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R. Silva "Rick Silva" RSS Feed (Cape Cod MA USA)
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Magic Tree House 11
Magic Tree House 11
by Mary Pope Osborne
Edition: Paperback
61 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Amusing Visit To The African Plains, May 28, 2016
This review is from: Magic Tree House 11 (Paperback)
In their ongoing quest to become Master Librarians, Jack and Annie travel with the Magic Tree House to the African Plains, where they encounter migrating wildebeests, gazelles, zebras, hyenas, giraffes, and the occasional inconveniently-placed lion. There's also a Masai warrior, who provides a nice opportunity to share the groceries that Jack has been carrying around the whole time.

Jack and Annie try to be helpful to the animals they meet while seeking the solution to the riddle given to them by Morgan Le Fay. It all leads to a harrowing showdown with the lions and hyenas, and a dash for safety.

This was a fairly lighthearted entry in the series, full of silly moments that relied on Annie's ability to relate to animals, with jack rushing to find insights in the book on African wildlife that he's carrying. The climactic scene was well-paced, but it's a bit hard to picture these kids being in much real danger from animals with Annie able to just about speak with them.

The ending also held a humorous and slightly meta scene as the kids make plans to cover for their half0-eaten groceries when their Mum will surely ask about them.

I read this with my son (age 8), who enjoyed the humor and particularly liked the solution to this book's riddle.


Cephalox the Cyber Squid
Cephalox the Cyber Squid
by Adam Blade
Edition: Paperback
43 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars A New Quest Begins, May 22, 2016
My son (age 8) enjoyed a couple of Adam Blade's Beast Quest books, which he got from his school library, but they were random installments in the series, so when I went Christmas shopping, I thought he might prefer to start at the beginning. We don't always have the best selection of English-language books at the bookstores here in Saigon, so I wasn't able to find the first Beast Quest. I did spot this, the first installment in Adam Blade's Sea Quest series.

The setting of these stories is interesting. It appears to take place on a planet which is mostly ocean. The sea creatures are the same as Earth's, and there are two cities: A floating city of humans that extends down below the surface, and an underwater city of a water-breathing humanoid race called merryn. The humans are masters of advanced technology, while the merryn are adept at psychic abilities ("aqua powers" here). The two cities were at war thousands of years ago, but now they have lost contact and generally forgotten about each other.

That quickly changes when merryn girl Lia rescues human boy Max during an attack on the human city by the title monster. Cephalox the Cyber Squid is controlled by a villain called the Professor, and he abducts Max's father and threatens to destroy the merryn city.

The battle that follows serves as a starting point for a (familiar-sounding, having read a couple of Beast-Quest books) quest to defeat three other monsters and collect the pieces of an artifact that will restore the full aqua-powers of the merryn.

The setting here is more fun than the generic fantasy of Beast Quest. I liked the mix of magic and technology, the use of lots of marine wildlife, and the kaiju-like flavor of the antagonist monster.

The book suffers from the fact that the actual villain never appears, as well as from uneven handling of the character of Lia. "Adam Blade" tries really hard not to fall into sexist clichés, and succeeds, well, some of the time. All of the time would have been better.

My son especially enjoyed the action scenes, which featured some very cool images as the monstrous squid wreaked havoc on the human and merryn settlements. He also enjoyed the descriptions of the gadgetry, and this was a nice follow-up to another book we recently finished that featured a mini-sub.

The illustrations are credited to "Artful Doodlers", and are quite good, especially on the look of the main characters. There is also a set of four cut-out trading cards, as is standard with the Beast Quest books, and which were a fun bonus for my son.


Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
by Douglas R. Hofstadter
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.10
237 used & new from $4.23

5.0 out of 5 stars Loaded With Brilliance, May 20, 2016
This book was very popular with my friends when I was in college, so popular, in fact, that I balked at it as being something trendy and never got around to reading it. Until now. I love this book. And I'm glad I waited to read it.

GEB is a difficult book to describe. The three central figures, a mathematician, an artist, and a composer, don't seem to share much on the surface aside from their obvious brilliance in their respective fields.

Hofstadter brings the work of the three together in a lengthy examination of the nature of thought and intelligence. Along the way, he touches on symbolic logic, number theory, music, visual art, molecular biology, Zen, computer science, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence.

He does it all while interspersing his chapters with humorous dialogues using the style and characters of Zeno and Lewis Carroll, and formatting inspired by Bach's compositions.

Going into this book, I had almost no knowledge of classical music. I'm okay with math, and have a pretty reasonable grasp of molecular biology (I teach high school biology and chemistry). I'm a fan of Escher's work, although I don't have much theoretical knowledge about visual art.

I found myself referencing many, many books I'd read and ideas I'd encountered over my lifetime as I made my way through GEB, which I why I was glad to be reading it now, rather than when I was 18. There is a LOT to ponder in this book.

And throughout it all, Hofstadter engages in some amazing wordplay, adding new layers to the text in an incredible variety of ways.

This book definitely asks a lot of the reader. It's dense in places, and it jumps rapidly to so many wildly different ideas that it can feel like a scramble to keep up.

But it is absolutely loaded with brilliance. A fascinating read.


Magic Tree House 9: Diving with Dolphins
Magic Tree House 9: Diving with Dolphins
by Mary Pope Osborne
Edition: Paperback
60 used & new from $0.65

4.0 out of 5 stars Mini-Sub Fun!, May 13, 2016
Jack and Annie begin their quest to become Master Librarians. They must solve a series of riddles. The first of these takes them to a coral reef and an abandoned mini-sub that is just sitting there waiting for someone to take it for a spin around the block.

Problem is, there was a reason it was abandoned.

This is an odd story in that there are basically no human characters other than Jack and Annie once the quest gets underway. Osborne does a nice job of evoking the wonder of the coral reef setting, but goes a bit overboard (!) with some of the marine life encounters. A giant octopus really isn't a coral reef animal. That being said, her handling of an encounter with a shark is good, with the shark portrayed as an animal to be respected, but not as some sinister monster.

The sense of danger when the kids have to make a swim for safety is very strong, and their rescue from the situation makes for a fun scene.

I had no trouble figuring out the riddle, but it's appropriate for the age of the book's intended readers, and Osborne does a nice job of working a double meaning into it.

I read this with my eight-year-old son, who loved the mini-sub and all of the marine life, and also got a chuckle out of the kids sneaking their wet shoes/clothes past their parents at the end.


Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Volume 2
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Volume 2
by Bruce Jones
Edition: Library Binding
Price: $20.76
21 used & new from $15.77

3.0 out of 5 stars Nice Artwork On This Adaptation, May 13, 2016
This volume, adapting the original Star Wars film, begins with the Death Star's arrival at Alderaan, and covers all of the subsequent action that takes place aboard the Death Star, up to the Millennium Falcon's escape into space.

With the addition of Princess Leia to the combination of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, the snappy dialogue gets upped a notch, as Han finally has someone who can match his snark. The comic script is hit-and-miss with this, keeping some of the best lines, but noticeably cutting others for space. It's effective in terms of keeping the pacing of the action, but serious fans are going to want to read every good line.

The action feels a bit choppy within the limitations of the graphic novel. The Stormtroopers never seem like a major threat to the heroes, although that's really the case in the movie too.

This volume makes better use of occasional bigger panels than some others in this series, but still suffers from the limitations of trying to get all of the action into a limited page count.

Eduardo Barreto and Al Williamson do a nice job with the look of the characters, and their work of the setting and scenery of the Death Star is spot-on. Dave Dorman's cover is fantastic, and the extra pin-up art by Adam Hughes and Matthew Hollingsworth is a nice bonus.


The General Retires and Other Stories
The General Retires and Other Stories
by Huy Thiệp Nguyễn
Edition: Paperback
26 used & new from $1.88

4.0 out of 5 stars Hauntingly Detailed Stories of Vietnam, May 7, 2016
Originally translated in 1992, this collection of Nguyen Huy Thiep's short stories is one of the best-known examples of modern Vietnamese literature available in the English language.

The stories are very detailed, telling the tales of everyday people living in various periods in 19th and 20th Century Vietnam. Some of the stories have hints of the magical or legendary, giving them a mystical quality that I found a nice addition.

Other themes featured are the differences between country and urban lifestyles, and the struggle of people clinging to traditional values in the face of change. This is particularly apparent in the title story, told from the point of view of an intellectual son of the time that his father lives with the family after retiring from the army.

I enjoyed this story, as well as several of the stories that I felt veered into magic-realism territory, including "The Water Nymph", "Cun", and "Run, River, Run".

Ngyen Huy Thiep inflicts a lot of misery on his characters, and there are some disturbing scenes among these stories, including a rape (not graphically described), and a number of gruesome deaths.

The longest story in the book, "A Drop of Blood" was my least favorite. It's a multi-generational family history, with a great deal of misery and backstabbing, but no real direction and no characters I found appealing.

Aside from that, I enjoyed all of the stories, and even in "A Drop of Blood", the detail work on the setting was excellent.


Five Children & It (Vintage Classics)
Five Children & It (Vintage Classics)
by E. Nesbit
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.99
53 used & new from $0.89

4.0 out of 5 stars Amusing Wish-Granting Fantasy, May 4, 2016
Originally serialized in 1900 and collected in 1902, E. Nesbit's story concerns the adventures of four children (and occasionally their toddler brother, known only as "The Lamb") who discover a wish-granting psammead, or sammyadd, an ancient sand-fairy who had been in the business of granting cavepersons their wishes for megatheriums and ichthyosaurs back in prehistoric times.

If you have read any wish-granting stories, you know how this goes. Everything the kids wish for, from beauty, to wealth, to living in a castle go horribly wrong, but in this case, it's always handled in a fairly gentle and humorous way. This is a wish-granting comedy, rather than a wish-granting horror story.

The author's witty and irreverent side remarks add nicely to the humor, and the dialogue is quick-paced and fun, showing off the personalities of the four main characters.

As might be expected for a book written in its time, chapters involving Gypsies and Native Americans are on the cringe-inducing side as the stereotypes get piled on thick and fast.

In other chapters, though, the book shines as it shows how the kids begin to learn to have fun adventures even in spite of their wishes being twisted by unexpected consequences. A two-chapter tale where they wish for wings, and a chapter where one of the kids wishes that they lived in a "besieged castle" (prompting the lament of "Why didn't we specify a well-provisioned and garrisoned besieged castle?") are among the best examples of the kids finding a sense of adventure when things take an unexpected turn.

The wish-magic is handled with a great deal of consistency, and the kids come up with some clever and resourceful solutions to their various troubles, especially in the later chapters.

I read this aloud to my eight-year-old son, and he found some of it to be a bit slow and dull, but he always perked up whenever any of the characters blurted out something beginning with "I wish...", and was quick to imagine all of the ways that the latest wish could go badly wrong.


Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Volume 3
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Volume 3
by Bruce Jones
Edition: Library Binding
Price: $18.92
15 used & new from $8.62

4.0 out of 5 stars Nice Bit Of Nostalgia, April 22, 2016
My first experience with Star Wars was not the original film in the theater, although I did see it somewhat late in its initial release. My first Star Wars experience was with the Marvel Comics adaptation of the film, and specifically, with the third issue, since I had missed the first two.

This new adaptation (also volume 3) covers almost the exact segment of the film: The flight from the Death Star to Yavin and the opening moments of the final battle with the Death Star.

In terms of story, this has some great interactions between Luke, Han, and Leia, plus some of the truly iconic Star Wars visuals ("Lock s-foils in attack position!"). There is a surprising amount of character development in these scenes, considering the frantic pace as the Rebel Alliance prepares for impending doom.

The artists do a good job with the characters. They look like the actors, which is not always the case in movie/TV adaptations. Facial expressions and body language are effective. The initial space battle between the Millennium Falcon and the TIE fighters falls short of capturing the pacing and action of the scene, but the lead-up to the final Death Star battle looks pretty good.

Dave Dorman's cover is gorgeous, and his three bonus pin-up pages look great too.

I feel like a hardcover edition of a single issue of a comic is a bit of a waste, but library editions are odd beasts, and this does have the advantage of being durable when bounced around in my son's bookbag.

It was fun to see a new take on this story in the comics medium.


Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 2: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 2: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.99
170 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Frenetic Fun, February 27, 2016
Musician and slacker Scott Pilgrim is dating two girls, and he needs to make a choice.

And furthermore, if that choice is to keep dating Ramona Flowers, he must still defeat the remaining six members of the League of Ramona's Evil Ex-Boyfriends. And next up on that list is Lucas Lee (not to be confused with Luke Wilson, apparently), a former pro skateboarder turned bigtime Hollywood star.

Meanwhile, Ramona meets Scott's friends, and becomes friends with Scott's sister. She also gets to meet Scott's other girlfriend, Knives Chau, and, well, Scott is not the only one with a fight scene in this volume.

There is also useful tourist information for Toronto-area sightseeing spots, and a recipe for vegan shepherd's pie. Plus a flashback to Scott's high school days.

Scott is grating at times, but that is part of the point. The story is frenetically paced and endlessly quirky, with great interplay between a diverse supporting cast, and a nice sprinkling of video game references.


Eragon (Inheritance, Book 1)
Eragon (Inheritance, Book 1)
by Christopher Paolini
Edition: Paperback
56 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Needs More Originality, Less Sexism Would Help Too, February 24, 2016
Farm boy Eragon discovers a mysterious blue stone, which soon hatches into a blue dragon, and we're off and running all over a fairly generic D&D-inspired fantasy world complete with elves, dwarves, dragons, and orcs. Well, urgals, actually. But they're orcs for all intents and purposes.

For about the first two thirds of this, I felt like it was harmless fun. There wasn't very much original here, but the hero was likeable, if a bit too capable at everything he tried. The dragon was a fun character. The setting, while unoriginal, was richly detailed. The action scenes were creative and exciting, and the pacing was good.

Then the author decided that it was a good idea to keep the most important non-dragon female character in the story unconscious for like ten chapters. And once she finally awakened, the tired heroic fantasy clichés were suddenly accompanied by tired sexist clichés. There is actually a moment where the hero, on the eve of a huge battle, and after just having it proved to him that the female warrior is a better fighter than he is, still manages to express his wish that she had been evacuated with the women and children rather than, you know, helping with the battle.

This book was published in 2002. The other book I'm reading right now is a fantasy novel published in 1900, which handles its female characters better then Eragon does.

Having said all of that, the ending does deliver a very good final battle, and sets up the next book in the series. I think I'll be stopping at this one, though.


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