Research: Comparing Young Reader Books

no-fraidy-catfishy-field-tripCatKid by Brian James is a series for young readers – I’d say 7 to 9 year olds. I borrowed a couple of them from the library in a batch of books I wanted to read for research. I picked “I’m No Fraidy Cat” because the title reminded me specifically of one of our cats (who acts tough but is a scaredy cat through to the core). “The Fishy Field Trip” was randomly picked.

These books, of course, are way too young for me, but I wanted to find out what was being published for the age group. The books I read, there were also two others I haven’t mentioned here, were good research material. They were published by two major publishers – Scholastic and Simon & Schuster – and I found that they all gave the same results, which were:

1. They stayed within a single storyline, which were not too complex.
2. They spoke to the target audience, using words I suspect the age group would find amusing and would trigger copy cat usage (kids love to mimic things they love).
3. Most centred on two main characters. The other characters were only used to help the main characters and the plot advance. There was little information provided regarding these other characters.
4. They were quick and concise. No flowery descriptions in any of these books.

I had a few more books to read, but I don’t think I’ll bother with them. I don’t actually write for this age group – or I haven’t to date. Instead, I’m going to move on to the next age group, which is 9 to 12 years olds. This is the age group I write for and it will be interesting to see the difference between the two age groups.

Book Review: Deep Water

Deep Water by Pamela Freeman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last night, I finished reading Deep Water (The Castings Trilogy) by Pamela Freeman. I must say that I particularly enjoyed how the author ties everything together. Even the “mini stories” play an important role in the overall plot – and not only because they give the world and the characters more depth. My only complaint is that the third book won’t be released until late in 2009.

My apologies for the lack of enthusiasm in my “review” of the book. It really is a good book and deserves much more than what I’ve written here, but I have a tummy bug, so I’m not feeling 100% and don’t have the energy to think and be creative. I might come back to this post and expand on it at a later stage…when my brain isn’t fried and I’m feeling better.

Edited on Tuesday 9 December 2008

Well, five days later and I’m still not 100%, but I do feel much better than I did and I’m ready to add something more to my review of Deep Water now.

As a reader, I found that the first two books of the trilogy spoke to me. I enjoyed the characters, especially their depth, and I related to their stories. I also enjoyed finding out what made them tick by reading their “mini stories”. Often we accept traits of characters on face value, but the author of these books offered reasons and circumstances that made me feel sorry for even the nasty characters. As I said in my review of Blood Ties (Book 1), this trilogy is the best adult writing I’ve read in a while.

As a writer, I found the “mini stories” worked well in captivating my interest, yet we are told time and time again that flashbacks should be kept to a minimum. I believe these books prove that rules are meant to be broken, if it is done well. I also took note that the flow of the writing was easy to follow. There were no strange words that stopped me in my tracks because I didn’t know what they meant. The character names and the names of places were easily pronounced, which again didn’t divert my attention away from the storyline. And…there were no long descriptions and no weather reports, which are two of my pet hates.

I think the only real criticism I have about this trilogy is the fact that the story is continuous from one book to the next. I’ve never like books that do that – especially when I have to wait almost a year before the next book is available to continue to read – as my memory isn’t the best anymore. But even when my memory was great, I didn’t like it. I prefer each book of a trilogy to have a main story that starts and ends in that book, even if there is a thread that stretches over all three books (which there should always be, in my opinion).

I enjoyed both books a great deal and they are highly recommended.

Book Review: The Lord of Beasts

The Lord of Beasts by Justin Elliott

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I would call The Lord of Beasts by Justin Elliott a classic fantasy novel for young adults. It’s about a group of young teenagers (from memory, I think they are about 14) who are drawn together in the most unusual circumstances and then thrown into a quest that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

The story has it all – ogres, pixies, faeries, magic, fear, laughter and a very real threat of death, just to name a few. The characters are a good match. They are well written and each has their own problem to overcome. The setting is put together well and easy to imagine. The plot is believable, which is something some stories (and not just fantasy stories) lack, and it’s also fast paced. I enjoy a fast paced story. I don’t like being dragged through a book – grumbling and groaning all the way – so it was nice to find myself transported through a world I would not have been able to visit without the help of the author.

The Lord of Beasts is the first story in a trilogy or series. I look forward to the publication of the second instalment.

Book Review: Blood Ties

Blood Ties by Pamela Freeman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blood Ties by Pamela Freeman is the first book in The Castings Trilogy. It is also the first adult fiction novel the author has published,as she usually writes for children. I have read several of her children’s books and enjoyed them immensely. This book was no exception. In fact, it has qualities that make it stand apart from her previous writings. If you are a fan of the author, then you definitely will not be disappointed with Blood Ties.

The story is well written – smooth and interesting. The characters are not perfect people, which make them realistic, and they are likable and well rounded. And the world is believable yet enchanting.

I was especially impressed with the flow of the story. It is so easy to read, which makes it almost impossible to put down. From what I’ve heard, the second book (Deep Water) is quite the page turner so I’m looking forward to reading it soon. Another unique quality of the book is what I call the mini-stories of the minor characters. They give the story depth and allow the reader to view storylines from different perspectives, which is brilliant.

In all honesty, Blood Ties is the best adult novel I’ve read in a while. I highly recommend it.

Book Review: Prosperity

Prosperity by Deborah Woehr

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Prosperity is a ghost story set in USA. It’s about a woman who finds herself stuck in one of those freaky towns in the middle of nowhere. You know the type of place I mean, where all the locals are totally mixed up or just plain crazy. That alone makes it spooky. The one thing I can definitely say about this story is that it would make me think twice about driving (or should I say stopping) at a town like this if I were ever to visit the States. That…is unlikely to happen, so I should have no fears where that’s concerned.

The author has thought out the complicated plot line really well. The characters are well developed. And the setting is true to life (or as true to life as any non-American can tell anyway).

I do, however, have two complaints about the book. First, there is a lot of sexual references and swearing. Both do fit in with the characters and the plot, so neither of these things are in fact wrong and I doubt they could be called gratuitous, but for me it was too much. It all comes down to personal taste. Second, the third chapter (I think) introduced a lot of characters all at once and I became totally confused. My mind isn’t what it used to be, so it might just be me. I really don’t know. It took a while to work out who was doing what after that, which distracted me from the story, but once I got the characters sorted I settled back into the plot and the events took me through to the end.

As I mentioned earlier, the plot was complicated and the author did an awesome job bringing it all together. There was a nice (definitely not the right word for this story, but I don’t want to give anything away in case you are intending to read the book) twist near the end that I didn’t see coming, followed by a moment of uncertainty where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to happen. That moment left me thinking about choices we might make if we were thrown in a similar situation.

If you like a well written ghost story and you don’t mind swearing, then you should consider reading this book.

Book Review: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich tells the story of a man sentenced to ten years in a Russian work camp for being a spy, even though the accusation is false. However, Ivan is wise enough not to make waves or he might find another ten years put on top of his existing sentence. He also knows that extra years might be slapped on him anyway, because the Soviet would never trust him again and they wouldn’t want him returning to those “bad habits”. When, or if, he was released, he knew he could be sent to an even worse place, so he actually talks himself into not wanting to leave the camp. Going home was something he felt would probably never happen, so it would be better to stay where he was – in a situation he had learned to cope with and live in – than be sent to that worst place.

The story is not filled with suspense and twists and turns. This story holds a reader for another reason – it is character driven. The reader feels for this man (and his companions) and wants to get through the day with them.

The one thing that was very clear to me was how it shows humans adapt to their surroundings and learn how to survive even the most inhuman situations. When a person can find good fortune in receiving a few grams of stale bread and a ladle of something that resembles dish washing water each day, it should make the people of today appreciate what they have.

The book is just one long chapter, with not even a single scene break. At first, I found this irritating, but I got used to it. The writing is a little confusing. One moment the viewpoint was third person and then suddenly it turned to first person. The main character had two names and for a long time I wondered where Ivan Denisovich fit into the story as I didn’t realise I was reading about him because of this other name being used. (I’m not sure if I missed the connection at the beginning of the story or not. I did skim through those early pages again, but found nothing that made it clear. Maybe the confusion came about in the translation.)

Even with the confusion, I found this story interesting, which shows content is important. It made me wonder how well I would cope in a similar situation! I suspect not terribly well.

Anyway, this is a book I would not have picked up without recommendation, which proves – once again – a book cannot be judged by its cover.


Book Review: Bad Monkeys

Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! I finished this book in two days. That should say everything! But I guess I should say more than that, so I will.

Bad Monkeys is not a book I would have picked up in the library and brought home for myself. Someone else would have to pick it for me. In fact, that is exactly what happened. I arrived home from work one afternoon to find the book sitting on my bed.

“I saw that and thought you’d like it,” said G.

I looked at the cover. It wasn’t pretty, or intriguing, or special in any way. It was plain and quite boring looking. “Oh, thanks.”

I didn’t intend to give the book another thought, except to put it in the “Return to the Library Pile” at the end of the week. However, G is always thinking of me and I never show gratitude by even reading the book cover. This time I thought I’d at least do that.

Hmm, not bad, I thought. OK, I’ve got five minutes. I’ll read the first chapter or, at the very least, the first page. Then I can tell him I attempted to read it but got bored.

Two hours later my eyes left the pages of the book and I was surprised to find that I had read over 100 pages. I went to do some things around the house. Whilst my hands did the washing and the vacuuming, my mind was still thinking about the story. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Why? The author planted a seed that needed watering. He answered questions but kept filling my mind with more issues that I needed answers too. I was obsessed and needed to return to the book.

So I did. Several times over the two days it took me to read the book. I lost sleep over it too. I’m not particularly happy about that, but doesn’t it tell you how hooked I was? It does me.

So what is the book about? I can’t tell you! You’ll have to get a copy and read it for yourself. You are, however, guaranteed twists and turns that make you giddy. You will love the characters, they are so real. The words will play with your mind so that you won’t know what is true and what is real for that matter. And the author has a nice sense of humour too, which makes for an even more enjoyable read.

The library classified this as a detective story. OK, it is in a small way, but slotting this story into one genre is hard unless there’s a genre that covers science fiction, mystery, humour, fantasy and a touch of … weird.

Do yourself a favour. Read the book.

The next book I’m going to attempt is another book that I would never have picked up at the library myself. This book was listed in a Top 20 Books “considered the best of all time” – compiled by David Meadows. The book is called A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Book Review: Promise Me Tomorrow

Promise Me Tomorrow by Lori Wick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I actually finished reading Promise Me Tomorrow by Lori Wick almost three weeks ago. Life has been busy, which has stopped me from posting.

Promise Me Tomorrow is a romance story written by a Christian writer. The religious parts of the story were not too bad, generally speaking. The characters and actual story held me through most of those scenes. There was only one scene that was too much for me, which I skipped altogether. Apart from that it’s a romantic story about a man and woman and the obstacles they must overcome to be together. It’s sweet, sloppy and totally predictable, but I loved it.

I feel shy in admitting this, but it’s a story that could easily have been written by me (except for the religious content), because it’s exactly what I used to write when I first started writing. I adore reading and writing about the attraction between two people. You know what I mean…the sly glances, the adoration in the eyes, the fluster, the touch and the wanting to see the person again. And when I first started to write, I would build entire stories around these tender moments.

Anyway, it’s been a while since I read a book that I couldn’t put down. I honestly think this book spoke to me because I have denied (openly and privately) my desire to write the type of story I really enjoy to read and write. OK, I know that a lot of people would read this book, or any number of other books similar to it, and think it is complete dribble, but I don’t care anymore. I’m tired of doing what other people expect of me. Maybe I’ll enjoy writing again, if I do what I want to do. This is totally my own fault, by the way. I’ve allowed general consensus to rule me. But no more!

Promise Me Tomorrow is recommended to those with a tender heart.

Book Review: Dying to Help

Dying to Help by Penny Kline

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Last night I finished reading Dying to Help by Penny Kline. This is a detective type story, without the detective. Someone dies and the main character finds herself trying to put the facts together and come up with the truth. The title of the book suggests that the main character finds herself targeted because of it. This is true, but there was no real fear, no urgency and, unfortunately, no real action.

The details of the murder were put together quite nicely and the writing itself is good, but reading the story was dull. After 200 pages I could have easily put the book down, but I forced myself to keep reading. Having read fantasy for so long, I wanted to ensure I had given this other genre a genuine chance.

Upon reaching the final page, I felt happy that it was finally over. The actual “action” scene lasted all of a single page and I felt disappointed by that.

I have nothing else to say about this book, except…I don’t recommend it!

Next on my reading list is a romance novel.

Book Review: The Last Family in England

The Last Family in England by Matt Haig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you have ever owned a dog…or a cat…then The Last Family in England by Matt Haig might be of interest to you. The story is told from the dog’s point of view and the view point is so convincing, I found myself looking at my pets and wondering if they were thinking the things Prince, from the book, was thinking. And, I almost convinced myself that they were!

The book covers a wide range of topics; some of which are quite embarrassing so I won’t even attempt to go into those here. But the safer ones include adultery, suicide, growing up and disjointed family life. At first, I found the book hard to get into, but that was nothing to do with the writing or the subject matter. It was because this is the first book I’ve attempted to read in months. Before long, I found myself gasping with shock at the embarrassing parts, empathising with the characters in other parts of the story and snickering at Prince’s thought patterns. Not to mention getting choked up and crying. Any book that brings out that emotion must get brownie points, in my opinion.

I picked up this book completely on a friend’s recommendation and I had no idea what the story was about and I didn’t read the blurb on the back cover. In other words, I had no expectations and I found the story to be completely different to anything I’ve read in the last decade or more. Even with the rude bits…and the swearing, it was refreshing and interesting. For those of you who know me well, you’ll know that’s unusual for me. I’m usually quite straight laced. Anyway, the characters are human (except for the dogs in the story, of course), the problems are real and the emotions strong. I recommend this book if you’re looking for something different.

I finished the book in less than a week. I can’t believe it. It looks like I’ll get at least two of those library books read at this rate. 😀