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Dragon Masters #1: Rise of the Earth Dragon (A Branches Book)
Dragon Masters #1: Rise of the Earth Dragon (A Branches Book)
by Tracey West
Edition: Paperback
Price: $3.61
52 used & new from $2.26

3.0 out of 5 stars Read more like it was written by children than for children, October 20, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This story is the standard wish-fulfillment tale: a poor farmboy is selected by the king to be a Dragon Master, and he gets as much food as he wants and a dragon.

The story actually does a pretty good job of layering in plot elements that i'm sure will pay off in future books in the series without turning this introductory book into a complicated muddle. However, i found the writing awkward and clunky. (I'm reading my share of books targeted to this age group this days, so it's not just my adult reading bias in play.) The sentences are constructed oddly, like an early grade school student who sometimes forgets by the end of a sentence how it had started.


Galaxy's Most Wanted
Galaxy's Most Wanted
by John Kloepfer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $8.66
63 used & new from $0.43

3.0 out of 5 stars Not awful, not great, October 19, 2014
This review is from: Galaxy's Most Wanted (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This story was... ok. I mean, i like that it values brains over brawn (though brains are often used to just make the cooler weapons). I like that they shoe-horned a girl into the cabal, and that she was a contributing member of the team, but she was pretty much the only girl mentioned in the entire book so it felt a bit, well, shoehorned.

I wasn't a big fan of the alien body fluids, but i guess they're de rigueur for fiction aimed at young boys.

Really, it's not that there's anything deeply wrong with this book, but i just felt that there was nothing really right with it. It didn't entertain me.

I have no problem leaving this on the shelf for my kids to find when they're ready to read it, but i doubt i'll ever recommend it if they ask for specific suggestions.


The Eye of Zoltar (The Chronicles of Kazam)
The Eye of Zoltar (The Chronicles of Kazam)
by Jasper Fforde
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.24
60 used & new from $8.02

2.0 out of 5 stars Contrived, October 19, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I had the same problem with this book as i have with Fforde's books for adults: it just feels forced. It's the difference between a zany person and a person trying to be zany, a naturally funny person and someone who learned a script written by a comic.

This may out me as a bit of a geek, but it reminds me of Data's poetry on Star Trek TNG: technically perfect, but missing what matters.

Thus, rather than giggling to myself at the multiple jokes and puns on every page, each just earned just a sigh or an eye-roll, and eventually i got bored and put the book aside. I guess Fforde and i just aren't meant to be.


Manhattan Toy Learning Play Microscope
Manhattan Toy Learning Play Microscope
Offered by Kaplan Early Learning Company
Price: $28.23
6 used & new from $20.74

2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, October 19, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I wish there was a meaningful magnifying lens in this kit. As it is, my kids (one at each end of the ostensible range) played with this for a few minutes and never touched it again. The entirely of that play was seeing how the colored lens changed what the 'petri dishes' (wooden discs with images on both sides) looked like. They had no interest in the kaleidoscope lens, and the magnifying lens didn't magnify enough for them to notice. It would have been awesome if there were a more powerful lens and some tiny things 'hidden' on the plates.

There's a little storage slot for the 'petri dishes', but you're on your own to keep track of the lenses.

The knob on the side does nothing at all, i wish it wasn't there at all.

I'm usually a big fan of Manhattan Toy products, and while this one is wooden and sturdy-feeling (i see others arrived broken, but ours is intact), but this one's a dud. It's not going to teach kids anything.


Balance Keepers #1: The Fires of Calderon
Balance Keepers #1: The Fires of Calderon
by Lindsay Cummings
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.76
58 used & new from $4.87

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars After a slow start, it's a very engaging read, October 18, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
At about 40 pages in, i was ready to pitch this book in the bin. But i looked at other reviews, and upon seeing the glowing reviews, decided to give it another try.

When people compare this book to the first in the Harry Potter series, i can see several similarities: a young boy ignorant of his magical potential until some random point, a magical world hidden from the muggles, a group of three friends, a set of bullies who somehow never face consequences for their public flagrant bullying, etc. But as a reader, the most salient parallel was that the first few pages of the first Harry Potter book were quite dull as well. It took me several tries to start the first HP book. It wasn't until i was trapped on an airplane that i made it past the dull intro to the riveting content within. And it was only because of the other glowing reviews that i pushed past the soporific beginning of this book.

Do i recommend this book? Yes.

Am i eagerly awaiting the next book in the series? Yes.

Are the first 40-odd pages a disappointment? Yep. So it goes.


The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of Beauty
The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of Beauty
by (Historian) Alexander Lee
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.24
61 used & new from $12.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The dryness of a textbook, the structure of a pop-history book, October 17, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book was hard to read, twice over.

First, the writing was just dull. Textbook-dull. (I've actually read a few quite entertaining textbooks in my day, but one must admit that most of them sacrifice liveliness for the sake of getting facts on the page.)

Second, it was structured like a light-weight pop-history book. Each chapter is framed on an item or event - say, Chapter 1: Michaelangelo's Nose. The chapter starts with the breaking of his nose in a petty fight with a fellow student, then branches out to discuss the meaning of the Renaissance, as they saw it then and as we saw it now. However, it manages to refer to the broken nose, either directly or as a forced metaphor, every few paragraphs.

(It's funny, but i hadn't realized that was one of the key architectures of pop-nonfic until i saw it done so badly here. When done well, it's a wonderful way to ground an esoteric subject.)

Either way, i gave up on this book after a few chapters. I'm neither a Renaissance fangirl nor completely ignorant of the era. While this book was certainly full of details i didn't know, the overall thesis that there was nastiness in the Renaissance is presented without the slightest bit of vibrancy and ends up just being something obvious that we all learned in a high school history class.


I Stand Corrected: How Teaching Western Manners in China Became Its Own Unforgettable Lesson
I Stand Corrected: How Teaching Western Manners in China Became Its Own Unforgettable Lesson
by Eden Collinsworth
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.72
54 used & new from $12.16

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but disorganized - far too much is included that has nothing to do with the supposed subject, October 17, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
While the author's decision to teach western manners in China is certainly the framework of the book, an awful lot of the rest of her life somehow makes it in there too. She wants us to be very sure that we know she was managing a publishing house by the time she was 28 (she mentions it explicitly at least twice, and there are several more indirect references), that she saw gorillas in Africa, that her hair is amazing, and so on.

And oddly, the narrative switches rapidly from excerpts of the manners book to random life anecdotes, sometimes in but mostly outside of China.

What i really liked about the book was the insightful and amusing way the author juxtaposed Chinese and western business manners and expectations, cultural standards, and so on. Something as simple (from a western point of view) as a business card can make or break a business negotiation. And frankly, that's the book i thought i was getting.

Unfortunately, there's just far too much opportunistic biography, bits of her life that have absolutely nothing to do with Teaching Western Manners In China except that they happened to the same person. She doesn't even reflect the lessons learned in China back on these life events, she simply recounts them, often with no apparent link.


The Lost Book of Mormon: A Journey Through the Mythic Lands of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Kansas City, Missouri
The Lost Book of Mormon: A Journey Through the Mythic Lands of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Kansas City, Missouri
by Avi Steinberg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.21

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This isn't about The Lost Book of Mormon, it's about the author and his fascination with the Book of Mormon., October 16, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The subtitle of this book should start with 'My Journey Through...', not 'A Journey Through...'.

I had trouble getting into this book, and it wasn't until the author went on a several-page-long digression about how he procrastinated from finishing his previous manuscript, including a detailed explanation of how, exactly, he ended up working at a junk shop in Jerusalem, that i realized the problem.

The Book of Mormon is not the star of this book, the author is.

And i don't want to read about him. That's not what i got this book to read about. And reading five pages of the author's biography just to get a few sentences about the Book of Mormon just isn't worth it for me.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 16, 2014 6:39 PM PDT


The Secrets of Life and Death
The Secrets of Life and Death
by Rebecca Alexander
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.57
54 used & new from $3.34

2.0 out of 5 stars Everything i don't like about historical fantasy, crossed with everything i don't like about urban fantasy, October 16, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It was only a matter of time before someone used Elizabeth Bathory in a novel, and that's what got me to pick this one up. (If you haven't heard of her, go do a quick search.) And this novel's take on her is certainly interesting. However, it's mired in a past/present layer cake of a story, where the 'past' layer is all overwrought writing and name-dropping contemporary figured, and the present is all 'gritty' urban fantasy with good people doing bad things, bad people doing ambiguous things, and some eye-roll-inducing pontification on the nature of good, evil, death, and whatever else.

Someone could probably take the basic plot elements of this book and write a novel i'd very much enjoy. However, the way they were written and assembled here just didn't work for me.


We All Looked Up
We All Looked Up
by Tommy Wallach
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.79

4.0 out of 5 stars A powerful novel, though far from perfect, October 15, 2014
This review is from: We All Looked Up (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The whole Impending Apocalypse this is getting a little overdone, and teen dramas are already sufficiently prevalent that i can't really approve of any more being added to the world.

However, somehow this novel crosses the Countdown To Armageddon with a Story About A Bunch Of Teens With Messed Up Lives and comes out with something surprisingly insightful and touching.

Yes, there are some slow sections. The whole book takes a while to get off the ground, as the author takes too long establishing everyone before introducing the asteroid. And there are some paragraphs that just got so inane or dull that my eye just slid right down the page until it found something worth reading. And ugh, the teenagers act a lot like teenagers most of the time.

But there's also a lot of deep thought, both by and between the characters and from the plot itself. Sure, we've all thought about what we'd do if NASA said, 'Hey, by the way, a huge asteroid is probably going to destroy all life on earth in a few weeks,' but having a cast of characters actually play it out was quite engaging.

This is definitely a story for older tweens. There's a lot of drugs, alcohol, sex, and death. There's also some pretty solid philosophizing on the meaning of life, death, love, endings, beginnings, victory and defeat, almost all of it seamlessly in character and in context, but probably above the head of all but the most precocious 14-year-olds.


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