Not a Book Review: A Boys’ Treasury of Sea Stories

A Boys’ Treasury of Sea Stories

I didn’t read this book from cover-to-cover, nor do I expect anyone to run out and buy this exact copy, so for those reasons this isn’t exactly a book review. I picked up this story collection at a thrift store but my dad later pointed out to me that we had the same book at home when I was a kid. I assume it’s actually from his childhood, rather than mine. And not just because he was the one alive in the 1960s.

Speaking of the 1960s…I suppose it was more appropriate then to label a book as being for boys, though I have seen recent children’s books gendered in a similar way. Personally, I’m not sure what about these stories makes them for boys, except the old stereotype of swashbuckling adventures being something girls aren’t interested in. I do bristle against this stereotype and as a mom of two girls now, I fully intend to introduce them to all kinds of stories. In fact, spotting the cover of this book on my nightstand, Pearl eagerly grabbed hold of it, gleefully proclaiming, “Boat! I want to look at this!”

As for the stories themselves, they turned out to be a mixed bag. There are a few sections taken from novels, such as The Count of Monte Cristo, Moby Dick, and Kidnapped. Having read the novels before, I skimmed over those parts, though they might serve as a good introduction to a young reader. The standalone stories were fairly hit or miss – there are a couple of fascinating ones from Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe. The non-fiction tales of ships interested me less, being either straightforward accounts of ships (where they were built, who sailed them, etc) or borderline racist descriptions of World War Two battles in the Pacific.

There are other ways you can read the novels and stories featured here so I can’t think of a reason to seek out this collection. Maybe if you are trying to gather sexist book titles of the 20th century?


Book Review: Gork, the Teenage Dragon by Gabe Hudson

Gork, the Teenage Dragon – Gabe Hudson (Knopf, 2017)

A couple of disclaimers first:

This book will be released on July 11th by Knopf. I got an Advanced Reading Copy, with no expectation of anything in return.

I did not finish reading this book. I made it to page 92/chapter 12 and gave up.

I knew I wasn’t the target audience of this novel. I don’t read much fantasy and I’m not into “quirky” books. I’m not necessarily against them but quirkiness alone is not enough to hold me. That said, I’m open to new things and the blurbs compared it to Harry Potter and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Plus, it’s about dragons and I loved The Hobbit as a kid.

In the first chapter, our narrator insults Tolkien and The Hobbit in particular, so we we didn’t get off to a great start.

This book is about very advanced dragons. They travel in spaceships, conquering other planets with their advanced technology and fearsome dragon might. Our narrator is Gork, who is sixteen, a recent graduate of Warwings Academy and not a particularly impressive specimen of dragonhood.

So here’s what bugged me about this book and why I gave up on it:

  • There’s so much information thrown at you. Gork knows his reader is potentially unfamiliar with the dragon world and lifestyle so he just tosses out jargon and explanation, one after the other, with no attempt to really craft it into a story. Since the blurb compares it to Harry Potter, I couldn’t help make that comparison in the negative. J.K. Rowling did some amazing world-building but one of the smart things she did is she told the story through Harry’s eyes. And Harry was also a newcomer to the wizarding world and so the information and names and timelines were slowly introduced to the reader. Gork reads more like the author came up with a bunch of stuff he thought sounded cool and wanted to add it all in. In the first 92 pages we are told about nanorobots, AI technology, alternate dimensions, time travel, future prophecies, teleportation…just to name a few. And through all of this, Gork isn’t really even doing anything. He’s in a space ship (sentient, somehow) with his best friend (who is a dragon robot), just spewing facts at us.
  • I became increasingly bothered by the sexism of the storyline. Upon graduating from Warwings Academy, Gork must ask a female dragon to be his queen. When she accepts, they’ll jet off into space together, she’ll lay eggs, and then they’ll find a new planet to conquer. Gork has his sights set on Runcita, who is clearly out of his league. If she says no, then he has to be a slave forever. Primarily, this seems like a really dumb way to run a society. That’s a lot of pressure at sixteen-years-old. Especially when, as Gork tells us, dragons can live hundreds of years. It also doesn’t explain how their home planet functions if only slaves get left behind but maybe that’s expanded on later on. My problem was the way Gork focuses on Runcita as purely an object. A thing with which to advance his own life and to satisfy his physical urges. Yes, he’s a teenage male; yes, they’re dragons. But they’re also obviously intelligent and Gork is narrating this from the future. The more he talked, the more I disliked him. (Also, would dragons really have nipples?)
  • Which brings me to my final point: Gork is really unlikeable. He’s a bad narrator, he’s sexist and violent (ok, again, dragon) and his motivations are unclear. I wasn’t rooting for him and I didn’t care what happened to him. So I stopped reading.

There may be a lot of people out there who like this book. Perhaps readers who delve into fantasy/science fiction more often than me will find this book as funny as it thinks itself to be. I wanted to like it, given its entirely unique premise but there just wasn’t enough there for me.

Not a Book Review: The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien

The Little Red Chairs - Edna O'Brien (Little, Brown and Company, 2016)

The Little Red Chairs – Edna O’Brien (Little, Brown and Company, 2016)

This isn’t a book review for the simple fact that I didn’t finish reading this book. About halfway through, the main character is the victim of an act of horrific violence and I just couldn’t continue. I’ve never read Edna O’Brien before so I have no idea if this, her first novel in years, is typical of her writing. Up until that point the book was okay, though not without its frustrations, and I was hoping it would redeem itself as it continued. I can’t imagine it gets much more upsetting after this plot turn but I found I couldn’t continue and keep reading more mentions of it.

So here’s what I can comment on.

The initial premise of the novel is an intriguing one. Set in a small Irish town, a mysterious and enigmatic man calling himself a healer arrives and sets up shop. Although the townspeople are somewhat suspicious, they are fascinated by him and many find themselves drawn to him. One of these is Fidelma, a young (I think? Her age was never quite clear to me), married woman who longs to have a child. For no discernible reason, she falls in love with him. O’Brien seems to want us to see Vlad, the healer, as a charismatic man who others are curious about and who Fidelma would fall in love with (even though he really isn’t kind or affectionate to her at all). Honestly, I found him creepy. There was nothing about him that made me understand why anyone would want to be around him. This feeling certainly wasn’t helped by the early reveal that he is a mass murderer, and a war criminal – on the run from international law due to his role in the siege of Sarajevo. The townspeople find this out soon after, along with Fidelma.

The setting of the novel feels like it’s in the early half of the 20th century and it was hard to get a handle on how modern the village was but based on when the siege took place and how much time is supposed to have past, I have to guess it’s supposed to be a modern day setting. If it weren’t for those historical clues though, I don’t think I would have figured that out at all.

Over and over, Fidelma makes terrible, naive decisions that are frustrating to follow along with and when one (or many, depending on how you look at it) of those choices results in something horrible happening to her, it was just too much for me. Reading a few reviews around the internet, it seemed that the second half wouldn’t redeem the first for me and so I gave it up.

Edna O’Brien is, of course, very famous and there are some excellent passages in the parts of the novel I did read. I would simply say that if you do read this one, proceed with caution.