The Frankenstein Adventures by Bil Richardson

Published: 3rd October 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Creator Studios
Pages: 136
Format: ebook
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

This is the story of Frankenstein told from the vantage point of Igor, the bumbling, brave boy who will risk everything to save his master’s flawed creation. Hilarious and heart-warming – this is a book that will make you stand up and cheer one minute and fall down laughing the next. Igor’s heart is in the right place even though parts of his body aren’t. He is a loveable, lopsided fellow who has more courage and strength than any of the adults who look down on him. When things go wrong with his boss’s “experiment,” Igor sees it as his duty to save the day – even though most days he is the one who needs saving. Our hilarious hero has to overcome enormous odds on his mission to rescue the most important achievement in human history – the creation of life. Follow Igor on his amazing adventure to prove that he is more than just a not-so-pretty face.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author for review.

The blurb is slightly misleading, and while there is truth that Igor does set out the save his master’s creation, the story is not entirely his as the third person perspective offers insight into many different characters, new and old. While it is a retelling of the traditional Frankenstein story, Richardson takes it further and it becomes a story about family, friendship, and discovering the monsters of the world are not the most obvious.

The writing is straightforward but weave a detailed and in-depth story. The tone is one kids will love; Igor and the other characters are funny, there’s snark and drama and puns, and seeing the domestic side of Frankenstein brings in all the scary, gross, fun kids will love. Where Richardson shines is that while it is light-hearted and silly, there is also heart and warmth.

The first part of the narrative retells the original story with a few extra twists and characters to get to know. We follow Frankenstein’s monster as he flees the castle, we see locals as they hunt after him, and we follow the angst of Igor and his master as they work out what to do. From there we see the story continues through the eyes of various characters as the story moves into one of friendship, jealously, and drama.

The tone is suitable for the intended age group but there is no hiding from the scientific methods or descriptions either. We know Frank is burned, with scars and the traditional story is but a lot of the elements are there about violence too. The characters are sweet and endearing once the story gets going and you see the emotion and their misguided goodness. The violent side is restrained but regular but you see the good versus evil in each altercation and know who the bad guys are.

Richardson demonstrates that Frank (as he’s named himself) is not the real monster, nor is Frankenstein either. There are messages in there about kindness and being a friend and how monsters are made by people and what blind judgement can do. There is also a fantastic message about what makes a family. A great story for kids to enjoy where they can experience the Frankenstein story without delving right into Shelley’s horror masterpiece.

You can purchase The Frankenstein Adventures via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Flash (The Forever Saga #1) by Sean C. Sousa

Published: September 24th 2012
3349b-goodreads-buttonPublisher: 
Epical Media
Pages: 388
Format: ebook
Genre: 
Science Fiction/Adventure
★   ★   ★   ★   – 4 Stars

Long ago, the first reign of Grigori Geist nearly destroyed the Earth. Returned from exile, Geist is secretly rebuilding his kingdom beneath Antarctica, and assembling his robotic Vaucan race to conquer mankind. Only one obstacle remains: the war hero Brian Renney.

Yet Brian is now losing a battle against his fears. Scars of heart and mind linger in the Vietnam veteran and retired coach, fueling nightmares that leave him abrasive as a husband and father. His failures embitter his youngest son, Jason – a star athlete torn between pursuing the woman he loves, and meeting the demands of a father who is far from the storied Army captain he once was.

And all the while, Geist is coming for them.

Against an ancient tyrant and his servants, Brian and Jason must face a threat that plagues the world from deep shadows…and gain an ally who, once meant for evil, will forever be a force for good.

Note: I was provided a copy of this book for review

As an introduction to a series, its characters, and its world Sousa has done a good job, there is a lot of information given about Geist as well as Brian’s family, but not so much that there is nowhere to go in terms of discovery. By not knowing why Geist is interested in Brian all there is to do is wonder and speculate and see where the story will go. I know there is a great story starting in this series, but I have to say I loved the characters the most, Brian and Jason especially. Jason as a character was one I automatically liked, he was fun, real, funny but serious when needed to be. Brian on the other hand took a bit of warming up to but I soon had a lot of compassion for him, and a touch of sympathy.

The contrast between Brian and Jason’s stories are interesting. While Brian’s seems important on a larger scale, the everyday nature of Jason’s makes for an engaging read as well. Alessa, his hockey, and everyday things help you connect with him and his problems, it is a great balance against Brian’s and gives you something entertaining to read alongside this grander storyline. Jason’s story also gives you an insight into Brian’s as well, working off one another and helping to develop well rounded characters not just for the two of them, but those around them.

Sousa is very good at establishing character. No matter whose perspective we were following, or which character was present you are able to get a great sense of who they are as people. Characters are real and complicated, and with realistic interactions and reactions in multiple scenarios it made them enjoyable to read about. We are shown more than just Brian and Jason’s point of view, some only fleeting, and not all of them in great detail, but even so it lets us see a little more into who they are.

Relationships are a key focus in this story and the relationships between each character were great to read; the strained relationship between Jason and Brian, Mary’s forgiving nature but slightly frustrated approach to her marriage, not to mention the honest friendship that is evident between Jason and his roommates. I actually found myself initially more interested in the day to day of these characters than the storyline about Geist, even though one often was the cause of another, but as the narrative picked up its pace there was a cross over that brought the two storylines together giving it another element and raised my interest.

Sousa also uses the environment well to get us to understand his characters. Whether it is Jason and his hockey games, Brian’s nightmares, or even just the events surrounding Flash and Geist, they all help to understand the characters more in a natural and realistic way than narrative explanations alone. I have to say I admired Brian, he is a guy who is struggling with himself and his demons. He takes it out on his family and gets frustrated with himself for his failings. Through Brian’s nightmares and his self reprimand we are able to understand more of his past and how the battles he has faced have shaped the man we are introduced to. Gradually you can see improvements in his nature as he starts to mend but it is not without its struggles.

There are many moments in this book where you can see Brian’s true nature and inner conflict, but what I think was the best, sweetest, and saddest was when he is at the electronics store. No spoilers but in such a simple scene Brian’s approach to life and his self worth is captured and you really understand who he is. There are other moments where this is possible, but that was one that was such a mix of emotions that I thought gave Brian hope, before he took it away from himself.

Sousa provides information to the readers using events in the story; giving cause for there to be information provided. He works it into the narrative well without it feeling unnatural or only there for reader benefit. Understanding the vaucan Flash and his abilities is one of these instances where we are given an explanation of each of his skills which works within the story and doesn’t feel like it is being explained for our benefit alone. Sousa blends the information we need with the required story and together it makes it interesting as well as seamless.

At the start of the story it feels like there are two separate stories happening side by side, unconnected. And in a way they are, two separate lines that start on their journey but you know they are connected due to hints and references, you just don’t know how yet so you wait for them to come together and start following the same path. When this inevitable cross in storyline occurs, there still appears to be two separate stories, but they are now slowly becoming more connected, though there is still an element of mystery. It is interesting and you easily get caught up in one before switching back to the other, they do not merge exactly, more like overlap then carry on simultaneously. After awhile it doesn’t feel like we are being told the story, we are simply watching the events unfold and act as observers. This is a great technique and one that Sousa pulls of rather well.

Overall the narrative is interesting, the Geist and Flash story is clearly going to develop but this works as a great introduction, enough is revealed to help you understand but there is room to grow and expand further. By the end we are given answers to some things while not others, and when anything is possible you are not always sure how things will play out but you look forward to finding out.

Tears of the River by Gordon Rottman

Published: 4th June 2014
Goodreads badgePublisher: Taliesin Publishing
Pages: 168
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult/Adventure
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Fifteen-year-old Karen Herber is exactly where she wants to be—in the Nicaraguan rainforest with a volunteer medical team. What she had not expected was a hurricane collapsing a bridge to wipe out her team and a mudslide burying a village. Only a Nicaraguan six-year-old girl and a forty-four-year-old woman with both arms broken survive the mudslide. Then she finds that Jaydon Bonner survived, a privileged, arrogant seventeen-year-old American tenderfoot. Academic and confidence concerns are already dragging Karen down and she was tagged a “weak leader” in Outward Bound School. Her doctor parents are pushing her into a medical career, of which she’s uncertain. Less than fluent in Spanish, but an experienced backpacker, the reluctant leader is challenged by Nature, animals, desperate men and her fellow survivors’ mistrust and cultural differences. Their only path to salvation is a risky boat trip down a rainforest river, 150 miles to the mysterious Mosquito Coast. Karen soon finds her companions’ experiences, so different from her own, invaluable with each deadly encounter forging a closer bond between them. Through all the danger, “Jay” is there and manages to come though.

Note: I was provided a copy of this book for review

Tears of the River brings you the unexpected and it does it with style, realism, authenticity, and great characters. This is a wonderful story, Rottman pulls you in from the start with the characters and narrative and you find yourself never wanting to put the book down. There is also a great adventure tone that grabs you and is filled with the uncertainty of survival and the ongoing threat of failure that drives not only the characters, but the reader as you keep reading to see what else could possibly happen to them.

The story is told by Karen, an excellent move by Rottman because you get a great sense of who she is and the situation through her eyes and thoughts. She is also a great protagonist. She is knowledgeable about a lot of things; she does what’s right and uses her knowledge without being cocky, arrogant, or unlikable. She knows more than she thinks but she doesn’t know everything which shows great contrast and makes her very human instead of being unbelievable and too good at everything. You also forget she is only fifteen, and while she can replicate the skills and information she has been taught there are the pressures of the situation that seep in, there is only so much information can help when being as young as she is, coupled with the general shock of the whole experience before you break. Karen even mentions that she is saving her break down for later, she is pushing through with determination, and you sometimes see the cracks forming, it only makes her even better.

In a story so adventurous it is also wonderfully realistic. Karen is under no delusions about how tough it is going to be, no minor inconveniences like camping and a lot of work, but she is prepared for a lot of things. She has experience, she has read and seen a lot, and she has had practice in various situations, but while she knows what to do, she lacks confidence in her abilities. This does not deter her and she is determined to succeed regardless which makes her think on her feet and try anything, only adding to her character in my opinion. And while she claims she is not a leader you only have to watch as she pulls herself together to save not only herself but those around her. She doesn’t see just how much of a leader she is, but she does a wonderful job.

There are other key characters besides Karen: Jay is a seventeen year old from America, and there are two people from the village, forty four year old Tia, and six year old Lomara, each bringing their unique personalities to the story. With the language barrier with Tia and Lomara you only really grasp their personalities in how they act and react around Karen, while Jay is a lot more forward.

Jay starts out as being very arrogant and spoilt and I would have thought he would be a better person after being saved but it seems even accidents can’t change personality. Even so, I thought it would make him realise where he was and the situation they were in and be a lot less unhelpful. Personally I think he’s jealous. After awhile you watch him with Karen, what he says and does and it seems like he may even be a little embarrassed. He mentions later that he doesn’t know how to do anything with a slight ashamed tone but also with a sense of admiration for what Karen can do. The culture of the Nicaraguan people is that women don’t do certain things, certainly not all the things Karen is trying to do, and men are the strong ones who have their role to play in society, making Karen a constant target for Tia’s disapproval. But even when Karen asks for Jay to help he can’t, he has never done anything to help in the situations they have found themselves. This doesn’t excuse his behaviour in the beginning but by the end you understand him a bit more, he’s embarrassed and jealous watching her do the things she does and hearing how knowledgeable she is. Even Tia, an early and ongoing critic of Karen, slowly learns Karen is more than capable.

Due to the mixture of American and Nicaraguan characters there is a continual switch between English and Spanish which actually works really well. Working with a language barrier of two characters can be hard, especially in having to continually translate not just for the reader but also for the other characters. The format and style in which Rottman solved this problem was great and it never jarred or felt out of place, it allowed you to keep reading uninterrupted by the switching languages.

While there isn’t a high level of action or suspense, it is not without its drama in some form and Rottman makes even the menial seem interesting. The writing style is wonderful and clever because without needing it to be filled with suspense and a continual read of drama on every page there is more an ongoing interest and intrigue in where they will go and what they will do, you sort of marvel at how this little band of people survive and try to rescue themselves. There are so many obstacles they face on their journey, different things that have varying levels of danger and threats but you also don’t wait for bad things to happen either. Its great writing that only adds to the feeling of authenticity.

The writing is clever as well in that we often find out what we need to know long before we knew we needed it. Karen’s survival knowledge and her skills are explained creatively early on, as is her stamina, her description, and history, meaning that there is no need to stop a key moment in a scene to explain why she knows what she does, or how she is able to do these things, you just accept that she can because you know in the back of your mind that she had done the training, was taught a skill. It’s something that I really liked because it meant the crucial moments weren’t broken up, and it was very natural in how it was explained, never feeling like we took time from the story to explain everything.

Having Karen as the narrator made this work well, and with her mind wandering and connecting current experiences to those she had done before reads like we are inside her mind, and we are, we see her think things through and watch her mind connect it to other things.

Without spoilers, I will say I love how Karen is written through the whole book, and the others, but I especially loved her at the end. Rottman portrays her exhaustion and weariness well, she has spent all her energy trying to save these people and herself, jumping between two languages and by the end of it she doesn’t know which one she is supposed to speak anymore. She is running on autopilot and it’s brilliant to read, to watch her on the verge of crumbling into a heap but still trying to make sure everyone is ok. The fatigue and injuries are portrayed so well and you feel what she goes through.

I came out of being fully immersed in this novel realising that at every turn I was worried that their biggest obstacle would be if they lost the boat but Rottman shows there is so much more than possibly losing a boat to worry about. There is logic, real experiences and real consequences and Rottman shows that anything is possible. My favourite quote comes from Karen and it sums up this story brilliantly: “You can do anything, once you realise you have to.” That also sums up Karen’s character really well, and while she starts off with doubts about her leadership skills and chances of saving everyone, there is a wonderful change in her character as the determination comes through and she realises she has to, no matter what.

The slogan for the publisher Taliesin Publishing says “Discover authors and stories that echo in your heart long after the book is closed” and this is so true for Tears of the River. It is a story that I adored experiencing and one that will stay with me for a long time and one I look forward to rereading one day.

 

You can purchase Tears of the River via the following

Amazon

Andy Smithson: Blast of the Dragon’s Fury (#1) by L.R.W. Lee

Published: April 13th 2013
Goodreads badgePublisher: Createspace
Pages: 220
Format: eBook
Genre: Junior Fiction/Fantasy/Adventure
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

From the After Life, ten-year-old Andy Smithson’s relatives initiated a curse 500 years ago. Now they no longer agree it should continue and one is willing to sacrifice Andy’s life to end it. Unaware of the disagreement and with no say in the matter, Andy is unexpectedly and magically transported from his home. He finds himself in the Land of Oomaldee, facing mortal danger at every turn as he seeks to find a scale from a rare red dragon, the most ferocious of dragon species, to break the curse and save his life.

I was given a free ebook by the author for review purposes.

Andy Smithson: Blast of the Dragon’s Fury is the first book in L. R. W. Lee‘s series and is the story about Andy, a ten year old kid who is trying to live a normal life, however when he is drawn towards a trunk in the attic everything changes. Dragged from his home he is transported to the mysterious Land of Oomaldee where he is told he is the one who will break a curse, find a dragon, and rescue a kingdom.

I enjoyed reading this book, I think the idea behind the narrative is very clever, and certainly leaves room to be developed further through a series. We are introduced to this curse but we are not given the exact nature aside from snippets of information. This makes you very curious about what is happening and certainly makes you eager to find more about the curse. This is a good tactic, and one Lee does well, while we are not privy to everything going on, we learn with Andy about the land, the curse, and what his role is to save the King and the kingdom.

The story opens with a prologue, and while some people dislike prologues, I don’t mind them when they are done right. I don’t think of them as a set up or explanatory back story exactly, I think they can sometimes be something that just gives you a glimpse of the story or the world even before you know what is going on. Then once the story starts you can dive deeper and read the rest, maybe even have a moment in the middle where a detail from the prologue makes the story make a bit more sense and brings clarity to a scene. The prologue in Andy Smithson does show us a history, but also does not give a lot of answers either. Once you get involved in the story you know certain things, but there is still a lot unsaid.

Lee gives us a great idea of the world Andy finds himself in, the descriptions are just right, without being too bogged down with detail, and there is enough the create a great image in your mind of the land and the people. Like a true fantasy novel, a map of the land if given at the start of the book showing the regions of the Oomaldee land as well as the surrounding lands. Through the novel a lot of regions are mentioned, and as Andy begins his quest it is a good focal point to understand where he is and where he needs to be, but Lee uses words well and as Andy travels around the land the pace and detail used is enough to make sure a clear image is created in your mind. With more books in the series no doubt we will get to explore more of the land, as well as those surrounding it, but what Lee has already provided is an enticing teaser.

The characters in Andy Smithson are unique, and have their own quirks and characteristics. There is the King of Oomaldee who is tired of the curse and wishes to free his kingdom, and by his side is Mermin, Mermin apparently being the brother of the great Merlin, and who has a speech impediment. Another character is Alden, a servant boy in the castle who becomes friends with Andy. Alden is a good character, he is bright and helps Andy find his way around the land.

Certain characters of course get more padding, but there is still plenty to gain an understanding of their character, especially through other character’s eyes and in their actions. This reduces the need for complicated histories and analysis of minor characters. This is almost true for the main characters as well, there is not a lot of intentional describing or catch up histories, instead, as Lee focuses on them a lot more, we see who they are, the life they lead, as well as the person they are through the narrative. This works well as a book for this age bracket because it is woven into the story, and the character of a person is developed through the story and readers can see it for themselves rather than be told how a character is as a person.

The only thing that caught my eye was the strong moral messages that were throughout. I can see that reading it as a child these may not be as noticeable, one of the disadvantages of reading as an adult I suppose, but they could have been less obvious I felt. They come and go quite quickly but they stood out. Even if a moral message was intended, perhaps weaving it into the story a bit better would be better rather than having Andy experience inner conflict and resolve it almost within the same page. Perhaps this is connected to the fact we see so much of this world through Andy’s perspective, as a child we are shown things through the eyes of a child and therefore we are exposed to the feelings and emotions that come along with this perspective.

I think that these lessons are good, they show kids a range of issues such as keeping secrets, controlling jealousy, and dealing with other issues that arise in a kid’s life, but whether they were too deliberate may be a disadvantage. There are some excellent moments where you can read between the lines with relationships and gain a lot of insight into characters and relationships, especially what is said and not said, those moments can speak volumes compared to what is spelled out. These were the moments I thought Lee did very well, a great example was Alden and Andy towards the end of the book; a lot could be said by what Alden did and especially did not say and lessons are shown as well as an insight into his character.

Even given the small insights in the prologue we still learn alongside Andy, we uncover things as he does, and while we may have theories or figure things out before him, it doesn’t always mean we necessarily know things he doesn’t. There is drama and friendship, and the fairytale notion of the child hero that is trying to save the world.  As I say, the premise is quite good, an adventure story with secrets, mysteries, and curses to keep you engaged. This story goes back to the long adventure stories where there are dragons to fight, kingdoms to save, and travellers wandered the lands with bags on their back with everything in it, seeking help from people they meet or in villages. It is ideal for a kid to read about this kind of adventure and imagine the world Andy fell into.

With the ending Lee gives us it is enough of a cliff hanger to make you want to get right into book two, yet still manages to feel like the book was finished right, a bit like the last chapter was more of a teaser into book two rather than an ending to book one, it is done quite well. I look forward to seeing where it goes next.

Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

Published: May 1st 1996
Goodreads badgePublisher: Puffin
Pages: 272
Format: Book
Genre: Adventure/Fantasy/Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

The old wood-carver Geppetto decides to make a wonderful puppet which can dance and turn somersaults, but by chance he chooses an unusual piece of wood — and the finished puppet can talk and misbehave like the liveliest child. But Pinocchio is brave and inquisitive as well as naughty, and after some hair-raising adventures, he earns his heart’s desire.

Rule one: Never judge a book by its movie; especially if it was turned into one by Disney.

There is nothing adorable and heartfelt about Pinocchio in this book, you spend a lot of the time being annoyed at him for being an insolent little cow, and he certainly gets what he deserves. In the beginning Pinocchio is very well knowledge for someone who has never been to school, seen the world, and is only a day old; yet he uses this knowledge well in his circumstances. As the book goes on he gets gradually more tolerable in nature but it does take awhile. He does a lot of complaining and whinging which gets old, and there are quite a few moments where he recaps his adventures in full detail, right down to the conversations. I can’t say I have ever seen that before, but if we look at him as a child then I supposes he must fill in his whole story to the person, it is through his dialogue after all.

Each chapter gives you a couple of lines summary, which personally I think is unfair. With a story like Pinocchio where chapters can end on cliff hangers and in the middle of a scene, I think having the conclusion told to you before you even begin is a bit pointless. Where is the surprise that he runs into Assassins if we knew they were coming?

There is a morbid nature to a lot of events in this novel, nothing too extreme but it is very blunt. I think the fact the Pinocchio is a puppet is supposed to take away the shock of what happens to him and what he does, but the intent and the actual actions are certainly violent. There are multiple cruelties done to him and others, and his life is threatened in serious ways as well. While Collodi is not detailed in what he writes, he doesn’t hide anything either.

The writing appears to direct the story towards a younger reader, especially with the constant rehashing about good behaviour in young boys and the importance of going to school. There is a sense Collodi is talking to the readers as an oral tale rather than one written, but despite the tone, he does not talk down to the readers either. Collodi follows the story and excludes the unimportant events in the narrative. There are big time jumps varying from a day to a year with only a sentence explaining time has changed. And I am quite convinced that the existence, non existence and size of Pinocchio’s ears changes as the story deems fit.

Since we can’t ignore it, I will say that this book takes things a lot further than the film, a bit darker but still along the same lines. There are familiar faces and scenarios, but there are some vast differences that change the tone completely through quite a lot of the book. You do not always feel a lot of sympathy for Pinocchio in this I must say. You start off on the wrong foot with him when he is made, and even though you see him struggle you get more annoyed each time he fails.

The book reads very much like a succession of moral tale after moral tale, the exception being Pinocchio is so misguided and distracted he keeps messing up and never learning. There are moments where you get tired of his inability to stay on track but I suppose it teaches the lesson and shows you may not get the right way the first go but don’t give up, all those lessons for the children reading.

Overall it was a good book and you do see him change and become a better person, but I think all the times he fails makes this seem less real. You are supposed to see how he has grown but I don’t think it has been written in the correct way that makes you actually believe it. Because Collodi brushes over a lot and writes in simple terms it seems like a shallow remorse in my eyes but I see that it is supposed to have been the major turning point considering where we came from.