a proper anti-gender-segregation story, Berenstains?

November 15, 2012

Hercules: Lightning Strikes by Ronald Kidd

Hercules: Lightning Strikes (Disney's Storytime Treasures Library, #11)Hercules: Lightning Strikes by Ronald Kidd

My rating: ★☆☆☆☆

In spite of its flaws, I adore Disney's Hercules. This book constitutes a bitter insult to that memory.

First and foremost, Hercules threw a discus into a cloud and "caus[ed] a torrential downpour". Let's ignore the fact that I suspect most four year olds won't understand the word "torrential". Instead, I want to take a moment to marvel at the fact that Hercules is so strong, he somehow bent nature to his will and caused rain... with a discus. Alright then. Moving on.

Or not. Because a few pages later, Hercules flies Pegasus into a storm cloud for no reason other than that both of then were too oblivious to notice the storm. (How do you not notice a storm when you're literally right beside the cloud? I have no idea.)

And then--I shit you not--Hercules plucks a lightning bolt from the sky. Because sheer inhuman strength somehow lets him. Because that makes perfect sense.

Of course, Herc is an idiot and managed to start a forest fire; Daddy Zeus quickly cleans up his mess, warns him with a cliche about what makes a true hero, and sends him in his way.

Next day, Mercury/Hermes shows up to get Herc's help in protecting Corinth from an invading army. Don't ask me why. Just because.

And of course he only makes things worse. He accidentally throws boulders at the citizens he's supposed to be protecting. He floods the town. And when he finally manages to get rid of the invaders, how does he do it? He offers to help them, which they find so terrifying that they flee immediately.

All in all, this book was simply nonsensical. As a midquel to the movie, it flies in the face of canon (as I've been told the midquel t.v. show did, as well). Hercules is the same bumbling idiot as in the movie, but that's where the comparisons stop. Phil has insta-confidence in Hercules, totally out of character and in a scene directly contradicting the corresponding movie scene. Hercules has powers he most definitely shouldn't, with no explanation of why he suddenly had them.

But I think the worst of it all is Hermes. Before Herc's training even really begins--in a totally different way than in the movie, might I add--Hernes wants him to save Corinth.

Uh, why? A) You don't even know him. B) Isn't the army, you know, a little more qualified than some teenager? C) He hasn't even been to Thebes yet, so he's never even tried anything like this before. D) Even the gods know he ruins everything he touches.

This plan is bad all around. It's contrived, and it's stupid... but then again, so is the rest of the book. *sigh*

Wanna teach you kids a moral using Hercules? Turn on the movie. It's funny and smart, even if the mythology's wrong. This, in the other hand...

November 14, 2012

Sleeping Beauty: A Magic Plan by Lisa Ann Marsoli

Sleeping Beauty: A Magic Plan (Disney's Storytime Treasures Library, #14)Sleeping Beauty: A Magic Plan by Lisa Ann Marsoli

My rating: ★☆☆☆☆

What did I just read? Seriously, what.

Aurora is getting married, so her three pushy, stubborn fairy "helpers" take charge of the preparations after getting the consent of the King and Queen. They don't ask what Aurora would want, because that would be silly. Don't be silly.

So they write a massive list of things they'll need to prepare for the big day, and they go through it one item at a time. True to the movie, they argue about each and every thing. The invitations, the bouquet, the cake, the music. They infuriate everyone they work with and get nothing done.

On the wedding day, they've achieved nothing. And they feel terrible--they've ruined Aurora's wedding. But fear not! These fairies have magic in their corner, and magic solves everything. With the help of their trusty magic wands, they mail out the perfect invitations. They conjure the perfect cake. They tailor the perfect dress.

Or maybe magic isn't the perfect solution they thought it would be. The cake grows out of control, as does the dress's train. Aurora is startled to see the damage her friends have done, and they despair once more. They'll just have to postpone the wedding.

But maybe not! They still have magic, don't they? It's perfect--they put everyone in the kingdom to sleep for three days, then host the wedding after three days of good, hard work towards the preparations.

The Happily Ever After End

Except, uh, no. Your children's story just preached the moral that magic solves everything. Yeah, yeah, I know you were going for the opposite there, Disney, but you fell way short. If hard work is better than magic, but I have to use magic to make time for the hard work... well, you see how a child would find that a tad befuddling, yes?

And let's not even talk about what massive assholes the fairies really are. Do they consult Aurora about what she wants her wedding to be like? Of course not. They raised her, so obviously they know what's best. Do they have any qualms about knocking out an entire kingdom for three days? 'Course not. What do they care if the stupid peasants suddenly lose three days of their life, dropping unconscious in the middle of whatever they were doing when the spell was cast? Why should they care if someone's killed by a wild animal? Drowns in the bath? Falls off a ladder? Starves or dehydrates to death, perhaps, if the spell doesn't stave off famine and thirst?

These fairies simply do not care about anyone but themselves, and it is positively disturbing.

November 13, 2012

The Sleepwalker by R.L. Stine

The Sleepwalker (Fear Street, #6)The Sleepwalker by R.L. Stine

My rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Here's the thing: Fear Street books are terrible. I want to love them, but they're just terrible for so many different reasons.

Reason A) Nearly every book stars the same "Girl Next Door" character. These girls never have distinct personalities, just hats. Mayra's hat was a belief in magic.

Reason B) Nearly every boyfriend or ex-boyfriend is an abusive bastard.

Reason C) Every girl with an abusive boyfriend enjoys being abused and explicitly states that the abuse makes her feel special. Every. Single. One.

Reason D) Half of the girls with abusive ex-boyfriends are back together with the bastard by the end of the book.

Reason E) There is no consistency to the world. Random and frequent supernatural elements appear with no reasoning, explanation, or justification to speak of despite being firmly denied by most characters. As a result, these elements come across as chaotic and entirely nonsensical.

Reason F) Most of them have absolutely nothing to do with Fear Street or the Fear family. A select few didn't even have anything to do with Shadyside.

Reason G) Hypnosis is TRUE FACTS and works in whatever way the plot needs it to.

Reason H) Everyone is ridiculously dismissive and nonchalant about the state of Shadyside. Anywhere from one to ten characters die per book, yet Fear Street's sinister reputation remains a thing of legend. And even without the supernatural elements, Shadyside is brimming with lunatics at the rate of one or two per book.

I could go on, but frankly, I've already tired myself out on this nonsense. As far as Fear Street goes, The Sleepwalker is more of the same. Secretly Abused Girlfriend has recently dumped Abusive Ex-Boyfriend and is now going out with Abusive Boyfriend. Girlfriend takes a new job, mysterious things happen, Mysterious Man starts following her. Best Friend is attacked because someone (Ex-boyfriend?) mistook her for Girlfriend. Girlfriend is scared. Boyfriend is comforting. Blah, blah, blah. Girlfriend realizes Boyfriend is an axe-crazy murderer. Boyfriend tries to kill Girlfriend. Girlfriend escapes. Boyfriend tries to kill Girlfriend. Mystery Man stops Boyfriend, explains his identity. Police arrive. Everyone's safe. Girlfriend and Ex-Boyfriend reconcile. The End.

Congratulations, you have just read the basic outline of nearly every non- or semi-supernatural Fear Street plot. (The supernatural plots and Fear family plots have different outlines that they like to repeat.)

*sigh* I really, really wish I could enjoy these. When I read them as a nine year old, they were the shit. As a nineteen year old, on the other hand... they're just rather shitty.

November 9, 2012

One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf

One Breath AwayOne Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf

My rating: ★★★☆☆

When I sat down to read One Breath Away  I was hoping for an awesomely emotionally story about a school shooting. Unfortunately, that's not what this is.

One Breath Away has, at its core, a great storyline. What it didn't have was focus. Throughout the novel, Gudenkauf is trying to tell two intertwined but surprisingly separate stories: the family drama of Will Thwaite and the mystery/thriller of the gunman at Broken Branch.

To tell these stories, readers are offered five different points of view: Will Thwaite; his granddaughter, Augie; his daughter, Holly; his grandson PJ's teacher, Mrs. Evelyn Oliver; and Broken Branch's only female officer, Meg Barrett.

These characters are all tied together by the shooting plotline, but for most of the book, much of the narrative is focused on the history of the Thwaite family. While she sets up the shooting plotline, Gudenkauf spends over two hundred pages explaining what went wrong between Will and Holly, how Augie and PJ came to live with Will in spite of the family rift, what's going wrong again between Augie and Will, and what went wrong between Holly and Augie's father.

After building up so much emotional baggage for Will, Holly, Augie, and PJ, I was left with the impression that their story was the central one, and I fully expected a very satisfying emotional ending to tie up the inherent loose ends. I wanted a poignant scene between the characters to show that while the family's rift isn't healed by any means, there's a newfound hope that they might be a family again after a decade and a half of cut ties.

That emotional ending never came, and it left me quite underwhelmed. For me, the story was riding on the family drama; I considered the shooting drama little more than a catalyst to bring the family drama to its climax. But in the last quarter of the book, it became clear that Gudenkauf had a totally different sense of her book than I did. It suddenly struck me that there were two very different plot-lines battling for control within One Breath Away  and I'd put my hopes on the wrong one.

That's where I think One Breath Away disappointed me. In trying to tell two different stories, the novel never had enough time to completely tell either of them. There's a very bait-and-switch feel to it, as if I the beginning of one book had been bound into a single volume with the end of another book. The focus of the first half of the book simply didn't match up with the focus of the second.

I don't know. The entire thing just seemed confused to me, as if Gudenkauf wasn't quite sure which story she wanted to write. On one hand, Augie's implied to be the main character; she's inside the school, she's the focus point of Holly and Will's points of view, and she's written in first person. Yet the actual plot--the shooting--has a different main character entirely, and then the only person to earn a satisfying resolution is a third separate character.

One Breath Away certainly isn't a bad book. But as far as I'm concerned, it definitely wasn't what it should have been.

November 8, 2012

Berenstain Bears and the Big Blooper by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Berenstain Bears and the Big BlooperBerenstain Bears and the Big Blooper by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain

My rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Wow. I almost don't know what to say. This was horrible, but in such a surprising way that I'm not even sure how to react. Normal Berenstain Bears books build up these (usually) horrible, (sometimes) hypocritical morals over 32 pages. This one didn't bother. The first ~20 pages were drivel, and then sudden in the last 9, the "don't use words that the Moral Guardians don't like" moral flies in, squawks, then flies away without so much as an explanation to why it was there in the first place.

A colorful metaphor, but perfectly appropriate. There was no reason to write this book. It came across as a pamphlet more than a picture book, with only the last nine pages having a thing to do with the moral--a moral, mind you, that I find gloriously immoral. But that's besides the point, amusingly. (It would have been my point, but... there's just so much else to complain about.)

Mama Bear's entire argument against "cuss words" is that she doesn't think they're very nice. Let's look at that again: she thinks they're not nice.

But what about other people's opinions? Oh, they don't matter to her.

But what about helping her children understand why the words "aren't nice"? Nope, still doesn't matter! She doesn't like it, and she's said so, so what more could there be to it? After all, why on earth would her children have opinions of their own? Or questions, for that matter?


So, here's the bottom line: I really fucking hate these books. If you're planning on reading these to your children, don't. Read them some Little Bear. Some Arthur. Some Sesame Street. Anything but these.

November 7, 2012

Lady and the Tramp: A Trusty Old Pal by Ronald Kidd

Lady and the Tramp: A Trusty Old Pal (Disney's Storytime Treasures Library, #15)Lady and the Tramp: A Trusty Old Pal by Ronald Kidd

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

When Scamp yearns for adventure,
He just listens to old Trusty,
Whose stories are exciting,
Though his memory might be rusty!
All older folks have tales to tell
And each time that they do,
Enjoy your time together
While you're learning something new.

Though the title is Lady and the Tramp: A Trusty Old Pal, the two main characters of the story are Lady and Tramp's friend, Trusty, and son, Scamp.

Trusty likes to reminisce with the puppies, but he has the tendency to repeat himself. And after one too many times hearing the same story, Scamp can't take it anymore. He finally tells Trusty what he thinks of that story, and Trusty's feelings are obviously hurt. Though he was supposed to be staying with the family, Trusty's gone by morning.

So the family splits up to look for their lost friend; the females take one half of town and the males take the other. As one can guess, Scamp ends up in danger during the search, and who should save him but Trusty. Because there could be no other outcome, Trusty and Scamp patch up their relationship, and Scamp and the other puppies end up with a newfound appreciation for their oldest friend.

All in all, it's not a bad story, but it's not exceptionally interesting either. There's an obvious moral of respect and sparing other's feelings in there, but there's also a subtle suggestion of suffering in order to spare other people's feelings that I'd certainly question. In any case, it's an acceptable little story; the animation's nice, it's fun to see Disney characters getting up to things post-movie (as long as it doesn't, you know, shit on continuity), and this installment has none of the moral!fail of some of the others in the series.

November 6, 2012

[Book Review] Mockingjay (Hunger Games, #3) by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

My rating: ★★★★☆

Read for Read by Theme's September 2012 theme, Teenage Protagonists.

This was so much better than the second one. And, thankfully, it helped me figure out exactly what I didn't like about the second one.

Hunger Games and Mockingjay are fundamentally different, and even if you haven't read the series, you can spot the disconnect in the people who left glowing reviews of the first book, but were drastically disappointed by the third.

Hunger Games is a Battle Royale-esque tale of survival in a sadistic game show gone wild.

Mockingjay is the story of a country's Revolutionary War.

Looking at the two books from that perspective, it's incredibly obvious why fans of the first book might not appreciate the final book. And, by extension, you can see why these fans enjoyed the second book while I most decidedly did not.

The second book was more of the same. Catching Fire was Hunger Games Redux, with the hints of revolution being distant to the characters and mere undercurrents to the reader--right up until the final chapter. In the final chapter of Catching Fire, we are blasted into a Mockingjay mindset with zero buildup, and I found this to be incredibly jarring.

As Catching Fire is essentially the same story as Hunger Games with a different ending tacked on, it's obvious why people who enjoyed the first book would find potential amusement in this second installment. If they loved the idea of the games, they'd love to see more of the games. Nothing illogical about that. What strikes me as illogical, however, is that the second novel of a trilogy is meant to be transitional, and Catching Fire completely failed in this regard.

So a reader waiting for the inevitable swing toward revolution, like myself, will spend Catching Fire expecting to see Panem transition from complacent oppression to full-scale rebellion. But Suzanne Collins didn't give that to us. Instead, all the necessary transition takes place off-screen, as we are glued to Katniss--and Katniss is both selfish and oblivious.

It's obvious, then, that after Catching Fire, the outright revolution of Mockingjay would catch off guard those who were still in a Catching Fire mindset, and it isn't hard to see why those fans wouldn't appreciate that. I, on the other hand, have been waiting for it all along.

So, that aside, some other thoughts. There are many, many spoilers beyond this point, and only specific names are hidden (highlight to read). If you have not read Mockingjay and wish to remain unspoiled, do not read any further.

I don't like any member of the love triangle. Katniss is a sociopath. Gale is boring. Peeta is a creep. On the other hand, Finnick turned out to be awesome, Beetee was awesome from the start, and Johanna proved herself to be a complex, interesting, and tragic character. I would have liked to seen more of each of them, and instead Finnick got his head eaten, Beetee may or may not have killed Prim, and Johanna was never mentioned again after being forced to sit out of the battle. Oh, and did I mention that Effie only showed up for about two paragraphs?

Speaking of Prim's death, I get the feeling I was supposed to care. I didn't. Prim never got to be much of a character, really. In the first book, she was just a plot device, and that carried over into the second. In Mockingjay, she showed signs of being an actual character, but there was nothing to really define her. Prim was just a thing that is Good to the point of teetering on the edge of Sueness. So when she was killed it was more, "Sucks." than "Oh, god, no, why!?"

HoweverPrim's death is clever on the meta side of things: The Hunger Games's first Doorway of No Return is saving Prim's life--it's the one action that means Katniss cannot go back to the way things were.

Hunger Games's final Doorway of No Return is Prim's death. At the end of that battle, at the point that Prim dies, Katniss is on her downward slide to the end point with no chance of doubling back and changing things.

So, yeah. That's cool.

Know what wasn't cool, though? The Babies Ever After ending. I hate Babies Ever After endings.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not taking the whole "I think I'm being a feminist, but I'm actually being an asshole trying to force other people to be like me", "no woman should ever have babies because my philosophy's the right one" route. I, like Katniss in Hunger Games do not ever want to have children. Katniss, unlike myself, did not want to have children because she didn't want them to grow up in a world of starvation and deadly Hunger Games. And so it is perfectly logical for Katniss to reevaluate her position on parenthood once the Capitol and the Games are both out of the picture.

No, I'm annoyed because it's a cliche. The flash-forward-to-the-children thing is always cliche and will always be cliche when anyone does it, ever, and yet they will do it again and again for as long as stories are told. And it will almost always annoy me.

So, what ending would I have liked instead? Try this on for size:

In all honesty, as soon as Katniss voted for a new round of Hunger Games. Opinions vary on the motives for her vote, and I'm not getting into that. What I am getting into is the repercussions of that vote.

When Katniss kills Coin, she is locked away for a certain amount of time before being released. While I was reading that short passage, I was getting excited because I am a terribly cruel person.

I totally thought Katniss, as punishment for betraying Coin and the rebels who supported Coin, was going to be forced to participate in the very Games she voted into existence.

How fucking awesome would that have been? Someone write that fic.

*sigh* But I'm not Suzanne Collins, so I suppose I'll have to settle for babies. Unless someone writes that fic, please. Though I do have to say that one glorious and wonderful thing came out of Collins' choice of ending.

The Buttercup scene. That came ohsoveryclose to redeeming Katniss. I don't get emotionally attached to books often, but KITTY. A kitty'll do it every time.

[Book Review] Catching Fire (Hunger Games, #2) by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My rating: ★★½☆☆

Honestly, I'm still trying to decide whether this deserves two stars or three, because frankly... I'm not entirely convinced I enjoyed it. I was pleasantly surprised by The Hunger Games; I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did, and I ended up giving it four stars, which is rarer for me than I'd really like to admit.

But this...? I just don't know what to think. I guess when it all comes down to it, I was simply shocked by Collins' plot choices. I really don't understand why she set things on the path she did. I mean, revisiting the Games? I hate to say it, but it felt like something of a cop-out. Like she was falling back on a proven plotline, and then only put in a mediocre effort.

Still, I suppose I could have pardoned that if it hadn't felt so rushed. There was just too much plot crammed into too few pages, and so nothing got to develop at a proper pace. I didn't get to know the new characters, though I could tell I would have liked them if I had--these were characters I wanted to get to know and yet didn't have time to, which ironically is a problem the first installment didn't have.

And I could even have pardoned that if the last chapter(s) hadn't been so damn abrupt. Suddenly so much happened in so few pages that even though the supposed twist could be seen a mile away--especially considering the multitude of spoilers about this trilogy that permeate the internet--it still seemed to come out of left field entirely, throwing itself in the face of all that came before it. There's no word for my feelings toward the ending other than dissatisfied.

In the end, I've opted with two and a half stars. I'm mostly running on the idea that the third installment will bring me enough satisfaction that I'll be able to pardon the shortcomings of the second.

November 2, 2012

Hit And Run by R.L. Stine

Hit And Run (Point Horror, #26)Hit And Run by R.L. Stine

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Hit and Run is typical R.L. Stine fare. There's absolutely nothing new here; the only surprise is that Stine has the decency to leave out the supernatural nonsense in favor of bullshit psychology.

As usual, the characters pass around the Idiot Ball around like they're playing "hot potato". The four main characters are teenage boys Eddie, Scott, and Winks along with their female friend Cassie. Winks is a grade-A asshole under the guise of class-clown, while Scott and Cassie with their ridiculous budding romance laugh along with their friend's incredibly cruel "jokes".

Then we have Eddie. Eddie's the weak link in the school and the group; Winks terrorizes the kid. Again. And again. And again.

Seriously, it's vile; at one point, Winks even goes so far as to get a genuine human eyeball to scare Eddie with. Watching these so-called friends terrorize one person like that... I was disgusted. Why didn't either Cassie or Scott get their shit together and help him--it was incredibly obvious throughout the book that Eddie was unraveling psychologically.

So it's no surprise what happens: Eddie, humiliated by his friends, filled with self-loathing, and convinced that everyone hates him, gets even. And that should have been either wonderfully cathartic or heart-wrenchingly tragic. It wasn't.

Eddie convinces his cousin--the same idiot who let Winks have a human eye--to let him borrow the corpse of a homeless man. Eddie props it up in the middle of the highway, and uses it to pretend he ran someone over while illegally driving with his friends. Everyone's willing to let it go... until Eddie launches his efforts to trick them into thinking the man is back from the dead.

It doesn't go off quite as he planned; Cassie, Winks, and Scott are frightened but unconvinced. Furious and facing increasing loneliness and humiliation, Eddie steps up his game. He runs Winks down with his car.

Then he sends his friends a photograph of the corpse in the driver's seat, and it's enough to convince them. They're terrified and confused, but they're still trying to get to the bottom of it. They still don't want it to be true. They still want to find some other answer.

They do, eventually. After Cassie starts to suspect Scott, she and Eddie are driving when Eddie gets a flat tire. Eddie wasn't ready to kill her yet, but when Cassie finds the corpse in the trunk instead of the spare tire, he doesn't see any other option. He starts monologuing, conveniently tying the plot together and buying Cassie valuable time for idiot!cousin to show up and save the day.

Yadda, yadda, yadda, everyone lives. King Winks of the Assholes makes a full recovery. Cassie and Scott live happily ever after with their jerk-love. Jerry the Idiot Cousin who Works at the Least Responsible Morgue Ever keeps playing with the corpse because that's a totally acceptable thing to do. Eddie is "getting treatment from good doctors".

God. If Stine had the slightest ability to handle psychological issues with even the vaguest hint of finesse, this would've been enjoyable. But it wasn't, because he doesn't. Stine uses mental illness as a cheap plot tool, and it is goddamn insulting.

You've heard of "Rape is the New Dead Parents"? Yeah. Stine uses "Mental Illness is the New Rape". In his world, it's just an excuse to kill people.

No respect at all.

The Berenstain Bears and the Homework Hassle by Stan and Jan Berenstain

The Berenstain Bears and the Homework HassleThe Berenstain Bears and the Homework Hassle by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Oh, dear. Oh, dear. I really don't like the Berenstain Bears. Most of the time, the morals are screwy at best and downright infuriating at worst--not to say that there aren't a few gems, of course.

This wasn't one of them. Quote:

"[You found that i]n my backback?" said Brother. "I thought my backpack was private."

"When something starts to smell like garbage," said Mama, "it isn't private anymore."

Well, that's good to know! If Brother Bear doesn't throw away his lunch refuse before Mama Bear notices that it's still in his backpack, he has given her free reign to rifle through his things! There's no, "Brother Bear, what is that awful smell in your backpack?" There's just, "I think I'll ignore our established boundaries and privacy rules and barge in myself!"

I really don't get it. Mama Bear doesn't even acknowledge that she's done something wrong. She just plows on with what Brother Bear's done wrong as being a parent means she's unaccountable for her actions. As if she doesn't have to follow her own rules. It's utterly infuriating.

Now, of course, Brother Bear isn't exactly innocent. Far from it: he won't do his homework, he's falling behind in school, and he's hiding his teacher's notes. But perhaps if Mother Bear bothered to establish a trusting relationship, he wouldn't feel pressured into hiding things from her. You know, like a good parent does?

Luckily, the story took a turn I appreciated. Brother Bear goes to his Grandparents house and discusses the issue with them and discovers that his father, who has revoked his afternoon entertainment privileges until the homework is all caught up (not at all a positive, encouraging approach to getting homework done, but fair enough, I suppose), had just the same problem during his childhood, and his parents treated him just the way he's treating Brother Bear now. So Brother Bear is somewhat appeased; his father does, in fact, understand what he's going through.

As it turns out, Papa Bear really knows--he's behind on his taxes, and so Brother Bear and Papa Bear end up doing their homework and taxes together at a table in the living room with no entertainment distractions. Fair enough.

So the moral they were going for is great. "Parents are people, too, and you have a lot more in common with them than you think." Too bad there's still the whole, "Your mother doesn't have to respect your privacy!" bit. I really wish they had managed to build the plot without that, but at least it didn't fall into "downright infuriating" territory this time.

November 1, 2012

Uncle John's Fully Loaded 25th Anniversary Bathroom Reader

Uncle John's Fully Loaded 25th Anniversary Bathroom ReaderUncle John's Fully Loaded 25th Anniversary Bathroom Reader by Bathroom Readers' Institute

My rating: ★★★★☆

A copy of this book was provided through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I'll admit it: I didn't actually read this in the bathroom. Blasphemy, right? Worse yet, Uncle John's Fully Loaded 25th Anniversary Bathroom Reader is my very first taste of the Uncle John's Bathroom Readers. But I'm glad I picked this one up--this is exactly my kind of book.

I'm one of those people who love learning; I enjoy nonfiction, documentaries, museums, educational websites, you name it. And with the advent of the Internet, there's a world of knowledge at the fingertips of the average citizen. Anyone can access nearly any known facts or opinions with the click of a mouse... and it can get overwhelming. I'll start out on one article, and before I know it, I've crashed my browser from opening too many tabs. I can access far more media than one person could ever hope to intake.

So books like the Bathroom Reader line are an amazingly valuable tool. Hundreds of topics have been combed through, selected, tweaked, and condensed to fit inside the pages of a single volume; it's the equivalent of looking at hundreds of web pages without ever opening a single tab--without ever feeling overwhelmed or losing the focus of exactly what to explore next.

Uncle John's Fully Loaded 25th Anniversary Bathroom Reader was great to read. With 608 pages of math, science, history, and all things weird, it's reminiscent of other media I've enjoyed; the articles are similar to those you would see in a Darwin Awards volume, Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex?, or even History or Travel Channel documentaries. Uncle John's Fully Loaded 25th Anniversary Bathroom Reader is a condensation of all that knowledge in the form of articles catering to tons of niche interests. There's sports history, war history, math history, Darwin-esque deaths, awesome (and silly!) museums, amusing websites, and much, much more.

All in all, I'm glad to have read this; I've found a great new series to read. And with at least fifty other books from the Bathroom Readers' Institute, I get the feeling I'm going to be reading these for a long time yet.